Saturday, February 26, 2011

#2 Concordia Women and St. Thomas Men Win MIAC Playoffs

Edit: St. Thomas Men Hold On to Beat Gustavus 83-77 for MIAC Title

St. Thomas ended up splitting the two MIAC playoff title games at Schoenecker Arena, the men beating Gustavus today 83-77 after the women lost to Concordia 71-61 on Saturday.

The men took early leads of 9-4, 23-8 and 31-17. The Gusties came back with a 13-3 run to get within 34-30, but the Tommies closed the half on a 13-3 run of their own for a 47-33 lead.

Phil Wirtjes and Seth Anderson scored all 13 Gusties points during their 13-3 run, Wirtjes closing the run with 3 jumpers in 38 seconds, the last one coming at 3:58. John Nance, Anders Halvorsen and Brady Ervin responded with 13 points for the Tommies, 4 of the 5 field goals coming on lay-ups.

The pattern repeated itself in the 2nd half. From 49-33, the Gusties came back within 55-51. From 71-57, they got within 75-72 at 1:16. Wirtjes and Dan Schmidtknecht scored 5 points each during the Gusties final push. But the Tommies made 8-of-8 free throws inside of a minute.

Anderson and Wirtjes had 27 1st half points for Gustavus, and 51 for the day. The 2 made 20-of-39 FG, the rest of the Gusties 11-of-26. John Nance and Ervin led St. Thomas with 36 points off the bench. Tyler Nicolai added 18.

Edit: Concordia Women Handle Tommies 71-61

Sunnyday picked St. Thomas to win the MIAC. I picked 'em in the pre-season when the coaches picked St. Ben's. And the Tommies won the regular season title. I picked 'em to win the play-off title, too, though it was obvious they weren't playing very well and Concordia was coming in.

I picked Rachel Booth as the MIAC player of the year both of the last 2 years. I really like these St. Thomas kids. But I gotta ask. What happened?

The St. Thomas spunk was just totally missing in the playoffs and Booth in particular--again, a person's gotta ask: Is she hurt? Has her motivation been variable? I mean here's a women who as the playoff MVP in Division 2 as a sophomore and who scored 17 points per game last year for the Tommies as a junior. In the post-season her production went up to 19.7 points per game and she was the post-season MVP again.

This year her minutes were down from 28 to 24 because, hey, she's got the world's greatest back-up in freshman Maggie Weiers. But while her minutes were down 14 percent, her scoringwas one more than a third, from 17 to 11. Her rebounds down about 30 percent, from 9 to 6-and-a-half. Her blocks down by half, from 3.3 to 1.67. Her steals by more than half from 1 to less than a half a steal per game.

And in the playoffs of her senior season, her swan song, she made 2-of-10 shots for 4 points. In 2 games.

So Taylor Young took over, scoring 6 of the Tommies last 8 points, including the game winner against Gustavus, and 22 points last night against Concordia. Jazmin Townsend, the other senior contributor for St. Thomas, added 18. But not much else was happening. So suddenly the 18-4 Tommies with all but 2 players coming back are a question mark instead of an obvious favorite for next year.

Meanwhile, Concordia did what senior teams are supposed to do. They came together solidly in the post-season. They ran out to 1st half leads of 12-2, 20-12, 25-14, 32-18. The Tommies set the stage for a 2nd half run by closing the 1st on a 7-1 run to get within 33-25. Then, sure enough, they got within 37-36 at 16:02. But Concordia responded with a 17-7 run to make it 54-43 at 8:25. The Tommies never challenged after that.

The Cobbers had four players in double figures: Nord with 17 plus 4 steals and 3 assists, Thesing off the bench with 15, Jossert 13 plus 6 assists and 2 steals, Bauernfiend 11 plus 12 boards. And another freshman post, Alexandra Lippert, much much much outplayed Booth with 8 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. In other words, everyeveryevery body showed up for Concordia. And, let's be honest, two-on-five rarely cuts it in this game.

