Men’s basketball succeeds despite not defending title
One year after winning a national title, the Augustana men’s basketball team ended its 2016-17 season with a loss to this year’s champs.
Northwest Missouri State beat the Vikings for the third time in three years in the Central Region semifinals, 73-54, before marching to the national championship last Saturday in Sioux Falls.
At the Elite Eight, Augustana was honored as last year’s champion—the first returning champ to get its banner revealed in its home city, according to head coach Tom Billeter.
Billeter said Northwest’s fans in attendance offered a standing ovation to last year’s Viking squad, a sign of respect in a heated rivalry.
“[Northwest’s] president came up and introduced himself to me after and just thanked us for such a great rivalry,” Billeter said. “I mean, you talk about class. It’s really turned into a neat little rivalry. We’ve played them five times in the last three years. We’ve played them more than we have [played] teams from the [NSIC] North division.”
The Vikings’ return to the NCAA Tournament was not predicted by many at the beginning of the year—certainly not by Billeter-who admitted he didn’t expect his team to win 20 games.
“That’s a heck of a deal to lose those seniors that we lost,” Billeter said. “They just played a lot, and it was always kind of hard to recruit behind them because kids wanted to play. And it was a great problem to have.”
The introduction of grad-transfer Mike Busack helped make the season’s successes possible. Busack averaged 16.2 points and seven rebounds per game in his lone season as a Viking. He scored nearly as many points this year (535) as he did in his three seasons at Minnesota State-Mankato combined (573).
“It was really fortunate to get Mike, and I thought our team handled him extremely well,” Billeter said. “To have a one-year kid come in and get some of their minutes, our guys never complained about that. They welcomed him with open arms. You know, that’s pretty cool.”
Billeter said he hopes to attract another one-year transfer for next season. He like one-year transfers because they have “been a student for four years, they’ve got a pretty good idea of what the coursework is like.”
Billeter said it’s not always easy to recruit grad-transfers to Augustana because of it’s relative dearth of graduate course options, something Augustana is looking to bolster in its Horizons 2019 plan. He stressed it was not a complaint, but an acknowledgement.
Busack is not the only starter to play his last game. Stalwarts Zach Huisken and Adam Beyer also move on after storied careers. Huisken was the last true big man standing after Daniel Jansen’s and Casey Schilling’s graduations. Current junior Marcus Asmus and a trio of freshman- Bodey Behrends, Lucas Walford and Andy Kerkman- will compete for his minutes next year.
Senior guard Adam Beyer will also be missed. Beyer started 122 games in his four years and scored 1,199 points.
He shot 53 percent from the field and 46 percent from three in his career, the latter the fourth-best mark in school history.
“Both those kids had a lot to do with an awful lot of victories,” Billeter said of Beyer and Huisken. “[I] enjoyed very much coaching both of them. Not a bad word to say about any of them.”
Billeter said that, along with returning contributors like Jordan Spencer, John Warren, Steven Schaefer, and the aforementioned Asmus, he expects freshman Levi Jansen to show fans that he’s “a very talented basketball player.”
“Obviously he wasn’t healthy [this year]and he never could play to the level that he’s used to playing and wants to play,” Billeter said. “Nobody got to see him like we’ve seen him. He was hurt. He’s very talented. He’s a really good player.”
Jansen said he struggled with injuries in both hips—something he’s dealt with since his senior year of high school—but he expects to be 100 percent by the start of next year.
“It wasn’t an easy year,” Jansen said, “[but] I hope to contribute a lot [next season].”
Jansen hopes to receive a medical redshirt, but the redshirt rules in Division II could prohibit it. D-II allows students to play 20 percent of games and maintain a redshirt, while D-I has a less-restrictive 30 percent. The rule changes next year, according to assistant athletic director Ann Traphagen.
Next year’s team returns only one double-digit scorer—current junior and three-time All-NSIC honoree Spencer. If Augustana hopes to return to the NCAA Tournament for a fourth straight year, it will likely need to exceed expectations again.