PREVIEW: FGCU Opens up the Nest for a Bout with UMBC

Eagles Fans Packing the Nest and Showing their Support

Coming off a season opening loss, the Eagles (0-1) open up the doors to the nest for the first time this season on Saturday, November 9th at Alico Arena. There they will battle with the UMBC Retrievers (1-0) in a rematch of last season’s clash that saw the Eagles secure a 76-53 victory. This matchup is the second of a home-and-home between two of the greatest Cinderellas in NCAA history. UMBC famously became the first #16 seed to upset a #1 seed when they defeated UVA in the 2018 NCAA tournament. Of course our Eagles stole the hearts of even casual sports fans in 2013 when they became the first #15 seed to reach the Sweet 16 and earned an ESPY for best upset in the process.

UMBC brings tons of experience. They lost their leading scorer from last year but still return 6 of their top 7. They have 4 seniors and could present as a much tougher foe than the easily-handled squad from last season. They faced a D-III school (Valley Forge) to open up their season and appropriately won by a large margin of 134-46. Here we will take a look at some of the potential key contributors and players to watch for the Retrievers.

The Players

K.J. Jackson (#3)

K.J. Jackson is set to be the lead Retriever this year as he enters his senior season. As a junior, he averaged 13 points, 3 assists, and 4 rebounds. He stands at 6’2″ / 180 lbs and was voted a preseason all-conference player. Jackson should be quite a handful for the Eagles’ young guards.

Arkel Lamar (#33)

Arkel Lamar is another senior on this UMBC squad. At 6’5″ / 235 lbs, he has a unique combination of size and athleticism (similar to our own Tracy Hector Jr.). Lamar lacks height for a forward but is quick, strong, and versatile. As a junior, he averaged 9 points and 4 rebounds.

Max Curran (#23)

Max Curran enters his senior season after having played only 12 games last year (injury). In those games he averaged 8 points and 5 rebounds. Curran stands at 6’9″ / 205 lbs. He is surprisingly athletic and effective with the ball in his hands when driving to the basket. While he is not going to out muscle anyone down low, he makes up for it with quickness and explosiveness when finishing around the rim.

Ricky Council II (#22)

Ricky Council II is the final senior on this roster. He started 18 games as a junior and averaged 6 points per contest. He is a bigger guard at 6’5″ / 210 and has shown the ability to shoot from three as well as finish around the basket. His role should be expanded this year.

Daniel Akin (#30)

Daniel Akin is another returning player for the Retrievers that missed significant time last year. He is a 6’9″ / 220 lb junior. As a sophomore, he played in only 7 games but made his presence known by averaging 7 points and 8 rebounds. Akin is extremely athletic and looks to have added strength to his frame in the offseason. In their first game against Valley Forge, Akin scored 11 points and grabbed 3 rebounds in only 13 minutes of action.

Brandon Horvath (#12)

Brandon Horvath was thrust into the spotlight last season as a result of injury and responded well. He enters his junior year as one of many proven forwards on this team. As a sophomore, he averaged 9 points and 4 rebounds. Horvath stands at 6’10” / 210 lbs. He also looks to have added mass over the offseason and could be primed for an even larger role. In their first game, he scored 13 points and dished out 4 assists in just 14 minutes.

The Other Potential Contributors

R.J. Eytle-Rock (#11) won All-Rookie Team honors for the American East Conference last season, averaging 5 points. He is a stocky guard at 6’3″ / 225 and could see his role expanded as he begins his sophomore season.

Keondre Kennedy (#0) is a JUCO transfer who is eligible to play his sophomore season this year. As a freshman, he averaged 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists. In their first game, Kennedy received a lot of minutes and ended up scoring 14 points while adding 9 rebounds and 6 assists. He is a tall guard at 6’6″ but stands at only 180 lbs. He could find immediate success among UMBC’s collection of guards.

Dimitrije Spasojevic (#32) is a big-time transfer from East Carolina University (current home of former FGCU coach, Joe Dooley). He is a massive, strong, human being at 6’8″ / 240 lbs. Spasojevic could see plenty of minutes as he is really the only truly physically imposing forward on the roster. He scored 20 points and hauled in 8 rebounds in their exhibition-like first game.

The Freshman

Nathan Johnson (#25) is the only freshman on the team. He is a 6’7″ / 205 lb forward and a 3-Star recruit. He received the bulk of the minutes in their throw-away first game, scoring 20 points and nabbing 6 rebounds. In a crowded front court, it could be difficult for Johnson to see the floor much.

The Familiar Face

Darnell Rogers (#2) returns to Alico Arena, this time, as a Retriever. FGCU fans may remember Rogers as the 5’2″ / 150 lb freshman guard from the 2017-2018 squad. He played last season at New Mexico Junior College where he averaged 14 points, 3 rebounds, and 5 assists. He joins UMBC for his junior season as a sort of homecoming, having grown up in Baltimore, MD. In the opening game of the season, Rogers saw plenty of minutes and ended up with a double-double (14 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds).

The Matchups

Backcourt Battle

The UMBC backcourt does not have much experience playing with each other or against D-I talent, outside of K.J. Jackson. Keon Kennedy is a promising JUCO transfer but will have to prove himself at this collegiate level before being someone to rely on. Council II and Eytle-Rock both had minor roles last year and it is unknown how they will respond to a larger one. FGCU’s tandem of Zach Scott and Caleb Catto is really turning into a reliable machine that can be counted on night in and night out. Their chemistry on and off the court is obvious to see. In their first game against Saint Louis, Catto and Scott paced the Eagles with 16 and 23 points, respectively. While containing Jackson will be a top priority for FGCU, UMBC should have their hands full with the Eagles rotation of guards.

The Bigger, The Better

The Retrievers are loaded with quality forwards on an almost overwhelming level. Players like Horvath, Curran, and Akin are all 6’9″ and 6’10”. They play with speed and explosiveness around the rim despite having smaller frames. Akin, though, looks to have added strength in the offseason. Lamar boasts some semblance of size at 235 lbs but stands at only 6’5″. He has a very similar body type to Tracy Hector Jr so it will be very interesting to see how their skill sets match up. The transfer, Spasojevic, stands as maybe the only truly physically imposing forward at 6’8″ 240. FGCU is no stranger to size, though. Brian Thomas and Justus Rainwater stand at 6’9″ and 6’8″ and weigh 255 and 235 lbs, respectively. These players couple size with athleticism to make this matchup something to look forward to. Freshmen Qwanzi Samuels and Dakota Rivers struggled to get going in the first game of the season. They should have plenty of opportunity to rebound (pun intended) as they project to receive increased minutes matching up with UMBC’s deep rotation of forwards.

The Predictions

Elliott Kresse (1-0)

87 – 79 – UMBC

Russell Kelly (0-1)

74 – 72 – FGCU

Dawson Jordan (1-0)

82 – 76 – FGCU

Bryan Genter (1-0)

82 – 76 – FGCU

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