2022-23 Record: 18-13 overall, 11-9 GPAC (5th); NAIA national qualifier.
Head Coach: Ben Limback (at CUNE: 182-126, 10 years; career: 297-284, 19 years; three national tournaments; three combined GPAC titles)
Returning Starters: G Brad Bennett; F Noah Schutte; F Tristan Smith.
Other Key Returners: G Joel Baker; G Payson Gillespie; G Zac Kulus; G Jaxon Weyand; F Logan Wilson.
Key Newcomers: G Hayden Frank; G/F Tyler Harre; F Lukas Helms; G Brooks Kissinger; G/F Jaxon Stueve; F Brandt Van Dyke.
Key Losses: G Garrett Seagren; F Gage Smith; F Kelly Vyhnalek.
2022-23 GPAC All-Conference: Noah Schutte (First Team); Gage Smith (Second Team); Brad Bennett (Honorable Mention); Tristan Smith (Honorable Mention).
2022-23 NAIA All-American: Noah Schutte (Honorable Mention).
Back-to-back national tournament trips and three appearances on the national stage in the past four years lead Concordia Men’s Basketball into the 2023-24 campaign. There were no championship banners to be hung this past season, but the Bulldogs took pride in overcoming adversity, including injury to one of the team’s rising stars, to reach the 2023 national tournament. Sitting at 11-9 overall in late January, Concordia put together a 6-1 stretch behind do-it-all superstar Noah Schutte. With a bit more roster stability this winter, the Bulldogs could develop into a challenger for another GPAC championship.
On the cusp of reaching 300 career coaching wins, Ben Limback enters his 11th season at the helm of Bulldog Basketball. Concordia is rallying around the mantra of “Rise Up” in 2023-24. Limback and his team have attempted to define what that theme will mean going forward.
Said Limback, “The theme the team chose this year was ‘Rise Up.’ Our goal is to every day rise up to challenges and meet those challenges. Don’t shy away from them. Rise up in who we are as people. So far, I’m pleased with what’s going on with our leadership and the tradition that we’re trying to uphold with the national tournament runs and the program’s excellence.”
The Bulldogs have averaged nearly 22 wins per season over the past four years while turning a corner as a program. That consistency has enhanced the program’s stature both within the conference and nationally. The expectation is undoubtedly to return to the national tournament for a squad built around its frontcourt. With Jamestown’s Mason Walters having transferred for his final year of college hoops, Schutte enters this season as a GPAC Player of the Year candidate. Most significantly, Concordia must answer questions about its backcourt.
When things get hairy, the guards know they can rely upon the 6-foot-4 Schutte, a native of Laurel, Neb., who piled up more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds during his high school career at Laurel-Concord-Coleridge High School. This past season, Schutte found another level and averaged 20.1 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 54.4 percent from the floor and 46.3 percent from 3-point range. Despite bursting onto the scene during the 2022 national tournament run, Schutte still seems to foolishly get left out of the national discussion. Schutte put together one of the best single game performances in school history when he went off for 38 points and 18 rebounds while drilling a program record nine 3-point field goals in the 2023 GPAC quarterfinal win at Northwestern.
“He’s super gifted and talented and he has an amazing touch all over the floor,” Limback said. “He’s got the 3-point game and the inside game and the ability to get to the free throw line. The message with our team is that he’s the guy who comes in early to get shots up before practices and the guy who gets in morning workouts on his own. I’ve been really impressed with Noah throughout his career. He’s really started to figure out the intensity level required, especially when you’re a marked man. I think last year he saw that and had to elevate his game. Yeah, he’s putting up all these numbers and having an amazing career so far, but I bet he’s put in the most hours of anybody throughout his lifetime.”
That vaunted frontcourt will no longer have the services of SlamBall MVP Gage Smith, but Concordia is excited about what his younger brother Tristan can do over the course of an entire, healthy campaign. The uber athletic Tristan Smith went down with a gruesome injury in late December and somehow returned in time to play at the national tournament. However, the injury robbed the junior from Elizabeth, Colo., of roughly half the season. T-Ray (as his teammates call him) averaged 13.9 points and 6.1 rebounds in his shortened sophomore campaign and appears on his way to becoming another of the GPAC’s top players.
