Wow, I thought Saturday was a big day for Winona State basketball, as the men and women both knocked off the #1 seed in the semi-finals. But today was another really big day--bigger yet, really--for the Warriors, as both the men and the women won the NSIC playoff title and along with it won automatic bids to the NCAA D2 tournaments. These are bids that Winona was not going to win without winning the conference tournament..
First, the #4 seeded women surprised #2 Concordia (St. Paul) on the Bears' own home court 63-61. Then the #5 men beat #6 St. Cloud State 58-41, also at Concordia.
Long about Wednesday, this was hardly what was expected of the Winona men. Picked for 2nd place in the coach's pre-season poll, the Warriors started out 12-2 and in 2nd place. But the won only 3 of their last 8 games as newcomer Anthony Tucker, late of the Iowa Hawkeyes, went into a funk. Scoring 15 points per game through mid-January, he scored just 10 points per game the rest of the way.
Well, Monday night he got picked up by the Winona police for disorderly conduct and was suspended indefinitely by coach Mike Leaf. Already an underdog, how would the Warriors fare without their leading scorer. Better, as it turns out. The chemistry was back, the hustle was back, and the winning was back--86-72 over #4 Concordia on the Bears' home court; then 82-74 over #1 Mankato; and, finally, 58-41 over St. Cloud.
Just for the record, this has to be a bitter pill for the Mankato State Mavericks to swallow. Always the bridesmaid but never the bride, the Mavs have now lost to the Warriors in the semis of the conference tournament 3 of the past 6 years, starting with the most significant game between NSIC rivals ever. The year was 2006. Mankato had Winona beat all day long, andled by 16 with 8 minutes to play when the Warriors rallied. Finally, inside of one minute, David Zellman got a steal and a breakaway dunk to win the game. The Warriors went on to win the NCAA D2 title--a title that might have been the Mavs if they had held on in that game.
Winona swept three regular season games from the Mavs in 1996-2007 and 2007-2008, when the two met in the semi's again. Winona again won 82-74. Winona won the next regular season meeting in 2008-2009, but Mankato swept four such matches in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011. Yet the Warriors exploded for the upset yesterday 82-74, the same score as the 2008 meeting.
So Winona gets the NSIC's automatic berth in the NCAA D2 tournament, while Mankato gets a wild card entry. But wouldn't you know--the Central Region will be played at Mankato with the Mavs as the #1 seed. And guess where Winona lands. That's right, #8, and so they'll draw Mankato again in the 1st round on the Mavs home court. Congrats on the great weekend. Bite this bullet.
The University of Mary finished 2nd in the conference in the regular season, but were upset by #6 St. Cloud State in the semi. Well, their reward is a #4 seed in the Central Region.
Only a fool would pick Winona to keep it going under these circumstances, but the obvious fact is they're a better team without Tucker than with him, at least at this point in the season. Senior point guard Ben Fischer and sophomore post Clayton Vette have been spectacular, while Jon Walburg, C. J. Erickson and guard Brad Meyer, filling in for Tucker, have been solid, along with Xavier Humphrey off the bench.
Still, if a Minnesota team is going to go places in D2 this year, it will be the Mavs, who are led by seniors Marcus Hill and Jefferson Mason. Mason scores 18.5 points per game with 8 rebounds while Hill, the point guard, scores 16 with 5 assists. Cameron Hodges scores 13 and is the NSIC defensive player of the year.
And Then, the Winona Women
The Warrior women at least were seeded #4 which means the quarter-final game, an 87-79 win over Augustana, at least was at home. And, now. while the Winona men are seeding #8, the women are again one slot better at #7. That means they'll get #2 Metro State 27-2, rated #10 nationally. The other Minnesota team to advance is Concordia (St. Paul) at #5 meaning they'll draw NSIC rival Northern State.
Unlike the men, the NSIC women have a 4th entry in the Central Region, that being regular season champion Wayne (Nebraska), who gets the #3 seed in the region. The top 2 seeds are Fort Lewis and Metro State from the RMAC, who are rated #6 and #10 nationally. Wayne State is #7 but none of the other 3 NSIC entries is rated in the top 25.
But back to the NSIC playoff: Winona was led by 6-0 junior Michelle McDonald and 5-6 sophomore Katie Wolff, who made all-tournament along with Ashley Arlen, sr., Wayne St.; Maurika Hickman and Jineen Williams, sr., Concordia. Arlen was the regular season player of the year, too. In the NCAA, I'd say it's a toss-up which of these teams goes the furthest.
