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« MIAC Basketball: 2008-09 CSN Preseason AwardsFCS Recap: The Scores »

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It's a New Day: MIAC 2008-09 Basketball Season Preview

floated rightby Rich Mies, CSN Mapping the MIAC Columnist

As the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference prepares to tip-off its 87th season of competition, the buzzword around the league is “new.” This year, there is a medley of new things scattered all over the state —new faces on the court, new faces on the sidelines a new court and even a new arena.

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There are many outstanding rookie players debuting in the MIAC. Rich Glas takes over at Concordia, while Todd Landrum is the new head coach at Saint Mary’s. Saint John’s unveiled its new basketball court, named in honor of Coach Jim Smith and his wife, as Smith closes in on career win No. 700. Macalester opens play in the sparkling new Leonard Center, the newest facility in the league.

For all the newness, there is still plenty of tradition. Two of the league’s perennial powers, Gustavus and St. Thomas, celebrate the centennial of basketball on their campus. Coach Smith celebrates his 45th season at Saint John’s and Steve Fritz coaches his 750th game at St. Thomas, while other long time coaches continue to pile up the wins.

Most importantly, though, the intense play, the heated competition and the gracious sportsmanship that are the trademarks and hallmarks of the MIAC continue. As always, the gap between the top tier and the bottom of the MIAC is a marginal consideration. On any given night, any team is capable of beating any other.

Preseason prognostication is by nature a crapshoot, and in the MIAC it is even more of a daring venture. Any attempts to predict the order of finish will most likely look foolish come February. Knowing that, we offer our expected order of finish:

ST. THOMAS

Last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Coach Steve Fritz. Instead, his Tommies surged to their third consecutive MIAC championship, winning the crown by a healthy three game margin. This year, they are the odds-on favorite to run that streak to four in a row, as they return all five starters from last year. In terms of minutes played and points scored, the Tommies return their top 11 players, which has resulted in a preseason ranking of No. 5 in the nation according to d3hoops.com.

Joe Scott, who averaged 15.9 points per game and canned 75 three-pointers last year, will again spark UST’s offense. Tyler Nicolai returns with his deadly outside shooting and floor leadership. B.J. Viau, who emerged as one of the top all-around players in the MIAC last season, returns, anchoring one of the toughest defenses in the Upper Midwest. Lonnie Robinson is back for a fourth season, adding to the defensive pressure as well as an additional offensive wrinkle. The tandem of Alex McCoy and David Baker will main the post for UST.

The biggest strength the Tommies possess is their depth. With Brett Tuma, Anders Halverson, Alex Healy and Teddy Archer coming off the bench, Fritz is not afraid to run and press, knowing he has little drop-off in talent along the bench.

New faces added to the mix will make the Tommies even deeper and stronger. They are led by freshmen Fritz Waldvogel and Greg Morse and sophomore transfer Brady Ervin, all of whom are transitioning to hoops after a successful season on the gridiron. Also, look for freshman Peter Leslie to see plenty of playtime in the backcourt.

This is the 100th season of basketball at St. Thomas, and Fritz, who has been part of 41 of those seasons as a player, assistant coach and head coach, is expecting it to be a memorable one. Whether that means hoisting a MIAC championship trophy, cutting down the nets after the MIAC Playoffs or something deeper in the NCAA field remains to be seen.

BETHEL

The Royals were the favorites to win their first-ever MIAC title last season, but a midseason slump blocked their title path. They return a solid core from last season, led by CSN’s preseason Player of the Year, Tim Madson and Mike Moberg. Madson, who led the MIAC in scoring as a sophomore and finished second last season, gives the Royals as good an outside shooter as there is in the league and adds an aggressive scrappiness to their perimeter defense. Madson averaged over 20 points per game in each of the past two seasons.

Moberg provides a powerful presence in the paint. He averaged 14.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game last year, continuing Bethel’s tradition of strong post play.

With the transfer of junior Nate Robinson, Bethel added a second dominant post player. Robinson, whose older brother was a standout at BU, comes from UW-River Falls, and adds toughness and size to the Royals’ inside game.

Also returning for the Royals in the backcourt are Cory Lauren, who missed much of last year with injuries, Tyler Brown and Chris Vera, who will be invaluable to Bethel’s up-tempo game. Mike Much and Rob Lang give the Royals intense play, rebounding depth and additional offensive option. Matt Johnson brings added depth at the post.

Freshman Jesse Ducommun is yet another towering post in the mix for Bethel, and crashes the boards well. He is expected to see considerable playtime. Freshman J.D. Robinson is also expected to be part of the mix at wing and possesses a good touch from the perimeter.