Schutte goes up against Tristan every day in practice and knows firsthand what he brings to the table. Said Schutte, “It kind of shocked all of us last year how quick he was able to get back on the court. He’s worked his tail off this offseason in the weight room and in the gym. He’s always getting shots up. I’m amazed every day with all the things he can do on the court to help our team. I’m really looking forward to how he can help us this year.”
For the Bulldogs to challenge the likes of Morningside, Northwestern, Dordt and Jamestown at the top of the GPAC heap, they will need the backcourt to reach its potential. The crew of guards features two players who started at least a third of last season’s games: junior Brad Bennett (19) and sophomore Jaxon Weyand (11). Bennett stretches defenses with his perimeter shooting (40.6 percent in 2022-23) and is improving defensively. Meanwhile, Weyand is a hard-nosed point guard who provided a spark in the middle of last season.
Other returners who saw significant action last season are guards Joel Baker, Payson Gillespie, Zac Kulus and Trey Scheef and forwards Brayson Mueller and Logan Wilson. The Bennington, Neb., native Kulus saved his best for the Concordia Invitational Tournament when he poured in 33 points on 9-for-13 shooting from beyond the arc over the two games. A fourth-year player in the program, Baker appeared in 28 games last season and even got one start. After redshirting last season, 6-foot-9 Tony Tubrick also appears primed to find his way into the rotation.
Without question, the door is open for a host of freshmen to make an impact this winter. There are 11 freshmen in the program and a half dozen could make an immediate varsity impact. Some names to watch out for include Hayden Frank, Tyler Harre, Lukas Helms, Brooks Kissinger, Jaxon Stueve and Brandt Van Dyke. The class has drawn positive reviews this preseason from Limback and his coaching staff. It’s possible a freshman could even crack the starting lineup.
While portions of the roster are youthful, the Bulldogs are not treating this as any kind of rebuilding season, especially considering the presence of Schutte. Said Schutte, “We want to grow as a team and grow as people and as players. We’re looking forward to a challenging schedule. I think Coach Limback said this was one of the toughest schedules he’s ever had as a coach. We know that will help us in the long run, making the national tournament and stuff. We’re focusing on one game at a time and looking forward to the challenges we have this year.”
In addition to making up for the loss of Gage Smith (the program’s second all-time leading rebounder), the Bulldogs are also replacing their best backcourt defender from last season in Garrett Seagren. Solid man-to-man defense has been a hallmark for Concordia, which last season led the GPAC in defensive efficiency (.967) while ranking second in the league in field goal percentage defense (.430). At the same time, the Bulldogs like to get out and run in transition.
At this point, there are several key players still learning the system and getting acclimated to college basketball. Said Limback, “It’s kind of a unique balance with this team. We have some upperclassmen and returners that have done everything and have gone through our practice routines and know our terminology. Then you have a group of guys who are young and still learning, so you can’t go too fast, but you can’t go too slow. We’re relying heavily upon our senior leadership and upperclassmen to help guys pick things up. We just have to get tougher defensively. Right now, it’s hard to tell what your strengths or weaknesses are. We want to have that toughness when you’re tired and be able to take care of the ball and talk on defense. We have a quiet team overall. We just have to get better in those areas.”
For Concordia Men’s Basketball, it’s always been about putting forth actions that speak volumes while letting others do the chirping. No one embodies those traits quite like Schutte, the Nebraska farm boy with a big game. It’s his time to lead. Says Schutte, “We talked about ‘Rise Up.’ We’re going to face a lot of challenges throughout the year. Are we going to be willing to rise up to those challenges and overcome them?”
The Bulldogs will begin to answer that question at the 24th annual Cattle Classic (Nov. 3-4) when they will host Mayville State University (N.D.) and William Penn University (Iowa). The complete schedule can be found HERE.