Men's Basketball's Title Hopes Lie in Depth and Leadership for 2014-15

Nov 17, 2014

University of Dubuque Spartans
Head Coach: Robbie Sieverding (8th season, 165-23)
Last Year: (21-5, 10-4 IIAC)
2014 IIAC First Round vs. No. 6 seed Luther, L 87-83
Preseason Ranks
Iowa Conference coaches: 2
Bennett Rank: 54
Massey Ratings: 40

Carroll University Johnson Bank Classic
vs. Concordia University (Wis.)
Waukesha, Wis.
November 15, 2014
5:00 PM

DUBUQUE, Iowa – The Spartans look to move up in the league standings after finishing in the Top-3 of the Iowa Conference in the past four seasons. UD will rely on seven seniors and a trio of players who played key roles in their 2012-13 IIAC Tournament title run. Andre Norris is the IIAC’s top-returning scorer, Lucas Ware is back after missing last season due to injury, and Brandon Ferguson moves to a starting role for the first time.

Replacing two 1,000-point scorers in Chris Frazier and Mitch Michaelis won’t be easy as the Spartans turn to their stable of guards, including senior transfer Jeremy Ware, to help fill that void.

That’s where experience and depth comes in as the Spartans will be prominent factors after a tough non-conference slate covering five states with just one home game. The flurry of road games should prepare UD for a rugged IIAC schedule which begins against Central on January 7th.

“This is the largest group of seniors I’ve had in my time here and they are all in the Top-11," commented Head Coach Robbie Sieverding. "It lends to a good chunk of leadership and allows them to show the younger guys how to work. We’ve always had a lot of depth, but thanks to our seniors this team should be deeper than year’s past."

Behind the Numbers
1 - Led IIAC defensively in scoring defense (68.5 ppg), FG% (.405), and 3P% (.279) in ’13-’14 IIAC play
2 - IIAC players, including Norris, to shoot better than .500/.400/.800 (FG%/3P%/FT%) in ’13-’14 IIAC play
3 - Wares on the team (brothers #14 Lucas and #50 Tyler, and #24 Jeremy Ware – unrelated)
5 - Consecutive 20-point games by Norris to end last season
7 - Seniors who account for 61% of returning minutes
16 - Straight wins to begin last season, a school record


Experience will play a role after streaking out to an opening 16-game win streak and ended with some tough losses in some very close games down the stretch. It adds fuel to the fire after being on the wrong end of some unfortunate plays in four of their last five games of 2013-14. Seven seniors, including Valley City State transfer Jeremy Ware, will look to shut the door on the competition after placing second in the IIAC, just one game out of first-place.

Junior Andre Norris will aid the upperclassmen in their title hunt after leading the team in seven statistical categories a year ago. The 2013 First team All-IIAC was lights out after averaging 18.2 points on over 56% shooting from the field and 48% from beyond the 3-point line. Norris and guard Gage Heffernan anchored the Spartans defense after leading the team in blocks (31) and steals (44), respectively. Heffernan is a jack-of-all-trades after pacing the team with 7.0 rebounds per game, earning 123 free throw attempts, and shooting over 51% from the field. Lucas Ware makes his awaited return after missing all, but one pre-season game last year due to an injury. He played in 29 games and averaged 4.6 points and 3.3 rebounds during the 2012-13 season. Guards Jacob Mohlis and Brandon Ferguson can fill it up after averaging nearly 14 points combined. Mohlis can bury it from deep after sinking 24 three point shots.

Tanner Cooke will garner more scoring looks after averaging just 6.6 minutes a game last year. Once healthy, Alex Vogel, could become a staple in the Spartan lineup after starting 24 games a year ago. Jeremy Ware will contribute right away after scoring 7.0 points per game after playing in 28 games, starting five, for a VCSU team (14-14 overall).

