|Posted by Brian Dickmann on March 1, 2017 at 2:45 PM|
Photo: Jose Juarez / Special to the Horizon League
After a stunning four victories in four days at the inaugural Motor City Madness last year, the Green Bay Phoenix mens basketball team will look to find March magic again this month at the Horizon League Tournament in Detroit.
The Phoenix were the #4 seed a season ago knocking off Milwaukee in the first round, Cleveland State in the second round, #1 seed Valparaiso in the semifinals, and eventually #3 seed Wright State to win the school’s first conference championship game since 1996. It broke a twenty year NCAA Tournament drought in head coach Linc Darner’s first season at the helm.
Green Bay lost two crucial seniors from that championship team – forward Jordan Fouse and point guard Carrington Love – both of which are now playing professionally in Europe.
But the Phoenix return several key players from that team including five seniors and two juniors who played significant minutes in Detroit last March.
“It’s a whole new year, everybody’s got a different team,” Darner told Brian Kuklinski on Inside Phoenix Basketball on Monday. “The thing I think that we have is guys that have had very good success in that building, that have played in the building, that have shot on the floor.”
“It’s a bigger arena, it’s a different background than what you’re used to. Hopefully that will be an advantage for us.”
As the most experienced roster in the conference, Green Bay has more players of significance than any other team in the league that participated in Motor City Madness last year. According to KenPom, six of the league’s ten teams rank towards the bottom third in the country in roster age/experience.
With six seniors and nine total upperclassmen, the Phoenix rank as the 14th most experienced team in the country.
“I told our guys we’re the only group that’s undefeated there,” Darner said. “Hopefully just the experience of playing there last year will really help us.”
“The guys have to be confident. They have to feel comfortable playing there, being there knowing that we were 4-0 there last year and hopefully we can continue that.”
The Phoenix will only have to win three games in three days this season thanks to a bracket format change the conference announced this past summer.
Overall, Darner is no stranger to conference tournament success.
Green Bay’s march to the title last season was his first a Division I head coach but the second year Phoenix coach won seven conference tournament titles in thirteen seasons at the Division II level including six in nine years at Florida Southern.
As a head coach, Darner has won five consecutive conference tournaments and has not lost a conference tournament game since March 5th, 2011 when Florida Southern lost at the buzzer in a conference tournament semifinal game.
He won a tournament title at St. Joseph’s (IN) in 2006 and won titles at Florida Southern in 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 before winning the Horizon League Tournament crown last season in his first year at Green Bay.
In all, Darner is 22-3 in conference tournament games since 2006 and has won 11 consecutive conference tournament games dating back to 2012.
“I’ve been pretty much the same in every conference tournament I’ve ever been in as a head coach,” Darner said. “I don’t overanalyze it, some guys do. The biggest thing I think is just keeping the guys relaxed and just going out and playing.”
“You’ve prepared your whole season for this time. They’re going to have a set of nerves and you don’t want to make their nerves worse than they already are. If you don’t have a little bit of the butterflies when you walk out there the first time in the conference tournament, shame on you. I used to get butterflies a little bit before every game but they go away once you start playing.”
Green Bay’s path towards a repeat begins Sunday evening at 4:30 with a second round game against UIC. The Phoenix and Flames will be squaring off for the third time in a little over a month. If they are able to get past UIC it would set up a semifinal rematch from last season against Valparaiso on Monday night.
The tournament is wide open this season and the title is available for the taking. No team in the league has more experience than Green Bay this year. No coach in the league has had as much conference tournament success as Green Bay’s head coach.
“The biggest thing this time of year is you’ve got to go let them play,” Darner said. “They’ve done it all year, don’t try to put any more pressure on them that’s already there.”