Thursday, September 30, 2010

Two weeks until first MSU basketball practice

Oct. 15, the first day of practice for Division II men's and women's basketball teams, is approaching fast, and it sounds like Minnesota State will have another version of midnight celebration to beginning of the season.

Bumped into a pair of incoming transfers — seniors Andre Gilbert and A.J. Wilson — this week at the Timberwolves practices, and they sure look the part.

Gilbert is 6-8 and long, while Wilson is about the same height but a little thicker. Gilbert played at Kansas State two years ago before sitting out since then, and Wilson played at Murray State last season, watching from the bench as the Racers made a short run in the NCAA tournament.

Last season, Jefferson Mason was clearly the most athletic player on the Mavericks' roster. Word is that's no longer the case.

You can debate coach Matt Margenthaler's strategy of bringing in a couple of one-year players, but you can't argue with his ability to find very talented athletes. It remains to be seen if he can get all this individual talent to flourish into team success.

The Mavericks don't have a lot of size, but the Northern Sun has become a league of guards and forwards. With Mason, Marcus Hill, Cameron Hodges, Taylor Morrow and Joe Drapcho, there is plenty of returning talent to mesh with the newcomers.

It seems that outside of the program, expectations are a little lower this season. It's doubtful the coaches and players feel that way. We'll see on Oct. 15.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hey, Timberwolves fans ... are you other there? Hello?

The Minnesota Timberwolves are coming back to Minnesota State to hold training camp, beginning Saturday and lasting five days.
The camp is early this season because the team will be making a trip to Europe for some preseason games.
We'll be devoting a lot of coverage to the Timberwolves, though that franchise has slipped a bit off the sports radar the last couple of years.
In Saturday's print edition, there's an interview with owner Glen Taylor, who has some candid remarks about the past and the future.
While the Wolves are in town, we'll have daily stories about the players. Some of the story lines we'll be chasing are:
1. David Kahn, the president of basketball operations, on how he's shaped this roster and plans for the future.
2. No. 1 draft choice Wesley Johnson on how he'll fit on this team.
3. Newcomer Martell Webster, a draft-day acquisition, on what he may bring to the team now that he'll have a chance for a larger role than he had in Portland.
4. Kevin Love on how the experience with the USA team that won the world championships might help him flourish, now that Al Jefferson is gone.
5. Darko Milicic, who talked about ending his NBA career before being rejuvenated in Minnesota, signing a big free-agent contract this offseason.
Keep an eye on the print edition while the Wolves are in town, that is if you're still interested in that team.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Week 3 highlights from high-school football

Finally got a chance to see Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, and that's going to be a tough team to evaluate during the regular season.
The Bucs won 34-14 at Maple River, which is a pretty good result for just about any team in the area. But WEM did not look sharp. The passing attack, which is generally explosive, amassed only 65 yards, while the Bucs rushed for more than 200 yards and all five touchdowns, led by sophomore running back Brady Ayers.
The defense swarmed, especially linebacker Grant Pope, but the Eagles were able to score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, one of which came on a 2-yard drive after a blocked punt.
WEM is the top-rated team in Class 2A, and optimism is high. It's tough for the team to meet those expectations each week.

Mankato West rolled over Faribault, which had won its first two games. The 48-2 victory could have been worse, and senior Nick Kaus set a program record with five touchdowns, three by receptions and two on punt returns. Friday's game against Winona might be the last time that the Scarlets will face a team with a winning record until the playoffs.

It was good to see Mankato East post a 15-3 victory at Rochester John Marshall. The Cougars had played well enough to win in the first two games, which both turned into a loss, and needed something to go right to build some confidence. Quarterback Abe Kolstad continues to flourish in his new role.

Le Center showed it will be a tough team to stop, and the Wildcats play at Bloooming Prairie this week in what amounts to the championship game of the Gopher Valley 1A Conference.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Highlights from conversation with MSU coach Hoffner

Sat with Minnesota State football coach Todd Hoffner for a few minutes after Monday night's radio show, and while some of the things he said were not for publication, there are a couple of tidbits to offer.

It looks like senior quarterback Steve Pachan will return soon, possibly as the backup this weekend at Minnesota Crookston. Pachan suffered a sprained knee ligament in the season-opener against Northern Michigan, and sophomore Will Brogan has been adequate as a fill-in.

Pachan may be ready to start the home game against Concordia-St. Paul in two weeks so Brogan probably has one more game to impress the coaches enough to keep the starting job.

Hoffner said the offensive line, which struggled against Northern Michigan, played better against Northern State, though that should have been expected. Northern Michigan has a much better defensive line, but the Mavericks didn't dominate the smaller Northern State line as they should have. If there's not significant improvement in line play at Minnesota Crookston, that might signal an area of concern.

Hoffner said that he and his staff are trying to prioritize areas of need for the upcoming recruiting class. One obvious need is a speed receiver that can stretch the field. Minnesota State has receivers with good hands, but none has scary speed.

The schedule gets difficult in the next month with games at Winona State (Oct.2) and at home against St. Cloud State (Oct.9).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Brogan in, Pachan out as MSU quarterback

Minnesota State quarterback Steve Pachan will not play in Saturday's game at Northern State because of a knee injury. Coach Todd Hoffner said that Pachan will miss "extended" time and wouldn't disclose the nature of the injury.
Pachan was injured in the third quarter of the season-opening 7-6 victory over Northern Michigan last week. Backup Will Brogan, a transfer from California (Pa.) University, took over and completed 6 of 9 passes for 66 yards and the only touchdown.
Hoffner said that Brogan will be the starter, and the backup is Jon Wolf, a true freshman from Oak Forest, Ill.
The Mavericks can survive with only one quarterback, given that the next three opponents are Northern State, Minnesota Crookston and Concordia-St. Paul. But this might become a problem if Pachan's injury lingers into the middle of the season.
The only other injury news from Minnesota State is that Cody Rose will replace Dennis Carter as a starting receiver. Hoffner said that Carter's injury is not serious.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Week 2 for high-school football

By Sunday morning, 25 percent of the high-school football regular season will be done. It goes by too fast.

