SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO)- The Augustana men’s basketball team finished the 2018-19 regular season on a five game winning streak, but saw its year come to an end when Minnesota Crookston upset the Vikings in the opening round of the NSIC playoffs.
“We’re further along right now than when we ended the season last year. Just to see all of these young guys, they’re young on paper, but they’re old in experience. They’ve got a lot of minutes. Just to see how the practices have gone this early in the season and the retention from the previous year, we’ve been able to build off of that and add new things we were never able to do last year,” Augustana Head Coach Tom Billeter said.
“It feels like we are because every one knows kind of their role now. They know how our offense works, how it works on ‘d’ and so I think we’re ahead because we’ve been through it all once last year and now this year we can just begin to add stuff and just change things and everyone’s on the same page,” Augustana Junior guard Matt Cartwright said.
This season, the Vikings have a change of venue as Augie will play their home games at the Sanford Pentagon.
“I believe it’s one of the top venues in the country and the reason I say that is because it has gotten a lot of national attention. The teams that have played here and there have been some big teams, the Wisconsins, the St. Johns and the Oklahomas and when they leave, they all talk about the experience, regardless of the weather. So that shows you how good of a facility it is,” Billeter said.
Augustana returns fourteen players from last year’s squad including NSIC preseason player to watch Matt Cartwright.
“I think Matt will have a great year and he can score and he’s taken on some other components of leadership. You can just tell that he’s a junior and he’s very comfortable with the situation that he’s in. He knows our system very well and he has improved his defense and that needed to happen and he knows that and he took that as a challenge,” Billeter said.
Augie’s defense gave up nearly 77 points per game a year ago and this season, the Vikings will need to find a way to lower that number.
“It’s going to start with our communication defensively, our overall ability to sustain defensive intensity and rebounding is always a problem. It’s hard to tell if you’re a good rebounding team in practice or not. We have so many areas defensively that we have to get better and you win close games and you win championships with defense; there’s no doubt about it,” Billeter said.
This season, the Northern Sun Conference will feature some of the best competition that the league has seen in the past few seasons.
“I do believe that Duluth is a sleeper and I believe that Duluth may be the best team in the league. They have the best player in the league and that’s Brandon Myer and so I do think the league itself from top to bottom is as good as any in the country. I do think there are five to six teams that will be incredibly hard to beat on any given night,” Billeter said.
Augustana was ranked 2nd in the NSIC preseason men’s coaches poll and that ranking places some high expectations on the Vikings.
“Very high expectations, I mean we’re going to go out and be expected to win every single night. We should be winning close to all of our games and improve on our record from last year, for sure,” Cartwright said.
Augustana plays two exhibition games to start the year and then will play in the Opening Weekend Conference Challenge against Arkansas-Monticello on November 9, in Warrensburg, Missouri.