Northern Kentucky Norse 2019-20 Season Preview

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How ON EARTH will the Norse replace John Brannen and Drew McDonald?

Drew McDonald’s senior year was like a scripted movie, straight out of Hollywood. It had the rising action of a season in which his team consistently played well, winning many more games than they lost – and looking really good in the process.

The story peaked right around the time Drew McDonald got injured in the Cleveland State game. The Norse lost that game, lost sole possession of 1st place in the Horizon league, and were about to head to Wisconsin for a two game road trip to end the regular season – possibly without Drew McDonald. In the first of those two games, the Norse played Milwaukee…and Norse fans got a taste of something they never thought they’d be getting in February of 2019…..a glimpse into the future – life without Drew McDonald.

Everyone knows the story of how the season ended. We won that game against Milwaukee without Drew. They won the next game against Green Bay with Drew setting the NKU all-time scoring record in that game.

Then the Norse won the Horizon League Tournament, beating Detroit (99-88), Oakland (64-63 on the best buzzer beater of the season) and Wright State (77-66) before losing to the eventual National Championship runner-up Texas Tech Red Raiders by a final score of 72-57. Drew’s senior season couldn’t have ended ANY better than it did. NKU was about to lose its G.O.A.T., but it was okay because we still had our full coaching staff, 11 of our 13 scholarship players and 3 new strong recruits coming in. It would be fine. Right?

And then…..all hell broke loose. Truly, the events that were about to transpire that would eventually going to impact Northern Kentucky were other-worldly. It was the epitome of a domino effect and the perfect storm all rolled into one.

UCLA, after years and years of underperforming, decided to fire their head coach Steve Alford. After (reportedly) missing on their first three or four targets, they finally landed their guy: University of Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin. With Mick gone, now UC had a spot to fill, and the speculation immediately began: How high is NKU’s John Brannen on their list?

After what seemed like weeks of torture (it was really like 10 or 11 days), John Brannen made his announcement, he was leaving for UC to be their head coach. Almost immediately after, Norse Twitter was informed that we’d be losing all three recruits (Marcus Domask, Josh Earley and DJ Robertson) that had committed to Brannen and his staff. But for NKU, the first thing to focus on was finding a head coach. And the search was on.

What ensued was a coaching search that would eventually give this “Norse Report-er” nightmares for years to come. Was it Chris Schumate, former assistant and Associate Head Coach on Brannen’s staff? He certainly had a good relationship with the current players, AND the recruits. We’d be able to keep our team in tact. Was it Pat Kelsey, a Cincinnati native, current head coach at Winthrop, and considered to be a ‘rising star’ in coaching circles? He would bring a youthful energy to the program, as well as experience. But was he actually serious about the job? My Norse Report co-owner (Chris Hart) and I were getting mixed messages from sources close to both Kelsey and Shumate. But one thing was for certain, it would be one of those two candidates. Until it wasn’t.

Like a Randy Orton RKO, Darrin Horn came right in from out of nowhere to snatch up the Norse vacancy. Shortly after Darrin Horn got the job, the Norse got word that Chris Vogt would be leaving the program, going about 10 miles north to join Brannen at UC.

Good riddance. Speaking for Norse fans, they are excited about Darrin Horn. And one thing about Norse fans is that they have a “not good enough” complex about them, in that they tend to carry a heavy chip on their shoulders, feeling like they have something to prove. “He doesn’t wanna be here…? F ’em. Moving on.” is something you might hear at one of the local bars that Norse fans convene to watch the away games.

The Norse have Darrin Horn, almost an entire starting 5 kept intact, and some new faces to add to the mix. Let’s get to know them, shall we?

Newcomers

Darrin Horn – Head coach Darrin Horn joins the Norse after spending the past four seasons being an assistant coach to Shaka Smart at Texas. During his time at UT, Horn worked with tremendously talented players such as: Mo Bamba, Jarrett Allen and Jaxson Hayes. In fact, upon Horn getting hired at NKU, Hayes actually came and visited Northern and worked out at BB&T Arena. Before Texas, Horn spent a few years at ESPN doing analysis for the SEC Network after a failed four-year stint at South Carolina. He made a ton of connections throughout his time at ESPN, and that became very evident when very high profile national personalities were sending out their congratulatory tweets after Horn took the NKU job. Prior to getting the South Carolina job, Horn was an extremely successful head coach at Western Kentucky, coaching a team that actually made the Sweet 16. One notable assistant coaching gig that Horn has in his earlier career was the time he spent on Tom Crean’s staff at Marquette. He helped a team who was led on the court by Dwyane Wade reach the Final Four. He’s got experience. Norse fans are excited. But the first thing Horn needed to do was fill his staff, and bring on some recruits. Here are some of those new-comers:

Adham Eleeda

JR | G/F (Wing) | 6’5″ 220 lbs.

Eleeda joins the Norse as a Junior JUCO transfer from Sheridan College in Wyoming. Adham shot 41% from 3 last season, hitting the third most 3-pointers in the NJCAA in doing so. His career high is 30, which he recorded last year while hitting TEN 3-pointers. Eleeda should give the Norse some length as a wing player, and also will help on offense as a floor-spacer in what looks to be a VERY open offense centered around quick ball movement. You better not lose track of Eleeda if he’s your assignment.

Bryson Langdon

SO. | PG | 5’9″ 160 lbs.

Bryson Langdon spent his freshman year with Arizona Western (JUCO) last year in the NJCAA where he averaged 16.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg and 3.8 apg. He shot 40.2% from 3-point range last season as well, including hitting a season high seven 3-pointers in a 33 point effort. Bryson joins the Norse as a “true” Point Guard, at least in size alone, filling the hole that graduating senior Zaynah Robinson leaves in that role. Langdon will be fighting with many other talented Norse bench players to crack the 8/9 man rotation come conference play.

