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2020 Frontier Preview: Frontier men's season will be a heated battle to the finish line

 

January 3, 2020

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Montana State University-Northern's Mascio McCadney, right, drives during a Frontier Conference men's game last month at the Armory Gymnasium. The Lights were picked to finish second in the Frontier this season, a season which resumes next week, starting with Northern taking on defending Frontier Conference champion Carroll College Tuesday night in Havre. The Lights are currently receiving votes in the NAIA Coaches Poll.

As per usual, the 2020 Frontier Conference men's basketball season began last month. Now however, league play is here to stay, and it will be an exciting race to March Madness.

Providence was picked to win the league this year, and so far, the Argos look every bit the part. Still, defending Frontier stars Carroll College and Lewis-Clark State aren't ready to give up the crown either, and MSU-Northern and Rocky Mountain College have the talent to do damage, too. Also, in an exercise in just how deep the Frontier is this season, mark it down that, either Montana Tech, or Montana Western is going to be a sleeper team this winter, and that shows just how good and how tough this league really is.

Here's a team-by-team breakdown of the 2020 Frontier men's basketball season, in its predicted order of finish.

University of Providence

Argos

2019-20: 2-0, 14-0

2018-19: 9-9, 18-12, T4th

Head Coach: Steve Keller

Gym: McLaughlin Center

OUTLOOK: In just his second year in Great Falls, Steve Keller's Argos are looking like a juggernaut. Undefeated and ranked seventh in the NAIA, the Frontier crown will likely have to go through UP in February. Averaging almost 100 points per game, the Argos have been sparked by Zach Darko-Kelly (6-6), a Western transfer scoring 22 ppg, as well as returning All-American Brandon Cotton (5-10), who pours in another 15 ppg. But UP is deep and balanced, too, with Joel Thabize (6-8) and Jaxen Hashley (6-5) dominating on the inside, while Rashee Stocks (6-3), freshman Dawson Fowler (6-0) and JF Daho (6-3) all chipping in nine points per night for an Argo team that finally appears ready to win its first Frontier title since reviving the basketball program now almost two decades ago.

MSU-Northern

Lights

2019-20: 1-1, 11-3

2018-19: 9-9, 18-4, T4th

Head Coach: Shawn Huse

Gym: Armory Gymnasium

OUTLOOK: With loads of returning talent, some exciting new faces and veteran head coach Shawn Huse again at the helm, hopes are high for the Lights, who have had a very good non-conference season. The fall has included the Lights leading the NAIA in scoring defense, as well as a host of other defensive categories, while on the other side of the ball, veterans Kavon Bey, Mascio McCadney, Adam Huse, Devin Bray and Cedric Crutchfield have combined well with newcomers Gio Jackson, David Harris and Jesse Keltner to form a team very capable of not just contending for but also winning a Frontier title, and going back to the national tournament.

Lewis-Clark State

Warriors

2019-20: 1-1, 11-1

2018-19: 13-5, 30-7 T1st

Head Coach: Austin Johnson

Gym: Activity Center

OUTLOOK: The Warriors had a year for the history books last winter. They won the Frontier tourney title, then went to the NAIA Final Four, where they fell to rival Carroll College. Yes, it was a huge season for LCSC, and this one will be, too. The No. 13 Warriors are off to a great start and will contend for the Frontier title in what will be their last season in the league. LCSC is moving back to the Cascade Conference next year. But, before they go, don't be surprised if LC makes another deep run this year, with Josiah Westbrook (6-1), returning All-American Damek Mitchell (5-9), Trystan Bradley (6-8), Bailey Hodges (6-2) and Travis Yenor (6-7) all averaging double figures for an LC State squad that also boasts one of the best defenses in the league.

Carroll College

Fighting Saints

2019-20: 2-0, 10-3

2018-19: 13-5, 29-8, T1st

Head Coach: Kurt Paulson

Gym: Carroll P.E. Center

OUTLOOK: All the way to the national championship game last spring, and led by the likes of seniors Matt Wyman and Match Burnham, as well as former Havre Blue Pony Dane Warp, the Fighting Saints had one of the greatest seasons in Carroll history a year ago. Now, in year two of the Kurt Paulson era #23 Carroll isn't interested in taking a step back. A young Saints' squad, led by Warp, the Frontier Preseason Player of the Year, is already looking like a team capable of repeating as Frontier champs this season. Carroll scores 80 points per night, but it's their Frontier-best defense that has looked really good thus far. Offensively, though, the Saints have a new dynamic duo, too, with Warp and Jovan Sljivananin (6-5) both averaging 19 ppg. Add to that the outstanding play of newcomer Dennis Flowers III (6-2) and the return of point guard Shamrock Campbell (6-1) and Carroll is likely going to be right there with a chance to win the Frontier when late February rolls around.

Montana Tech

Orediggers

2019-20: 0-2, 6-5

2018-19: 6-12, 17-15

Head Coach: Adam Hiatt

Gym: HPER Complex

OUTLOOK: The Orediggers have been struggling to get out of the Frontier cellar for some time now. And a shocking win at the Montana Grizzlies this past fall makes it look like they may do just that. Still, Tech is off to an 0-2 start in league play and, while newcomer Sindrou Diallo (6-1) is averaging 21 points per night, and Taylor England (6-5) is a nightly double-double, the Diggers' still look like a team that will struggle to make up ground in the loaded Frontier. On the other hand, the talent is there, with Troy Owens Jr. (6-2), Dylan Pannabecker (6-4), Derrius Collins (6-4) and Nate Ward (6-4) helping bolster a high-scoring Tech offense that averages nearly 90 points per night.

Rocky. Mountain College

Battlin' Bears

2019-20: 1-1, 5-5

2018-19: 10-8 18-13, 3rd

Head Coach: Bill Dreikosen

Gym: Fortin Center

OUTLOOK: Rocky went to the national tournament last year, but that roster took big hits, with All-American Jared Samuelson going back to the University of Montana, and four other seniors graduating. So, it's no surprise the Bears may have some struggles this season. Still, former Box Elder star Brandon The Boy (5-9), as well as Clayton Ladine (6-2) and Darius Henderson (6-1) are two of five players averaging double-digits for the Bears, who are strong offensively, but are allowing nearly 83 points per game on defense. Sam (6-2) and Lucas Vining (6-4) and Grant Wallace (6-8) are also stepping into key roles for the Bears, as well, and Rocky will no doubt still be a tough out every night this winter.

Montana Western

Bulldogs

2019-20: 0-2, 7-6

2018-19: 3-15, 9-21, 7th

Head Coach: Mike Larsen

Gym: Straugh Gym

OUTLOOK: After five straight NAIA tourney appearances, the Bulldogs stumbled to a last-place finish last winter. However, head coach Mike Larsen seems to have Western trending the other way already. Western averages 86 ppg, and newcomer James Jones (6-4) is scoring nearly 20 points per night. The Bulldog offense also gets 16 points from Cedric Boone (6-4), while new forward Brian Howell (6-6) adds 12 points and almost seven rebounds per game. The Dawgs also have a ton of talent around the trio, but they also play in the Frontier, which is loaded with top-end teams, and that might mean, the post Steve Keller may still include some growing pains this season.

 

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