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Cinderella Watch: Can Phoenix Rise to the Challenge of March?

It's been 18 years since the Green Bay has made the big dance. In just his fourth year, head coach Brian Wardle has revitalized the Phoenix.

Green Bay's Kenneth Lowe (45) and Keifer Sykes (24).
Green Bay's Kenneth Lowe (45) and Keifer Sykes (24).
Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

As we enter the home stretch in conference play everybody is going to be looking for this year's Florida Gulf Coast. That's why we've put together "Cinderella Watch" to profile all the mid-major teams you should know before heading into March.

Green Bay Phoenix

Horizon League
Overall Record: 23-5
Conference Record: 13-2
RPI: 59
Key Wins: Virginia (12), Cleveland State (94), Tulsa (95)
Worst Losses: Valparaiso (173), Milwaukee (180)
Average RPI Win: 167
Average RPI Loss: 99
NCAA Tournament History: 4 Appearances (1991, 1994, 1995, 1996), 1-4 all time.

This Season

The Phoenix began the season 2-1, with easy wins over non-Division I foes Northern Michigan and Minnesota-Duluth straddling a three point loss to Wisconsin (6). From there a trip to Anchorage for the Great Alaska Shootout saw wins over Pepperdine and Tulsa straddle a loss to Harvard (57).

Green Bay returned home to defeat Virginia before dropping a game at Eastern Michigan. Following that loss, the Phoenix ran off 12 straight wins and started Horizon League play with a 7-0 record. That streak came to an end at the hands of Valparaiso, though Alec Brown's sprained shoulder had more to do with it than the Crusaders.

Only one loss has come since, at home against Milwaukee. With a victory over Oakland on Thursday the Phoenix clinched the outright Horizon League regular season title for the first time since 1996.

So far this season the Phoenix have blocked 210 shots, a Horizon League record. The previous best was 164, set by Youngstown State two seasons ago.

Key Player: Keifer Sykes

NBA scouts watch the Phoenix to check out Alec Brown. But it is Keifer Sykes who makes Green Bay go. The 5' 11" junior point guard leads the team with 20.1 points and 4.9 assists per game. His ability to pass and shoot also makes him the team's leader in usage percentage, taking part in 29% of Green Bay's possessions.

Only once this season, with six points in a December 21st victory over Fairfield, has he failed to score in double-figures. What makes his high scoring game so impressive is he does almost all of his damage from inside the three point arc. He just shoots 28% from three but an impressive 52% from two. You may wonder how a 5' 11" point guard can score so many points at such a such a high percentage from inside the arc.

Well, he can take really high percentage shots.

Why They Will Succeed in March

The Phoenix aren't reliant on the great equalizer, the three point line, to hang with the big boys. Only 18.4% of Green Bay's points this season have come from long range. Interestingly, 7' 1" Alec Brown is the team's leader in three point buckets (38) and percentage (47%).

Their offense focuses on the interior and so does their defense.

I already mentioned the Phoenix have set the Horizon League's all time single season blocks record, but how does that compare nationally? Only St. John's averages more blocks per game than Green Bay. The difference is just one tenth of a block, however, 7.6 compared to 7.5. Those two teams are far and away the best at protecting the rim in the nation, considering no other team averages more than seven per game.

Alec Brown leads the way with 88 blocks this season, but he's not the only one at the block party. Jordan Fouse has 46 blocks (and 63 steals), Greg Mays has 28 and Kenneth Lowe has 27. Brown's four seasons at Green Bay rank, in reverse chronological order, first, second, third and fourth in total team blocks in school history.

Simply put, they have been blocking shots for years and will continue to do so in March.