Sunday February 27 Men's Final

Gustavus (11-9, 15-12, #5) at St. Thomas (17-3, 23-3, #2)

I like this one: I picked the Tommies to beat Hamline in one semi, 77-70 (see below). It ended up 78-70. The other one: Not so much. I had Carleton over Gustavus 70-66. Gustavus won 70-64.

The bottom line is these are a couple of pretty good offensive teams. The Tommies shoot an unconscious .494, Gustavus shoots .487. Both shoot 37-38 percent from 3-point land. Both protect the ball (the Gusties have about 11.5 turnovers per game, St. Thomas 12).

But only one of them is a good defensive team. The Tommies' opponents shoot .435 and .321 from the 3-point line. The Gusties': .460 and .363. The rebounding is about even.

Each team has 3 guys who score in double figures. They are Tyler Nicolai (14), Alex Healy (13) and Tommy Hannon (12) for St. Thomas, and Seth Anderson and Phil Wirtjes (13) and Dan Schmidtknecht (10) for Gustavus. But it's also true that Gustavus has the hot player right now in Seth Anderson. The junior guard from Maple River only scored 20 points in a game for the 1st time this year in game #22. Over the last 5 games he scored 28, 30, 14, 26 and 22 for an average of 24. He shoots .587 for the year.

Still, the Tommies D on their own home court is tough to beat. And, again, their offense is not bad, either. The fact is they won at Gustavus this year despite the Gusties shooting 55 percent that night. St. Thomas 74 Gustavus 67.

Saturday February 26 Women's Final

Concordia (Moorhead) (17-5, 20-6, #2) at St. Thomas (18-4, 20-6, #1)

These 2 I picked correctly, though I was way off on the score of the Gustavus-St. Thomas game. I had the 2 teams scoring 129 points. They scored 98.

It may be more of the same Saturday, as Concordia shoots just 39 percent for the year and the Tommies give up an opponents shooting percentage of just 35 percent. St. Thomas has won 9 of its last 10 games--see if you can pick out the game they lost from this list. These are the opponents' shooting percentages for those last 10 games: 32-30-31-32-26-39-30-69-29-33.

That's some pretty good D. And, Concordia holds its opponents to 36 percent. But the Tommies shoot a respectable 44 percent. Gustavus certainly slowed them down, and the Cobbers may do the same. But in a grind-it-out, which this promises to be, the Tommies may have more ability to find a way to score in the clutch.

Or not. The fact is that Concordia has terrific balance. 4 players scored in double figures in their semi-final win over St. Ben's the other night (78-69), and none of them were the 2 players who averaged in double figures for the year. And Concordia is a senior team, with Maggie Baurnfiend, Lindsey Schultz, Erica Nord and Brittney Jossart in the starting lineup. That balance and experience would seem to be what's needed in a game like this--for the conference title, and on the road.

Despite all that experience, the key for Concordia--for both teams, really--may be the play of Alexandra Lippert, 6-4 freshman post, who has improved dramatically as the year went on. Her final numbers--9.5 points, 6 boards and 4 blocks--compare favorably with those of the Tommies' senior post, Rachel Booth--11 points, 6 boards, 2 assists, 2 blocks, but 3 turnovers, each in about 23 minutes. Booth was the MIAC's post-season MVP last year, at least according to me, and was my choice to be the MIAC player of the year this year. She's fallen way, way short for whatever reason, and if Lippert plays her even tonight, then the Cobbers' seniors can really work their magic.

So this is a toss-up, though one cannot ignore that it is indeed on the road for the Cobbers and on the Tommies' home court. It says here that, after a truly terrible ball game against Gustavus the other night, Rachel Booth asserts herself, and the Tommies prevail. St. Thomas 54 Concordia 51.

Edit: Friday February 25 Men's Semi-Finals

The pairings are now set for the men's semi-finals, as a result of last night first round action.

