Showdown with Hastings, senior day set for final week of regular season

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 19, 2024 in Men's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – The 2023-24 regular season will conclude this week with the 21st-ranked Concordia University Men’s Basketball team set to appear twice at home. The Bulldogs will welcome first-place Hastings to Friedrich Arena for a Wednesday night showdown before hosting Midland for senior day on Saturday. If Concordia can hold serve it at home this week, it can guarantee at least a share of the GPAC regular season title. Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad slipped one game behind the Broncos after this past weekend’s 79-73 loss at Dordt. Three days earlier, the Bulldogs held off Doane for a 94-88 win in Crete. Concordia enters this week at 20-6 overall (13-5 GPAC).

This Week

Wednesday, Feb. 21 vs. Hastings (19-7, 14-4 GPAC), 7:45 p.m.
--Max Country | Live Webcast | Live Stats | Location: Friedrich Arena (Seward, Neb.)

Saturday, Feb. 24 vs. Midland (9-17, 4-14 GPAC), 3:45 p.m.
--Max Country | Live Webcast | Live Stats | Location: Friedrich Arena (Seward, Neb.)

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By the numbers

·        At 14-4 in league games, Hastings owns a one-game lead atop the GPAC standings over three teams that sit at 13-5: Concordia, Morningside and Northwestern. The Broncos will finish the regular season with two road games: at Concordia and at Doane. Hastings can win the GPAC title outright with a pair of wins. However, should the Bulldogs knock off Hastings on Wednesday, a three-way tie for first place would be in play. In another pivotal game on Wednesday, Northwestern hosts Morningside. The Broncos are chasing down history as a program that has not won either a regular season or tournament title in the GPAC era (2000-present). Below are the remaining schedules for the top five teams in the GPAC standings.

o   Concordia: vs. Hastings | vs. Midland.

o   Dordt: at DWU | at Northwestern.

o   Hastings: at Concordia | at Doane.

o   Morningside: at Northwestern | at Briar Cliff.

o   Northwestern: vs. Morningside | vs. Dordt.

·        The nine-game winning streak put Concordia on the map from a national perspective. After going without receiving a single vote through the first six NAIA coaches’ polls of this season, the Bulldogs cracked the official top 25 at No. 21 on Feb. 14. Other sources have Concordia ranked even higher: No. 8 by Victory Sports Network, No. 10 by Massey Ratings and No. 15 by NAIA Hoops Report. This marks the third-straight season that the Bulldogs have garnered a national ranking at some point during the winter. The GPAC championship team of 2021-22 broke through at No. 23 and the 2022-23 national qualifying squad rose as high as No. 19.

·        Concordia went 6-4 in GPAC road games during the regular season. The sixth conference road win came at Doane last week as the Bulldogs held off a rally from the Tigers, who cut a 21-point deficit all the way down to one in the second half. Tristan Smith starred in posting a career-high 28 points, including a thunderous posterization of a one-hand slam. Noah Schutte also supplied 25 points as Concordia shot 63.6 percent from the floor. Concordia has one each of the past five meetings with Doane. The win streak finally ended when Dordt came back from a 12-point deficit right out of the gate to knock off the Bulldogs. The result snapped a three-game skid for the Defenders, who are out of the running for the GPAC regular season title. Schutte and Hayden Frank paced Concordia with 17 points apiece in Sioux Center.

·        Offensive efficiency has been a hallmark of this Bulldog squad, which ranks second among GPAC schools with an average of 88.2 points per game. Concordia also ranks second in the conference in field goal percentage (.515). The Bulldogs have hit the 90-point mark 11 times this season with a high of 108 in the double overtime win over No. 19 Olivet Nazarene University (Ill.). The most recent 90-point outing put Concordia at 20 wins for the fourth time during Limback’s tenure leading his alma mater. The highwater mark since Limback took over beginning with the 2013-14 season remains the 28 wins claimed by the 2021-22 squad.

