Limback's crew seeks to remain atop GPAC standings while up against Dordt, DWU

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 4, 2024 in Men's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – It’s going to be a wild final few weeks of the regular season in the GPAC. With two monumental victories this past week, the Concordia University Men’s Basketball team has pulled into a five-way tie for first place in the conference standings. Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad is riding high after picking off No. 19 Morningside, 99-88, on the road and No. 12 Northwestern, 84-81, at home. The Bulldogs managed to accomplish all that without the services of Tristan Smith for the majority of action. Concordia enters a rare Monday night contest at 17-5 overall (10-4 GPAC).

This Week

Monday, Feb. 5 vs. Dordt (17-5, 10-4 GPAC), 7:45 p.m.
--Max Country | Live Webcast | Live Stats | Location: Friedrich Arena (Seward, Neb.)

Sunday, Feb. 11 at Dakota Wesleyan (13-10, 8-7 GPAC), 2:45 p.m.
--Max Country | Live Webcast | Live Stats | Location: Corn Palace (Mitchell, S.D.)

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By the numbers

·        Buckle up. With six conference games remaining on the slate for most teams in the GPAC, the race for the regular season title appears to be up for grabs between five teams. Entering the week, Concordia, Dordt, Hastings, Morningside and Northwestern are each tied for first place with identical 10-4 conference marks. The Broncos jetted out to a 6-0 GPAC record before their recent three-game slide opened the door for the current circumstances. The remaining schedules for each of the five first-place teams are included below. On paper, Dordt has the most challenging remaining slate with four of its final six games coming against fellow first-place squads.

o   Concordia: vs. Dordt | at DWU | at Doane | at Dordt | vs. Hastings | vs. Midland.

o   Dordt: at Concordia | vs. Morningside | vs. Jamestown | vs. Concordia | at DWU | at Northwestern.

o   Hastings: at Midland | at Morningside | vs. Mt Marty | vs. Briar Cliff | at Concordia | at Doane.

o   Morningside: at Dordt | vs. Hastings | vs. DWU | at Doane | at Northwestern | at Briar Cliff.

o   Northwestern: at Jamestown | vs. Mt Marty | at Briar Cliff | at Midland | vs. Morningside | vs. Dordt.

·        Limback’s squad is in a position to compete for a conference title thanks to a thrilling ‘prove it’ week against the league’s two highest rated teams in the NAIA poll: No. 19 Morningside and No. 12 Northwestern. Before hobbling off the court early in the second half at Morningside, Tristan Smith poured in 19 points while making all three of his tries from 3-point range. The Bulldogs were able to pick up the slack without Smith thanks to the contributions of many. Noah Schutte led the way with 21 points and eight rebounds while Hayden Frank (17) and Bradley Bennett (16) provided a combined 33 points. The 99-88 victory marked Concordia’s first win at Morningside since February 2016. Three days later, Brayson Mueller stepped into the starting lineup for Smith and helped lead the Bulldogs to what will go down as a memorable 84-81 win over Northwestern. Schutte piled up 25 points and eight rebounds and Concordia went 16-for-38 from 3-point range. The other double figure scorers were Bennett (17), Mueller (11) and Jaxon Stueve (11).

·        As this notes package has detailed for several weeks, the Bulldogs are appreciated much more by the computers than the human polls. Inexplicably, Concordia did not garner any votes in this past week’s NAIA coaches’ poll. The RPI released more than a week ago by the NAIA showed the Bulldogs at No. 20 to go along with the nation’s 29th best strength of schedule. Massey Ratings, which updates daily, now lists the Bulldogs as the NAIA’s 12th best team. Concordia boasts four wins over teams that were ranked in the NAIA top 25 at the time games were played: No. 19 William Penn University (Iowa), No. 19 Olivet Nazarene University (Ill.), No. 19 Morningside and No. 12 Northwestern. In addition, Mayville State University (N.D.) was receiving votes when it was defeated by the Bulldogs in early November.

·        Tristan Smith is expected to sit out Monday’s game versus Dordt with a hopeful return on Sunday at the Corn Palace. Smith missed the second half of the 2022-23 season due to injury and has battled aches and pains this season. Whatever soreness he’s dealt with has not prevented him from reaching star status. On the season, the Elizabeth, Colo., native is averaging 17.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game while shooting 61.0 percent from the floor. Smith was named the GPAC Player of the Week on Jan. 30 after posting three-straight double-doubles. In 70 career collegiate games, Smith has totaled 736 points, 386 rebounds, 73 blocked shots and 52 steals.

