November 15, 2012

Cobbers Picked Fifth In MIAC Coaches' Poll

MIAC basketball preview courtesy of Matt Higgins and the MIAC office

ST. PAUL, Minn. --
A year ago, the final men's basketball standings in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) were so crowded, seven of the conference's 11 teams found themselves locked in a tie with at least one of the league rivals. That parity is back in 2012-13 and, as the season gets ready to tip off Thursday, the anticipation for the new campaign is at all-time high around the league.
 
A year ago, seven of the conference's 11 teams finished above .500 in league play, and those same seven squads finished with at least 13 wins overall to show the conference's strength and depth. There were two-way ties for first and ninth, and a three-way tie for fifth in the MIAC standings. The league's parity was further evidenced in the MIAC Men's Basketball Playoffs, as both road teams scored quarterfinal upsets for the first time in the tournament's history.

Neck-and-neck at the top were St. Thomas and Gustavus, as both finished 16-4 in the league to share the MIAC's regular-season title, and the duo also both represented the league in the NCAA Division III Playoffs behind their 20-win campaigns. To top it off, the Tommies edged the Gusties in a MIAC Playoff championship game for the ages that needed overtime to decide a winner.

St. Olaf also had a superb season, finishing just a game behind the co-champs in third place, and fourth-place Augsburg matched the Oles with 16 regular-season wins. Saint John's, Bethel and Hamline all finished in a three-way tie for fifth with identical 11-9 league records, with the Johnnies and Royals claiming the final two MIAC Playoff spots via tiebreaker criteria. Carleton came in eighth, Concordia and Saint Mary's tied for ninth and Macalester rounded out the 2011-12 standings.

Though graduation hit a few of last season's contenders relatively hard, many of the teams in the top-half of the league expect to be at least as good - if not better - in 2012-13. There are numerous returning players who earned postseason honors a year ago, and some incoming talent that should make an immediate impact. When late February rolls around, it won't be a surprise if most of the league is still gunning for a postseason bid, or if tiebreaker criteria again comes into play to shake out the final seeds.
 
Tommies tabbed No. 1
St. Thomas only graduated one player from its rotation a year ago, and a staggering amount of talent and depth returns for the Tommies in 2012-13. The MIAC coaches certainly recognize that as the season draws near, as they voted St. Thomas the unanimous No. 1 team in the 2012-13 MIAC Men's Basketball Preseason Coaches' Poll. UST received 10 of the 11 first-place votes (coaches could not vote for their own team) and an even 100 points to lead the way.
 
Beyond the Tommies, the picture is just as cloudy as ever, with nine teams receiving at least 40 points in the poll, and just 20 points separating spots 2-8. Defending co-champ Gustavus was again picked as the Tommies' top contender, finishing second with the other first-place vote and a total of 74 points, but Augsburg was just a point back in third with 73 points in the poll.

Things were especially tight between teams ranked 4-8, as seven points separated the next five teams. Bethel was tabbed fourth with 51 points, Concordia came in fifth with 59, Carleton was just a point behind the Cobbers in sixth with 58, St. Olaf was picked seventh with 56 and Saint John's had 54 points in eighth. Hamline is also expected to again be in Playoff contention with 41 points in ninth place, and Saint Mary's (17) and Macalester (12) rounded out the final two spots in the poll.
 
What's new?
It was a quiet offseason in the MIAC men's basketball ranks, as all 11 coaches return from a season ago. At St. Thomas, the interim tag was officially lifted as the Tommies made John Tauer their permanent coaching fixture last spring. Also, Hamline head coach Nelson Whitmore added some responsibility to his plate in the Pipers' athletic department, assuming the title of assistant athletic director in early September.
 
One new feature in the conference is the league's new stats and scoreboard site, that should be a hit with MIAC basketball fans. The site - www.miacstats.com - offers a nightly scoreboard, which will include links to follow all the action live around the league. Also, the conference stat leader boards will feature faster updates and offer the ability to sort each stat category with a click of the mouse, making it easier for fans to see who the league's leader are in scoring, rebounding and all the other measurables.
 
Who's back?
As already mentioned, Tauer's Tommie team brings a lot of talent back as they graduated only guard Peter Leslie from last season's rotation. In addition, star center Tommy Hannon is back after missing most of 2011-12 with an injury. Hannon and All-MIAC forward John Nance - one of the league's best all-around talents - both played big roles in UST's national title two seasons ago, and guard Will DeBerg emerged as a go-to-guy last season, giving Tauer a senior trio capable of leading St. Thomas to another MIAC title and beyond this season.
 
