Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Second Season: MIAC Men

By strange coincidence, there are 6 MIAC men's teams above the .500 mark, and the 6 of them square off among themselves in a crucial slate of games this Wednesday, January 18.

Augsburg (7-2, T1st) at St. John's (5-4, 6th)
Hamline (6-3, T4th) at Gustavus (7-2, T1st)
St. Thomas (7-2, T1st) at St. Olaf (6-3, T4th)

There could be significantly more clarity in the MIAC race after Wednesday night, or not.

The surprises, such as they are, are Gustavus, picked for 5th place in the coaches' pre-season poll, now 3.5 places higher than that in the standings, and St. Olaf, picked for 2nd and now 2.5 places below that expectation. (I don't know if something got into the water in Northfield, but Carleton is the other big disappointment, picked for 4th and currently 8th at 3-6.)

A quick look at the schedule reveals that the advantage lies with Augsburg and Gustavus. Each has lost only to fellow contenders on the road, and each has defeated a contender on the road. Augsburg knocked off St. Olaf last week 57-55 while Gustavus won at Hamline way back in November. Each, then, has 2 road games left against fellow contenders--Augsburg this week at St. John's, Gustavus at Augsburg on January 30.

St. Thomas, meanwhile, has lost at St. John's and to Bethel at home. It has 3 road games at contenders Augsburg, Gustavus and St. Olaf. A win at St. Olaf this week is essential to the Tommies hopes for a repeat MIAC regular season title (which it shared with Carleton a year ago).

Hamline has road games remaining at all 5 of its fellow contenders, starting at Gustavus this Wednesday. St. Olaf and St. John's also have just 2 such games remaining, but of course both also trail the front-runners in the loss column.

Augsburg Gets Favorite's Tag

On paper, Augsburg looks like the team to beat. They lead the MIAC in winning margin at 71-60. They're the top defensive team, they're by far the top rebounding team with an average margin of 36-30, they're 3rd in FG shooting at 47 percent, and they're among the leaders with 1.2 assists per turnover.

Cory Polta was all-conference a year ago. His scoring has dropped off to 13 ppg, but he's still among the league leaders with 2 blocks and 2 offensive boards per game. Guard Tyler Schmidt is scoring 14 ppg, making 3 3s per game at a 46 percent clip, and leads the league in FT shooting at 92 percent. But the big story is Andy Grzesiak-Grimm. The 6-6 senior has emerged as player of the year candidate with 15 ppg, a league-leading 8 boards and a league-leading 64 FG percentage.

A win at St. John's Wednesday night will cement their favorite's status, as it leaves a highly favorable schedule the rest of the way.

Don't Count the Tommies Out

The Tommies are adjusting to life without Steve Fritz as well as guards Tyler Nicolai, Alex Healy and Teddy Archer. It hasn't been easy--which at St. Thomas means they're limping along with a 7-2 record. John Nance and Will DeBerg score 11 points with 2 steals apiece, but new Tommies coach John Tauer comes at you in waves and every night it seems to be somebody different that is leading the charge. Still, it wouldn't hurt if senior post Tommy Hannon, who has been out with an injury of late, returned to full strength. Soon.

Still, the schedule's a bit tougher the rest of the way than some others, or I suppose you could say that home court loss to Bethel the other night means that now they have to win one that they probably should lose--such as a game at Augsburg or Gustavus.

The Tommies chief strategies for doing that is scoring a league-leading 77 points with a league-leading shooting percentage of 50. They also shoot a league-leading 40 percent from beyond the arc, out-rebound their opponents 31-28 and get 1.2 assists for every turnover.

Seth Anderson a One-Man Gang for Gusties

Gustavus has the same schedule advantage as Augsburg. They're lost only at St. Olaf and St. Thomas, and they got a win at Hamline. Remaining road games against contending teams are at Augsburg and St. John's.

The Gusties will attack that schedule with player of the year candidate Seth Anderson, from Maple River, who leads the MIAC with 25 ppg on 58 percent FT shooting. They shoot 48 percent as a team, out-rebound their opponents just 31-30 and post 1.2 assists for every turnover.

Hangin' On

St. Olaf, Hamline and St. John's are just 1, 1 and 2 games out of 1st place, respectively, with 10 games left to play, but the odds of leap-frogging all 3 of the current 1st place teams would seem to be slim. Hamline has the most hazardous schedule remaining: They haven't played any of the contenders on the road yet, but that also means that they have the biggest opportunity to make up some ground. The testing begins at Gustavus this week.

St. Olaf has a favorable schedule with an immediate opportunity to insert itself back into the race--St. Thomas comes to town on Wednesday. A win will require big games from forward Stu Neville, who scores 17 ppg with a league-leading 7 defensive rebounds, and guard Bobby Fong, who scores 15 ppg. His running mate, Albert Jaryan, distributes the ball to the tune of a league-leading 4 assists per game and he also leads the MIAC with 2 assists for every turnover.

The Pipers are 2nd in the MIAC in scoring but last in defense (76-73). Their 46 FG percentage is the lowest among the contenders, they out-rebound their opponents just 32-31, and their assist to turnovers ratio is the poorest among the contenders at 0.9. But Mike Campbell scores 16 ppg on 59 percent shooting, while he and Noah Aguirre tally 4.5 steals per game.

St. John's is hangin' on by a thread. But a win over the Auggies Wednesday would forcefully insert the Johnnies back into the race, and the schedule is favorable from there on out. Aaron Barmore scores 13, Andy Burns 12 and Seth Marx 10 for the Johnnies, and Burns is 2nd in the MIAC with 4 assists per game. He shoots 88 percent from the line, while Marx shoots 44 percent from behind the 3-point line.

My Final Answer

I think they'll finish in the order they're discussed above: Augsburg, St. Thomas, Gustavus, St. Olaf, Hamline and St. John's. What's even more certain is that, whatever the order, these are your 6 playoff participants. The Auggies should end up hosting St. Olaf in the semi's, while the Tommies host Gustavus. If there's an upset lurking it's probably Gustavus over St. Thomas. I mean, it's too early to be picking playoff winners, anyway, we'll need to know who's playing how well the last week of the season. But these teams are close enough that an upset in the grand finale could even be expected, and I've just put Gustavus in the position to do it.

The 1st all-conference team right now today would be:

Seth Anderson, Gustavus
Pierce Peters, Macalester
Andy Grzesiak-Grimm, Augsburg
Caleb Rosenow, Carleton
Stuart Neville, St. Olaf

2nd Team

Mike Campbell, Hamline
Andy Burns, St. John's
Tyler Schmidt, Augsburg
Cory Polta, Augsburg
Caleb Rosenow, Carleton

3rd Team

Bobby Fong, St. Olaf
Albert Jaryan, St. Olaf
Tommy Hannon, St. Thomas
Aaron Barmore, St. John's
Seth Marx, St. John's

Coach of the Year

Aaron Griess, Augsburg

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