SEWARD, Neb. – The Concordia University Men’s Basketball team passed its first two tests of the 2023-24 season in defeating Cattle Classic opponents Mayville State University (N.D.), 88-73, and No. 19 William Penn University (Iowa), 103-74. Now the Bulldogs will take their act on the road for the first time as they shift their focus to Saturday’s trip to Benedictine College (Kan.). The Bulldogs and Ravens met inside Friedrich Arena in November 2021 with the result being a 68-53 Concordia win.
By the numbers
· Two NAIA coaches’ polls have been released already this season. The Bulldogs have not yet received votes nationally after being pegged fifth in the GPAC preseason poll. In the NAIA poll released on Wednesday (Nov. 8), four GPAC teams received mention: No. 18 Northwestern, No. 19 Morningside, No. 23 Dordt and Briar Cliff (receiving votes). Entering the week, all 11 GPAC squads have played at least one game. Both Briar Cliff and Dordt are 4-0, Dakota Wesleyan is 3-0 and Concordia and Northwestern sit at 2-0. The Chargers made some waves early this season with an upset of Kansas Wesleyan University, which was ranked 16th in the preseason.
· Heading into the Cattle Classic, the Bulldogs expected to be challenged as they went up against two returning national qualifying teams in Mayville State and William Penn. Both contests were competitive through the first half before Concordia turned on the jets. It outscored the two opponents by a combined total of 111-76 in the second half. All-Cattle Classic honors went to Noah Schutte (51 points and 15 rebounds for the weekend) and Tristan Smith (32 points and 16 rebounds for the weekend). As a team, the Bulldogs shot 50.8 percent from the floor and limited their opponents to 39.2 percent shooting. Head Coach Ben Limback used an initial starting lineup featuring a frontcourt of Schutte, Smith and freshman Lukas Helms and a backcourt of senior Joel Baker and junior Bradley Bennett.
· The next win for Ben Limback will mark a milestone achievement. The Concordia alum and former conference player of the year has won 184 games over 10-plus seasons with the Bulldogs. He also won 115 games during a nine-year tenure leading the Concordia University Ann Arbor program. The totals from the two Concordias adds up to 299 wins for Limback, the second winningest coach in the history of Bulldog Men’s Basketball. Limback has continued the program’s stability after Grant Schmidt won 445 games over 23 seasons from 1989 to 2012. Since the start of the 2019-20 season, Limback has led the Bulldogs to a combined three GPAC championships and three national tournament appearances.
· A native of Laurel, Neb., Schutte entered this season as both a GPAC Player of the Year and First Team All-America candidate. Now in year four as a Bulldog, Schutte enjoyed a terrific 2022-23 season that saw him average 20.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per game while posting impressive shooting percentages across the board. He’ll be remembered for the 38-point, 18-rebound performance in the 2023 GPAC quarterfinals at Northwestern. Schutte poured in a school record nine 3-point field goals in that road victory. Over 85 career collegiate games, Schutte has totaled 1,208 points and 473 rebounds. He has climbed to No. 24 on the program’s all-time scoring list having passed Ben Limback (1,158), Robby Thomas (1,170) and Eli Ziegler (1,194) already this season. Schutte burst onto the scene in his sophomore campaign when he was named to the NAIA National Championship All-Tournament Team.
· Another star in the frontcourt, Tristan Smith endured a gruesome injury in late December of last season. Incredibly, Smith returned in time to play significant minutes in the first round of the 2023 national tournament. He essentially missed half of his sophomore season. Fortunately, the Elizabeth, Colo., native appears to have returned to form. He threw down a tip-slam as part of the win over Mayville State. In the 16 games he played in last season, Smith averaged 13.9 points and 6.1 rebounds and shot 50.9 percent from the field. He appears on the same trajectory as older brother Gage Smith, who played five seasons as a Bulldog and departed from the program as its second all-time leading rebounder. Gage made waves this past summer as the MVP of SlamBall.
· While Schutte and Smith are the headlining returners, the freshman class is already making its presence felt. The 6-foot-6 Helms (Lincoln, Neb.) earned an immediate spot in the starting lineup and chipped in with 12 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists over the two Cattle Classic wins. Five additional freshmen got their first varsity action this past weekend: Brooks Kissinger, Hayden Frank, Tyler Harre, Jaxon Stueve and Brandt Van Dyke. An Ashland-Greenwood High School alum, Kissinger has drawn rave reviews in the early going. He totaled 27 points on 6-for-10 shooting at the Cattle Classic. The growth of the freshmen will play a role in the ultimate success of this squad.
Benedictine has started this season at 1-1 after finishing with a 12-17 overall record in 2022-23. The below .500 record was abnormal for a program that has reached the national tournament five times since 2014. The Ravens were picked sixth out of 13 teams in the 2023-24 Heart of America Athletic Conference preseason coaches’ poll. Head Coach Ryan Moody is in his 12th season at the helm of the program. Through the first two games of this season, senior guard Braden Belt (17.5) and sophomore guard Bryce LaRue (17.0) have led the team in scoring. The Ravens defeated Haskell (Kan.), 76-64, following a 70-61 season opening loss to McPherson (Kan.).
Conference play will be up next as the Bulldogs will host Morningside on Nov. 15 before traveling to play Northwestern on Nov. 18. The Mustangs and Red Raiders were picked first and second, respectively, in the GPAC preseason coaches’ poll.