After claiming back-to-back wins against Lindenwood University last weekend, the men’s basketball team heads to Riverside, CA to take on California Baptist University Friday and Concordia University Irvine Saturday.
With the two wins, in four games, the men’s basketball team already has more wins against NCAA Division II competition than the team did all last season, when they earned only one, and a late one at that, coming February 11.
But the big question is: can SFU keep up the momentum with a shortened bench? On the weekend, the Clan dressed only nine players and gave minutes to just eight. Most notable of those absences was guard Kedar Wright.
Wright, who had led the team in points in exhibition play with 63 points in the three games and was expected to carry a bulk of the offence this season, was injured in the game before against Lindenwood on a foul. Wright was wearing a sling around his arm Saturday, and for now, the timetable for his return is unknown.
“We don’t know. Right now, it’s kind of day-to day, and we’ll have to talk to the doctor and see where he’s at, but he had a slight separation in his shoulder and we’ll just see how he responds to rehab,” said Hanson after Saturday’s game.
Gibran Sewani hasn’t played since the exhibition game versus Quest University, suffering the effects of a concussion in a September practice. He was expected to return to practice this week
Redshirt freshman Aleks Vranjes hasn’t played since their first game against Douglas College, where he put up 24 minutes and looked like he’d be a big part of this team. Bowen Bakken has also not played since the Quest game. Vinnie Safin did not play last weekend, but was in the lineup the weekend before at the Sodexo tipoff.
Freshman Bongani Moyo does not appear to be officially redshirted — he was dressed for Saturday’s game — but has not played a minute in the regular season. His play in exhibition was limited to 16 minutes over three games, receiving only two minutes each in the first two games.
However, the team appears confident that it can rise above a shortened bench.
“Good teams have to be able to play with nine, 10, 11 guys every night,” said Hanson. “Our practices have to prepare us for playing when you’re tired, making good decisions, so [Saturday] was a great game to see how we cope in tight game situations.”
A big key to that is getting big performances out of both the new additions and players who don’t typically score. Redshirt-freshman Michael Provenzano played 36 and 39 minutes last weekend, scoring 14 points, after having played 14 and 26 minutes in his first two games. Sophomore Tyrell Lewin had a career-high 14 points Saturday, after putting up eight points in his first three games and only putting up double digit points three times in his pure freshman season.
The play from the bench will be important, and Andrew Williamson and Hidde Vos in particular will likely be relied to play some big minutes. Williamson and Vos both played over 20 minutes Saturday, coming off the bench, after playing eight and 11 respectively on Friday.
“[The key to sustaining this momentum is] riding on the energy that we’ve had from these two games,” said Lewin on Saturday. “There’s definitely some stuff to fix still, but I’m sure as long as we keep the energy and positive frame of mind, keep attacking, we should do well in the next couple of games.”
“We’re going into the dragon’s lair,” said Hanson, referring to Friday’s matchup in particular. “Our guys will be in tough and it’s going to be a real challenge, getting ready for practice this week. I think it’s great though, to play the best teams in the nation and see where we stack up. It’s going to be really tough.”
California Baptist are ranked ninth nationally, having won their two Division II matchups, and were competitive in an 81-73 loss to the Division I University of California Berkeley Bears.
And on Saturday, though Concordia University Irvine have not fared well in non-conference play so far, going 1-4, last season they were a force in the NCAA Division II PacWest conference, going 22-6 overall, and 15-5 in the conference — tying for best conference record.
It will be an important test to see if SFU can pull off a win or two, and if not, remain competitive in both games with a shortened bench.