#122 Northern Arizona Men's Basketball 2015-2016 Preview

Northern Arizona Lumberjacks

2015-2016 Overall Rank: #122
Conference Rank: #2 Big Sky

Northern Arizona Team Page#122 Northern Arizona Men's Basketball 2015-2016 PreviewBuy Northern Arizona Basketball Tickets

Northern Arizona looked like they might be in some trouble last season after a transfer and a mid-season eligibility issue left the team depleted. That was not the way Coach Jack Murphy wanted to head into Big Sky. Suddenly the team many expected to compete for a title looked like they may fall back to the middle of the pack. But the Lumberjacks were ready to move on and did so amazingly well. After falling at Sacramento State in their Big Sky opener, NAU won 12 of their next 16 games. They ended up 13-5 in conference play, just one game behind the leaders. Kris Yanku emerged as a star during that stretch. On the year he averaged 13.8 points, 5.1 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals. Now a junior, the versatile 6-4 guard is expected to do even more. And with a little more consistency on his outside shot, Yanku could easily average 20 or more points per game.

2014-15 Record: 23-15, 13-5
2014-15 Postseason: CIT
Coach: Jack Murphy
Coach Record: 49-53 at Northern Arizona, 49-53 overall

Who’s Out:
Yanku and Coach Murphy will miss backcourt mates Quinton Upshur and Aaseem Dixon though. Upshur took all of the big shots for the Lumberjacks and led the team with 14.4 points per game. He was a capable outside shooter and could score from anywhere on the floor. Dixon was the most prolific shooter on the team and knocked down 38.6 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. He didn’t attack the basket like Upshur or Yanku, but he rarely had off shooting nights. Gaellan Bewernick earned a few starts on the perimeter, but it was his ability to rebound from the backcourt that made him a player that Coach Murphy couldn’t leave on the bench for too long. Jaran Hoover, Tate de Laveaga and Chris Miller are also gone after seeing limited action a year ago. De Laveaga was once believed to be the outside shooter of the future for this team. However, his shot never fell last year and he failed to make an impression even when the backcourt needed to find a new player or two to potentially put into the rotation. He opted to transfer. The losses in the frontcourt are Len Springs and Zachary Reynolds. Springs was a big 6-10 center who was great at blocking shots. He did a decent enough job on the glass, yet the offense never came around. But his defense will certainly be missed.

Who’s In:
This is a big class of eight incoming freshmen and one redshirt freshman. It begins with what was dubbed the “Florida Four.” That included Corey Brown and Majestic Tejada of McArthur High School in Hollywood, Florida, Michael Green of Fort Lauderdale and Bryant Searcy of Tampa. Since, another McArthur High School product, forward Felix Rivera-Vega has been added to the mix. Tejada is a true point guard who has the toughness and intelligence to play some minutes as a freshman. . Searcy, a combo guard, may not have the most athleticism or pure talent, but he is a hard worker and a solid defender. Green, a little 5-11 sparkplug, may make the biggest impact of any of the newcomers. He is speedster who can get up and down the floor, with the ball, in a hurry. He has the ability to find his teammates or score in a variety of ways. For now, his tough defense could be what earns him quite a few minutes, but he will certainly score while he is on the floor anyway. There are a few guys not from Florida. Marcus DeBerry and redshirt freshman Torry Johnson will look for minutes on the perimeter, while Isaiah Thomas and Brady Twombly are forwards. Twombly, a 6-5 small forward, can bring good size to the wing and has a nice shot.

Who to Watch:
That group of newcomers is the future of this program, but there are plenty of returning players to help usher in the new era. Jaleni Neely played in just 12 games last year before being ruled ineligible. But during those 12 games he played pretty well, averaging 7.9 points and 2.8 assists in 30.4 minutes per game. He can run the point or play off the ball, which Yanku can do as well, so if those two do end up starting next to each other in the backcourt, Coach Murphy has ball handling options. And having two guards who can really handle the ball is never a bad thing. Much of the perimeter depth will come from the newcomers. Kye De Laveaga and Austin Lee will try to get into the rotation as well. In the frontcourt, NAU is in pretty good shape despite losing Springs. Jordyn Martin, a 6-7 senior, averaged 7.7 points and 7.7 rebounds in 2014-2015. He is a beast on the glass and a superb defender. Any extra scoring he can do is just a bonus. At 6-7 and 276 pounds, Ako Kaluna can eat up a lot of space in the paint. He can also step outside and knock down some three-pointers. Geoffrey Frid, a 7-1 junior, will compete with the newcomers for minutes off of the bench. The problem with this frontcourt is that they do not have a shot blocker like Springs. In a high scoring league like the Big Sky, having that athletic shot blocker can make a huge difference.

Final Projection:
There are some holes to fill and you do not lose a player like Upshur without feeling the effects. If this team can find a consistent outside shooter and somebody who can block a few shots here and there, Northern Arizona can think bigger than the CIT. The Lumberjacks made a run to the CIT Championship Game last year, where they lost to Evansville, and that momentum has this group on the upswing. Once again the Big Sky will be tight so one game here or there could decide the title. And, of course, one game will certainly decide who goes to the NCAA Tournament.

Projected Postseason Tournament: CBI/CIT

Projected Starting Five:
Kris Yanku, Junior, Guard, 13.8 points per game
Jaleni Neely, Senior, Guard, 7.9 points per game
Brady Twombly, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
Jordyn Martin, Senior, Forward, 7.7 points per game
Ako Kaluna, Junior, Center, 8.6 points per game

By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 68.6 (140th in nation, 8th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 67.3 (189, 2)
Field-Goal Percentage: 40.4 (300, 11)
Field-Goal Defense: 43.0 (176, 1)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 6.7 (127, 8)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 34.7 (153, 11)
Free-Throw Percentage: 75.0 (16, 1)
Rebound Margin: 5.7 (25, 1)
Assists Per Game: 12.2 (204, 7)
Turnovers Per Game: 11.8 (97, 5)


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