Hamline (13-8, 16-10, #3) at St.Thomas (17-3, 22-3, #2)

The Pipers hosted their first MIAC playoff game since 1985, and defeated Concordia (Moorhead) 86-75. The win, their 16th of the year, is the most by a Hamline team since 1991. Freshman Tyler Pannell led the way with 5 3s and 19 points. Noah Aguirre scored 14, Mike Campbell 13 and Carl Hipp 12 with 12 rebounds. Hamline took an early 20-7 lead. The Cobbers came back to tie at 33 and 36, but the Pipers led 41-36 at the half. Concordia never got within 4 in the 2nd half, nor closer than 66-60 after the 10:00 mark.

Let the record show I had forecast an 82-68 Hamline win.

Let the record also show that Hamline beat St. Thomas earlier this year 92-79. Of course that was at Hamline, and the Tommies avenged that defeat 82-60 10 days ago. Hamline, as I said, is a good shooting team at .465. What exactly does that make St. Thomas at .496? Tommy Hannon and Anders Halvorsen shoot 58 and 50 percent, respectively. Guards Alex Healy, Tyler Nicolai and Teddy Archer shoot 50, 45 and 46 percent.

What exactly is a path to a Hamline victory? Well, St. Thomas has been out-shot in their 3 losses--61-44 percent at Hamline, 52-51 at St. Olaf and 45-40 at Carleton. There would seem to be more of a chance that the Pipers would light it up than that the Tommies would go cold. But the Tommies out-rebound their opponents 34-29, Hamline gets out-rebounded 37-36. Hamline turns the ball over an average of 14 times, St. Thomas just 12 and less than 10 per game over the past dozen games. Nicolai, the primary ball handler, turns it over once a game on average.

The Tommies are not invincible but an odd combination of events are going to be necessary for an upset to happen. A hot night shooting for Carl Hipp and Hamline would be the scenario, and it could happen. But the odds are that it's more like St. Thomas 77 Hamline 70.

Gustavus (11-9, 14-12, #5) at Carleton (17-3, 18-7, #1)

This is our feature game in The Big Game (below). But suffice it to say Gustavus had a huge second half, making 21-0f-29 FGA, and using a 21-0 run from a 59-all tie to bury the Olies. Seth Anderson and Bobby Johnson scored 22 for Gustavus, while Bobby Fong scored 23 for St. Olaf.

Let the record show that I booted this one. I had St. Olaf winning on their home court 74-69.

So now Gustavus travels to Carleton for what promises to be a classic case of offense vs. defense. The Gusties can score--and they can score in Northfield--as they proved at St. Olaf the other night. 21 points in 6 minutes to put the game away. They shoot .487 to Carleton's .456. .374 from 3 point land, to Carleton's .327. .743 from the charity stripe, to the Knight's .665.

But Carleton gives up .415 and .296 FG percentages (all FG/3s), Gustavus gives up .460 and .363.

The Gusties' top scorer Seth Anderson shoots .587 while Carleton's top scorer Jeremy Sutherland shoots .436. But Sutherland doesn't have Sutherland defending him. Anderson will.

Maybe it will come down to the Biewens. Carter is a senior forward from Robbinsdale Armstrong, now at Gustavus. He played in that great state final won by Buffalo four years ago. Carter's dad is John Biewen, who played for Mankato Wilson in the state tournament in 1976. Ben is a sophomore guard from Edina, whose dad is Paul Biewen, now an assistant coach for the Edina girls. Paul's daughter, Ben's sister Katybeth, is a star junior guard for Edina right now. All of them are Gene Biewen's grandkids--Gene coach Mankato Wilson and later Mankato West to the state tournament.

Bottom line: This will be close, somewhere in the vicinity of overtime or of a 1 or 2 point game. I can't bring myself to pick against Carleton on it own home court. Carleton 70 Gustavus 66.

