Friday, March 25, 2011

Final thoughts on MSU basketball from Elite Eight

Left Springfield, Mass., for a couple of days at Hartford before returning to Minnesota on Sunday.

It's always amazing, regardless of sport or level its being played, how quickly the emotions of a dramatic postseason run can crash with a loss. When a team, such as the 2009 Minnesota State women, wins a championship, there's usually a few days for everyone to revel in the victory, slowly coming down from the emotional high.

But when a team is playing at a high level, such as this Minnesota State men's squad, and then loses, it's an immediate and hard letdown for the coaches and players. In a few days, they'll be able to look back at the amazing accomplishments of this season, but that first 24 hours seems pretty tough.

The Mavericks will be back at the Elite Eight sometime, especially if Matt Margenthaler continues to coach at Minnesota State, but the rebuilding task is daunting. Seniors Jefferson Mason, Marcus Hill, Cameron Hodges, Joe Drapcho and Taylor Morrow were so important to this team, and it leaves little experience coming back next season.

This will be the most difficult class to replace since the 2007 class of Luke Anderson, Tony Thomason and Paris Kyles, which ironically was the year that Hill, Drapcho, Morrow, Mike Bisenius, Stephen Kirschbaum and Mitch Grundman came to Minnesota State.

There was no shame in losing to Bellarmine, which has a good chance to win a national championship Saturday against BYU-Hawaii. Bellarmine was a veteran, tough, strong, disciplined team that out-executed the Mavericks over the last five minutes.

Mason ended his career as one of the top 5 players ever at Minnesota State, and Cameron Hodges' final month was nearly as good. Hill is also a top-20 player in program history, and the fact that he played 224 of 225 minutes in the national tournament says a lot about his courage and determination.

Margenthaler and assistant Mike Schott will never have a bad team at Minnesota State. They're too good at recruiting to let the talent level slip, but experience will be the key.

There might only be two starters for next year that are on the team right now. Jimmy Whitehead will be the point guard, and Connor O'Brien will be the center or power forward. Kirschbaum and Bisenius will probably be the first players off the bench.

That means the two freshman already signed -- Kelly Madison of Des Moines, Iowa, and Mile Chamberlain of Madison, Wis., -- might be starters, or there could be some additional signings or transfers.

It's important that Margenthaler and staff capitalize on this historic season and attract some talented players. The women's program didn't do that after 2009, and that team is struggling just two years later.

You might expect next season to be less successful, but that's the same opinion that most fans had back in November, especially after the two senior transfers were kicked off the team.

It appears that you should never underestimate Margenthaler, Schott and his players. A lot of teams and fans found out the hard way this season.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

National semifinals ... this is getting fun

Just a few thoughts from Springfield, Mass., as the Minnesota State men's basketball team prepares for tonight's game against Bellarmine University at the NCAA Division II tournament.

It should be another interesting matchup of styles. Bellarmine is a big, physical team with lots of man muscles. They seemed to play a disciplined style and shoot the ball well.

The Mavericks will want to press the pace, hoping to make it a fullcourt game instead of a halfcourt battle. Marcus Hill will have a tough time guarding any of their players, yet Bellarmine has no one who can keep up with Hill.

In Wednesday's game, Midwestern State was able to dribble inside the Bellarmine zone, but then the guards made bad decisions. Hill and Hodges should be able to penetrate, but then they have to finish or find an open teammate.

It will be interesting to see how much energy Wednesday's overtime victory over Alabama Huntsville took from the Mavericks. Hill played 45 minutes, and in the region tournament, he struggled offensively in the second game of back-to-backs. In his favor, Bellarmine is unlikely to press much.

If the Mavericks can score 80 points, they should win. Bellarmine appears to prefer a game played in the 60s.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

FINAL FOUR: Minnesota State vs. Bellarmine

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

ELITE EIGHT: Minnesota State vs. Alabama Huntsville

Monday, March 21, 2011

Off to Springfield for MSU basketball game

Leaving Mankato at 8 a.m. Tuesday, with stops at MSP airport, Philadelphia and Hartford before, hopefully, getting to Springfield, Mass., in time for happy hour.