The Royals are a veteran team and Coach Jeff Westlund expects that experience to be a vital asset to the team’s success. He also hopes that a team trip to Sweden in August has created an even-closer bond among the players. These factors, combined with the team’s overall talent, size and quickness, could result in the first MIAC regular season title in Arden Hills and could also be factors in a long post-season run.

CARLETON

Expectations are high in Northfield, where CSN’s preseason MIAC Most Valuable Player Zach Johnson returns, heading a group of eight returnees with significant playing time last season. In addition, Coach Guy Kalland has brought in nine freshmen - perhaps the largest first-year crop in his 23 seasons at Carleton - giving the Knights depth to go with their abundance of talent.

Johnson, who currently ranks third on the school’s all-time scoring list, has averaged 17.96 points per game in his career. He was third in the MIAC in scoring last season at 20.2 ppg. He mixes solid inside play with a deft touch form the outside, making him one of the most dangerous offensive threats in the area.

Also returning are Jeremy Sutherland and Bryan Rosett, each of whom averaged in double-digits last year. Rosett tallied 13.1 points per game, while shooting 54% from the floor and pulling down over seven rebounds per game. Sutherland missed ten games with an injury. His value was proved during this stretch as Carleton struggled to a 5-5 record without him. Outside sharpshooter Carter Biewen is back, as is Jason Weischedel, giving the Knights a dangerous presence from the perimeter. Seth Junker will give Carleton a strong presence in the paint and will be counted on to crash the boards.

In each of the past nine seasons, Carleton has had at least one player named to the MIAC’s All-First Year Team, and this year should extend that string. Miles Silbert and Blaise Davis are both expected to see considerable playing time as they and the other first years adapt to college ball and the Knights’ system.

Kalland is optimistic that this mix of veteran leadership and rookie energy can lift the Knights to their first outright MIAC title since 1923 (the Knights, who played in the Midwest Conference from 1925-1983, shared the MIAC title in 2005-06). The Knights; seniors would like to bookend their careers with the school’s second trip to the NCAA tourney, the first such trip coming in their rookie seasons. If things gel as Kalland hopes, there is a good chance that will happen.

SAINT JOHN’S

The Johnnies lost their backcourt to graduation, but return a solid front line and a deep bench. This paves the way for optimism in Coach Jim Smith’s 45th season behind the Pine Curtain. Smith needs 15 wins to become the second Division III coach to reach the 700-win plateau.

Smith will look to sophomore Chris Schwartz to lead the young, but hungry, Johnnies. Schwartz averaged 12.9 points per game and was named to the MIAC All-First Year Team. His combination of size, athleticism and good shooting from all over the court enables him to take over games. Also returning is wing Aaron Burtzel who ranked in the top ten in the MIAC in assists-to-turnover ratio, rebounds and assists.

Michael Stiller, Nermin Hujdurovic and first-year Garrett Bassett will share the post duties. Stiller saw considerable playing time in 2007-08 and will be counted on to anchor the paint.

Graduation depleted SJU of its top backcourt players, but Smith likes what he has seen of freshman Andy Burns at point, and will add Brandon Budach and transfer Landon Stanfield into the mix. Smith hopes that transfer Todd Herman and freshman Aaron Barmore can step up and play key roles this year. Juniors Michael Braun and Nathan Ortmann are all expected to compete for minutes this season as well.

At their home opener, the Johnnies dedicated their new court to honor Smith and his wife; they would like nothing better than to celebrate an MIAC title on that new surface in February. If they can fill the holes in their backcourt and if the new faces can meet Smith’s hopes, that celebration could become a reality.

HAMLINE

There is plenty of excitement at Snelling and Hewitt in St. Paul as Coach Nelson Whitmore brings in his first recruiting class, to join a nucleus of the top eight scorers for the Pipers last season. This has fueled optimism of Hamline’s first winning season since 1993-94 and possibly the Pipers’ first MIAC crown since 1959-60.

A key to the Pipers’ success will be play of senior Tony Thrasher, has been named All-MIAC Honorable Mention in each of this three seasons at Hamline. Thrasher should close his career as the fifth-leading scorer in Hamline history, and the top scorer in the modern (post 1960) era.

Sophomores Carl Hipp and Eric Clute, each of whom was named to the MIAC All-First Year Team last year, join him as key returners. Clute averaged 15.1 points per game in 2007-08 and drained 40% of his three-pointers. Hipp blocked 52 shots (placing him fifth among Hamline’s all-time career leaders), while scoring 13.4 points a game and leading the Pipers with 6.3 rebounds per game.

Also returning are Tanner Anderson, Erik Gusaas and Brandon Hayes, who add to the Pipers’ depth. Gusaas will spell Hipp at post, while Anderson and Hayes will be among those counted on to keep the high-paced up-tempo game flowing.

