SIOUX CITY | We will find out for sure who the Great Plains Athletic Conference coaches feel is the team to beat when the preseason basketball polls come out on Thursday.
That, of course, will carry very little clout once the season begins, but it’s a fairly certain assertion that GPAC men’s hoops could be as strong as ever from top to bottom.
Morningside, coming off a 21-10 campaign and fifth-place finish in last year’s league race, figures to be among the top contenders, even though the Mustangs don’t have a senior on their roster.
“The bottom has turned into the middle and the middle is pushing the top (in the GPAC) and the top isn’t as separated maybe as it has been in the past,” Morningside Coach Jim Sykes said at media day Wednesday. “It will be a competitive year like no other. You have to stay healthy and have some breaks and a little luck along the way and hopefully you can be in the conversation at the end of the season.”
Three starters return – four if you count Tyler Borchers, who got several starts last season – for the Mustangs, each of whom are capable of scoring double figures. The fifth starting spot will be occupied by a freshman, but there are four more returning lettermen on the roster.
“It’s a fun group that brings a lot of energy to practice,” Sykes said. “We have 15 guys on the varsity, four of which are freshmen, six are sophomore and five are juniors. I guess on paper it appears that we’re young but we do have a lot of experience returning.”
Tyler Borchers, a 6-7 sophomore post from Le Mars, Iowa, contributed 12.3 points and 7.7 rebounds while shooting 61.7 percent from the floor in his first season at Morningside after transferring from the University of South Dakota.
“It was nice to get back on the floor again after sitting that year out (at USD),” Borchers said. “I’m getting more comfortable with the guys and it’s nice to get Alex and Pierce back in the fold, too after their first year here.”
Alex Borchers (no relation to Tyler) is a talented 5-10 point sophomore point guard who scored an even 10 points a game and handed out 82 assists. Pierce Almond, a 6-2 junior guard from Grand Island, Nebraska, averaged 9.3 points and made a team-high 67 3-pointers.
Then there’s Brody Egger, a second-team All-GPAC selection after tossing in 13.5 points. The 6-2 junior sharpshooter from Urbandale, Iowa, canned 62 treys and dished out 63 assists.
“We had a good summer, the guys stayed around and got a lot of time in together and that’s just what a young team needs,” Sykes said. “I can see we’re making strides, maybe not as big as I want, but we’re making strides in the right direction.”
Zach Imig, a 6-3 guard, will be the freshman in the Mustangs’ starting lineup. Imig averaged 15 points per game for Nebraska Class B state champion Gretna. His teammate, 6-foot-6 post Trey Brown, will be a top reserve.
“Gretna is a program that is used to winning, they’ve won (Class B) two years in a row,” Sykes said. “Zach is a very athletic wing player, he can play the point or the three wing spots and is a good all-around player. But the transition from high school to college is going to take a little bit just with the speed and the physical nature of the game but he works hard and will be just fine.”
Alex Borchers, a lightning-quick performer, said he feels more comfortable with a season in the system under his belt.
“I think we have a good group of guys coming back and a lot of young guys who will contribute during the season,” Borchers said. “We have a lot of talent so we’ll surprise some people. There’s definitely a lot of talent coming back (in the GPAC) but we have a great group and I definitely think we’re capable of making a run for a GPAC championship and hopefully in the national tournament.”
Of the remaining four lettermen, sophomore Matthew Hahn had the highest scoring average of 5.9 points per game. Former East High standout Wyatt Mounts, along with Trystan Cummins and Andrew Semadeni, also saw action last season.
Sykes expects contributions from freshmen Ethan Wyant and Jeff Widhelm. Wyant, a 6-foot guard, was an Iowa Class 2A all-stater at Jesup (the hometown of Morningside’s all-time leading scorer Brad Schmitt) while the 6-7 Widhelm earned second team Nebraska C1 all-state honors at Douglas County West High School.
If there is any concern at all for Sykes, it is a lack of seniors.
“If you look at the history of the GPAC, teams that have seniors generally do pretty well,” Sykes said. “We’d like to change the look of that.”
The Mustangs have a home game to open the season on Tuesday, Oct. 24 against Saint Mary (Kansas).