Karl Harris

Graduate Student | G/F (Wing) | 6’5″ 185 lbs.

About a month before school started, Norse fans were alerted via Twitter and other sources that the Norse landed another reinforcement, in the form of graduate transfer Karl Harris. The 6’5″ guard out of Chicago, IL has had an interesting college career to say the least. Out of high school, Harris was recruited by some pretty big schools before committing to La Salle, an A-10 school. After playing in 25 games and averaging 2.6 ppg and 1.4 rpg as a freshman, he decided to transfer down to Indian Hills CC in Iowa. After a year in Iowa, he headed out west to Arizona to play for Northern Arizona University in the Big Sky Conference. En route to by far his best season as a college basketball player, Harris would end up averaging just over 8 points per game. He sat out last season to ‘focus on his grades’ which makes this season at Northern his last shot to do something big in his college basketball career. Not much is known about Harris as a basketball player, but he certainly will give the Norse some senior leadership and length on the wings in the full court onslaught that is a Darrin Horn pressing defense.

John Harge (injured and possible redshirt)

FR. | F | 6’8″ 220 lbs.

John Harge comes to NKU as the Norse’ only true freshman, and offers depth in an area that they DESPERATELY need it: inside. John played in prep school last year, at Hillcrest Prep, averaging just a shade under 20 points per game, 7. rpg, 4.1 apg and almost 2 blocks per game. He also shot 41% from 3-point range last season, making him the 3rd newcomer to shoot for over 40% from 3. He would have made a great addition to the 2019-20 rotation.

I said “would have” for a reason though. This past summer, Harge messed up his ACL badly (details remain unclear) and is likely to miss the entire season, in rehab. If this is to happen, look for the Norse to use the ‘medical redshirt’ tag on Harge, making him a Freshman for the 2020-21 campaign.

Lineup (projected)

Jalen Tate

Tyler Sharpe

Trevon Faulkner

Dantez Walton

???

Darrin Horn is notorious for his suffocating full court pressing defenses and quick moving, high volume shooting offenses. The Norse return 3 players who started almost every game last year and another in Trevon Faulker who became a starter down the stretch in the 2018-19 campaign. It is an almost certainty to this writer that these 4 are a ‘lock’ to start every game next season. The question mark hovers around that 5th starter though.

Will it be Silas Adheke? The 6’9″ Center returns as the Norse’ only experienced true post player. Though he only averaged 5 minutes per game last season, when he got his moments, he showed flashes. He also weighs 245 lbs and is a physical specimen who could somewhat match up with the likes of Louden Love.

What about Adrian Nelson? The 6’7″ F was a rim running big man last year. He is very versatile and offers up his athleticism in opportune moments. He also is a fantastic rebounder for his size, and I would argue (though I have done NO research on the topic) that pound for pound Nelson has to be one of the best rebounders in the NCAA.

Could Paul Djoko or Bryant Mocaby be the fifth? Not likely, though these two certainly look to factor into the rotation. Mocaby is a lights out 3-point shooter and Djoko is most likely the quickest guard on the team with the ball in his hands. Mocaby stands at 6’5″ and Djoko at 6’4″.

Could it be RS Junior Tre Cobbs? The 6’0″ Cobbs will most likely be in a battle with Sophomore Bryson Langdon to take on the “back up PG” role that Zaynah Robinson left open last year. Cobbs ended up redshirting last year, and returns back to the rotation primed to make a difference – but most likely not as a 5th starter.

Maybe it’ll be one of the newcomers? It could happen. If it were to happen, then my guess it is would either be Eleeda for scoring, or Harris for defense. Imagine a lineup where Tyler Sharpe might actually be the second best shooter on the court…. That’s not likely, but possible with Eleeda in the starting lineup.

My guess is based on pure size alone, Silas will get his shot. I think it’s a HUGE opportunity for him to shine, and I’ll go as far as to say that the success of the Norse will hinge on HIS success at the 5. Here’s MY predicted rotation:

Lineup (Kyle’s Prediction)

Jalen Tate

Tyler Sharpe

Trevon Faulkner

Dantez Walton

Silas Adheke

Outlook

Well, you’ve pretty much gotten a glimpse at the entire roster, what do you think the Norse’ outlook is? Certainly this team will have to play the fastest in the league – even faster than Green Bay usually does. This team will be a structural contrast to the likes of Wright State and Oakland – two teams that are built foundationally on strong post play supplemented by good guard play. It will be much different than Detroit Mercy or Youngstown State, two teams that are built around one superstar talent. No, this team will be just that. A team. Their success will be predicated on one thing and one thing alone: how each man plays off of the other. No one player is too big for this team.

That’s a scary thought. There is no Drew McDonald this year. No player who is a guarantee to get 20 points and 10 rebounds. Face it, the Norse just don’t have that this year. But that’s actually a good thing for them. These other players are ready. Drew was the safety net for the Norse last year. He was the stable force that kept the Norse upright. But this year, the training wheels come off, and it’s time to learn how to ride. And I think these men are up to the task.

Prediction:

The Norse will finish top-4 in regular season Horizon League play, hitting their stride in February and March, en route to winning the conference tournament. They will make it to the NCAA tournament for their 3rd time in 4 years.

Jalen Tate and Tyler Sharpe will be on the all-conference team, with Sharpe making the 1st team and Tate making the 2nd.

Biased? Nah.

I just believe.

Miss anything from Preview Week? Check it all out below:

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