Green Bay Phoenix 2021-22 Season Preview

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Multiple major off-season moves molds roster in Will Ryan’s second year

Top returning contributors: Guard – Lucas Stieber (3.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.0 apg), Forward – Emmanuel Ansong (10.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.1 apg), Forward – Japannah Kellogg III (4.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 0.5 bpg).

Notable departures: Amari Davis, PJ Pipes, Josh Jefferson, Terrance Thompson, Parris Taylor, Jacob Jones, Damonte Taylor, Collin Schaefer.

In Will Ryan’s first season at the helm, Green Bay lost their first nine games of the season, before finishing with a record of 8-8 over their final 16 contests. Green Bay was a team built for a completely different style of offense, almost the exact opposite actually. The phoenix initially struggled to adapt to the system being implemented, but showed a vast improvement as the year wore on – despite suffering from a severe lack of rotational depth.

Ryan and the Phoenix would go on to finish 9th in the Horizon League and lose a double overtime heartbreaker to Purdue Fort Wayne in the Horizon League Tournament, effectively ending their season and setting the max exodus in motion.

Offensively, the team took care of the basketball (15th ranked nationally in turnover%) and were moderately efficient on offense – ranking 5th in the Horizon League in AdjO efficiency per KenPom. These principles are vitally important in Ryan’s system, however so is three-point shooting, which of course was a major area of concern last season. They were terribly inefficient from beyond the arc due to their lack of outside presence, but made it a clear priority on the transfer market to bring in shooters to fill out the roster.

Green Bay’s greatest downfall was on the defensive end, where the Phoenix ranked 324th in the nation in AdjD efficiency – in short, they were atrocious. The defensive end is where Ryan expects his teams to establish an identity. A lot of this can be attributed to the players simply failing to comply with the principles of the defensive system on every position, and lack of communication. I’d expect positioning, ball screen defense, and rotations to look more fluid this season. The hope is that as this group grows together, defense will eventually become a strength for this program in year three and beyond. The defensive cohesion is going to be vital to the program’s success, but will require some time to gel given the hefty roster turnover.

Last season was essentially an arranged marriage between the incoming coach and the holdovers from the previous regime. Both parties made the best of their situation and ended up pursuing better fits in the off-season. Now, the roster is comprised of hand-picked players that should be a radically better fit for Ryan’s brand of basketball. This will allow for Ryan to finally begin establishing a sustainable culture for the program this season and beyond.

Ryan had a vast amount of re-tooling to be done due to the magnitude of transfers, and now enters year two with a roster in which 61% of it’s players have never logged a minute for the phoenix.

With just three notable contributors returning, Ryan will be forced to lean heavily on the experience of players like former walk-on and Horizon League All-Freshman team member Lucas Stieber. Stieber is not a true point guard, and is more along the lines of a “glue-guy” who can initiate the offense when necessary and provide leadership. He’s best served playing next to a good ball handler that allows him to be a secondary playmaker off the ball. He’ll need to improve upon his outside shooting (29.5%) and ball handling this season, but his gritty defense and dependability should garner big minutes.

Then there’s Emmanuel Ansong who followed coach Ryan to Green Bay from Wheeling University. Ansong is the teams leading returning scorer and rebounder from a season ago (10.4 ppg / 5.3 rpg). He may be undersized at just 6-foot-4, but due to his extreme athleticism, plays much bigger than his size. Ansong wasn’t immediately eligible when the season began, but once he obtained his waiver he began seeing the floor immediately. By the end of the season he began hitting his stride, averaging 15.4 points and 7.6 rebounds over the phoenix last seven games. It’s going to be important that Green Bay establish good front court depth because Ansong needs to be able to play next to a true big on the defensive end. He’s a great piece for Will Ryan to build around, but due to his unique size/skill-set combo he’ll need to be surrounded by good perimeter shooters.

All in all, this team has very few certainties and will enter the season a relative unknown. Depth however should be a strength for this phoenix roster, unlike a season ago. While they may not possess the top end talent, this roster is unquestionably deeper/more versatile than a year ago. It’s also full of players who better fit the system – at least on paper.

The additions of players like Mitch Listau, Donovan Ivory, and Tutu Majok are ones that I expect will pay dividends immediately. In addition, the incoming recruiting class full of in state prospects (Meyer, McGee, Dailey) is particularly strong and could very well produce multiple contributors from day one.

Backcourt:

G – Lucas Stieber, 6-3 RS Fr.
G – Blayton Williams, 6-3 RS Jr.
G – Mitch Listau, 6-4 2xRS Soph.
G – Donovan Ivory, 6-6 RS Soph
PG – Kamari McGee, 6-0 Fr
SG – Donavan Moore, 6-3 RS Soph
SG – Randy Tucker, 6-4 RS Soph.
SG – Nate Jenkins, 6-2 RS Soph

It’ll be a mess to sort through initially, but Green Bay has good depth in the backcourt. While they are unproven, there are quite a few players that could feasibly push for time. I’d expect to see a ton of three guard lineups to promote better spacing on offense.

