Wednesday, March 9, 2011

D2/D3: And Then There Were Two

EDIT: And Then There Were Two

St. Thomas advanced to the D3 Final Four last night with an impressive 72-56 win over #3 rted Augustana (IL) on the Augies home court. And Mankato got the monkey off its back--the one named Winona--with an easy win over their nemesis in the 1st round of D2 regional play in Mankato.

The Tommies took the early lead, thus taking the Augies home crowd out of the game. It was 2-0, 8-2, 20-8...but just 32-25 at the half. But the Tommies started the 2nd half hot, again, though the Augies rallied again to within 45-37 at 14:31. But Tyler Nicolai hit 3 straight 3s to make it 54-39 and that was all she wrote. Nicolai scored a season high 28 points on 6 3-pointers, 22 of them in the 2nd half.

This marks the 1st time in 17 years that coach Steve Fritz' Tommies are in the D3 Final Four. They meet 28-1 Middlebury next Friday March 18 at Salem, VA. The other semi matches Wooster and Williams.

More to come on Mankato and Winona.

D2/D3: Original Preview Article Begins Here

The NCAA D2 and D3 playoffs are moving into the Regional (D2) and Sectional (D3) phases this weekend. The St. Thomas men return to D3 playoff action on Friday at Moline, IL. The Winona State and Concordia (St. Paul) women open D2 play on Friday at Durango, CO. The Winona and Mankato State men play Saturday at Mankato.

St. Thomas Men

The St. Thomas men are the only Minnesota D3 team left after 2 women's and 1 men's team were bounced in last weekend's 1st round. The Tommies (26-3, #8 nationally) meet defending national champion Wisconsin-Stevens Point (also 26-3, #3) on the campus of Augustana (IL) at Rock Island, IL, on Friday night. If they get by the Pointers, no easy task, they get the winner of Mary Hardin-Baylor (23-7) vs. Augustana (IL) (26-3, #7) on Saturday in the sectional final.

The team that survives the UW-SP sectional becomes one of the D3 Final Four. The Tommies, in short, have won 2 games and need 4 more wins for a national title. It's unlikely they'll be favored in any such remaining game, beginning with UW-SP itself on Friday, though it's true that the Tommies gave the Pointers one of their 3 losses 61-54 at Shoenecker Arena back in December.

The Pointers won the WIAC regular season title at 14-2, then won the playoff title as well 79-56 over UW-River Falls. They've outscored 29 opponents by an average of 79-57 and have a 14 game winning streak going. They shoot an unconscious .526 as a team, and .405 for 3-pointers, while out-rebounding their opponents 35-30 and committing just 12 turnovers versus 17 for the other guy. 5-10 sophomore guard Jerrell Harris is the leading scorer at 15 ppg, while Louis Hurd scores 12. Both shoot over 53 percent.

The Tommies beat the Pointers once. The game was a statistical dead heat in every way except one. Both teams shot 42 percent, but the Tommies hit 5 3s to just 2 for the Pointers. It will be very very difficult for St. Thomas to do that again. Wisconsin-Stevens Point 69 St. Thomas 65.

Mankato State and Winona State Men

Only 2 Minnesota teams are among the 8-team men's D2 Central regional playoff, and so wouldn't you know they'd match 'em up right away in the 1st round. Sounds like a conspiracy to me.

I mean, Winona wins the NSIC playoff to get the automatic bid to the D2 tournament with a 20-9 record, and gets the #8 seed for their trouble? Meanwhile, Fort Lewis State, who like Winona was not a regular season champion but won its conference tournament (Rocky Mountain AC) at 22-7, they get #2.

Then, not only that, but the Winona-Mankato winner could get NSIC Mary in the semi, so all 3 NSIC teams are clustered into one bracket, assuring that the NSIC cannot put 2 teams into the final, while the demonstrably weaker RMAC is guaranteed the other spot. Yet it is the RMAC regular season champion Metro State at #4 in the "NSIC bracket." Still sounds like a conspiracy.

But the real point of interest here is Mankato's dismal playoff record over the past 6 years. Winona is more responsible than anybody for that, but is hardly alone in abusing the Mavericks in the post-season.

