2015-16 College Basketball Previews: UMKC Kangaroos

Harrison, Martez
Martez Harrison, the reigning WAC Player of the Year, is back and ready to lead the UMKC Kangaroos towards another strong showing in the WAC in 2015-16.

Over the past few seasons, the WAC has been dominated by New Mexico State, and rightfully so. They have had talented players come through the program, and have been the best team in the conference.

Last season may have been the signal of a changing of the guard in the conference in the near future, no pun intended on the ‘guard’. While New Mexico State won the conference titles, it was UMKC’s star guard who took home WAC Player of the Year. Martez Harrison took home the award, a season after the Aggies’ Daniel Mullings won the hardware.

This season, UMKC will look to capitalize on having their star back for another go-round. The ‘Roos will look to build off their T-2nd place finish in the regular season standings, and build off one of their best seasons in recent memory. The big question will be whether or not they have the talent in place to knock the Aggies off atop the conference standings. Only time will tell.

Below, take a look at what the UMKC Kangaroos will bring to the table this season.

Who’s Missing

From last season’s roster, the Kangaroos lose a fair bit of talent and production. Three of the top five scorers have said their goodbyes to UMKC, including two players who found themselves consistently in the starting five on game days.

Reese Holliday, Deshon Taylor, and Frank Williams have all moved onto bigger things in their basketball careers, leaving the Kangaroos looking for players to step in and fill their voids.

Holliday is the top scorer of the three who are not returning to the hardwood in 2015-16, and he was the team’s second-leading scorer a season ago. In 32 games, 29 of which were starts, Holliday averaged 9.7 points per game to go along with 5.0 rebounds.

Holliday will remain with the ‘Roos in 2015-16, but in a different capacity. He will be a graduate assistant for the team after playing a year with UMKC and three previously at Toledo.

Despite putting up impressive numbers as a freshman in 2014-15, Deshon Taylor decided that UMKC wasn’t the best fit for him. He opted to transfer after one season with the ‘Roos, a year in which he 7.6 points and 2.0 rebounds. He appeared in all 33 games for UMKC, making 10 starts. Taylor has a ton of talent, and will be a player to watch over his career.

Deshon Taylor has verbally committed to play out the remainder of his collegiate career at Fresno State.

Frank Williams is the third key contributor to leave the program, and he was the team’s fourth-leading scorer a season ago. As a senior, Williams averaged 7.5 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. The JUCO transfer enjoyed a successful two seasons with UMKC after coming over from Indian Hills C.C. in Iowa.

Kevin Franceschi, Collin Jennings, and Isaac Kreuer have also transferred out of UMKC.

Who’s Returning

Despite losing three of their top five scorers from a season ago, coach Richardson and his staff have to feel good about the roster they have assembled for this season. Headlined by the reigning WAC Player of the Year, the ‘Roos will look to improve on last year’s 8 – 6 conference record.

Martez Harrison is only a junior in 2015-16, but he is the reigning WAC Player of the Year. He was also named an Associated Press honourable mention All American, becoming the first player in UMKC history to make the list. Remember, he did all of this as a sophomore, and still has two years of eligibility left with UMKC.

In his award-winning year, Harrison averaged a team-high 17.5 points per game, along with 2.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists per contest. He started all 33 games last season, averaging 32 minutes per contest.

The scoring point guard plays the game of basketball with a high level of both energy and intensity. He’s a quick player with good ball handling abilities. He has a strong jump shot and a strong shooting range. His quick hands on defense make him a threat on both ends of the floor. If Harrison can eliminate some of his turnovers, both he and the ‘Roos will take another step forward.

Along with the return of Harrison, UMKC gets a healthy Shayok Shayok back in the front court. The Bradley-transfer only played in eight games last season, his first with UMKC, before losing the rest of the season due to injury. In his eight games, Shayok averaged 8.8 points and 7.0 rebounds.

With a full season of a healthy Shayok, the ‘Roos will look to reap the benefits. The 6’9” senior forward should find himself as a staple in the starting lineup on a nightly basis.

Broderick Newbill and Darius Austin both return from last season’s team, and should see an increase in their role and overall production.

Projected Starting Five

Guard: Martez Harrison (JR)

Guard: Broderick Newbill (JR)

Guard/Forward: Darius Austin (SO)

Forward: Kyle Steward (JR)

Forward: Shayok Shayok (SR)

Schedule Notes

Much like the 2014-15 season, when the Kangaroos went on the road and upset instate rival Missouri to open the campaign, UMKC has the chance to pull off another upset in their first contest. This season, the ‘Roos go on the road to take on Richard Pitino and the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Knocking off a Big Ten team to open the year would be a nice way to kick off the year.

After returning home to take on William Jewell, UMKC goes on the road for two more big games at Omaha and Drake. From there, the ‘Roos have a three game home-stand that could be crucial for gaining momentum heading into December. The last two games of the home swing are against South Dakota State and UT-Martin, , two of the stronger teams from the Summit League and Ohio Valley, respectively. If UMKC can hold down their home floor, they could gain some much-needed momentum moving into the second month of the season.

Before Christmas, the Kangaroos head to Louisville, Kentucky to take part in the Billy Minardi Classic. They will take on the Louisville Cardinals and the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks on back-to-back days on December 22nd and 23rd.

To close out non-conference play, UMKC will take on their fifth power conference team of the season when they pay a visit to Stillwater, OK to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys. From there, they open 2016 with a road date at USC Upstate before going through the gauntlet of WAC play.

With five power conference teams on their schedule his season (Minnesota, Iowa, Mississippi State, Louisville, and Oklahoma State), plus a handful of smaller yet talented programs, the UMKC Kangaroos have plenty of opportunities to make some statements before conference play opens up. It will be interesting to see if they seize the opportunities.


 

Last season, the UMKC Kangaroos had one of their better campaigns in recent memory. Their 8 – 6 record in conference play was the first time they finished above .500 since the 2005 – 06 season. Their 14 total wins were the most since the ’10-11 season, in which they won 16 games.

Heading into 2015-16, there is more positive optimism around the program. The ‘Roos are hoping to continue the momentum they created in the second half of last season. With players like Martez Harrison and Shayok Shayok in the fold, the talent is there to contend. However, they will need the supporting cast to step up and play a bigger role to take some of the pressure off the shoulders of their stars.

If the rest of the starters and key role players can produce when called upon, there’s no reason why the UMKC Kangaroos can’t contend in the WAC this season.

– T.B.