Ryan knows what he has in Stieber, and Blayton Williams is a juco transfer who should immediately slot into big minutes at one of the guard spots. Listau will provide a much-needed spot up shooter, and Donovan Ivory is a big, versatile guard that I think can be dynamic in this offense given the opportunity. Kamari McGee may only be a freshman, but he can flat out play. McGee’s defense alone should be enough to get him on the floor, and in due time should be the point guard of the future for the phoenix. He’ll have a role from the jump, to what degree is unknown.

There are definitely others that could push for minutes, but the players mentioned above would seem to be the early favorites to see the floor. As the young Phoenix team works to find their offensive identity, many players will get a chance to prove themselves.

Forwards/Bigs:

Emmanuel Ansong set for UWGB debut after NCAA grants waiver request


F – Emmanuel Ansong, 6-4 RS Soph.
F – Japannah Kellog, 6-8 RS Soph
F – Cade Meyer, 6-8 Fr.
C – Tutu Majok, 6-9 RS Soph.

F – Ryan Claflin, 6-6 RS Fr.
F – Cem Kirciman, 6-8 RS Fr.
F – Brayden Dailey, 6-6 Fr.

My biggest concern lies with the frontcourt at the moment. What Green Bay gets from Japannah Kellogg, Majok, Cade Meyer, and Cem Kirciman will ultimately determine what the ceiling for the phoenix will be this year.

Kellogg is someone who settled in late last season and made great strides in defending ball screens, however, he doesn’t have the preferred size to defend traditional big men. Which is what Bossier Parrish CC transfer Majok was brought in to do. Majok averaged double figures in rebounding and has good size and length to defend true “5’s” in the horizon league. He can be a difference maker for Green Bay if he’s able to hit the ground running. Meyer, out of Monroe, Wisconsin, was a huge recruiting win and will play as a “4” for the Phoenix. Meyer has good versatility and should earn minutes from day one.

I saw very little from Kirciman last year to suggest he can contribute anything meaningful without taking a noticeable jump from his freshman season. Outside of his ability to stretch the floor, he offers very little on offense, and showed below average footspeed on defense.

If Green Bay can settle on a defensively sound front-court rotation, they’ll be a tough play every night in the Horizon League.

Lineup

My best guess at playing time distribution at the moment (although it’s anyone’s guess)

Probable Starters:

G – Lucas Stieber, 6-3 RS Fr. (3.8 ppg, 4.0 apg, 29.5% 3Pt)
G – Blayton Williams, 6-3 RS Jr. (missed 2021 with injury)
G – Mitch Listau, 6-4 2xRS Soph. (3.1 ppg, 35.0% 3Pt. at Belmont)
F – Emmanuel Ansong, 6-4 RS Soph. (10.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
F – Japannah Kellog, 6-8 RS Soph (4.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg)

Bench:

PG – Kamari McGee, 6-0 Fr
G – Donovan Ivory, 6-6 RS Soph (played 6 minutes at Boise State).
F – Cade Meyer, 6-8 Fr.
C – Tutu Majok, 6-9 RS Soph. (10.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg at Bossier CC)

In the mix:

F – Brayden Dailey, 6-6 Fr.
G – Randy Tucker, 6-4 RS Soph. (8.5 ppg, 38.8% 3Pt at Vincennes CC)

Outside looking in:

G – Donavan Moore, 6-3 RS Soph (2.6 ppg in 7 games)
G – Nate Jenkins, 6-2 RS Soph (0.6 ppg at Iowa State)
F – Ryan Claflin, 6-6 RS Fr. (2.4 ppg, 1.7 rpg)
F – Cem Kirciman, 6-8 RS Fr. (1.6 ppg, 1.5 rpg)

Outlook

With so many new faces I expect this young Green Bay team to be a slow burn. It’s going to take some time to establish rotations, figure out what groups play best together, and who fits into what roles. Once that happens I think you’ll see a very different Phoenix team by mid-season. Right now, Green Bay’s lacks the top end talent to compete with the top of the league.

So, with that being said, it’ll be hard for me to argue with a bottom third conference projection on paper, but I think they’re deep enough outperform expectations. This is a team who’s in season growth will be fun to monitor, because they’re probably a year away from getting in the mix.

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

Predictions
Preseason All-League Teams Preseason Individual Awards
If we had an All-Newcomer Team…
Women’s Preseason PollWomen’s Preseason All-League Teams
How’d we do? #HLWBB Preseason Poll

Podcasts
Comparing notes with Justin Kinner

Team Previews
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Northern KentuckyOaklandPurdue Fort WayneYoungstown State
UICRobert Morris • Green Bay • IUPUI
Green Bay (WBB)Cleveland State (WBB)

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