It has been in many ways a remarkable MIAC season, especially for the women. Concordia won its 1st regular season title since 1990. St. Mary's, in 3rd at 18-4, has in both respects had its best season since 1986. Hamline at 14-8 also has won the most conference games since 1986.
Among the men, this is the 1st time Gustavus has ever missed the post-season playoffs (which were 1st held in 2001). It is also the 1st time Gustavus has finished outside of the top 6 in the regular season standings (6 teams make the MIAC post-season playoffs) since 1984.
In fact, half of the men's playoff teams were not in the top 6 in the coach's pre-season poll. St. Olaf, picked to finish 2nd, dropped all the way down to 8th at 8-12, and Gustavus, picked 5th, and Hamline, picked 6th, also missed out. Bethel and St. John's, tied for 7th in the pre-season poll, and Concordia all fought their way into the playoffs. The Cobbers utterly baffled their opposing coaches--picked to finish 9th, they instead finished in 2nd place. Hamline's season was wrecked by a legal problem that led to the departure of coach Nelson Whitmore.
Modesty does not prevent me from pointing out that I had Gustavus and St. Olaf out of the playoffs in my pre-season forecast, but I also had Augsburg and St. John's out. Still, I had 4 of 6 right versus the coach's 3 of 6. And how the coaches could have had Concordia 9th...I had 'em 2nd and that's where they now sit, and that makes Rich Glas coach of the year. But enough gloating, here's how the playoffs match up.
1st Round Wednesday Feb. 20
#6 St. John's 12-13 at #3 Augsburg 19-6
#5 Bethel 15-10 at #4 Carleton 15-10
2nd Round Friday Feb. 22
Lowest remaining seed at #1 St. Thomas 24-1
Second lowest remaining seed at #2 Concordia (Moorhead) 18-7
Finals Sunday Feb. 24 at highest remaining seed
The obvious question is whether anybody can compete with St. Thomas, and the obvious answer probably is, No. The Tommies can score in bunches, but even if you slow 'em down, the problem is scoring some points yourself. In a close, half-court game, the Tommies' defense takes over. Center Tommy Hannon and guard John Nance are the ring-leaders there, while on offense 10 guys can score. And having home court throughout, the #1 nationally-rated Tommies look like as close to a sure thing as you'll see.
If anybody can compete it would have to be the misunderestimated Cobbers, who gave St. Thomas their only loss 54-52 in Moorhead on Jan. 21, and finished up on a 7-game winning streak. The Tommies outscored their MIAC opponents 82-60, leading the league on both ends of the court. The Cobbers are #2 on offense at 77 points per game, but give up 72. Center Jacob Huus and 3-point shooting specialist Andrew Martinson match up OK but everywhere else the Tommies defense is a deal-breaker most of the time.
But 1st Concordia will have to get by Augsburg, Carleton or Bethel. Bethel, with probable MIAC MVP Taylor Hall, could surprise. He was recently named the #3 player in all of D3 by Breitbart Sports, and #13 among all non-D1 players. He led the MIAC is points (22), boards (10) and was among the leaders in FG shooting (57 percent).
It says here that Bethel wins at Carleton, while Augsburg defeats St. John's. That means that Augsburg goes to Concordia, and that's a tough match-up for the Cobbers. Center Dan Kornbaum was right behind Hall with 18 ppg and 8 boards, and he shot 59 percent. And while almost nobody shoots 3s like Martinson, Augsburg's top 2 3-point shooters, Tyler Schmidt and Parker Hines, combined for 84 on 38 percent 3-point shooting, comparing favorably with Concordia's Martinson and Aaron Lindahl (86 on 43 percent shooting).
Still, while Augsburg beat Concordia by 5 at home, the Cobbers won by 20 in Moorhead.
So I look for Concordia and St. Thomas in the final, and the Tommies are not going to lose at home. The real question is how far St. Thomas can go nationally. Anything short of the Final Four would be a disappointment.
C- Dan Kornbaum, Augsburg, 6-9, junior, 18 pts, 8 reb, 59FG%, 1 blk
C- Tommy Hannon, St. Thomas, 6-8, senior, 11 pts, 6 reb, 59.5FG%
F- Taylor Hall, Bethel, 6-8, senior, 22 pts, 10 reb, 57FG%, 3 asts, 2 blks
W- Scott Theisen, Carleton, 6-6, senior, 17 pts, 7 reb, 6 asts, 2 stls
G- Ebo Nana-Kweson, Concordia, 6-4, senior, 14 pts, 3 asts, 1 blk
The big surprise was St. Thomas finishing 2nd, 1 slot lower than predicted. I know 1 slot isn't much, but you've got to remember that the Tommies made it to the Final Four a year ago. Expectations were that high. But St. Thomas was without all-conference post Maggie Weiers all year, and all-conference forward Taylor Young started the year hurt and only came around slowly. So the Tommies lost 3 of 4 in 1 stretch in January. But they finished with 7 straight wins and Young was player of the week for the next-to-last week of the season. So despite the 2nd place finish, the Tommies look like the favorite in the post-season.
But Concordia has the home court as long as they keep winning, and they've got Trish Sorenson and Emily Thesing, both among the MIAC's top 10 scorers.
But the best story of the season is St. Mary's, returning to the playoffs for a 2nd straight year after winning just 31 games while losing 103 the previous 6 years. 6-1 bookends Courtney Eurele and Jamie Stefely lead the way, along with senior guard Jessica Thone. Coach Mandy Pearson is my choice for coach of the year.
Hamline is another good story. They are the only team not in the coach's pre-season top 6 to sneak into the playoffs (at St. Olaf's expense). Steph Pilgrim and Jordan Sammons finished #1 and #3 in conference scoring.
1st Round Tuesday Feb. 19
#6 Gustavus 15-10 at #3 St. Mary's 21-4
#5 Hamline 14-11 at #4 St. Ben's 19-6
2nd Round Thursday Feb. 21
Lowest remaining seed at #1 Concordia (Moorhead) 20-5
Second lowest remaining seed at #2 St. Thomas 20-5
Finals Saturday Feb. 23 at highest remaining seed
Gustavus will give St. Mary's a scare. An interesting sidebar there is the reunion of Gustavus guard Julia Dysthe, from White Bear Lake, and Thone, from Woodbury, who were Suburban East Conference rivals. St. Ben's should win easily. That leaves St. Ben's to go to Concordia and St. Mary's to St. Thomas. I'll take St. Ben's in a surprise, then St. Thomas over St. Ben's in the final.
C- Rachel Parupsky, Bethel, 6-2, freshman, 16 pts, 9 reb, 4.5 blks
C- Abby Rothenbuhler, Gustavus, 6-2, senior, 12 pts, 8 reb, 2 blks
F- Trish Sorenson, Concordia, 5-11, senior, 14 pts, 7 reb
G- Jordan Sammons, Hamline, 5-8, sophomore, 15 pts, 8 reb, 3 stls
G- Jessica Thone, St. Mary's, 5-8, senior, 12 pts, 4 asts, 2 stls