The NSIC finished regular season play Saturday night with the Mankato State men and Concordia (St. Paul) women claiming Southern Division titles, and St. Cloud State on top in both men's and women's play. Before my friends from St. Cloud get too carried away, however, it should be pointed out if the Huskies were in the South that they'd be tied for 3rd (the men) and in 4th (the women). Still, they did what they had to do to get home ice for 2 rounds of playoffs.
This blog being called Minnesota Hoops, I must hasten to point out that all 4 division titles went to Minnesota teams but then, of course, so did all 4 of the last-place finishes which were claimed by the Minnesota-Crookston and Concordia men and the Crookston and Southwest State women.
Unlike the MIAC, everybody makes these playoffs, though for most if not all of your 7th and 8th seeds the thrill will give way to agony most swiftly. Here are the playoff match ups (those involving at least 1 Minnesota team). Playoffs commence Wednesday night (Feb. 27) at the higher seeds.
#8S Concordia (9-17) at #1N St. Cloud State (19-7)
#7N Mary (4-22) at #2S Winona State (23-6)
#6S Wayne State (17-11) at #3N Bemidji State (15-11)
#8N UM-Crookston (4-22) at #1S Mankato State (22-4)
#5S SW Minnesota State (16-13) at #4N Moorhead (MN) (18-10)
#6N UMD (8-18) at #3S Augustana (19-7)
#8S SW State (4-24) at #1N St. Cloud State (18-8)
#5N UMD (14-12) at #4S Winona State (19-10)
#7N Bemidji State (11-15) at #2S Mankato State (22-4)
#6S Sioux Falls (12-14) at Moorhead State (15-11)
#8N UM-Crookston (8-18) at #1S Concordia (21-5)
In theory, the home teams should all win. They're at home! And in theory, they're at home because they proved themselves to be better teams over the course of 22 conference games. But, not so. What's been proven is that the South is a lot tougher than the North, and probably always will be. The new Southern Division includes perennial powers Augustana, Mankato and Winona (both genders) and the Concordia women. The North includes only St. Cloud and UMD. And with UMD down this year, no amount of over-achieving at Moorhead or Bemidji can make up for that.
So, in fact, most of the #5 and #6 seeds from the South will probably win on the road.
But no matter what happens in the 1st round of the playoffs, the big surprises have already happened. Sure, if a #5 or below wins 2 road games to get to the semi-finals in Rochester, then we'll stop the presses. But for now, the big surprises have already happened.
The biggest is just how poorly the coaches did in prognosticating their conference. Not a single one of the 4 teams they picked to win their division did so, and in fact the 4 of them finished on average about third-and-a-half. The 4 that did win were picked on average to finish just a hair above 3rd place. Let the record show that I at least got the St. Cloud men right, and picked the Concordia women for 3rd versus the coaches picking them all the way down in 5th. (Of course, I had the St. Cloud women 6th, so....)
The big surprises, team by team, were of course the 4 winners--the St. Cloud and Mankato men, and the St. Cloud and Concordia women. But seriously, is it really ever a surprise when these teams win? Not really. So even bigger surprises were:
• Bemidji men, picked 5th or 6th, finished 3rd
• Upper Iowa men, picked 7th, finished 4th
• Minot State women, picked 8th, finished 6th
The big disappointments are:
• Moorhead men, picked 1st or 2nd, finished 4th
• Southwest State men, picked 1st or 2nd, finished 5th
• Concordia men, picked 5th or 6th, finished 8th
• UMD women, picked 1st or 2nd, finished 4th (tie)
• UM-Crookston women, picked 4th and 6th, finished 8th
• Augustana women, picked 1st, finished 3rd
So there were lots of surprises. Second was the performance of the players picked as pre-season Players of the Year for their respective divisions--Alex Feeney, Katrina Newman, Alex Novak and Clayton Vette. Not to say they performed poorly, and that a couple of them might be post-season PoY as well. But overall they came up a bit short of expectations. Well, excepting Vette.
Feeney, for example, dropped from 16 ppg a year ago to 15 this year, and of course her team came in 3rd after being predicted to win the division title. More to the point, Ali Wilkinson of Mankato, the division champ, has the look of the South MVP. Katrina Newman of UMD increased her production from 14 ppg to 16, but her team slumped from a predicted 1st place finish to a 4th place tie. Newman might still be the top player but Jessica Benson of St. Cloud and Ali Collins of Mary deserve consideration as well. Novak increased his production from 12 to 13 ppg but his team, picked for 1st, also slumped to 4th place. I kind of like Shaun Jensen of St. Cloud as PoY.
Vette, on the other hand, increased his scoring from 17 ppg to 21 but his team, picked 1st, finished 2nd. He's the MVP in the South.
C- Clayton Vette, Winona State, 6-9, senior, 21 pts, 8 reb
F- Alex Novak, Moorhead State, 60-8, senior, 13 pts, 9 reb, 2 blk
F- Colin Pryor, Northern, 6-5, senior, 16 pts, 8 reb
G- Shaun Jensen, St. Cloud State, 6-4, senior, 14 pts, 5 assists
G- Cameron McCaffrey, Augustana, 6-1, senior, 21 pts, 4 assists
C- Assem Marei, Mankato State, 6-8, junior, 13 pts, 7 reb
F- Brett Ervin, Minnesota-Duluth, 6-7, senior, 16 pts
F- Theo Rothstein, St. Cloud State, 6-5, senior, 17 pts, 2 stl
G- Zack Monaghan, Mankato State, 6-2, sophomore, 12 pts, 6 asts, 3 stl
G- Anthony Tucker, Moorhead State, 6-5, senior, 20 pts, 4 asts
C- Carly Boag, Minot, 6-2, junior, 18 pts, 12 reb
PF- Ali Wilkinson, Mankato State, 6-0, junior, 17.5 pts, 8 reb
SF- Anika Whiting, Concordia, 6-2, sophomore, 18 pts
PG- Rachel Hansen, Concordia, 6-0, junior, 11 pts, 5 asts
SG-Whitney Kieffer, Upper Iowa, 5-9, sophomore, 19 pts, 7 reb, 3 asts
C- Megan Strese, Moorhead State, 6-0, junior, 15 pts, 10 reb
PF- Alex Feeney, Augustana, 6-0, senior, 15 pts
SF- Katrina Newman, UMD, 5-11, junior, 16 pts, 8 reb, 3 asts
PG- Ali Collins, Mary, 5-9, senior, 15 pts, 5 asts
SG- Laura Johnson, Sioux Falls, 6-0, junior, 13 pts
There's probably not a national championship contender here this year like the Winona State men of 2006-2007-2008 and the Mankato State women of 2009, but there's a lot of great talent. I expect the Mankato men and the Concordia women to win the NSIC playoffs and to go a fer piece in the D2 playoffs, probably somewhere around the Final 8, probably not Final 4.