The MIAC doesn't fool around when it comes to hanging up their sneakers and moving on. Half the conference hung it up almost 2 weeks ago. The rest, except for 3 teams, did so last weekend. Today, the all-conference awards were announced. Batter up!
The 3 still playing are the St. Thomas men and women, and the Gustavus men. We'll come back to them momentarily. But 1st:
All-Conference and Etc.
The MIAC got this much right. Players of the year are Seth Anderson of Gustavus,who led the men in scoring at 21.4, and Taylor Sheley of Bethel, who did the same at 19.3.
Coach of the Year honors went to 1st place winners Mark Hanson of Gustavus (tied for 1st) and Ruth Sinn of St. Thomas. It's hard to argue that, especially Sinn, whose team became just the 5th women's team ever to finish undefeated in the conference in 20 or more games (in this case, 22-0).
Still, the best stories as always are some of those underdogs who rose up to bite somebody sometime during the year. I especially liked the Augsburg women under brand new coach Billy McKee beating St. Ben's for the 1st time in Bennies' coach Mike Durbin's 26 years on the job! The Auggies hadn't won more than 5 games since 2002 and hadn't had a .500 season in the conference since 1985. Under McKee they went 11-11 and missed the playoffs by 1 game. With all due respect to Ruth Sinn--and I respect Ruth a lot--this (McKee, the turnaround at Augsburg) is my definition of a Coach of the Year.
St. Mary's is another perennial also-ran, though the drought wasn't quite as long as the Auggies.' The Cardinals last had a winning season in 2005 and last year they surged to 9 wins. This year they went 13-9 and upset St. Olaf on the road in the 1st round of the playoffs. Coach Mandy Pearson also deserves a gigantic pat on the back.
Among the men I'm going to shift gears and stump for the "haves." That would be St. Thomas. Defending national champs. Incredible senior class, moving on. New coach. Their best player, Tommy Hannon, goes down. But through it all, well, they're St. Thomas, damnit. And "interim coach" Johnny Tauer didn't let 'em forget that, and so here they are--regular season co-champs, post-season champs, defending their D3 championship beginning tomorrow night. I'm not sure Tauer didn't do the best job of coaching this year.
Still, Hanson and Sinn are good choices. Not as good as Anderson and Sheley. But good, solid choices.
When it comes to all-conference, they pick 15 honorees. Well, sorry, that's too many, I'm not gonna repeat 30 names here. But out of 15 names--15 men, 15 women--they did manage to get the best 5, and I'll repeat those.
Pierce Peters, Macalester
Stu Neville, St. Olaf
Mike Campbell, Hamline
Andy Grzesiak-Grimm, Augsburg
The one quibble is Paul Blacklock, Gustavus, makes the all-defensive team but not all-conference. He's all over the leader board but only scores about 4 ppg. Still, he was the co-champions' 2nd most valuable player.
Looking ahead, St. Thomas has 4 honorees coming back next year, while Carleton has 3.
Taylor Young, St. Thomas
Mackenzie Wolter, St. Olaf
Jessica Thone, St. Mary's
Maggie Weiers, St. Thomas
I had a hard time not picking Molly Geske, Gustavus, and Serenae Levine, Augsburg, but all 7 of these players are on the all-conference team.
I have a lot of heartburn over women who didn't make the top 15. That's not to say there's 5 I'd leave out, but there might to 2 or 3 or even 4 that I'd have rated below the following. And all of these got Honorable Mention, so things are too broken.
Ali Johnson, St. Thomas, forward
Alexandra Lippert, Concordia, post
Jessica Rene, Macalester, guard
Abby Rothenbuhler, Gustavus, post
Jordan Sammons, Hamline, guard
Looking ahead, St. Thomas and Concordia have 4 honorees coming back next year, while Carleton, St. Mary's, St. Olaf and Bethel each have 3.
St. Thomas Women
So, St. Thomas and Gustavus are still playing? For how long?
On paper, the St. Thomas women have the best shot. They're 26-1 and rated #12 nationally. They're at home for the 1st and 2nd rounds. They could face Wisconsin-River Falls (21-6, #21) in the 2nd round. First it has to get by UMAC champion Martin Luther (New Ulm, MN, 20-7), while River Falls will face Coe (20-7). The 1st round is Friday at 5:30 and 8 p.m., the 2nd is Saturday at 7.
The Tommies are led by sophomore all-conference players Taylor Young and Maggie Weiers, who score 13 and 12 points, while senior Sarah Smith scores 10, and Smith and Weiers each corral 7 rebounds. St. Thomas has excellent depth, outshoots it opponents 46 percent to 36 and out-rebounds them 37-29. As a result, they outscore their opponents 67-51.
Martin Luther is led by UMAC Player of the Year Erica Babinek, a 5-8 senior guard, who does it all--16 points, 7 boards, 3 assists, 2.5 steals. They outscore their opponents 70-62, outshoot them 40-37 percent, and out-rebound them 42-39.
I wouldn't underestimate Luther. Last year the Northwestern (Roseville) men gave the Tommies men fits at St. Thomas in this same game. But I figure St. Thomas 69 Luther 56.
Meanwhile UWRF should handle Coe, let's say 64-63. I mean, Coe shoots 45 percent, RF just 40, but RF outrebounds its opponents a huge 42-31. Kayla Waskow does it all for Coe--15 points, 7 boards, 3.5 assists and a block. But RF has better depth, or hopes it does.
St. Thomas should manage UWRF on Saturday but the Wisconsin state universities have good, solid athletic programs that have out-performed the MIAC in recent years. Of course, RF is just the 3rd place team from the WIAC. Still, it will be competitive, no question about that. Let's say 56-50.
St. Thomas Men
The men have a tougher row to hoe, traveling to Wisconsin-Whitewater (23-4) for 1st and 2nd round action. They get Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (25-2) 1st, hardly a slam dunk. CMS goes 6-6, 6-5, 6-3 in front, not bad for D3, and outscores its opponents 70-58. It out-shoots 'em 49 percent to 41, but the rebounds are even at 32. The Tommies, meanwhile, out-score their opponents 74-65 and out rebound them 31-28. St. Thomas by 1.
UW-Whitewater (23-4) will man-handle Northwestern (Roseville) in the 2nd game. Whitewater out-scores its opponents 71-58 and shoots better than 50 percent. UWW 69 Northwestern 62.
Then comes the Tommies vs. UWW. Whitewater's Chris Davis is a difference-maker with 22 ppg and 8 boards. It's worth remembering that the Tommies seemed no more likely to win a national champion last year than this. It was not until they won in the 2nd round in Wisconsin that it seemed they might have something special going on. Still, UWW should win with relative ease, say, by 60-54.
Gustavus somehow has drawn a little bit easier row to hoe. If it wins 1 game it will face host Wisconsin-River Falls (20-7) in the 2nd round. UWRF can really put the size on the court at 6-8, 6=7 and 6-3, and it out-rebounds opponents a whopping 37-30. Still, it's not UWW.
And game 1 against Wheaton, IL (21-6) is no slam dunk. The Gusties out-scored their opponents 69-63 this year, Wheaton out-scored its 72-60. Gustavus out-shot its opponents 49 percent to 43. Wheaton out-shot its 49-41. Still, I'm liking Gustavus in game 1, but game 2 is a big problem.