Projected Starters (FG%/3P%/FT%)
G Lucas Ware (6-1, SR, Platteville, Wis.) | (1 game, 6.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, .500/0/1.000)
G Jacob Mohlis (6-2, SO, Hazleton, Iowa) | (5.3 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 1.5 apg, .463/.429/.778)
G Brandon Ferguson (6-3, SR, Gurnee, Ill.) | (8.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.2 apg, .470/.353/.647)
F Gage Heffernan (6-4, SR, Dubuque, Iowa) | (13.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.9 apg, .511/.273/.797)
F Andre Norris (6-7, JR, Plainfield, Ill.) | (18.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.1 apg, 31 blks, .564/.485/.704)
F Tanner Cooke (6-4, SR, Cedar Falls, Iowa) | (2.0 ppg, 1.1 apg, 0.4 apg, .333/.345/.667)

Key Reserves
G Alex Vogel (5-10, SR, Washington, Iowa) | (3.3 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 2.2 apg, .373/.333/.674)
G Jeremy Ware (6-2, SR, Cheyenne, Wyo.) | (6.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.2 apg, .350/.324/.750 , transfer from Valley City State, N.D. (NAIA))
G Kain Arthorfer (6-3, SO, Bettendorf, Iowa) | (3.1 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 0.7 apg, .484/.556/.750)
F Tyler Ware (6-6, SR, Platteville, Wis.) | (2.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 0.4 apg, 14 blks, .622/0/.474)
F Mitchell Morrissey (6-5, JR, Moline, Ill.) | (2.9 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 0.2 apg, .565/0/.750)

“Based on our two scrimmages thus far, our team played pretty well on both ends of the floor," stated Sieverding. "We took care of the basketball and shared offensively, but defensively we have a little ways to go. It’s going to take some time and I don’t expect us to be perfect to start the season, but we are going to have to take some ownership on defensive if we want to make progress. Heffernan and Norris will lead on both ends and will score the ball for us. Those guys have been very successful and we are going to lean on them heavily as they continue to lead.”

Playing the Percentages (% Returning from 2013-14)
70.0% - Points
77.6% - Rebounds
67.5% - Assists
67.4% - Steals
89.3% - Blocks
49.2% - 3 point makes

Key Players Lost
It won’t be easy replacing a pair of six-foot guards who have reached the 1,000-point plateau in four-year starter Mitch Michaelis and three-year starter Chris Frazier. Despite his size, Michaelis was one of the best rebounders on the team and was a Second team All-IIAC selection during the 2012-13 season. The Spartans must replace the long-range production of the sharpshooting Frazier after he compiled 95 three point field goals in 42 IIAC games in his last three years. He is currently pursuing a professional career overseas in Germany.

Sieverding added, “both 1,000-point scorers will obviously be hard to replace and they leave a big hole in our team defense. Their defensive presence stands out even more this year during practice, especially since those two guards did as well as anybody in our conference.  It’s one of those little things that will be a big factor in how well this year’s class can adapt and still guard effectively. How well our guards defend early on will be key.”

G Chris Frazier (13.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.7 apg, .438/.420/.880)
G Mitch Michaelis (8.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.0 apg, .335/.306/.798)

Newcomers hoping to make an impact in 2014-15 are: Jeremy Ware, a transfer from NAIA’s Valley City State in North Dakota, a 6-2 guard that will be asked to fill some of the void left by graduates Frazier and Michaelis; Chris Moragne,  a 6-9 freshman from a strong high school program at Zion Benton, who is picking up things and progressing in the right direction; Mitch Davis, UD is thin at point guard position, how quickly he is able to adapt on both sides of ball is going to be important for the Spartans season.

Bennett Rank
IIAC National Rank: 3
Massey Ratings
Expected W-L: 17-8
SOS: 126

Road tripping will be the operative words early on for the Spartans as they trek to Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, and Florida for four, two-day non-conference tournaments. With just one non-conference home game on December 4th their mettle will be tested in preparation for IIAC play. They will face a bevy of up and coming teams in the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, the UMAC favorite, Concordia University (Wis.), returning eight of its top nine players, and Birmingham Southern University, who finished second in the SAA and features Preseason All-American Larry Thomas. UD finally comes home for their IIAC opener against Central on January 7th and looks to avenge a pair of losses against rival Loras on January 21st and January 31st.

According to the Massey Ratings, the Spartans face the 126th toughest schedule in the nation out of 416 Division III teams. Massey’s algorithms predict a 17-8 record for the 40th ranked team in the nation. Their preseason rankings highlight UD as the highest rated IIAC team.

“We definitely have a road-heavy schedule, but are excited about the tournaments," said Sieverding. "Road trips are always a great opportunity to build team chemistry and bonding while travelling, and it provides our student-athletes an idea of what it’s like to win in a hostile environment on the road. One game we’re looking forward to is December 13th at Elmhurst (Ill.). It will be a big test for us and a chance to play a team from the CCIW, arguably one of the best conferences in the country. It also gives some of our guys a chance to play back home.”