THE BIG LEAD: MEN’S BASKETBALL SEASON PREVIEW PART 1 – TOP RETURNERS

RYAN REEBENACKER, KNIGHT WIRE CO-MANAGER

There is no shortage of uncertainty surrounding the winter sports seasons due to postponements and shortened seasons attributed to COVID-19. While the men’s basketball season has been postponed until no earlier than Jan. 1, the conference tournament and national tournament are still, at least presently, slated to take place. 

While there are few things we can predict this season, we here at Knight Wire want to walk you through those that we can. This week, we’ll break down the top upperclassmen returning this season, and next Monday we  will analyze last year’s freshmen and how they might grow this year.

TOP RETURNERS

Last season was chock-full of ups and downs for Wartburg. After graduating away probable Wartburg Hall of Fame players Cam Kickbush and Jaran Sabus, the Knights managed to still string together a solid postseason run, losing in the semifinals to Coe College.

With the amount of talent to replace, a handful of players took the leap into the starting lineup and many new players mane a name for themselves. Here is our list of meaningful returners.

Max Smith Drahos

2019 Stats | 11.1 PPG | 3.5 REB | 3.3 AST | 1.1 STL | 42.1 FG% | 33.3 3PT% | 80.5 FT%

Max Smith Drahos is an easy player to write about. The odds-on favorite for who the Knights best player will be is still the probable all-time steals leader in Smith Drahos. 

Not only did he lead the team in scoring and assists last season, he has long-been on track to shatter the record for most steals in Wartburg history. As a player who focused on offense when he first came to Wartburg, Smith Drahos’ dedication to defense as an underclassman showed his ability to buy into a system that would reward him by one day featuring him as its centerpiece.

While the current all-time steals record holder, Nick Webber, sits at 143, Smith Drahos has been on track to shatter it since his sophomore year, and as he approaches his senior season he is only 24 steals shy. At this stage in his career, the only obstacles to him installing his name at the top of this list are potential injury and/or the season being too short for him to get the requisite steals. For reference, Smith Drahos has averaged roughly 40 steals per season. 

This year, expect him to take a step back from the scoring load that he saw last year. With young guns like Jack Molstead coming into their second years, and Ryan Stulken in his second year back after injury, the team should be able to ask less of the potential conference defensive player of the year.

Ryan Stulken

2019 Stats | 9.1 PPG | 6.2 REB | 1.2 AST | 46.1 FG% | 36.4 3PT% | 73.1 FT%

It is difficult to watch Ryan Stulken play basketball and not think about what could have been for the now red-shirt senior had he not suffered the knee injury that ended his 2018-19 season. The 6’7” forward was on track to lead the team in three point percentage and rebounds, and had come into his own with his advanced physicality among D-III competition.

Unfortunately for Stulken, that injury sidelined him for a year and he seemed shaken up at times trying to get back into form last season. The only question with Ryan Stulken this season will be his confidence, he has the physical tools and skill to be a conference MVP, but can he overcome the mental and physical trauma of a serious injury after nearly two years?

It is tough to predict what to expect from Stulken, but indications among many other athletes is that year two after an injury is when an athlete may come back into form. I would bet high on Stulken, his talent is a blessing for Coach Peth at either the power forward or center spot, and when you combine a player of Stulken’s size with his shot making ability the possibilities for an offense can become endless. 

Davis Roquet

2019 Stats | 5.2 PPG | 2.8 REB | 1.0 AST | 47.0 FG% | 38.9 3PT% | 56.3 FT%

Roquet isn’t necessarily a statistical darling from last season’s raw numbers, but most of that was due to a log jam at the center position with multiple centers ahead of Roquet on the depth chart. This season I would expect to see Roquet with a much larger role, and perhaps even in a starting spot.

Roquet provides similar value as Stulken at the center position with his ability to stretch the floor. He hit on 21 of 54 3-pointers last year, and at that clip Coach Peth may want to increase his attempts. 

The real question for Roquet is in his ability to maintain a positive impact over more than 13 minutes per game. That, and that his defensive stats, 0.3 steals per game and 0.2 blocks, may be worrisome for a starting center. But whether the coaching staff sees him as a backup or starting center, I would expect his numbers to go up marginally in the 2020-21 season.

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