Edit: Thursday, February 24 Women's Semi-Finals

The women's semi-final pairings are set now as a result of last night's first round, in which #3 St. Ben's defeated Macalester 62-57 and #4 Gustavus beat Bethel 67-63. So now it's on to the semi-finals:

St. Ben's (16-6, 20-6, #3) at Concordia (Moorhead) (17-5, 19-6, #2). The bottom line is that St. Ben's best players--Heather Gillund and Amy Stifter--stepped up and got the job done against Macalester. I pointed out (below) that both had faded down the stretch and, therefore, so had the Bennies. I said Macalester would win because post Majra Mucic would outplay Gillund. It didn't happen. Gillund only played 18 minutes due to foul trouble, but scored 17 points. Mucic scored 17 points, and out-rebounded Gillund 13-2. Stifter scored 14 points.

So, can they do it again? St. Ben's, Gillund and Stifter. Can they all step up again on Thursday night at Concordia? Yes, they can, though they did not two weeks ago when Concordia won at Moorhead 76-62. But the Bennies improved by 19 points over their 14 point loss to Macalester earlier this month. They can do it again, and the keys remain the same.

Gillund and Stifter. But Concordia has the ability to win, too, with their balanced, senior-laden lineup featuring Maggie Baurnfiend, Brittany Jossart, Erica Nord and Lindsey Schultz, all of whom score between 7 and 13 points, and average 3 to 6.5 rebounds and 2 to 3 assists.

The key may again be the post match-up. Alexandra Lippert is a 6-4 freshman who has come on strong as the year has progressed. She is averaging 9.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots. For Gillund, the numbers are 11.7 points, 4.5 boards, 2 blocks and a steal-and-a-half.

The Nord-Stifter match-up on the perimeter will be a good one, too, not to say they'll be head-to-head, but that the team that wins will probably get more production out of this "match-up." Stifter averages 14 points, 4 boards, 2 assists and 2 steals. Nord averages 14 points, 4 boards, 3 assists and 2.5 steals.

I guess it comes down to the homecourt advantage. Concordia 66 St. Ben's 61.

Gustavus (15-7, 17-9, #4) at St. Thomas (18-4, 19-6, #1). St. Thomas should win fairly easily in this battle of perennial rivals. After an 11-5 start, the Tommies are now 8-1 in their last 9 games. And their top two scorers, Rachel Booth and Taylor Young, have become increasing assertive of late. Booth scored in double figures in just half of the first 14 games, but in 10 of the last 12; Young in just 1 of the first 11, then 9 of 14. She and Maggie Weiers are high-impact freshmen who will make contenders of the Tommies at least three more years.

The Tommies out-shoot the opponents by 44 percent to 35 percent, and outrebound 'em 40-34.

Gustavus, meanwhile, shoots 42 percent and gets out-rebounded. So, sure enough, they shot 49 percent against Bethel and out-rebounded 'em 35-26. (Let the record show that I correctly picked the Gusties to win that game. I said 64-59, the final was 67-63.) Neither of those two things are going to happen against St. Thomas. St. Thomas 68 Gustavus 61.

Original Post February 21, 2011

I'm not sure if it's harder to believe that the MIAC playoffs are opening up this week, or that for half of MIAC teams their season is already over. But that's the way it is. The MIAC is first into the playoffs pool, the third season, with women opening playoffs on Tuesday, February 22, then the men on Wednesday, February 23.

Wednesday, February 23 Men's First Round

Concordia (Moorhead) (10-10, 14-11, #6) at Hamline (13-7, 15-10, #3). Here are a couple of up-and-down teams. Concordia won five in a row at mid-season and another four in a row earlier this month. But losses at St. John's and St. Thomas, while not unexpected, almost knocked the Cobbers out of the playoffs. Instead, they won at Hamline to squeeze in on a tie-breaker. Concordia was out-shot .448 to .453 on the year, and out-rebounded, too, 35-32. And they hit just 5-of-33 3s in their last 3 games. It comes down to 6-6 seniors Mark Olmscheid and John Fraase, who score 14 and 13 ppg and who don't get a heck of a lot of help.