Edit: In the Finals....
The St. Cloud-Winona final should be a doozy. Both have vastly over-achieved so far in the playoffs. As you may know, Winona is without their leading scorer Anthony Tucker and starting power forward Joel Armstrong. But the Warriors' depth has been a life-saver. Even without the two MIAs, Winona is playing 7 deep, and all 7 scored at least 7 points against Mankato.
Guard Ben Fischer makes 'em go--with 28 points on Wednesday and with 8 assists on Saturday.
For St. Cloud it is guard Trevor Witt, the pre-season player of the year. Witt lost out to Anthony Moody of Mary for player of the year, but then out-scored Moody yesterday 21-18.
But Winona has played just slightly better over the past two games and will prevail today: The forecast: Winona State men 77 St. Cloud State 74, and snow.
Meanwhile, the Concordia women will be hard to beat on their home court. Maurika Hickman has been unstoppable for the Bears, but if Winona stops her, watch out for Jineen Williams. Concordia St. Paul women 73 Winona State 65.
Edit: Semi-Final Results
It was a big big day for Winona State basketball. Both the women and the men knocked off the NSIC's #1 seed, back-to-back in an afternoon, semi-final doubleheader at Concordia St. Paul.
First the Winona women beat #1 seed, 25-2, #8 nationally rated Wayne State 73-65.
Then the Winona men beat arch-rival Mankato State, seeded #1 in the conference, rated #6 in the nation and 24-3 coming into the game. Winona's winners are seeded #4 (women) and #5 (men) in the NSIC playoffs.
So the Warrior women will face #3 seed Concordia, who defeated #2 Northern 73-67, and the men will face #6 seed St. Cloud State, who pulled their second upset of the NSIC playoffs yesterday over #2 seeded and #14 rated Mary 65-59.
Winona women 73 Wayne State 65
Winona led throughout most of the 1st half including 13-8 and 25-17, their largest lead. Winona had no turnovers at 25-17 at 9:14. But Wayne came roaring back with a 12-2 run to take a 29-27 lead at 3:30. But a Beth Alberson 3 from an Afton Glander assist at 0:27 gave the Warriors a 33-31 half-time lead.
Wayne took a 36-35 lead early in the 2nd half on an Ali Schwartzwald (from St. Francis, MN) 3, but that proved to be the Wildcats' only lead of the 2nd half. A Marieann Dulas jumper, two FT by Michelle McDonald and a Dulas 3 gave the Warriors a 48-39 cushion. The closest Wayne got after that was 71-65 with just 0:40 remaining.
Winona shot .545 in the 2nd half versus .351 in the 1st. Wayne's shooting remained in the doldrums at .382 versus .300 for the 1st half. And the Warriors hit 50 percent of their 3s at 8-of-16, while Wayne made just 9-of-29 for 31 percent.
Dulas, a 5-8 junior guard averaging just 5 points and 2 rebounds per game for the year, led the way for the Warriors with 14 points and 10 boards. McDonald and Natalie Gigler scored 15 and 12.
Winona men 82 Mankato 74
The Winona men led through the early going but a Marcus Hill 3 gave Mankato the lead at 22-21. The Warriors did not score again until the Mavs had scored 10 in a row and led 29-21--Hill hit another 3, and then Cameron Hodges and Stephen Kirshbaum scored a pair of 2s. From 17-9 Winona, Mankato had enjoyed a 20-4 run.
It was 35-31 at the half.
Mankato led through 47-47 at 13:56 of the 2nd half, when Winona ripped off 7 straight points as Xavier Humphrey and Kellen Taylor each hit a 3. The lead then ballooned into double figures at 65-53 on a John Walburg 3, and it was never below double figures after that.
Mankato out-shot Winona 56-42 percent in the 1st half, but the Warriors turned the tables in the 2nd, shooting 59 percent to just 39 for the Mavs. But more than that, Winona won the possession game with 15 offensive rebounds to Mankato's 7, plus 3 fewer turnovers.
Walburg finished with 15 points, Humphrey and Brad Meyer 14, and C.J. Erickson and Ben Fischer 11. Fischer added 8 assists. For Mankato, Hill did it all with 28 points and 7 assists. Hodges and Jefferson Mason added 18 and 17, plus 7 boards each.
