The Northern Sun men's basketball season so far has gone nothing like anticipated. Take the latest round of conference play--that is, the 1st round of play in the Second Season (January 2-3), for example. The pre-season favorite (in the coach's poll), Augustana, was ravaged by St. Cloud State, who was picked for 6th place in the coach's poll, 86-61 on Monday. And, on Tuesday, the Augies lost at Concordia-St. Paul, picked for 4th but currently at #11 in conference play, 81-77. Pre-season player of the year, Cody Schilling, was held to 8 and 12 points in the 2 games and is now averaging just 15.5 points, 10th in the conference. Last year he led the NSIC in scoring at 21.2 ppg .
Meanwhile Moorhead State, picked for 5th, edged Mankato State, picked 3rd, 66-65, and Southwest State 75-67 to remain unbeaten in 7 game. The Dragons took sole possession of 1st place when Winona State, picked 2nd and now tied for 2nd, lost at Northern, picked 10th by he coaches, 60-58.
St. Cloud, picked 6th and now tied for 2nd, and Bemidji, picked for 7th and now at #4, are the other big surprises.
The biggest disappointments to date are Mankato, the defending regular season champion, now tied for 9th place at 3-5, and Concordia-St. Paul.
To recap, NSIC men's standings as of January 4:
1. Moorhead 7-0, picked 5th
2. Winona 6-1, picked 2nd by the coaches, defending playoff champion
St. Cloud 6-1, picked 6th
4. Bemidji 5-2, picked 7th
5. Augustana 5-3, picked 1st
Southwest State 5-3, picked 8th
7. UMD 4-3, picked 9th
8. Northern 4-4, picked 10th
9. Wayne 3-5, picked 11th
Mankato 3-5, picked 3rd, defending regular season champion
11. Concordia St. Paul 2-5, picked 4th
12. Upper Iowa 1-6, picked 13th
13. Mary 1-7, picked 12th
14, MN-Crookston 0-7, picked 14th
Here's What I Think Is Going to Happen Next
I picked Winona to win it all anyway, so I'm going to stay with 'em. Clayton Vette emerged as a big time player in last year's playoffs, and so far this year he's at 17 points and 8 boards. Behind him there's no #2, but rather a cast of thousands, and that's a good thing.
We're far enough along to know that Moorhead is for real, though #1 or #2 still might be a bit much to hope for. Still, guard D.J. Hamilton has emerged as a PoY candidate with 15 ppg, 4 assists, a steal, a pair of 3s, 90 FT% and 2 assists per turnover. And newcomer Jake Lindfors with 15.5 ppg on 54 percent shooting has helped to elevate the Mustangs as well.
But St. Cloud is also for real, as is Augustana, and the 3 of them (Moorhead, St. Cloud and Augie) will duke it our for 2nd. All 4 will get home ice for the 1st round of playoff games. Augustana, for the record, is still trying to integrated Drae Murray, a D1 transfer, into its 3-guard set with returning all-conference guards Cameron McCaffrey and Schilling. The talent is there, the chemistry has been harder to come by. If it comes, they're still a huge playoff threat. But the loss last night at Concordia St. Paul, which is even more desperate, put them 3 games down in the loss column and probably ended their hopes for a regular season championship.
The four road slots in the 1st round of playoffs right now look like they should go to much-improved Southwest State, Bemidji and UMD, along with, ah, er, well, how about Northern? That would leave Mankato and Concordia on the outside looking in, along with Wayne, Mary, Upper Iowa and MN-Crookston. That would make Mankato and Concordia the biggest disappointments by far. CSP in particular has brother act Kenny and Peter Olafeso each at 17 ppg, but they're not getting much help. Coach Kelly Boe's job security has got to be an issue if this collapse continues. Mankato will, of course, be back as long as coach Matt Marganthaler is on the job. But right now they're too young to make a run in 2012.
The playoffs are a crap shoot, of course, but surely 1 of the roadies will pull a 1st round upset. The most likely is Bemidji with a projected visit to Augustana. If that happened, you'd have Winona over Bemidji in the semi-final, while Moorhead vs. St. Cloud would be a toss-up.
All in all, it's shaping up as a great year for the old Minnesota teachers colleges. 8 of the NSIC's 14 members are Minnesota public schools and together, right now, they're 36-22.
All-conference so far are the aforementioned Hamilton of Moorhead (MVP), plus:
• James Ellisor of Bemidj 20 ppg (#1), 8 boards, a steal, 50% 3-pt shooting in 32 minutes
• Jake Hottenstine of UMD 18 ppg, 3 3s per game, plus 84 percent FT shooting
• Peter Olafeso of Concordia 17 ppg, 3 assists, a steal, better than 1 assist per turnover in 35 minutes
• Vontrell Seroyer of Wayne 4 assists, 2 assists per turnover, 92% FT shooting in 32 minutes
• Ryan Rasmussen of UMD
• Kenny Olafeso of Concordia
• Alex Novak of Moorhead
• Brett Putz of St. Cloud
• C.J. Erickson of Winona
Note that returning all-conference players Schilling and Cameron McCaffrey of Augie, Vette of Winona, Brett Barz of Concordia, Pryor of Northern and Shelby of Wayne are all projected to fall short of repeating. Some of them surely will sneak in but that doesn't mean that they're among the top 10 players so far.
Coach of the Year
That's easy. Chad Walthall of Moorhead even if Winona comes back to take the regular season title.