Hamline was up-and-down, too, winning 6 in a row to clinch a play-off spot, but then lying down after that and losing to Concordia at home in their finale. I don't think that win helps Concordia on Wednesday, other than the fact that they wouldn't be here if they hadn't won that game. Hamline shoots a solid .465, but they got out-rebounded 37-36. But senior post 6-9 Carl Hipp is pretty consistent, and should have a good ballgame against the shorter Cobbers. Still, like Concordia, this is not a deep team and if their top 2 guys don't score, who will?

Bottom Line: Concordia will have a little too much trouble finding ways to score. Hamline 82 Concordia 68.

Gustavus (11-9, 13-12, #5) at St. Olaf (12-8, 17-8, #4). One could say that the Gusties backed into the playoffs this year. Like most MIAC teams, theirs was an up-and-down campaign. Started out 2-3, won 4, lost 3, won 6 of 7, then finished up losing 7 of 9. OTOH coach Mark Hanson became the 52nd NCAA coach to win 400 games in the regular season finale in which the Gusties ended on a high note, an 89-78 win over St. Mary's. Still, at times they've given up points by the buckets full. They're a good shooting team at 48 percent (and over 50 percent in 5 of their last 8 games), but they've also given up 46 percent shooting and lost 3 games down the stretch where they shot .500. Seth Anderson emerged as the year went by. He first scored 20 points in a game in game #21, then finished with 20 or more in 3 of the last 4 games. He's a 58 percent shooter. But can the Gusties get it done on defense?

The Olies are a bit of a surprise, finishing #4 after being picked for #8 in the coaches' pre-season poll. They did so by finishing up poorly or well, depending on your point of view. They won 7 of their last 9 games and also lost 2 of their last 3 games. But both of the losses were to #1 Carleton and #3 Hamline on the road and in overtime. The Olies are another good shooting team at 47 percent and 39.5 from 3 point land, though they, to, get out-rebounded.

Bottom Line: St. Olaf will score some points. St. Olaf 74 Gustavus 69.

Tuesday, February 22 Women's First Round

Macalester (10-12, 10-15, #6) at St. Ben's (16-6, 19-6, #3). On paper, a mismatch, but St. Ben's is 4-5 over the past 9 games and fell from 1st to 3rd place in a hurry. St. Thomas hammered 'em 80-47 on Saturday; 10 days earlier, they lost 72-58 to Macalester at home; ten days before that, to Bethel 52-48, also at home; and a week earlier Hamline beat 'em by 19. Macalester won 8 while losing 5 down the stretch, as post Majra Mucic posted double-doubles in 5 of the last 7 games. Meanwhile, St. Ben's has shot only .422 for the year, and yet they've been below that 7 of their last 10 games. And they've been out-rebounded 35-33 on average for the year. Amy Stifter scored 15.5 ppg for the 1st 18 games, and just 10.5 for the last 7.

The bottom line: Macalester cannot beat St. Ben's if the Bennies play well, but the Bennies have not been playing well. Nor can Macalester win if Mucic does not outplay Heather Gillund in the post, but she will. Macalester 54 St. Ben's 52.

Bethel (13-9, 15-10, #5) at Gustavus (15-7, 16-9, #4). Bethel was streaky in the extreme, starting 1-4, then winning 7, then losing 5, but then finishing up strong with 7 wins in their last 8 games. Scotti Moats scored 80 points in the last 4 games, all wins. Still, the fact is the Royals only shoot 39 percent from the field. But Gustavus is another mediocre shooting team at 42 percent for the year, though the Gusties were better than that in 4 of the last 5 games. Both teams were out-rebounded for the year, but Gustavus finished even stronger than Bethel at 11-2.

The bottom line: Both teams have been playing their best ball. Gustavus 64 Bethel 59.

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