By Randy Speer, The Circuit.
One of the facets that Benedictine coach Ryan Moody loves about his program is its experience.
The Ravens boost six seniors on the roster for the 2016-17 season, all who are going into their fifth year of college.
“That has always been our philosophy; to win with strong guys who are vested in the program and who have been here a while and understand what they are playing for,” Moody, who is going into his sixth season as the Raven’s head coach, said.
The seniors include returning starters Jake Schannuth, who was Honorable Mention All-Heart last season, and CJ Vallejo as well as VeQuan Clark, Justas Norvilas and Connor Fleming in addition to transfer Andre Yates.
“Those six seniors, we are going to rely on them, they are all going to get a chance to contribute,” Moody said.
Yates joins the Ravens after spending the last three years at the Division I level, seeing action in his freshman year at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska in 2012 before transferring to Cleveland State in Cleveland, Ohio.
After sitting out the 2013 season per transfer rules, Yates started in 29 of 30 games for the Vikings, averaging 9.1 points per game and averaging 28.3 minutes per game, second on the team.
“He’s a talented player who has played in big games against big opponents,” Moody said.
Fleming might be an X-factor for the Ravens both on offense and defense. The 6-foot-7 senior dealt with nagging injuries all of last year, limiting him to 11 games and just one start, but still managed to average 7.5 points per game.
“You’ve got a guy who can literally play five positions,” Moody said on Fleming. “He can play the post and defend the post and we will put him at the one occasionally because he can handle the ball and it’ll be a bad match-up.”
Yates won’t be the only transfer who could have a big impact for the Ravens as junior AJ Goss stands to help fill in the hole at guard left by the loss of John Harris Jr. and Shawn Fleming Jr. to graduation.
Goss joins the program from Southeastern Community College and played in thirty games for the Blackhawks, averaging 7.5 points per game.
It’s not just the upperclassman that have experience, but a host of underclassmen who have either played or have taken a redshirt year to grow and develop into the system.
Thomas O’ Connor comes into his sophomore season off a freshman campaign where he saw action in 22 games, starting six and shot 43.2 percent.
Also competing for time will be redshirt freshmen Colby Nickels, Grant Lahm and Wills Wallrapp. Wallrapp is the younger brother of former Raven basketball player Charlie Wallrapp, who is the 11th leading scored in Benedictine history.
“I think if some of these younger guys let the game come to them, they are going to have a great year because I think some of the attention is going to be given to these seniors,” Moody said.
“If some of these other guys can fill their role and let the game come to them a little bit, there’s going to be nights were they are going to be carrying us.”
Benedictine will need all the experience to reverse course from last season’s 15-14 (9-13 Heart) record, the worst conference record the Raven’s have had under Moody.
The Ravens were dead last in the Heart in terms of points per game as a team averaging 70.3, while at the same time they were the best defensive team, limiting opponents to just 72.1.
Moody attributed some of the disparity to injuries and the necessity to slow the game down.
With an older, healthier line up, he hopes that will bolster the offense, while keeping the stout defense.
“We won’t ever average 90, its just not the way we play. Defense is first, we embrace that, it travels, it can win games when you are bad one night on offense,” Moody said. “I feel like this team on offense has a lot better feel, a lot better presence because we are older, we are healthier, we’ve added a couple of key parts.”
The offense relied heavily on the 3-pointers, a strong suit for the Ravens, who were No. 6 nationally in 3-point shooting percentage, making 39 percent of their attempts.
“I think our biggest balance will be how do we play inside out,” Moody said on getting 3-pointers. “How do balance it by getting to the paint on the dribble or getting the ball into the bigs.”
Even with the loss of the Raven’s main driving threat in Harris, Moody believes that Yates, Goss and O’ Connor will be able to fill the void of collapsing defenses to create open 3-point attempts.
Benedictine returns four true post players from last season’s roster lead by junior Christian Hatterle. Hatterle started all 29 games last year while averaging 6.8 ppg and 4.3 rebounds per game.
Behind him are a trio of sophomores in Adam Kutney, Peyton Heinen and John Meyer. All three saw time last year with Kutney taking the lions share, appearing in all 29 games.
Another area where Moody feels the experience will play a key role is in the length of the season. With the addition of Clarke University and Mount Mercy to the Heart, Benedictine will have 26 conference games, up from 19 last season.
“It’s clearly a marathon this year, not a sprint,” Moody said. “You can’t live and die every league game this year. When there was 19, they were pretty important. This year, I am not saying they aren’t important, but you really have to be level mentally.”
The Ravens are two games into their season with a 84-82 win over Friends University in overtime on Nov. 5 and a 71-49 win over John Brown on Nov. 8.
They host Avila in their season- and conference-opener on Saturday Nov. 12