While it's been hectic, trying to make sure all the work is done and the kids have rides to their various activities this week, once I get to Springfield for the NCAA Division II Elie Eight, it should be a lot of fun.

I've been thinking a lot about the trip to San Antonio two years ago, watching the Minnesota State women's basketball team win a national championship. That final game still ranks with the most enjoyable I've ever watched.

If the Minnesota State men's team can make that kind of run, I'm sure it will be just as much fun.

Hope you've enjoyed some of the preview stories, a profile on coach Matt Margenthaler and another on senior Jefferson Mason. Tuesday's print edition includes a story with some prominent members of past Mavericks teams to get their views on this historic season.

Once I get to Springfield, I';ll try to a story the night before the first Elite Eight game, trying to see if the boys are nervous or excited. I'll try to get some info on the Alabama Huntsville, the team Minnesota State plays Wednesday.

I'll try to get some stories about the fans who made the trip to Springfield, and hopefully there will be three Minnesota State games for them to watch.

I'll check back once I get to Massachusetts, and don't forget to access the live blog during the game.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

LIVE BLOG: Minnesota State vs. Fort Lewis

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Wow! What a game. On to the championship game.

As Minnesota State coach Matt Margenthaler said after Sunday's 69-65 victory over Metro State, "Wow."

The hard-fought semifinal victory in the NCAA Division II Central Region men's basketball tournament had something for everybody. It was a tough-guy game, there were some unbelievably athletic plays, the game was close throughout.

There was the agony of two missed free throws by Metro superstar Reggie Evans, followed by the joy of two clinching free throws by Jefferson Mason.

If you didn't enjoy this one, you have no heart or emotion.

The Mavericks looked tired early, then got a spark from Taylor Morrow and Stephen Kirschbaum in the second half. Then with the game on the line, Mason started attacking the basket and Metro's shot blockers to provide 16 second-half points.

The Mavericks had the rebounding advantage, which hasn't happened much in the last month, and 23 offensive rebounds, usually the other team's number.

Now it's on to the championship game against Fort Lewis, a team that Minnesota State has had success in the past. This is the best Fort Lewis team of the last five or six, but it's a favorable matchup for Minnesota State.

Marcus Hill has played 80 minutes in the last two games, and Margenthaler said he'll play 40 on Tuesday. Mason has played 76 minutes and Cameron Hodges 63. Expect each to log a lot of minutes in every game from here on out.

Minnesota State has only playe din one regional championship game, losing to Winona State in 2006. This team is much better prepared to win that elusive title.

LIVE BLOG: Minnesota State vs. Metro State

LIVE BLOG: Colorado School of Mines vs. Fort Lewis

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Few thouhts from first day of Central Region

Been at Bresnan Arena for 12 hours, watching four quarterfinal games from the NCAA Division II men's basketball tournament.

Here's a few thoughts:
Three of the four games today were rematches. In fact, three matchups were between teams that were playing for the fourth time this season.

It's inevitable with only two teams in each region, but something has to be done so that you get more teams facing each other for the first time. Too much RMAC vs. RMAC and Northern Sun vs. Northern Sun.

Colorado School of Mines really struggled to defeat Adams State, and I think that getting that victory will allow Mines to play better in the semifinals.

Fort Lewis demolished Mesa State. Hard to believe that Mesa State beat Fort Lewis twice during the regular season. Mesa State didn't look like it belonged in the tournament today.

Minnesota State was impressive in dispatching Winona State for the third time this season. Marcus Hill was unbelievable, and the big thre eof Hill, Cameron Hodges and Jefferson Mason combined for 70 points.

But the role players also contributed to the surprisingly easy win.

The best game was the last, when Metro State defeated Mary 78-73. Reggie vans is for real, and Metro has some other nice parts. Anthony Moody really struggled for Mary.