Last week, there were some interesting happenings, and this week, we find out if they were trends or flukes.
Defending Class AA champion Waterville-Elysian-Morristown was an easy winner over Jordan. The Bucs have a lot of talent returning, led by quarterback Conrad Masberg. It would be surprising if the Bucs lose a regular-season game.
Mankato West opened with a 20-0 victory at Northfield, which isn't surprising. West has owned Northfield the last few years, and the Raiders would do well to find another opponent for the season-opener in the future. Quarterback Philip Nelson accounted for more than 400 yards of offense, with a career-high 313 yards passing.
Le Sueur-Henderson rolled to an easy victory over St. Peter. It's amazing that schools the size of LSH and WEM can annually produce such good teams. It's a testament to the head coaches and youth organizers in those communities.
The biggest story came from Madelia, which hadn't won a game in two seasons before defeating Westbrook-Walnut Grove in the opener. That has to be a big boost for that program.
Check out the prep football notebook in the print edition every Friday for more notes about this season, which after one week is already rushing by.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A win's a win for Mavericks

If anybody tries to tell you that Thursday night's season-opening football game at Minnesota State was well-played, don't believe it.
The Mavericks had only 207 yards of total offense and committed nine penalties. There were two missed field goals and countless missed opportunities. The offensive line opened few holes, unless you count the ones where the defensive linemen came pouring through to hit the quarterback.
Yet, at the end Minnesota State defeated Northern Michigan 7-6, stopping a two-point conversion in the final minute to preserve a key regional victory at Blakeslee Stadium.
Starting quarterback Steve Pachan was ineffective, completing only 3 of 14 passes for 32 yards with one interception. He injured his knee in the thrid quarter, and backup Will Brogan led the Mavericks on the only touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
The defense was pretty good. Though Northern Michigan accumulated 254 yards of offnse, the Mavericks created two turnovers and kept the Wildcats out of the end zone until the final 42 seconds. Cornerback Bryce Kinniry knocked the two-point pass to secure the victory.
There are plenty of things to work on, and the schedule is favorable, with the next three games coming against Northern State, Minnesota Crookston and Concordia-St. Paul.
When it October comes around, the Mavericks have to be better offensively to challenge for postseason play.
But as coach Todd Hoffner said after the game, it's nicer to be working on things after a win than a loss.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Six things to watch for at MSU football opener

Minnesota State opens the football season at 6 p.m. Thursday against Northern Michigan at Blakeslee Stadium.
The opener is generally well-attended so here are six things you can look for as a tip on how the Mavericks will fare this season. (It was going to be five, but one more popped up in my head.)

1. Offensive line. Senior Jeremy Clark, a three-year starter, is back at right tackle, but the other four starters have virtually no big-game experience. Center Mike Brunner made two starts last season, but guard Andrew Essman is a redshirt freshman, guard Mark Vukadinovic redshirted after two seasons at Glendale Community College and tackle Cordell Bell is a transfer from College of DuPage.
Coach Todd Hoffner and Clark have said that the line has improved greatly, but you never know what's going to happen in that first game. Minnesota State needs to run the ball to be effective, and keeping the quarterback healthy is another concern.

2. Steve Pachan. The senior quarterback got plenty of experience last season when starter Ryan Fick was injured. Pachan completed 89 of 179 passes for 1,477 yards with 19 touchdowns and six interceptions, but he was more of a game manager.
This season, he may need to win some games with his arm for an inexperienced offense, with only four returning starters.

3. Young receivers. The starters will be sophomores Adam Thielen and Dennis Carter, with sophomores Nate Nelson and Cody Rose as backups. Thielen caught 21 passes last season, and Rose, who was used primarily as a backup quarterback, made one reception. Carter hasn't played since the 2007 season at Minnesota Duluth, and Nelson played at Lawrence College last season before transferring here.
The position took a hit when senior Omaar Balton was injured, and Hoffner said he didn't know if Balton would be able to play this season.

4. Return game. For the last four seasons, Kelvin Rodgers has been a threat to score on nearly every punt and kickoff return, and he affected the way opponents conducted their special teams. He's graduated, and the Mavericks will use receiver Dennis Carter and possibly running back Jake Aberg in those roles.
It's hard to believe that either will provide the excitement that Rodgers did, simply by dropping back to field a kick.

5. Regional game. Northern Michigan is a member of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, one of three conferences in this region, so when it comes time to pick the six teams to advance to the national playoffs, this game will have some meaning.
If the Mavericks win, they will have an edge over Northern Michigan and every team it beats this season. A loss would mean the Mavericks likely need to sweep key conference games with Augustana, Winona State, Wayne State, St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth to get to the playoffs. Certainly, that wouldn't be easy.
And Northern Michigan belongs to the same conference as Ashland University and Hillsdale University, the teams that ended the last two seasons for Minnesota State

6. Last loss hangover. It's important for the Mavericks to defend their home field, and last season's playoff loss to Hillsdale had to have lingered into the offseason.
Have the Mavericks used that loss as motivation, or does it show vulnerability? Maybe we'll see Thursday night.