|Posted by Brian Dickmann on December 2, 2015 at 5:45 PM|
Photo via Edwardsville Intelligencer
At least for the next month, the schedule for the Green Bay Phoenix men’s basketball team lightens up and allows for some time at home and much needed practice time on the court.
Green Bay completed a busy month of November this past weekend with a perfect 2-0 road trip through Ohio Valley Conference teams in Illinois, taking down Eastern Illinois 81-72 on Saturday night and thoroughly dominating SIUE, 87-69, on Monday night in Edwardsville.
The two road wins boosted the Phoenix record to above .500 at 4-3 for the first time this season. Green Bay has won 4 in a row after starting the season 0-3 with three straight road losses as part of the NIT Season Tip-off.
After the 0-3 start, the Phoenix knocked off Division II opponent Minnesota-Duluth and posted an impressive 66-63 victory over MAC favorite Akron at the Resch Center to start some positive momentum.
“We have needed some practice time with the guys to just work on different things, we haven’t really had that opportunity,” assistant coach Randall Herbst told WNFL’s Matt Menzl after the Phoenix victory over SIUE on Monday night. “Hats off to the guys though, to go out in the Preseason NIT and the three tough road games and then come back home and get a couple of home wins and then two in a row on the road here.”
“I don’t care where you’re playing, our guys grit their teeth and we learned some things about our guys.”
The month of November included a stretch that saw Green Bay crisscrossing the country, playing five games in a twelve day span going from California to Tennessee for a 5:00 AM tip-off to Georgia before flying back home to Green Bay.
December, however, has just five games, including three at home, allowing for time to rest as well as valuable practice time to correct things as the Phoenix continue to learn head coach Linc Darner’s new system.
Now, Green Bay has the momentum of a solid all-around performance in Edwardsville and a four game winning streak as they open a three game home stand starting this Sunday with Toledo.
“We didn’t play great, but the first half was our best 20 minutes of the year by far,” Herbst said.
The Phoenix scored 54 points in the first half against SIUE, shooting 61.8% from the floor and hit 6 of 8 (75.0%) of their attempts from beyond the arc.
The Cougars showed some fight in the second half, however, mounting several runs after their zone defense seemed to stifle the Green Bay offense a bit. But the Phoenix battled through and continued to hit shots to ensure blowout victory.
“For us to face that adversity with the zone, with the other team making a little run at us and to be able to grind through it and fight through it, that showed us something about our guys,” said Herbst.
“Now we’ve got a couple in a row at home, we’ve got some time to practice. We’ll watch film, we’ll try to get better.”
Sunday’s tilt with Toledo at the Resch Center tips off at 2:00 PM. The Phoenix will also have home games on Tuesday night, December 15th vs Pacific as well as Sunday, December 20th vs UW-Superior.
“We’re fired up to be back at home and playing. Maybe we can keep the momentum going here and see what happens.”
The return of Tod Kowalczyk
Sunday’s home game with Toledo marks the return to the Resch Center of former Green Bay head coach Tod Kowalczyk.
The Phoenix went 136-112 in 8 seasons under Kowalczyk’s guidance, finishing with 22 wins in each of his final two seasons at the helm in Green Bay before he bolted to Toledo following the 2009-2010 season.
He resurrected a Phoenix program that had bottomed out under Mike Heidemann following the Dick Bennett glory years of the 1990’s and turned it into an upper echelon Horizon League team that finished in the top four of the conference for seven consecutive seasons.
“I felt we built that program,” Kowalczyk told the Independent Collegian when he was hired at Toledo in 2010. “We did it all the right way. I just simply felt this was a better opportunity to win at a higher level.”
“It just simply came down to this is a better job and a better opportunity for me, my staff and my family, and that’s why we decided it was time to leave Green Bay.”
One major reason was certainly salary. Kowalczyk received a contract extension in April 2014 that takes him through 2021 in which he earns $425,000 per year before bonuses with a $325,000 base salary and the rest coming from various required TV, radio, and public appearances, according to Hustle Belt.
Contrast that to Darner who receives a $230,000 base salary from Green Bay and it becomes clearer why a move that, on paper, seems lateral at best makes more sense.
Kowalczyk has turned around a Toledo program that was bottom of the barrel in the MAC and transformed it into one that is usually in the discussion for the conference championship.
In his 6th season leading the Rockets, he has complied an 89-80 overall record including an NIT appearance during the 2013-2014 season.
But much like his time at Green Bay, his Rockets program has yet to crack the NCAA Tournament. During that ‘13-‘14 season, Toledo was 27-5 before falling in the MAC Tournament to Western Michigan, 98-77, and being left out as an at-large. They lost their first round NIT game 66-59 to Southern Mississippi. Toledo has not made the NCAA Tournament since 1980.
The Rockets are 4-2 so far this season and take on fellow Horizon League member Cleveland State tonight.
The Phoenix have gone 99-68 in the 6 seasons following Kowalczyk’s departure.
Trevor Anderson’s hot start
Green Bay’s prized 2016 recruit Trevor Anderson is picking up right where he left off last season.
The 6’1” point guard from Stevens Point has been named Player of the Year in the Wisconsin Valley Conference all three years of his high school career so far, including last season as a junior when he led the Panthers to a 27-1 record and WIAA Division I state championship. SPASH beat Germantown in the championship game, 67-51, behind a game high 25 points from Anderson.
A silky-smooth shooter, he shot nearly 50% from beyond the three point line (49.6%) and made 87.9% of his free throws last season. He led the Panthers in scoring at 23.0 points per game to go along with 5.0 assists, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.8 steals.
This year Anderson has helped guide Stevens Point to a 2-0 start, averaging 29.0 points per game in the two victories.
He scored 32 points and contributed 10 assists in the season opening 108-71 victory over East Troy on November 30th and followed that up with 26 points and 10 assists Tuesday night in a 79-36 victory over Appleton East.
The Panthers are currently ranked #22 in MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National poll and are favorites to repeat as WIAA Division I state champions again this March.
Green Bay area fans will get a chance to see the future Phoenix guard in action when Anderson and Stevens Point travel to De Pere to take on the Redbirds on Friday, December 18th.