Tuesday, October 22, 2013

2013-2014 Minnesota Basketball Season Preview

The Lynx

One thing is already clear about the 2013-2014 Minnesota basketball season. The Minnesota Lynx are WNBA champions for the second time in three years, and they are the team to beat for Minnesota hoops team of the year. Cheryl Reeve is out ahead in the race for coach of the year honors.

But as to player of the year? Well, they Lynx have too many great players for any one to dominate. I guess I would pick Maya Moore as the Lynx' MVP, but Lindsay Whalen is riiiiiiiiight behind. Bottom line: The door is open for somebody else to be Minnesota's 2013-2014 player of the year.

The T-Wolves

But somehow the bloom seems to be coming off the rose of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Too many injuries, too many lost opportunities. Are they really ready to fulfill their potential in 2014? I am not convinced. Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovich, yes, they're among the elite at their respective positions. Ricky Rubio? Can he hit the shot? Can he be a complete player? Again, I am not entirely convinced. 

And Kevin Martin? Yes, he's a huge improvement. But I keep hearing that the Wolves must be a better defensive team, but you don't sign Kevin Martin for his defense. And Corey Brewer? Is he really that much better than two years ago? Can he hit the shot? Or is he another one-dimeinsial player? 

If I had to say, I would say the Wolves are a .500 team, and that isn't going to get you very far in the post-season, nor get you any player or team or coach of the year awards. 


Similarly, I don't have a good feeling about the Gophers, men or women. Don't get me wrong. I'm a big supporter of Rick Pitino. He will get his kids to play harder and to get more out of their talent than Tubby did. But with Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams gone, the talent in the front court is just not Big 10 caliber. I will be shocked if this is a .500 team, and if it's a .500 team in the Big 10 then Pitino should be coach of the year.

As for the women, well, the talent on the court could be a bit better than it's been if 6-5 Swedish post Amanda Zahui proves to be the real thing. But the talent level on the bench will be what it has been for the past decade, which means that getting out-coached will be a weekly thing and a late-season let-down will lurk unless it happens earlier. I expect that this will be a .500 team, but contending for the Big 10 title? No. And a trip to the NCAA tournament? Maybe, but then once-and-done.

The Small Colleges

Two words. Saint. Thomas.

Unfortunately, the only way anybody else is going to contend, much less win, an MIAC title is if the Tommies implode--and I mean the men, and I mean the women. The men went 30-2 last year and advanced to the D3 Final Four before losing in the national semis. Four prominent players from that team have completed their eligibility, but forwards Connor Nord and Zach Reidemann and guards Erik Tengwall, Marcus Alipate and Dylan Stewart return.

Augsburg center Dan Kornbaum is the top individual returnee.

The Tommie women went 24-6 last year and 31-2 the year before. They lost in the Sweet 16 a year ago and in the Final Four two years ago. Only one senior was lost to graduation and post Maggie Weiers, who missed the 2013 season with an injury, will also return in 2014. Taylor Young, Minnesota Hoops readers player of the year in 2012, also returns for her junior year, along with Kelly Brandenburg, Jenna Dockter and Anna Smith. Another 30 win season and another trip to the Final Four would seem to be reasonable ghost for the Tommies women.

In the Northern Sun, the men are down, down, down after 16 of last year's top 20 scorers completed their eligibility. The exception that proves the rule is Mankato State (sorry: Minnesota State Mankato) which has pre-season player of the year, post Assem Marei, and point guard Zach Monaghan also returns. That makes them the class of the NSIC, hands down.

There's a lot more returning talent among the women, but Minnesota State Mankato and Concordia-St. Paul, #1 and #2 in the regular season a year ago, will again battle it out for the title. Mankato forward Ali Wilkinson (17 points, 8 rebounds, 55% shooting a year ago) and UMD's Katrina Newman (16 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals) look like the top two players.

The Boys

In a word, Repeat. Apple Valley with point guard extraordinaire Tyus Jones is an obvious (prohibitive?) favorite to win a second straight state title, while DeLaSalle with Reid Travis is an even more obvious favorite to win a third.

A and AA look to be more wide open. Rushford-Peterson, defending champion Southwest Christian, 2012 champ Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa and Battle Lake should all contend in Class A. The crystal ball says...Rushford-Pete.

AA is even more wide open. Instead of 5 or 6 bona fide contenders, there may be 10 or 12. Esko is probably the best bet to win a section, but state...? Fairmont and Minnehaha will be tough. And there are 3 or 4 contenders from Section 8 alone. The crystal ball says...

Well, Crosby-Ironton would at least be a sentimental favorite. Here's a school that played for the state title twice in the good old days (1944, 1947) and twice quite recently (2008, 2010) and always came up empty. Maybe this is the year. But on the other hand Perham and Hawley are at least co-favorites in Section 8. So let's just say that somebody from Section 8 will win.

The Girls

Stop me if this sounds like a broken record. Hopkins will repeat in Class AAAA. DeLaSalle...wait. Did you want to stop me? DeLaSalle is not the obvious favorite in AAA this year. After 3 straight titles, it appears that the losses to graduation are just too great. Fergus Falls, Park Center and Hill-Murray appear to be poised to finally get a share of the wealth.

In AA, New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva would appear to be a shoo-in for a 2nd straight title behind the exploits of Carlie Wagner, who has already scored 241 points in 6 state tournament games. In A, most of the teams that appeared last could be back. Best bets are defending champ Minneota and runner-up Ada-Borup, plus 2012 finalists Maranatha and Mountain Iron-Buhl, and Win-E-Mac from the frozen north.

Awards Contenders

Roll it all together and the most likely to win our annual awards next March-April include the following. But keep in mind, the awards are not limited to players, teams, coaches, etc., who are on this pre-season listing.

Team of the Year Top 10 Contenders...okay, 12

Minnesota Lynx
Apple Valley boys
Hopkins girls
St. Thomas women
DeLaSalle boys
Mankato State men
NRHEG girls
Rushford-Peterson boys
Mankato State women
St. Thomas men
Minnesota Timberwolves
Concordia-St. Paul women

Player of the Year Top 10 Contenders

Tyus Jones, Apple Valley boys
Rachel Banham, Minnesota Gopher women
Reid Travis, DeLaSalle boys
Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx
Carlie Wagner, NRHEG girls
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
Assem Marei, Mankato State men
Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota Timberwolves
Taylor Young, St. Thomas women
Deandre Mathieu, Minnesota Gopher men

Coach of the Year Top 5 Contenders

Cheryl Reeve, Minnesota Lynx
Zach Goring, Apple Valley boys
Matt Marganthaler, Minnesota State Mankato men
Ruth Sinn, St. Thomas women
Tom Vix, Rushford-Peterson boys

Best Games of the Year

As we've done in the past, we'll have a feature game every day...or two, really. There will be a list of games that is published beforehand, and then there's a list of games afterward, because let's face it. It usually turns out that there's a game each night that is better than the one you thought would be the greatest

And if we had to pick right now, the pre-season picks are:

Team of the Year--Minnesota Lynx. They'll be tough to beat.

Player of the Year--Tyus Jones. Especially if he decides to go to the U.

Coach of the Year--Cheryl Reeve.

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