• In 2006, Winona was the #1 seed in the NCAA D2 regionaltournament and Mankato #4. But Mankato had their regional semi-final game won most of the way, until a David Zellman steal and dunk inside of 2 minutes gave Winona the lead. The Warriors went on to win their first national championship.

• In 2007, Winona was again the #1 seed; Mankato was now #2. But the result was the same, Winona over Mankato in the D2 regional tournament.

• In 2008, Winona was again the #1 seed and went on to win their 2nd NCAA title. The #3 seeded Mavericks got bounced from the NCAA tournament by #6 Augustana 95-87.

• In 2009, Mankato was seeded #4 in the NCAA D2 tournament and lost to #1 Southwest State 77-69. In the conference, seeded #4 they had lost to #3 St. Cloud State 91-89.

• In 2010, #8 nationally rated Mankato lost to #16 St. Cloud in the NCAA tournament 82-71. Earlier, in the conference tournament, the regular season champions and #1 seed Mankato lost to #8 seed Southwest State 80-78.

• Then last week, in the NSIC tournament, the regular season champions and #1 seed Mankato lost to #5 Winona 82-74 in the semi-final round. Mankato had swept Winona during the regular season.

Can Mankato make it 3 out of 4, or will Winona even up the season series? How will the winner do in the region generally? Well, I think one of them will win the region. thereby making their way to the Elite Eight. The RMAC is just not that tough. So while Winona vs. Mankato is a toss-up on its own merits, Mankato seems vastly more capable of winning 3 games. Of course, I would have said the same thing about the NSIC tournament a week ago.

Winona is playing super ball right now, as they clearly are a better team without Anthony Tucker. But Mankat0 will have a giant chip on its shoulder, and I think and the home court will be enough to get them back on the right path. Mankato State 74 Winona State 72.

As to the rest of the regional tournament, Mary and Metro State are a significant threats, too, but I'll take Mankato over either in a tight game, whereas I'll take Colorado Mines in the other bracket. They're the most explosive team in the region but went flat and cold in the RMAC playoff final against Fort Lewis. Mankato State 81 Colorado School of Mines 77, and Elite Eight, here come the Mavs.

Concordia (St. Paul) and Winona State women

The 2 NSIC women's entries go, of all places, to Durango, CO. Now, I've been to Durango, CO, and it is the middle of nowhere. Look up "middle of nowhere" in the dictionary and there's a little sketch of Durango, CO.

Concordia (St. Paul) (19-10) is seeded #5 and draws Northern State, also of the NSIC (20-8, #4) in the 1st round. Concordia started out the NSIC season at 2-5, then went 14-1 the rest of the way. Yet they lost to Winona on their own home court in the final. The 4-guard offense is a thing of beauty to watch, but their lack of an inside game will be fatal somewhere along the way, almost surely in Durango. But I think they'll take Northern. Concordia 66 Northern 64.

Winona is a singificant underdog to Metro State and I'll take Metro 65 Winona 63.

But Wayne State will uphold the NSIC's honor: Wayne State 74 Colorado Christian 69.

Then #9 rated nationally but #3 seeded Wayne will beat #10 and #2 Metro State. Wayne 64 Metro 62.

Concordia will not fare too well against the real powerhouse of this region, Fort Lewis, especially since the tournament is held on the Skyhawks home court. It will be a very very entertaining game, however, and Concordia is to some degree the right team to upset the Hawks if anybody can. The Hawks' game is an open floor game that creates turnovers on defense and moves the ball on offense. They are the #1 team in the RMAC in assists, steals and turnovers, and out-shoot their opponents 47 percent to 37.

Concordia is not as good a shooting team (44 percent) nor a ball-handling team, despite its 4-guards (12 assists to Ft. Lewis with 19) and a +3 turnover margin (third in the NSIC). But if Ft. Lewis wants a running game, the Bears will accommodate them. Still it says here: Ft. Lewis 70 Concordia 60.

Then Wayne will take its inside game up against Fort Lewis and we'll see if there's a different outcome. I think not. Ft. Lewis 75 Wayne State 67.


If any Minnesotans indeed survive (we're picking the Mankato men), we'll revisit the D2 and/or D3 playoffs next week.

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