The 2012-2013 NSIC season can't be as wacky as last year. Moorhead came out of nowhere to start 11-0, then slumped to 14-8. The Bemidji streaked home for only its 2nd NCAA bid ever at 16-6. But they got the #1 seed only because Winona (19-3) was penalized for using an ineligible player. St. Cloud and Southwest were in the mix at 15-7, while pre-season fave Augustana staggered home at 14-8.
For the moment the coaches have installed Winona and Moorhead as favorites in the South and North Division, respectively. But the conference loses a tremendous amount of talent including 7 of its top 8 scorers. Add in some prominent coaching changes and it should be an unpredictable season. I'm going to predict the unpredictable anyway.
1. St. Cloud State (15-7 last year). The coaches pick Moorhead, I like St. Cloud, which brings back forwards Tim Bergstrasser and Theo Rothstein and point guard Shawn Jensen. Jensen and Bergstrasser scored 27 points, while Bergstrasser and Rothstein gathered in 12 boards. Jensen added a league high 5 assists at a league high ratio of better than 2 assists per turnover. Coach Kevin Schlagel returns for his 17th season as head coach with a record of 301-141.
2. Moorhead State (14-8). Moorhead has lost guards D.J. Hamilton and Charlie Chapman, but there's not much despair up there because Alex Novak, coaches' pre-season player of the year in the North, is back after contributing 9 boards, 2 blocks and 64 percent shooting. Sophomore guard Jordan Riewer will try to fill some big shoes in the backcourt, and a huge freshman class will be counted up heavily--especially Tyler Vaughan from Braham. Chad Walthall enters his 3rd year as Dragons coach with a 36-22 record.
3. Northern (9-13). Northern returns 5 contributors including guard Tydan Storrestan from Pelican Rapids, who missed all but 5 games a year ago. Forwards Dustin Tetzlaff (6-7 senior) and Collin Pryor (6-6 senior) scored 28 points with 10 boards a year ago. Paul Sather is in his 2nd year as head coach.
4. Mary (7-15). Mary brings back 6-6 senior forward Alex Dorr and 6-3 senior forward-guard Josh Turner. Turner scored 12.5 ppg, while Dorr contributed 5 boards. Both boasted a good shooting percentage as did guard Danny Robinson on the 3-ball.Point guard Jalen Jaspers from DeLaSalle also returns.
5. UMD (11-11) looks like a 2-man show, those being 6-3 senior guard Jake Hottenstine (16 ppg, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) and 6-7 post Brett Ervin from Eden Prairie (13 ppg on 53% shooting). Freshman guard Austin Pohlen (Grand Rapids) should contribute right away. I'm tempted to move them a bit higher because they recently acquired one of the top coaches in the conference Matt Bowen, reigning coach of the year after leading Bemidji to a 16-6 record a year ago. Bowen could make UMD a powerhouse but it won't happen this year.
6. Bemidji State (16-6). Massive losses including James Ellisor and Bowen.... Guards Lance Rongstad and Dermaine Crockrell will carry the load.
7. Minot State. Has a bit of talent in its 1st year in the NSIC in forwards Josh Johnson and Thomas Korf (St. Cloud Apollo), who scored 26 points between 'em.
8. Minnesota-Crookston (3-19). Guard Aimir Krdzalik is pretty much the whole show/hope for improvement.
1. Southwest State (15-7). Southwest, coached by Brad Bigler, now in his 4th year (48-37), returns a cast of thousands while Winona returns the NSIC's best player in Clayton Vette. I'll take the thousands. Ok, 6. 6-9 junior post Nick Smith and 6-5 senior guard Jordan Miller scored 26 ppg between 'em a year ago. Smith shot 56 percent from the field, Miller 82 percent from the line. Smith added 6 boards, Miller 3 assists. So, nice 1-2 punch. But then 1-2-3: Vinard Birch, 5-11 junior guard with 3 assists and a steal. No, make that 1-2-3-4: Matt Zager, 6-1 junior guard, shooting 55 percent. And 1-2-3-4-5: William Giddings, a 6-5 junior forward, shoots 52 percent. And 6-1 guard Tramel Barnes shoots 85 percent from the charity stripe. That's a lot of weapons. Plus freshmen Mitch Weg, 6-7 from Worthington, and Joey Bartlett, 6-5 from St. Peter.
2. Winona State (19-3). The coaches go with Winona, maybe out of habit but also due to the presence of the League's best player and top returning scorer, 6-9 post Clayton Vette, with 17 ppg, 7 boards, 53 percent..... Add to that guards Taylor Cameron, Kellen Taylor and Xavier Humphey and, well, the talent pool is a little down from where it's been, but coach Mike Leaf will get the most out of what there is.
3. Mankato State (6-16). Coach Matt Marganthaler had an uncharacteristic down year last year but he's got them on the road back. Probably not a contender this year going in the right direction. 6-7 forward Connor O'Bien is the star with 8 boards and 2 blocks per game. Zach Romashko and Jimmy Whithead, both juniors, do more of the scoring with 24 points between them. And 6-5 freshman all-purpose guy Mike Busack will contribute starting on Day 1.
4. Augustana (14-8). Great things were expected last year with guards Cameron McCaffrey and Cody Schilling, but it didn't quite work out. Now McCaffrey is back and their obvious go-to scorer, their leader, their all-everything. Butthe supporting cast is not great.
5. Wayne State (9-13). A two-man show with 6-4 senior forward Darrell Williams and 5-11 guard Amry Shelby, who scored 27 ppg between 'em.
6. Concordia (St. Paul) (9-13). I keep waitin' for the breakthrough but it keeps on not happening. Guard Isaiah Thomas and Cole and Clay Olstad give it their best shot.
7. Upper Iowa (7-15). Erstwhile doormat might be improved with Tucker Wentzien, 6-8 senior forward, leading the way. He scored 14 with 7 boards and a block a year ago. 6-6 senior wing Sam Elgin adds some more size.
8. Sioux Falls. The new guys don't appear to have much.
C- Clayton Vette, Winona 6-9 senior, Player of the Year
F- Alex Novak, Moorhead 6-8 senior
F- Dustin Tetzlaff, Northern 6-7 senior
G- Sean Jensen, St. Cloud 6-0 senior
G- Jake Hottenstine, UMD 6-3 senior
C- Brett Ervin, UMD 6-7 junior
F- Tucker Wentzlein, Upper Iowa 6-8 senior
F- Tim Bergstrasser, St. Cloud 6-6 junior
G- Amry Shelby, Wayne 5-11 senior
G- Cameron McCaffrey, Augustana 6-0 senior
C- Nick Smith, SW State 6-9 junior
F- Collin Pryor, Northern 6-6 senior
F- Darnell Williams, Wayne 6-4 senior
G- Jordan Miller, SW State 6-5 senior
G- Jimmy Whitehead, Mankato State 6-1 junior
Coach of the Year--Brad Bigler, Southwest State