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Men’s basketball looks to continue growth in 2016-17

Men’s basketball looks to continue growth in 2016-17

INDIANOLA, Iowa — The Simpson men's basketball team tips off the 2016-17 season tonight when it travels to Monmouth, Ill. to face the Monmouth Fighting Scots in a non-conference tilt. The game will be video streamed live on MonmouthScots.com. Start time is set for 7 p.m.

Head coach Brad Bjorkgren and the Storm return four starters from last year's team that was the surprise of the Iowa Conference, going 15-11 overall and 8-6 in league play to tie for second in the final standings. Prior to Bjorkgren's arrival, the Storm had endured eight-straight losing seasons. 

With a returning nucleus that includes First Team All-Iowa Conference forward Sam Amsbaugh, Simpson is poised to build on last year's success, but Bjorkgren knows it won't be easy.

"We are not going to sneak up on anybody," he said. "It's going to be a challenging year. Teams don't want to see us improve again, and we're going to everyone's best shot."

AMSBAUGH LEADS RETURNING CAST
Amsbaugh enjoyed a breakout season as a sophomore, leading the team in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage. The 6-5 forward showed the ability to score on the perimeter and in the post, averaging 15 points per game and knocking down 25 3-pointers. 

"He's got one of those games that's very difficult to guard," Bjorkgren said. "He can start inside but can go the perimeter and knock down a 3-point shot."

Joining Amsbaugh among the returning starters are senior guards Austin Turner, Ryan Skaar and DJ Dafney. A three-year starter at point guard, Turner narrowly missed 100 assists a year ago and owns a career 2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio. A shooting guard, Skaar led the team with 49 3-pointers a year ago and has 102 throughout his career. Dafney is a slashing guard/forward who tied for the team lead in steals and averaged nearly six rebounds per game.

SPREADING THE WEALTH
With Amsbaugh likely garnering more attention from defenses this season, Bjorkgren believes his team will need to be well-rounded in order to have success.

"We're a team that's going to score by committee," he said. "I don't think we're a team that will rely heavily on one person. I think we have numerous guys who can score 10-15 points per game."

Skaar and Turner averaged just under 10 points per game last season.

LIVE BY THE 3
Maybe the most noticeable different in Bjorkgren's first year was the rate at which the Storm shot -- and hit -- from beyond the arc. Simpson set school records with 232 made 3s in 688 attempts, crushing the previous records of 165 and 462, respectively. 

Boasting a lineup that features five players who made 20-or-more 3s a year ago, Bjorkgren expects more of the same from his squad this season.

"It's important for us to be able to shoot the 3," Bjorkgren said. "It's a main part of our offense  -- like it is for everyone -- and I think we've got some guys that can do that. I want us to get the point where I'm surprised when they miss."

In addition to Skaar, the Storm have a number of capable options to score from deep. Turner (34), Amsbaugh (25), Jamie Montgomery (27) and Sabonis Smith (24) all made more than 20 3s a year ago while Cody Good (18) and Ben Rajewski (16) are more than capable of getting hot.

BUILDING THE PROGRAM
Despite last season's success, the Storm were picked sixth of nine teams in the Iowa Conference Preseason Coaches Poll. Rather than using it as billboard material, however, Bjorkgren knows his team needs to continue to develop in order to earn respect around the league. 

"We haven't established our reputation as a basketball program yet," he said. "Maybe it's getting better, but it's not where we want to be."