There have been some magical moments in Frontier Conference men’s basketball the last few years, it’s almost too many to count.
But with an new season set to begin, the new-look Frontier is ready to produce even more memories.
Headlines going into the season include questions of whether or not MSU-Northern and UM-Western can continue the dominance the two rivals have developed over the last four years. And if team’s like Northern, Carroll and Western cope with loss of great players like Joe Simpson, Andy Garland and Brandon Brown, respectively.
There’s also interesting stories to be written, like ones in Billings and Lewiston, Idaho, as it appears Rocky Mountain College and Lewis-Clark State are ready to join the Frontier’s elite, as well as Dickinson State’s first season in the league.
And while so many Frontier legends graduated a year ago, there’s still some special talent in the Frontier, including LCSC’s P.J. Bolte, Northern Devin Jackson, UGF’s Marcel Towns, Westminster’s Jake Orchard, Montana Tech’s Adam Greger and RMC’s Joel Barndt to name a few.
The Frontier is typically one of the toughest conference’s in all of NAIA men’s basketball, and it’s generally a war of attrition as team’s try to just survive the regular season, as much as win during it. And 2013 looks to be no different.
It’s going to be an exciting race to the finish line, with Westminster, Northern and LC State leading the way at the start, but the likes of Western, Rocky and UGF not far behind.
So get ready for a great ride through the next exciting installment of Frontier men’s hoops.
Here’s a Look at the Frontier Conference, team-by-team, in their predicted order of finish.
2012 Finish: 3rd
2012-13: 11-1, 1-0
Head Coach: Adam Hiatt
Key Players: Jake Orchard (F, 6-4), Colton Moon (G, 5-11), Blake Skidmore (G, 6-1)
Outlook: The Griffins have been one of the most dominant program’s in the Frontier in the last decade, but not the last two seasons. However, Westminster appears poised to turn that trend around this winter. The Griffins boast perhaps the league’s most explosive player in four-year starter Jake Orchard, but it’s their depth and talent level which has them possibly a cut-above the rest. Westminster will go as many as 12-deep off the bench and every player on the roster is capable of contributing. With Orchard leading the way, and so much talent to contend with, team’s are going to have a hard time keeping Westminster from returning to Frontier glory this season.
2012 Finish: T1st, Tournament Champion
2012-13: 13-2, 1-0
Head Coach: Shawn Huse
Key Players: Devin Jackson (G, 6-2), Jesse Vaughan (F, 6-5), Corbin Pearson (F, 6-5)
Outlook: After graduating eight key players and four starters, it would be easy to write the Lights off in 2013. But Shawn Huse seems to reload more often than needing to rebuild, and if the start MSU-N is off to is any indication, the Lights should be right in the hunt for a third straight conference title. Many of MSU-N’s eight newcomers have stepped up big thus far, and if the Lights can find ways to win league games on the road, a third straight trip to the NAIA national tournament is well within their grasp.
2012 Finish: T1st
2012-13: 9-4, 0-1
Head Coach: Steve Keller
Key Players: Maazin Butler (G, 6-3), Jake Owsley (F, 6-6), Gabe Rucker (G, 6-2).
Outlook: Graduation also hit the Bulldogs hard, especially with the loss of NAIA Player of the Year contender Brandon Brown. Western has went to three straight national tournament, and has finished in the top three of the Frontier in each of the last four years. But the Bulldogs have enough talent to keep the ride alive, especially with newcomer Maazin Butler proving to be a dynamic player. Returnees Gabe Rucker and Jake Owsley are consistent, and if the Bulldogs can find some depth along the way, they will certainly fight Westminster and Northern for the league title.
2012 Finish: 7th
2012-13: 14-0, 2-0
Head Coach: Brandon Rinta
Key Players: P.J. Bolte (F, 6-6), Nick Fromm (F, 6-6), Jacob Champoux (G, 5-11)
Outlook: The Warriors were excited about their chances in 2011-12, but they slipped to seventh place by season’s end. The start to the 2012-13 has people excited again in Lewiston as LCSC is undefeated through its first 13 games. P.J. Bolte might just be the most powerful player in the conference, and returnees like Donte Archie, Nick Fromm and Danny Marshall, LCSC has the depth and talent to make a serious run at a Frontier crown in only Brandon Rinta’s second year at the helm. And with a great home-court advantage, the Warriors will be very tough to beat at home over the next two months.
2012 Finish: T4th
2012-13: 1-11, 0-1
Head Coach: Brandon Veltri
Key Players: Nick Jones (G, 6-6), Chris McGrath (G, 6-2), Dennis Mikelonis (F, 6-6)
Outlook: The Fighting Saints are off to their worst start in more in longer than anyone can remember, and things got even more difficult with the loss of senior guard Ben Cutler to a knee injury. The Saints may be suffering from a bit of an Andy Garland hangover as the four-time All-American graduated last spring. But despite the rough start, Carroll won’t be an easy out for anyone in the Frontier. Nick Jones and Dennis Mikelonis are matchup nightmares for opponents, while the Saints are working in outstanding newcomers like Riley King and Brett Ball. So don’t be surprised if Carroll has things pointed in the right direction by the end of February.
2012 Finish: T4th
2012-13: 9-6, 0-1
Head Coach: Steve Silsby
Key Players: Marcel Towns (G, 6-2), James Holmes (F, 6-6), Miguel Bocachica (G, 6-5).
Outlook: Last year, the Argos had their best season since basketball was re-instated at UGF. The Argos were on the brink of a Frontier title and a national tournament berth. UGF lost some key components to that team, but there’s no questioning the Argos return as much talent and athleticism as any team in the Frontier. Marcel Towns is explosive, and with inside threats like James Holmes and Naren Maynard, UGF will once again be one of the team’s to watch in the Frontier.
Rocky Mountain College
2012 Finish: 6th
2012-13: 8-5, 1-0
Head Coach: Bill Dreikosen
Key Players: Joel Barndt (C, 6-9), Jeremy Nicholas (F, 6-6), Don Parham (G, 6-0).
Outlook: The Battlin Bears’ haven’t had much success since winning an NAIA national championship four years ago. But this winter, Rocky appears ready to battle its way back into the top of the Frontier. RMC has one of the biggest front line’s led by super rebounder Joel Barndt. And the addition of the likes of Danny Little and Jeremy Nicholas will only add to the inside power RMC possesses. The Bears may have been picked to finish near the bottom of the league this season, but it’s looking less and less likely they’ll finish there.
2012 Finish: N/A
2012-13: 5-7, 0-1
Head Coach: Ty Orton
Key Players: Johnnie Sanders (F, 6-4), Jarek Hansen (F, 6-7)
Outlook: The Blue Hawks are no strangers to Frontier basketball, having developed many rivalries with Frontier teams over the years. But their inaugural season in the league may not be what they were hoping for. DSU is breaking in a relatively new roster, and looking to replace one of the NAIA’s best players in Matthew Lee. DSU is big and physical, and the Hawks always play good defense. But their first year in the league will likely see them finish in the back of the pack.
2012 Finish: 8th
2012-13: 8-5, 0-1
Head Coach: Aaron Woliczko
Key Players: Adam Greger (F, 6-6), Daniel Simon (F, 6-6), Tanner Neumann (G, 6-2)
Outlook: Montana Tech may just turn out to be the surprise team of 2013. The Orediggers are off to an outstanding start this season, and likely won’t live up their billing as a last-place team in the Frontier. Adam Greger is quickly becoming a star on both ends of the floor, while Tech is one of the best defensive teams in the conference. If Tech can find offense around Greger, the Diggers’ will likely finish towards the top of the league, rather than the bottom of it.