·        Schutte helped make up for Smith’s absence by scoring a combined 46 points in the wins over Northwestern and Morningside. The Laurel, Neb., native has become so steady that it’s easy to take his 20-point outings for granted. He’s reached the 20-point mark 13 times this season with his high of 34 coming in the overtime win at Briar Cliff. With 1,608 career points, Schutte has pulled even with Matt List for eighth on the program’s all-time scoring list. Schutte also ranks No. 11 in school history for career rebounds with 637. As a prep standout at Laurel-Concord-Coleridge High School, Schutte racked up more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.

·        Concordia wouldn’t be in this position if not for the development of the talented core that surrounds Schutte and Smith. Bennett has been surging from the 3-point arc having made 18-of-40 shots from 3-point range over the past six outings. His season 3-point shooting percentage has climbed to 39.5. Meanwhile, Lukas Helms made multiple key plays down the stretch versus Northwestern as the class of freshmen continue to progress. A native of Firth, Neb., Mueller got the nod in the starting lineup and responded with 11 points and five boards versus Northwestern. He did the honors of ringing the bell afterwards. The depth of the roster carries on thanks to the likes of Joel Baker, Frank, Tyler Harre, Brooks Kissinger, Zac Kulus, Stueve and others.

Concordia Projected Starting Five
G – Brad Bennett, 6-1 (11.0)
G – Jaxon Stueve, 6-4 (5.9)
F – Lukas Helms, 6-6 (6.3)
F – Noah Schutte, 6-4 (20.5)
F – Tristan Smith, 6-5 (17.9)

The opponents

Concordia and Dordt have not yet met this season due to the postponement of the game that had been scheduled for mid-January. Don’t be surprised if this becomes a frenetically paced contest considering it will be a matchup of the GPAC’s two highest scoring teams. The Defenders average 90.5 points per game while the Bulldogs average 88.3 points. Individually, Lucas Lorenzen ranks second in the GPAC with 22.8 points per outing. Dordt is another GPAC team flying under the national radar despite strong metrics. The Defenders were ranked 27th in the first official RPI to go along with a strength of schedule of 57th. Head Coach Brian Van Haaften’s squad will carry a four-game winning streak into Friedrich Arena. Concordia and Dordt split last season’s two meetings with the away team emerging victorious in both instances.

Dordt Projected Starting Five
G – Bryce Coppock, 5-11 (17.7)
G – Lucas Lorenzen, 6-4 (22.8)
G – Connor Millikan, 6-0 (11.9)
G – Luke Rankin, 5-10 (10.9)
F – Ben Fairclough, 6-8 (6.8)

Winning at the Corn Palace is never an easy task. Dakota Wesleyan owns a home record of 8-3 and just picked up two league road wins over the weekend: 80-65 at Hastings and 79-70 at Doane. At No. 92 in the RPI, the Tigers likely need to make a lot of noise down the stretch to have a shot at a national tournament berth. DWU plays at a bit slower pace than Concordia while averaging 78.7 points to go along with a 43.9 shooting percentage. The team’s top scorer is 6-foot junior guard Jakob Dobney, who averages 17.1 points. The Tigers will aim to avenge the 92-71 loss they endured in Seward on Jan. 6. Before hosting the Bulldogs on Super Bowl Sunday, DWU will welcome Briar Cliff to Mitchell, S.D., on Wednesday. Concordia has won four of the past five series meetings over the Tigers.

Dakota Wesleyan Projected Starting Five
G – Jakob Dobney, 6-0 (17.1)
G – Kallan Herman, 6-2 (7.8)
G – Blaze Lubbers, 6-3 (10.3)
G – Randy Rosenquist Jr., 6-0 (13.0)
F – Samuel Aslesen, Jr. 6-7 (12.7)

Next Week

The Bulldogs will be back to a more normal week within the GPAC as they hit the road to take on Doane on Feb. 14 before heading to Dordt on Feb. 17. Those will be the final two road outings of the 2023-24 regular season.