At the end of the 2013-14 season, I wrote a season recap with a few graphs outlining the outlook for the UE men’s basketball team next season. I had no idea how much it would change during the offseason.
Three signees and a transfer later, the Aces, on paper, look like a completely different team heading into the 2014-15 season. UE snagged two JUCO All-Americans in Taylor Stafford and Willie Wiley but lost freshman sharpshooter Tyler Ptacek. With Ryan Sawvell’s available scholarship and Ptacek leaving, it seemed like the two scholarships were filled with the JUCO signees.
Until this week.
UE announced yesterday that Rokas Cesnulevicius was granted a medical exemption, which freed up another scholarship. (Medical exemptions allow the player to keep the scholarship, but it does not count against the team scholarship numbers regulated by the NCAA). Most figured Cesnulevicius, who did not play last season due to injury, would be granted a redshirt, so the medical exemption that will end his collegiate career came as a surprise. But that meant another scholarship was available.
Today, the Aces announced a third signee, Sergej Vucetic from Nebraska, filling that third open scholarship.
This last signee seems to be it for this year: three players gained, two lost, and the third done with his collegiate playing career.
Here’s what it will look like class-by-class in 2014-15:
Sophomores: Duane Gibson, Jaylon Brown, Christian Benzon, Blake Simmons, David Howard (RS soph), Sergej Vucetic*
Juniors: Taylor Stafford, D.J. Balentine, Adam Wing, Mislav Brzoja, Mike Leazer, Willie Wiley, Egidijus Mockevicius
Senior: Jaylon Moore
*Vucetic will sit out in 2014-15, but will have two years of eligibility left, therefore part of the class of 2017
Now comes the fun part: re-predicting what UE will look like in the upcoming season. Stafford and Wiley will be able to play immediately, which will give the Aces more options, and in two years, the addition of Vucetic (and potentially any incoming 2015 freshmen) will just pad UE’s depth.
Here’s my take on next year’s Aces:
–Stafford could possibly grab the starting point guard spot from Duane Gibson. Stafford is undersized, but he’s an excellent outside shooter, something Gibson and Jaylon Brown weren’t able to develop last season. Stafford’s 40.2 3-point percentage is outrageous and was NJCAA’s fourth-leading scorer with 25 points per game. Stafford said he prefers point guard, but he also plays well off the ball (think D.J. Balentine-esque). If Stafford’s experience and scoring trumps Gibson’s ball-handling and decision-making, that makes the point guard spot a three-man rotation with Stafford, Gibson and Brown. Minutes will be competitive in the backcourt.
–UE will immediately go big. At 6-foot-7, 215 pounds, Wiley is a more athletic and stronger Ryan Sawvell and has comparative size to Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early (Early is 6-foot-7, 207). He’s also more dominant on the boards than Sawvell was, averaging 8.3 rebounds per game last season at Vincennes. Add him to 6-foot-10 Egidijus Mockevicius and the Aces may not have to worry about being outrebounded as much — they lost the rebounding battle 16 times this season.
–But the Aces will have ample opportunity to go both big or small. UE can have a tall, rebound-happy frontcourt with Wiley and Mockevicius, but can also go smaller with a combination of David Howard (6-foot-8), Jaylon Moore (6-foot-7), and Blake Simmons (6-foot-5). The Aces don’t have a big backcourt to begin with, but add 6-foot-4 Mislav Brzoja and 6-foot-4 Adam Wing into the mix at the ‘3’ and that’s a significantly taller lineup than last year. It’s easy to see UE going small, though: Jaylon Brown is 6-foot-0, Stafford is 6-foot-1, Balentine is 6-foot-2, Duane Gibson is 6-foot-3. Throw three of them in with Simmons and Moore/Wiley and you’ve got a quicker, smaller Aces lineup.
–In 2015-16, UE will have even more options. That’s when Vucetic will be eligible and the Aces will lose just Jaylon Moore to graduation, and I think you can see where I’m going with this. The frontcourt will be Vucetic, Mockevicius, Wiley, Howard and the backcourt will be stacked with Stafford, Gibson, Brown, Balentine, Wing, Brzoja, and Christian Benzon. And that’s not even including any 2015 freshmen that UE signs.