Edit: First Round Results 3/2/11
Gotta toot my own horn here. Here are the 1st round results for the men and women, along with a recap of my picks in the 1st round.
Mankato 70 Wayne 60 (The pick: Mankato 77 Wayne 67)
Winona 86 Concordia 72 (The pick: Winona 96-94 at Concordia)
Mary 70 Moorhead 65 (The pick: Mary 84-66)
St. Cloud 79 Augustana 73 (The pick: St. Cloud 75-72 at Augustana) Trevor Witt scores 39.
Wayne 87 Crookston 56 (The pick: Wayne 83-53)
Winona 87 Augustana 79 (The pick: Winona 77-74) Katie Wolff and Michelle McDonald were 1-2 in the conference in scoring last night with 50 points between them.
Northern 65 Moorhead 56 (The pick: Northern 68-62)
Concordia 65 Duluth 56 (The pick: Concordia 86-68)
Saturday's Semi-Final Predictions
Mankato 86 Winona 76. Mankato not playing its best ball of late, but Winona has issues.
Mary 72 St. Cloud 68. Mary has now won 17 in a row, though they had an obvious case of tournament jitters in the 1st round.
Wayne State 69 Winona 65. Wayne is #1.
Concordia 68 Northern 63. Concordia is #2 and at home.
Original Post: Northern Sun Semis and Finals Coming to St. Paul Wed.-Sat.-Sun.
The Northern Sun Conference playoff brackets and schedule has been announced. I may have missed it earlier but the semis and finals will all be here at Gangelhoff Center at Concordia (St. Paul) this year. Historically the NSIC held those 2 rounds at the #1 seed, which would mean Mankato (men) and Wayne St. (women). The semis are Saturday afternoon and evening, the finals Sunday afternoon.
Not only that but Concordia is the only NSIC school to earn a 1st round matchup at home in both the men's and women's play, so there will be a 1st round doubleheader Wednesday night march 2 at 6 and 8 p.m. The women, who once were 2-5 in the conference but finished up 16-6, will play UMD, followed by Winona State against the men. Winona went the other way, finishing 6-7 and dropping from 2nd to 5th the past couple of weeks.
The men's bracket contains a number of surprises based on the coach's pre-season poll, at least. Winona was the #1 pick, they finished #5. St. Cloud was the #2 pick, they finished #6. The Huskies' Trevor Witt was the pre-season player of the year. He will not be the player of the year.
#8 Wayne State 9-13, 13-13 at#1 Mankato State 19-3, 23-3. Mankato should beat Wayne easily, having out-scored them over the course of the regular season 82-68. The Mavs out-shot their opponents 48 percent to 46 percent, while Wayne got out-shot 47 to 45 percent. Jefferson Mason is an MVP candidate with 19 ppg, 8 rebounds and shooting .571. Forecast: Mankato 77 Wayne 67
#5 Winona State 13-9, 17-9 at Concordia (St. Paul) 13-9, 16-10. Winona was the pre-season fave and started out 9-3, but finished 4-6, while Anthony Tucker, late of Minnetonka and Iowa, faded down the stretch. CSP won at Winona during this stretch 81-79, en route to a 5-2 finish of their own. CSP is an all-new team; twin brothers Kenny and Peter Olafeso from St. Paul Harding and MCTC score 26.5 points between them. But CSP is a truly dreadful FT shooting team (.628). Winona 96 Concordia 94
#7 Moorhead State 12-10, 15-11 at #2 Mary 18-4, 22-4. Mary has won 15 in a row, including an 84-69 win over Mankato State (at home) and a 73-66 win over Moorhead, also at Mary. Mary is led by the obvious candidate for NSIC player of the year, Anthony Moody, who led the league in scoring with 21 points and who added 4 assists and a steal-and-a-half, and played a league-leading 38 minutes per game. Mary 84 Moorhead 66
#6 St. Cloud State 12-10, 13-13 at #3 Augustana 15-7, 18-8. St. Cloud made it to the D2 final four last year but lost NSIC player of the year post Matt Schneck. Guard Trevor Witt scored 43 points in the Huskies final win and was named NSIC pre-season player of the year. Well, he's not quite player of the year now but he scored 20 points with 5 assists, and teammate Andrew Bernstetter is among the league leaders with 8 boards and 2 blocks. Augustana also has 2 of the league's best players in Cameron McCaffrey (19 ppg) and Cody Schilling (21 ppg on .538 shooting). The head says Augustana but the heart says Witt and St. Cloud. St. Cloud State 75 Augustana 72
Men's Semis and Finals
If you're thinking of moseying on down to the Gangelhoff Center on Saturday or Sunday to see the semis and/0r the finals, here's what you're going to see: Mary is going to knock off Mankato for the NSIC post-season title. And it won't be a surprise, though Mary is seeded #2 and Mankato #1. Mary is hotter than a pistol with 15 straight losses. I don't see 'em losing any time soon.