Sunday night's semifinals match Mines against Fort Lewis and Minnesota State vs. Metro State. It should be fun.

LIVE BLOG: Mary vs. Metro State

LIVE BLOG: Minnesota State vs. Winona State, Central Region tournament

LIVE BLOG: Fort Lewis vs. Mesa State

LIVE BLOG: Colorado School of Mines vs. Adams State

Friday, March 11, 2011

Region tournament begins Saturday

Minnesota State again hosts the NCAA Division II men's basketball tournament, which begins Saturday and runs through Tuesday.

The best eight teams in the region are in town, and judging by last season's tourney, there is a lot of good basketball to watch at Bresnan Arena.

There are some intriguing story lines.

Minnesota State is the No. 1 seed, and for five straight years, the top seed had won the region championship and advanced to the Elite Eight. That streak ended last season when the Mavericks lost in the semifinals.

Will the Mavericks finally claim a region championship in its seventh straight appearance at the tournament?

Minnesota State's opponent is Winona State, which might be the best eighth seed in any region. The Warriors got in by winning the Northern Sun tournament, a three-game stretch of impressive play after suspending leading scorer, and top headache, Anthony Tucker.

Can the shorthanded Warriors stay on a roll?

You might remember Colorado School of Mines, who nearly took out the Mavericks in the quarterfinals last season as an eighth seed. The Orediggers have all five starters back, and as the No. 3 seed, look like the best team in that bracket.

Can Mines use last season's loss as motivation for a better finish?

Adams State must be a hoot to watch. The Grizzlies commit more than 26 fouls per game, and they turn the ball over at an alarming rate. But this is the first 20-win season in school history so they must do other things right.

Will Adams State's frenetic pace be effective in a halfcourt game that is the norm in national tournaments?

Fort Lewis has been to the national tournament seven times since 2002, but the Skyhawks are 0-6 at this level. Fort Lewis was the No. 1-rated team when the first region rankings came out, then slipped to 6 before jumping back to 2 after winning the RMAC tournament.

Can Fort Lewis finally win a national-tournament game?

You can go to Bresnan Arena to watch the games, or you can follow my live blog during each game. It should be fun.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tough day for MSU hoops, but things may work out

The Minnesota State men's basketball team lost 82-74 to Winona State in Saturday's semifinals of the Northern Sun tournament, but the opportunity to host next week's Central Region tournament may not be lost.
It was a day of upsets in the Northern Sun as in all four semifinals, two for men and two for women, the lower-seeded team won.
In the men's tournament, Winona State and St. Cloud State will play for the championship, and since the winner gets an automatic berth into the national tournament, an neither team is ranked in the top 10 in the region, some team is going to get bumped, likely either Augustana or Adams State.
Minnesota State was ranked No. 1 in the region before this weekend's games, followed by Colorado School of Mines, Mary and Metro State. All four lost this weekend so the seedings will probably remain the same.
Minnesota State is hosting a viewing party for the NCAA selection show at 9 p.m. Sunday at the downtown Buffalo Wild Wings. The best guess is that Minnesota State will retain the No. 1 ranking and host the Central Region tournament next weekend.
Here's a guess at the pairings: Minnesota State vs. the winner of Winona State and St. Cloud State, Mines vs. Augustana, Mary vs. Metro State and Fort Lewis vs. Mesa State.
The NCAA could choose not to have so many matchups between teams of the same conference, so we'll see Sunday.
Will it matter for MSU? Not if they play so passively as in Saturday's loss. Winona State attacked the offensive glass, and Minnesota State didn't match the physical play. The referees allowed a lot of contact, and the Mavericks didn't adjust.
Unfortunately, Minnesota State has a reputation for great regular seasons and postseason losses. So far, that's the story on this season.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Minnesota State vs. Winona State, Northern Sun semifinals

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wayne State vs. Minnesota State, NSIC Tournament