Expectations high for men’s basketball team

The members of the Augustana men’s basketball team may be young, but after ending last season as division co-champions with an 18-11 NSIC record, the Vikings are returning with depth and experience.

“Last year we had 10 brand new players that had never been with us. That was a year of a lot of teaching and learning. And that was a great year,” head coach Tom Billeter said. “But this year, we’re so much further ahead, because they retained what they learned last year and we’ve been able to build on that.”

Junior guard Matt Cartwright will once again be an important asset to the team after finishing 12th in the NSIC last season in points per game and fourth with 42.5 percent for three-point percentage. He will be joined by sophomore guard Dylan LeBrun, who led the team with 30 steals last season and averaged 9.2 points per game, and sophomore forward Michael Schaefer, who snagged a team-high of 173 rebounds and averaged 13.7 points per game.

Senior forward Adam Dykman and junior forward Tyler Riemersma are going to reclaim their spots on the court after recovering from injuries that kept them from playing the majority of last season.

The team lost point guard A.J. Plitzuweit who transferred to the University of South Dakota after his freshman year at Augustana. Plitzuweit averaged 14.4 points per game last season, which was the second highest average on the team, and was named the NSIC Freshman of the Year.

Four new recruits have been added to fill Plitzuweit’s spot, however. Sophomore guard Matt Todd came from Monticello High School in Monticello, Minnesota, where he earned the titles of third-team All-Metro and Mississippi 8 Conference MVP, as well as being named a Mr. Basketball finalist. Throughout his time at Monticello, he earned a career total of 2,599 points, 601 assists and 380 steals.

The other new additions are freshman guards Isaac Fink and Bennett Otto and freshman forward Matthew Wheelock.

“Our team chemistry is great,” Riemersma said. “Off the floor, we’re hanging out with each other a ton. We all get along with each other and we’re really good friends. That just transfers onto the court. We all know that everybody has each other’s backs.”

Building off of last year’s solid foundation, the members of the team have already had time to develop a relationship and adapt to Coach Billeter’s offensive and defensive philosophies. Now, after coming off of an 18-win season, the team will face heightened expectations.

“Last year we’d just go out there and play,” Riemersma said. “This year, we’re expected to go out there and win. I think that might be a challenge for us.”

Ultimately, Billeter’s goal is for the team to make it past the conference championships and into the NCAA tournament.

“What we messed up on last year was losing that first-round game to Minnesota Crookston and that cost us an NCAA tournament,” Billeter said. “So this year, I hope as a goal — it’s not easy to do — but I think the goal of this team is to make the NCAA tournament.”

Senior forward Bodey Behrends thinks that this year’s team is special.

“There’s just an excitement to come to practice every day and to get better every day,” Behrends said. “There’s just this want and this need to do something special this year that we all think that we can do.”

Important matchups to look out for include Minnesota State, who was ranked first in the NSIC preseason coaches’ poll, as well as Northern State and the University of Sioux Falls.

On Oct. 27 and Nov. 1, the Vikings pushed past Division III Cornell College and Concordia Moorhead for exhibition wins of 110-61 and 88-58, respectively. They spent the following weekend in Warrensburg, Missouri, where they rolled past Arkansas-Monticello 90-73 in the season opener and followed it up by defeating the University of Central Missouri 76-72.

On Friday, the Vikings will travel to the Donald E. Young Center in Spearfish to take on Black Hills State at 8:30 p. They will stay in Spearfish to play the South Dakota School of Mines on Saturday evening at 6:30.

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