A pair of freshmen, Brandon Rieg and Levi Wenrich, who hail from California, are among the first-years expected to contribute. Whitmore also expects big things from freshman Max Van Ordstrand, sophomore transfer Dan Anderson and senior transfer Bobby Morrow.

If history is a guide, this should be a breakout year for the Pipers. At Whitmore’s last coaching stop at SUNY-Brockport, at team went 8-16 in his first year and improved to 22-7 and a conference title his second season. Hamline was 8-17 in 2007-08, and the long-suffering Hamline fans would like to see history repeat itself.

ST. OLAF

The Oles feature a mix of grizzled veterans and one of the most talented freshman classes in Dan Kosmoski’s 15-year tenure at St. Olaf. “From top to bottom, the MIAC is as competitive as it has ever been,” said Kosmoski. “The key to this team’s success is in how the two groups [the veterans and first years] can come together and move in the same direction.”

Senior posts Brady McMahon and Mitch Haugen, who give St. Olaf a potent one-two punch in the paint, lead the veterans. McMahon averaged 7.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game last season, while Haugen added 4.4 points and 3.4 boards per game.

The Oles will employ a three-guard offense, under the direction of senior point Matt Christensen, who has been a key reserve the last three seasons. Joining him in the backcourt will be Mark Torrell, the Oles’ second-leading scorer in 2007-08 and freshman Bobby Fong. Fong and his high school teammate Alfie Jayran are part of the touted freshman class.

Tucker Sheley and Joe Weber, along with freshman Mark Wieloch will share playing time at the remaining starting slot,

Kosmoski turns to Nate Krosschell, Luke Peterson and Kevin Lochner for depth off the bench on the front line. This could be one of the deepest and most solid teams on Northfield’s west-end in recent memory.

The Oles last shared the MIAC title in 1988-89 and last took it outright in 1929-30. If the two parts of this year’s team can be melded into one solid unit, those droughts could come to an end. If the mixing is not a complete success, the Oles still should be in the running for the MIAC Playoff field. Once the playoffs start, anything can – and often does - happen.

GUSTAVUS

This is the 100th season of basketball at Gustavus. The Gusties are another club with an intriguing mix of returning vets and new faces that will be counted on to mesh together if the season is to be successful. Given Coach Mark Hanson’s track record in his first 18 seasons at his alma mater, there is no reason to doubt that Season 19 will continue the tradition of accomplishment. Hanson’s system and the GAC trademark defense have kept the Gusties at or near the top of the MIAC throughout his tenure.

Hanson will look to senior Mike DesLauriers to be his floor general and team leader. Last year, DesLauriers led the Gusties in assists and had one the top assists-to-turnover ratios in Division III (1.98). His ability to find the open man and his defensive play, along with his leadership instincts, make him a key to GAC’s success this year.

Two juniors will be counted on to assume leading roles for Gustavus. Long range shooting ace Jesse Van Sickle will give the Gusties a threat from three-point land and post Sam Paulson will be the key to their inside game. Van Sickle tallied 10.6 points per game last year, and drained 47% of his three-point attempts. Gustavus will turn to him for scoring leadership. Paulson and Ryan McPartland will be expected to give the Gusties a presence in the paint as well as to win the battle of the boards. Paulson pulled down 4.6 rebounds per game in 2007-08 while shooting 52.3% from the field.

Hanson will rely on senior Robert Schmidt and sophomore Dan Schmidtknecht to increase their contributions from last year. He also will look to Matthew Doble, Tim Olmstead, Phil Witjes and Ky Batten for increased production. Freshmen Seth Anderson, Tyler Grey and Bobby Johnson will likely work their way into the Gusties’ mix.

Since the MIAC expanded the playoff field to six teams, Gustavus has not missed the Playoffs and in the 24 seasons the league has had a postseason tourney, the Gusties have made the field 19 times. Should GAC come up short in its quest for the regular season title, there is little reason to think that a 20th playoff appearance is unlikely.

AUGSBURG

The Auggies came on torrid down the stretch last year, winning seven of their final nine games and narrowly missing the MIAC Playoff field. They look to improve on that showing and make a run for the school’s first MIAC title since 1998-99 or at least reach the playoffs for the first time since 2000-01.

The key to the Auggies success will be the play of junior captain Jon Cassens and senior forward Nate Alm. Cassens was All-MIAC First Team last year when he started all 25 games last season, averaging over 35 minutes per game. He led the team in scoring, with an average of 15.6 points per game average. He added 119 assists and connected on 37 three-pointers (36.3%).