#8 Minnesota-Crookston 10-12, 13-13 at Wayne State 21-1, 24-2. Wayne has been terrific, but lost big at Concordia (St. Paul) 91-57 a month ago, and that's where they will have to win the NSIC playoffs. They're fiendishly tough in the pain with pre-season player of the year Ashley Arlen (16 pts, 8 reb) and Mara Hjelle, from Mahtomedi, MN (14, 7.5 boards). UMC coach Mike Roysland should be coach of the year from bringing the Golden Eagles into the playoffs. Four years ago they were 0-27, then 6-21, 9-18, 10-17 and now even .500. Still, they not going to finish at .500 having drawn the toughest possible playoff matchup. Still, this is a team that won at Winona and at Northern. They're led by guards Brittani Wiese and Jamie Zelinsky. Wayne State 83 Minnesota-Crookston 53.
#5 Augustana 13-9, 20-9 at Winona State 14-9, 18-8. Both teams lost 3 of 5 down the stretch, and failed to capitalize on good, solid starts, Winona at 6-1 and the Augies at 6-2. Winona is a good shooting team, leading the NSIC in FG at .463 and FT at .713. Augustana leads with 9 3s, 17 assists and +1.2 assist to turnover ratio.The Augies are guard-oriented with Megan Doyle and Molly Hayes running the show. Doyle scores 16 points with 4.5 assists and an .847 FT percentage, 2 steals and a 1.6 assist to turnover ratio. Hayes contributes 14 points, 5 assists,. .530 FG percentage and 1.8 assists per turnover. Winona looks a little more inside with 6-footers Natalie Gigler and Michelle McDonald. McDonald scores 15 points with 7 boards, while Gigler contributes 13 points on .541 shooting. Winona State 77 Augustana 74 (overtime).
#7 Moorhead State 12-11, 14-12 #2 Northern State 16-6, 17-7. Moorhead is now Angie Jetvig's team. Now a junior, the 6-2 Jetvig was the only Dragon to average in double figures at 20 ppg. She also led the way with 8 boards and a block-and-a-half. She was the NSIC's player of the year, in my opinion. Freshman Haley Thomforde started all 26 games and led the Dragons in assists, steals and turnovers. The fact is Moorhead turns the ball over a bit. So does Northern, which is led by a pair of Minnesotans--Jodi Reinschmidt of St. Michael-Albertville and Emily Becken of Centennial. Reinschmidt scores 16 ppg while Becken scores 12 and leads with 3 assists. This game will be won, however, by the team that plays the better defense, because that's what both of them try to do. Northern 68 Moorhead 62.
#6 Minnesota-Duluth 13-9, 15-11 at #3 Concordia-St. Paul 16-6, 17-9. UMD started strong at 5-2 and finished strong at 6-2. UMD is not a good shooting team (.416) but mnake up for it by pounding the boards (13 offensive rebounds, 39 overall). Coach Annette Wiles has the Bulldogs going in the right direction after a disastrous season in 2008 (4-23). Concordia coach Paul Fessler is the other coach of the year candidate (along with Roysland), however, after pulling the Bears out of an early tailspin. They started 2-5 in the conference, then finished 14-1, losing only at 2nd place Northern State down the stretch. The Bears feature a 4-guard, 2-freshman lineup with seniors Maurika Hickman, Zora Quoie and Jineen Williams, and freshmen Jodi Batzel and Rachel Hanson (the fourth guard). Concordia shoots the ball OK (.442) and hits the boards (38-35), but mostly tries to create havoc and turnovers (17 opponent turnovers per game). Concordia 80 UMD 68.
Women's Semis and Finals
Again, these are at Concordia on Saturday and Sunday. Wayne and Concordia and far and away the class of this field and will meet in the finals. Concordia's 91-57 thumping of Wayne a month ago won't be worth much this time around. I look for Wayne to prevail.