How will the Phoenix adapt to life after Sandy Cohen III?
Green Bay finished last season as one of the 10 fastest-paced teams in the country, and with both of its top front court players measuring in at 6-6, it’s no mystery why. Last year, Green Bay was able to overcome this size issue with Cohen carrying much of the load. Cohen led the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. He drew NBA scouts to Green Bay games, participated in the Portsmouth Invitational camp and signed a four-year contract with international powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Generally a team that returns as many rotation players as Green Bay does sees a bump in expectations the following year, but this year’s Phoenix may be one of the exceptions. Not only was Cohen Green Bay’s go-to-guy in every way, but he might’ve carried the team’s unconventional style to a level of success that will be difficult to replicate going forward.
The Phoenix managed a fourth place finish in league play despite having just two rotation players — wing Cody Schwartz and big man Manny Patterson — over 6-6. With Schwartz and Patterson combining to play just 30 minutes per game, Green Bay spent large stretches just about every night without any significant size on the court.
Last year’s roster appears to be the endgame that Darner was after when he took the Green Bay job. The Phoenix have been Top 10 in the nation in pace each of the last several season, whether they had the makings of a more traditional lineup or not. While the system worked well without size last year, it remains to be seen if it will continue to work without a standout like Cohen running the offense. Jayquan McCloud is a potential All-Horizon League player, but he’s clearly not the same type of talent that Cohen is.
Amari Davis joins Green Bay as a 3-star recruit out of Dayton, OH. The 6-foot-3 combo guard is the highest rated freshman joining the Horizon League this year and should contribute immediately for the Phoenix. While the team brings back 10 players from last year’s roster, nine players averaged double digit minutes per game in 2019 and Cohen’s graduation opens up 34 minutes per night.
Japannah Kellog is joining the Phoenix with less hype than Davis, but his size could give him opportunities as a situational player off of the bench right away. On the other hand, the team returns so many players that finding minutes for two true freshmen may be difficult. It’s possible that the plan is to groom him to eventually be the next Cody Schwartz, a wing with excellent size even by standards other than those of undersized Green Bay.
Jayquan McCloud – McCloud enters his senior year as Green Bay’s top returning scorer and a Second Team HoriZone Roundtable All-League pick. He’ll likely wind up in a position to lead the Phoenix in points and assists as he becomes the team’s primary ball handler following Sandy Cohen’s graduation. Green Bay’s ability to meet or exceed this season’s expectations will largely depend on how McCloud fills Cohen’s shoes.
PJ Pipes – Darner’s up-tempo style and his substitution patterns make it so there’s little difference between role players in the starting lineup and the players at the top of the bench. Outside of Cohen and “Tank” Hemphill, everyone in last year’s lineup was a candidate to play 20+ minutes off of the bench as dDarner sought out the “hot hand”. . In that regard, this spot could be written as PJ Pipes/Kameron Hankerson. Hankerson averaged more minutes per game than Pipes and outperformed him in virtually every counting statistic, but Pipes was technically the one inserted into the lineup when a key backcourt player went down.
Cody Schwartz – Schwartz had a tumultuous first season with Green Bay after transferring in from San Jose State, but he ended it on a good note. After moving in and out of the lineup due to inconsistent play, he wound up starting the team’s final 17 games. While Darner’s tendency to play the hot hand and a rotation with several similarly talented players makes Green Bay’s lineup very fluid, Schwartz should probably be expected to enter the year as a starter for the Phoenix.
Shanquan “Tank” Hemphill – With Cohen’s graduation, Hemphill is Green Bay’s returning leader in rebounds and steals. He’s also the team’s second leading returning scorer. Aside from Jayquan McCloud, nobody stands to gain more from Cohen’s graduation than Tank Hemphill. Hemphill will be asked to produce more as a scorer and a rebounder, and as a result last year’s team leader in double-doubles will be a threat to achieve the feat on any night.
Josh McNair – Like Schwartz, McNair is a player who enters the season as a likely starter after earning more minutes as 2019 progressed. If Darner opts to continue the up-tempo strategy he employed for the last two years, McNair’s work should be rewarded. It is possible that the departure of Cohen could force Darner to go with the most traditional lineup that the current roster can muster, giving additional playing time to Manny Patterson.
Green Bay is one of the more interesting teams in the league to predict. The Phoenix return all but one player from the rotation of last year’s 4th place finisher in the Horizon League, but that one player led a ridiculously undersized lineup to a 21-win season that ended in the CollegeInsider Tournament Championship. It’s not clear the current roster makeup can continue with the same level of success.
One thing Green Bay has going for it is consistent success under Darner and his up-tempo system. The Phoenix have finished in the Horizon League’s top four in three of Darner’s first four years at the helm. The trouble is that the one season where they failed to crack the top four was a seventh place finish in 2018, when Cohen had to be added to the lineup at the end of the non-conference schedule due to a mid-season transfer to Green Bay. In that season, the Phoenix frequently lived and died with Cohen’s production. He averaged 20.6 points, 3.8 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game in league wins compared to 14.5 points, 2.1 assists and 4.7 rebounds in league losses.
In some ways, Green Bay returning so many players could wind up being a disadvantage. Given that none of last year’s key players were freshman, an unexpected leap in production may be needed to keep Green Bay in the top half of the Horizon League standings. As it stands, the Phoenix will need players like McCloud and Hemphill to deliver this year in order to meet or exceed expectations.
Prediction: Sixth Place