Though MIAC Coach-of-the-Year Mark Hanson's Gustavus team graduated MIAC Player-of-the-Year Seth Anderson and fellow All-MIAC guard Tyler Grey, the Gusties have a few players who appear ready for expanded roles. Jim Hill was named the MIAC Sixth Man-of-the-Year last season, and Ben Biewen was named All-MIAC Honorable Mention for their roles in the Gusties' title, and Blake Shay will be counted on to hold down the frontcourt in St. Peter.
 
Augsburg graduated a pair of star frontcourt players in Andy Grzesiak-Grimm and Cory Polta, but Aaron Griess' team is loaded at guard. Sharpshooting senior Tyler Schmidt returns, as does Parker Hines after a breakout freshman season, and junior Andy Seidlitz gives the Auggies a dynamic trio in the backcourt. Bethel welcomes back All-MIAC star Taylor Hall, a versatile forward who will again be one of the league's top players, and Jeff Westlund hopes senior Greg Meyer and junior Kyle Zimmerman can step up after losing some talented players to graduation, particularly at guard.
 
Senior guards Dewon McKenzie (All-MIAC HM) and Ebo Nan-Kweson fuel much of Concordia's optimism, and senior center Jason Huus looks to continue his progression after a breakout season in the paint for the Cobbers a year ago. Carleton is another team that returns a plethora of talent in the backcourt, as senior guards Tom Sawatzke and Scott Theisen were named All-MIAC and All-MIAC Honorable Mention, respectively, and Shane McSparron was named to the All-MIAC First-Year Team.

St. Olaf graduated All-MIAC stars Stu Neville and Bobby Fong, and will look for junior Connor Gunderson and All-MIAC First-Year Team guard Sterling Nielsen to step into expanded roles and lead the Oles back into postseason contention. Saint John's also said goodbye to an All-Conference duo - Andy Burns and Aaron Barmore - but returning starters Seth Marx and senior Chris Neumann will be counted on to lead in Jim Smith's 49th season as the head coach in Collegeville.
 
Hamline has the talented trio of Noah Aguirre, Dior Ford and Tyler Pannell back to run Whitmore's up-tempo offense after finishing above .500 in the MIAC a year ago. Saint Mary's hopes for upward movement led by All-MIAC post Michael Burfeind and sophomore guard Evan Pederson, who was named to the All-Rookie squad in 2011-12. Macalester is also looking to improve on last season's win total behind star Pierce Peters, who is a multiple-time All-MIAC honoree, and fellow senior Sam Marshall, who received All-MIAC Honorable Mention a year ago.
 
Circle these dates
The 2012-13 season officially tips off Thursday with four MIAC teams taking the court in nonconference action. The year really picks up a day later, with 10 games scheduled around the conference on Friday and Saturday. The 11 teams will begin MIAC play on Nov. 28 and will wrap up the 2012 portion of the league schedule on Dec. 5. The 2013 portion of MIAC play will start on Jan. 2 with the regular season concluding on Saturday, Feb. 16. The MIAC Playoffs are set for quarterfinals on Feb. 20, semifinals on Feb. 22 and the postseason championship on Sunday, Feb. 24.
 
With 20 conference games on each team's schedule and a full double-round robin of MIAC action among the 11 teams, the season is sure to be action-packed, especially if the parity reflected in the coaches' poll is any indication of how the season will play out. There are sure to be plenty of buzzer beaters, overtime thrillers and unforgettable finishes starting Thursday and continuing throughout the season.



2012-13 MIAC Men's Basketball Preseason Coaches' Poll
Coaches voted for every team in the conference except their own team. Points were assigned for each vote (10 for first, nine for second, etc.) Teams are ranked in order of highest point total to lowest with vote totals listed and first-place votes shown in parentheses.

2012-13 MIAC Men's Basketball
Preseason Coaches' Poll
Rank Institution Total
1 St. Thomas (10) 100
2 Gustavus (1)      74
3 Augsburg 73
4 Bethel 61
5 Concordia 59
6 Carleton 58
7 St. Olaf 56
8 Saint John's 54
9 Hamline 41
10 Saint Mary's 17
11 Macalester 12


2012-13 MIAC Men's Basketball Playoffs
The 2012-13 MIAC Playoffs will feature the top six teams in the conference standings playing in a high-seed-host, single-elimination postseason tournament. The top two seeds receive first-round byes, with the other four squaring off in the quarterfinals. The two quarterfinal games will be held Feb. 20 with the winners advancing to the semifinals on Feb. 22. The championship is scheduled for Feb. 24. The winner will receive the MIAC's automatic bid to the 2012-13 NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Tournament.

| MIAC Men's Basketball Playoffs Websites | 2011-12 | 2012-13 |