Defense was one thing University of Mary men’s basketball coach Joe Kittell could count on last season. Game in and game out, the Marauders’ Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference opponents were in for a battle.
Offense? Well, that was a different story, as the team’s scoring output varied by as much as 53 points from one night to the next.
Kittell is confident the Marauders have the talent to be a better offensive team this season while maintaining its tenacity on defense. Not ironically, the same two players will be keys to both sides of the floor.
Senior guard Jaylan White, the smallest player on the roster at 5-foot-11, and junior forward Matthew Kreklow, the tallest at 6-foot-9, may hold the key to the season in their hands.
“Having Jay be the beginning of the defense and having Matt be the defense on the back side is nice,” Kittell said. “Krek’s third all-time in block shots. He’s 30 away from the school record. He’s a guy that can solidify the back end of the defense.”
Kreklow blocked 53 shots last season and has 76 in his career. He averaged 11.7 points and 5.6 rebounds as well.
White, an all-NSIC honorable mention selection last season, can run and defend the full length of the floor. Because he’s intelligent, he’s given some leeway to ad-lib.
“Jay, he’s kind of on his own,” Kittell said. “He has so much experience in this league there are some freedoms we let him have. He’s one of those guys you trust on the floor. He’s a menace when it comes to guarding the ball, especially on the ball screen.”
White had 38 steals last season but he didn’t let his work on defense come at the expense of his offense. He led the Marauders in scoring (13.8), free throws (119-144, .826), assists (3.3), steals (1.3) and minutes (35.0).
Kreklow led in field goals (126-269, .468), rebounds (5.6) and blocks (1.8).
Kittell said a slow start made U-Mary’s offensive numbers look worse than they were by season’s end.
“We made some big strides offensively last year,” Kittell noted. “Some of the end-of-year numbers were hindered by the first two months. You hope it’s something that can carry over and you hope our defense is still a top-three defense in the NSIC and top-20 in the country like it was.”
U-Mary was 16th in the NSIC in scoring offense (69.7) but third in defense (70.9). It was 16th in shooting offense (.420) and fourth in shooting defense (.444). It was 16th in 3-point shooting (.330)
Getting White some help will be a key to turning those offensive offensive numbers around.
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“He was a real high assist guy the year before,” Kittell said. “Last year we weren’t a (good) 3-point team early and we got better at the end. So early in year, Jay had to take on that scoring role. This year, we hope we can be where he’s scoring at a high rate and also be a high-assist guy.”
That will depend on several returnees and a couple of fresh faces, including junior college transfer Glenn Jordan, a 6-1 guard who averaged 13 points and six assists last season at Allan Hancock College.
“He is a guy we needed to solidify the backup point guard. We needed someone to come in sub Jay out and to play with him. He has great experience,” Kittell said.
Nine other players – seven of whom saw playing time – return.
That includes 6-6 junior forward Wyatt Carr, who was a sixth man the last two years and is poised to move into a starting role. Carr averaged 4.8 points and 2.3 rebounds.
"We return 11 guys, nine that played last year. We need Wyatt to be a consistent scorer for us, especially behind the arc,” Kittell said. “We’ll stay on him for rebounding and defense and he has a natural gift to score.”
Connor Hellebust, a 6-3 junior guard, will be in his second year as a starter. He averaged 9.9 points and 3.6 rebounds, dished out 40 assists and made 40 3-pointers.
“He’s had some unbelievable nights and some eggs. We need him to be consistent, to be a 12 to 13 (points) a night instead of 22 one night and six the other,” Kittell noted.
Trever Kaiser, a 6-2 sophomore guard, averaged 3.4 points with a breakout high game of 21 points against Augustana.
Sophomore Lucas Mayer (6-7 forward) returns from a sports hernia that cost him last season and led to a medical redshirt.
Kittell said the biggest improvement this offseason was by 6-3 redshirt freshman guard Josh Sipes.
“It’s been shocking how much he has advanced in a year,” Kittell said of Sipes. “He has shot it unbelievably. He’s a guy that will be in the top eight rotation if not starting. If he shoots the way he has been, he’ll be a big part for us.”
Kittell will get a chance to see his Marauders in action this weekend at a tournament at Northwestern Oklahoma. The Marauders play Central Oklahoma on Friday and Northeastern State on Saturday. Their first home game is Nov. 15 against Presentation College.