·        Schutte keeps soaring up the program’s all-time scoring last. As part of the win at Doane, Schutte leapfrogged Director of Athletics Devin Smith (1,659 points) for No. 6 all-time. Schutte (1,683) is closing in on former teammate Carter Kent (1,699) for a top five spot. Schutte has also cracked the top 10 in rebounds with 671 in his 109 career collegiate games. Schutte is averaging 20.2 points per game this season as he attempts to average 20-plus for a second season in a row. As a prep standout at Laurel-Concord-Coleridge High School, Schutte racked up more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.

·        It wouldn’t be a surprise to most to know that Concordia’s three leading scorers over the past 10 games are Schutte, Smith and Brad Bennett. Next in line after them during that same stretch is the Malcolm, Neb., native Frank. Over the past 10 outings, Frank has averaged 11.1 points while shooting 57.4 percent from the floor and 51.3 percent (20-for-39) from beyond the arc. As a result, the minutes keep increasing for Frank, who totaled 1,365 career points as a prep at Malcolm High School.

·        The senior class set to be honored on Saturday includes three varsity players in Joel Baker (Alliance, Neb.), Noah Schutte (Laurel, Neb.) and Trey Scheef (Wahoo, Neb.). The two additional seniors are Casey Stegeman (Arlington, S.D.) and Bradyn Whittington (Wilber, Neb.). The class arrived in the fall of 2020 when COVID-19 restrictions were in full force. The seniors have helped the program reach the national tournament twice while putting it on track for another national appearance this March. Schutte has been a varsity team member all four years while Baker and Scheef worked their way onto the varsity. It should be noted that the seniors have an option to use a ‘COVID year’ and return in 2024-25.

Concordia Projected Starting Five
G – Brad Bennett, 6-1 (11.2)
G – Jaxon Stueve, 6-4 (6.4)
F – Lukas Helms, 6-6 (6.5)
F – Noah Schutte, 6-4 (20.2)
F – Tristan Smith, 6-5 (18.3)

The opponents

Hastings is one way away from clinching at least a share of the 2023-24 GPAC regular season championship. The program’s fortunes have quickly been reversed under the direction of Todd Raridon, who is in his second season at the helm of the program. The Broncos appear poised to make their first national tournament appearance since 2010 while following the lead of dynamic guard Reggie Thomas, who paces the conference in scoring at 24.4 points per game (fifth most in the NAIA). Only one other Hastings player scores in double figures – Tyrique McMurrin (11.5 ppg). Offensively, the Broncos average 76.4 points per game while shooting 50.4 percent from the floor. Their opponents average 71.0 points and shoot 46.8 percent from the field. Hastings’ current five-game win streak immediately followed a three-game skid. Incredibly, six of the Broncos’ 14 league wins have come by margins of either one or two points. That number includes the 79-78 home win over Concordia on Jan. 17.

Hastings Projected Starting Five
G – Grady Corrigan, 6-1 (8.8)
G – Nolan Sughroue, 5-11 (3.7)
G – Reggie Thomas, 6-1 (24.4)
F – Danilo Matovic, 6-8 (8.5)
F – Tyrique McMurrin, 6-5 (11.5)

Midland will finish its 2023-24 season this week by playing at Mount Marty on Wednesday and then at Concordia on Saturday. The Warriors are making progress under second-year Head Coach Tyler Erwin, who is a Midland alum. Midland boasts one of the league’s top players in junior guard Derek Merwick, who fills the stat sheet with averages of 20.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.1 steals per game. The Warriors can score – they average 82.0 points per game while shooting 49.7 percent from the field. The larger issues have been on the defensive end, where they allow 84.7 points per outing and 49.6 percent shooting. Concordia and Midland met in Fremont at the end of November with the result being a 104-86 Bulldog win.

Midland Projected Starting Five
G – Ryan Larsen, 6-3 (11.3)
G – Derek Merwick, 6-0 (20.6)
G – Jake Orr, 6-2 (17.3)
G – Jake Rueschhoff, 6-2 (11.1)
F – Jeffrey Rozelle III, 6-6 (6.3)

Next Week

In all likelihood, the Bulldogs will host a GPAC quarterfinal game on Feb. 28 when the conference tournament gets underway. The top eight teams in the final standings qualify for the GPAC tournament. The tourney will continue with the semifinals on March 2 and the championship game on March 5.