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Phoenix look to build momentum

Posted by Brian Dickmann on February 18, 2016 at 4:00 PM

Photo: Evan Siegle / Green Bay Press-Gazette


 


So you’re saying there’s a chance.


Somehow, there is still a slight, slight chance that Green Bay could earn the #2 seed at the Horizon League Tournament in Detroit and the double-bye that comes with it.


It would require Oakland (19-9, 11-4 Horizon) to lose all 3 of their remaining regular season games: at Valparaiso on Friday, at UIC on Sunday, and at Detroit next Friday, February 26. It would also require Wright State (16-12, 10-5) to lose two of their remaining three games: home vs Northern Kentucky on Saturday, at Youngstown State and at Cleveland State next weekend.


If both of those scenarios come to fruition, Green Bay (16-11, 8-6) would gain the #2 seed if they are able to sweep their four remaining regular season games, all of which will be played at the Resch Center.


Obviously that is a tall task considering one of those four games is against Valparaiso who has had the Phoenix number recently and may have one of their best teams in recent memory this season.


However, with Valpo’s home loss to Wright State last weekend, it’s a forgone conclusion that the Horizon League will again be a one-bid league meaning the only thing that matters is the conference tournament in Detroit.


But forget about the #2 seed for now and let the chips fall where they may. It’s unlikely that the above scenario plays out and it is almost certain that Green Bay will have to win four games in four days on a neutral floor at Joe Louis Arena if they want to advance to their first NCAA Tournament since 1996.


But as the Phoenix found out the hard way in 2014, it’s not always the best team that wins the conference tournament. It’s about getting hot and peaking at the right time.


“Let’s hit reality, in the Horizon League right now it’s been one team,” Green Bay head coach Linc Darner said before the season regarding the conference’s chance at earning an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. “These guys were 24-8 last year and had an RPI in the top 60 and didn’t get into the Dance as an at-large.”


“So, you’ve got to be playing your best basketball come February and then go into the conference tournament on a high note. That’s the thing that we’re going to strive for, not get caught up in wins and losses, but get caught up in are we getting better, are we understanding the system better.”


Since that statement, it’s been a season of up and downs so far for Green Bay. As a matter of fact, the Phoenix have alternated wins and losses for 13 straight games going back to January 7th. 10 of those 13 games were on the road and now that Green Bay has finished its road schedule, they can look to build momentum for the conference tournament with four straight home games.


“Now we’ve got some momentum,” Darner said after his team’s 70-68 home court victory over arch-rival Milwaukee on Monday night. “Our whole thing at the end of this year has been let’s get to the last five games and see what can happen.”


“We’ve got the first one out of the way now we’ve got to get ready for the next one but let’s see if we can get on a little bit of a roll here.”


First up is a revenge game for Green Bay when the Youngstown State Penguins come to town on Saturday afternoon (1:00, ESPN3 / Time Warner Cable SportsChannel). The Penguins defeated the Phoenix, 103-93, back on January 9th in Youngstown.


Things haven’t come easy for YSU in Green Bay, however. The Phoenix are 18-1 all-time at home against the Penguins and have won 13 straight at home in the series. Youngstown’s only win at Green Bay came during the first round of the 2003 Horizon League Tournament, a 65-61 Penguin victory in Tod Kowalczyk’s first season as head coach of the Phoenix.


Green Bay is 12-3 overall against the Penguins since the 2009/2010 season.


By their abysmal standards, YSU got off to a decent start to the conference season. They split the Michigan road trip as well as their home series with the Wisconsin schools, beating Oakland and Green Bay, to start 2-2 in league play.


A few weeks ago they were 4-5 and sitting in 5th place but since then have lost 4 out of their last 5 with the lone win coming in double-overtime at home against lowly UIC in their last outing.


Saturday afternoon’s game will likely be a track meet as both teams on average give up over 80 points per game.


Green Bay will then host Cleveland State (8-19, 3-11) on Monday night at 7:00. The Vikings are in the midst of their worst season since the 2004-2005 season. They have had to deal with the loss of transfer players in each of the past two seasons having lost Bryn Forbes to Michigan State, Trey Lewis to Louisville, and Anton Grady to Wichita State.


The Phoenix won the first matchup in Cleveland, 87-67, back on January 7th.


Green Bay has a chance for a 20 win season in Darner’s first season as head coach, something that would be an impressive feat given the circumstances of a coaching change, recruiting new players, and implementing a brand new system before the season began.


They likely will have to continue to rely on role players such as Kenneth Lowe and Jamar Hurdle to keep up their recent increased production.


Lowe is in the midst of his best stretch as a Phoenix, averaging 10.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 0.9 blocks in 25.8 minutes per game over the last 8 games. He’s averaging 7.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game this season.


Hurdle scored 11 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, and swatted away 4 shots in Green Bay’s win over Milwaukee on Monday night.


“It’s just the momentum of being back at home I guess,” Hurdle said. “No losses at home, that’s our motto. Don’t lose at home.”



 

Categories: Phoenix Preview

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