Alm, who earned All-MIAC Honorable Mention, was third on the team in scoring and led the team in steals with 29. He was fifth in the conference in rebounding (6.9 rpg), something Coach Aaron Griess looks to build upon. M

Griess also looks for improved production from David Olson, Ben Antoniewicz, Matthew Quammen and Brady Soule, all of whom will see significantly more playing time.

Three transfers add to the Auggies’ bench. Austin Haugh, a sophomore, comes from Division II Pfeiffer University (N.C.) where he was a letter-winner. Ben Flavin and Brett Sorenson come in from Augstana and Iowa, respectively. Although neither played last season, they add to the Auggies’ overall depth and experience.

Two freshmen expected to play key roles for Augsburg this year are forwards Cory Polta and Andrew Grzesiak-Grimm, who bring added size to the front line.

If Griess can get the performance he expects out of everyone on his roster, Augsburg can end its MIAC Playoff drought. Their quickness and size will allow them to be a serious contender and make them capable of toppling anyone in the postseason tourney.

CONCORDIA

It is the dawn of a new era in Moorhead as long time coach Duane Siverson has handed over the reins to Rich Glas. The Cobbers also lost last year’s MIAC MVP Luke Linz to graduation, but Glas did not inherit an empty cupboard. In fact, he took over with enough horses to make a run for the top once he gets his system in place.

Glas will look to a quintet of sophomores, the legacy of what was possibly Siverson’s finest recruiting class in 18 seasons. The group is led by guard Erik Lien, who earned All-MIAC Honorable Mention last season and is the team’s leading returning scorer. He dropped in 10.4 points per game in conference action and will be expected to carry a bigger share of the offense this year.

Also back are point guard Karl Olson and forward Darrin Olmscheid. Olson is one of the top ball handlers in the league, and has the patience to set up and run the Cobbers’ offense. Olmscheid was third on the team in scoring last season (7.2 ppg) and will be counted on this season to be more of a presence inside. His athletic 6-6 frame will make him a hard player to defend because he can score from outside but can also score off the dribble.

Up front, Concordia returns big men Ryan Hagemeyer and John Fraase, a duo that is not afraid to mix it up in the paint and will help the Cobbers off the glass. Also returning is the team’s lone senior, Cody Dyshaw, who is a threat from beyond the arc.

The Cobbers are young, but experienced, as the five sophomores all saw considerable playing time. However, the bench is lean this year, and that lack of depth could hinder them in rigorous MIAC portion of the schedule. Look for Concordia to challenge for a playoff berth, and possibly even a top-four finish. However, the future beyond 2008-09 looks bright and promising.

MACALESTER

The Scots are in a rebuilding mode, as four of the past six years have seen one of the top five scorers in school history graduate, including Tom Conboy, the school’s all-time leader who graduated last spring. Yet despite the losses, there is hope on Snelling Avenue, as Coach Curt Kietzer has a solid core of returning players who could turn Mac into a dark horse contender.

The returnees are led by sophomore Colin Keely, who Kietzer expects to take over the role perfected by Conboy as a bruising big man in the paint who is capable of dropping in rainbows from behind the arc as well. Also back is sophomore Kyle Hamblett, the team’s leading returning scorer, who averaged 6.0 points per game. Also returning are Jerry Krause and Holden Bigler-Johnson.

Kietzer brings in a strong class of freshman, led by Tyler Grubbard, a power forward from Florida, Jackson Wright from Minnesota Class 2A power New London-Spicer, and Patrick Piepkorn from Sauk Rapids.

This year, the Scots debut their new arena in the Leonard Center. Championships were few and far between in the old gym (affectionately known as “The Cage”) and in the old Fieldhouse. But the new facility, new faces and new energy could turn Leonard Center into Championship Hall.

SAINT MARY’S

Another new face to the MIAC this year is Cardinals’ coach Todd Landrum. A 20 year veteran coach, he took the SMU job in April, knowing he faced an uphill battle. However, what most would call a “rebuilding challenge,” Landrum views as a “building project.”

He inherited a team with one of the most explosive and quick backcourt duos the MIAC has seen in several years. Sophomores Will Wright and Lukas Holland give any coach a solid bedrock to build upon. Wright, who was All-MIAC Honorable Mention and was named to the All-MIAC First Year Team, averaged 17.7 points per game last year, reaching double figures in 22 of 25 games. Holland scored 13.2 ppg and went for over 20 on three occasions.

Also returning for SMU are the Knights, twins Brad and Josh. The juniors give the Cards some needed size and muscle on the front line. The team will look to seniors Mikey Sweeney and Eric Burroughs for leadership.

If the backcourt can stay hot throughout the season, the Cards could challenge for their first playoff berth since 1984-85, the initial season of the MIAC Playoffs. The future looks bright, though, and if Landrum can bring in some front line players, SMU could move closer to their first MIAC crown since 1939-40.