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.

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