|Posted by Brian Dickmann on March 4, 2016 at 1:45 PM|
It’s been exactly 20 years since the Green Bay Phoenix mens basketball team last made an NCAA Tournament appearance in 1996.
They’ve come oh so close in three consecutive seasons but ultimately were not able to get the job done. But it’s not just the coming close that hurts. It’s the matter in which it happened.
If you’re a Green Bay fan, the past three Horizon League Tournaments could not have ended in any more soul-crushing fashion.
First, there was Ryan Broekhoff’s fade away three pointer over Brennan Cougill as time expired in the 2013 semifinals at Valparaiso.
Then it was possibly the most painful loss in program history when Jordan Aaron and Milwaukee took down the Phoenix in their own building in the semifinals in 2014 and eliminated Green Bay from not only a shot at the conference’s automatic bid but also any hopes of an at-large.
Finally, there was last season’s second half meltdown at Valparaiso in the Horizon League Championship game. The Phoenix were making their first championship game appearance since 1998 but were only able to muster 44 points in the loss to the Crusaders, going the last 8:00+ minutes without scoring a field goal.
But the past is the past.
First year Green Bay head coach Linc Darner brings with him an impressive postseason resume that has seen his teams win their conference’s postseason tournament 5 times in his 13 years coaching at the Division II level.
He won the 2006 Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament in his final season at St. Josephs (IN) and won four straight Sunshine State Conference Tournaments from 2012-2015 at Florida Southern where the Moccasins won the Division II National Championship last season.
The Phoenix return several veterans from last year’s team that advanced to the championship game but only two, Jordan Fouse and Carrington Love, played meaningful minutes during that run.
Most of Green Bay’s contributors this season have little or no postseason experience at the Division I level.
“I always say conference tournaments, NCAA Tournaments, any kind of postseason play, sometimes that first 5 minutes all of a sudden guys get a little more nervous and things like that and start doing some things they haven’t done for a while,” Darner said Thursday in an interview on the Bill Michaels Show.
“I think the biggest thing in any kind of tournament is you’ve got to try to survive the first five or six minutes of the game and not dig yourself a hole that’s too big to come out of.”
As the #4 seed, Green Bay (19-12, 11-7) will have to win four games in four days in order to earn the Horizon League’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
Ironically, Darner’s first Sunshine State Conference Tournament championship came as a #5 seed in 2012. Florida Southern was 20-9 overall and 11-9 in conference play before knocking off #4 seed Rollins College, #1 seed Florida Tech, and ultimately #3 seed Saint Leo in the championship game.
Former Phoenix guard Seth Evans was the tournament’s MVP that season.
Maybe those links can provide hope and belief for beleaguered Green Bay fans that have seen three straight years of demoralizing losses.
“Everybody says 4 games in 4 days,” Darner said. “I hope we have that chance to play those 4 games in 4 days.”