After splitting a two-game road trip over Thanksgiving weekend, Augustana men’s basketball will recommence conference play with a 4-3 record, 1-0 in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC).
The team will travel to Marshall, Minn. Friday, Dec. 6 to play against Southwest Minnesota State University before bussing back to Sioux Falls to take on the University of Sioux Falls, Saturday, Dec. 7 at USF’s Stewart Center.
Excluding exhibition games, the crosstown rivals have paired off four times since the Cougars moved to Division II, with Augustana winning the first three before a 58-70 “away” loss at USF’s Stewart Center.
This year’s Vikings’ squad is dominated by underclassmen. After losing three key players due to injury and personal reasons, among them leading returning scorer Alex Richter, the current starting lineup contains two true freshmen and two sophomores alongside senior post Yuriy Malashenko.
“It’s kind of by committee,” head coach Tom Billeter said. “We’re pretty young, but they’re learning fast and getting better.”
Sophomore forwards Daniel Jansen and Casey Schilling have each filled leadership roles.
Jansen, last season’s NSIC Freshman of the Year, is averaging a team-high 17.6 points per game and has hit double digits in every game so far this year.
Schilling, the 6-foot-6 forward, has been an all-around threat, leading the Vikings in rebounds, blocks and steals and tying for the most assists.
“Me and Dan have really stepped up this year,” Schilling said. “We wanted this role. It’s unfortunate that we lost really good players like we did, but it’s one of those things in basketball. You can’t look back. You’ve got to keep moving forward.”
Freshmen guards Ethan Guske and Matthew Brazendale have both had respectable seasons as well.
A native Australian, Brazendale’s career-high 25 points proved decisive in the Vikings’ most recent win over South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. He credits Schilling and Jansen for both their scoring prowess and their ability to share the ball.
“We know Dan and Casey can do a lot of scoring for us, but they’re also very unselfish and love getting the whole team scoring and playing together,” Brazendale said.
USF, meanwhile, is 4-1 with a 1-0 record in the NSIC after its victory over SMSU last Saturday. Led by a pair of senior guards—Derek Brown (13.6 ppg) and Robert Goffney (14.0 ppg, 4.6 apg)—the Cougars have thus far maintained a potent offensive attack, averaging nearly 90 points per game.
“They are a very experienced team, solid in all phases of the game,” Billeter said. “And they really seem to play well at home.”
This poses a challenge for the young Vikings defense, which Billeter said is still enduring some growing pains.
“The hardest thing to teach a young team is defense and how hard you need to go at every play,” Billeter said. “It’s a team skill, and most kids aren’t used to it.”
Brazendale likewise attributes the Vikings’ somewhat rocky start to a few poor team performances.
“When we play good we are really good, but we have had some bad games,” Brazendale said. “The losses we’ve had have been because of our own efforts, not because of playing a better opponent.”
Jansen echoes this sentiment and offers his own advice for the upcoming game.
“Always come ready to play,” Jansen said. “Sometimes we come out and we don’t have enough energy. Make sure you’re ready to play every game.”