In the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, March Madness starts a little bit early.
Thanks to realignment that saw the conference expand from 14 to 16 teams, the conference tournament has also expanded from 8 to 16 teams.
That means both Bemidji State teams will be dancing, starting tonight.
I will be covering the men’s game and hope to Tweet my pithy observations on it, if you’re interested. Follow me at @Jackhitts to interact during the game.
In the meantime, a couple of notes that didn’t make it into my stories:
1) BSU forward Mason Walters needed 12 points to reach 1,000 for his career. He got exactly that against No. 22 St. Cloud State Saturday night. He’s just the 15th player in BSU history to do so – and the second to reach that milestone this year. Teammate Lance Rongstad reached the mark Jan. 18 at Winona State.
“It was really exciting, ” Walters said. “I feel really honored to be included with all those names. Lot of good players in there, and fortunately I was able to join them. It’s a big credit to my teammates. It’s fun feeling.”
The milestones didn’t end there. Coming into last weekend, Walters was sitting at 446 rebounds but grabbed 22 against St. Cloud and Minnesota-Duluth to vault himself into BSU’s top ten all-time rebounders with 468; he currently sits in 9th. If the Beavers make a deep run in the tournament and Walters can continue to pul down double digit rebounds like he has all season, he has a chance to become just the eighth member of BSU’s 1,000-point, 500 rebound club.
2) One issue for the BSU women this season has been playing with consistency, or at least, maintaining the same gameplan for a full 40 minutes.
That’s one of the things head coach Mike Curfman brought up when I chatted with him the other day. And he’s right: The Beavers have been in plenty of games until halftime, when things can tend to go off the rails.
The Beavers are 9-2 when taking a lead into the half but just 2-13 when trailing after 20 minutes. Unlike the men’s team, they haven’t seemed to sustain any first-half success and hang with teams for the entire game.
Against Mankato last time around, they trailed only 31-27 at the break before the Mavericks pulled away in the second half.
Similar things happened against Upper Iowa (trailing 32-27 at half, lost by 15), MSU Moorhead (6 at half, lost by 9 in one game; 8 at half and lost by 20 in the other) and Concordia (5 at half, lost by 19).
The two times they lost when taking a lead into half? Well, against Northern State they were winning 29-27 before losing on 53-50 on a last second shot. And against Sioux Falls the Beavers led 38-32 at halftime but the Cougars forced overtime and proceded to outscore them 12-0 in the extra frame to get the win.
All these numbers don’t mean a whole lot from game-to-game – every team, every game is different – but they can add up over the course of a season. And it says something about their ability to finish games – it’s been a struggle.
But they have a chance to beat Mankato this weekend if they can find a way to finish this time around.
3) Finally, a note on the tournament seedings.
With the advent of the 16-team NSIC, the conference was broken into divisions for the first time. And it appears – on first glance, anyway – as though they’re somewhat lopsided this year.
Look at the No. 3 seeds in the men’s bracket. BSU earned that slot as the third-place team in the North, finishing 13-9 in the conference. Augustana, meanwhile, finished 15-7 to get third in the South, while Upper Iowa was the fourth-place finisher at 14-8. Southwest State finished with an identical 13-9 record as BSU and earned a fifth seed. Wayne was 11-11 and finished sixth.
Meanwhile, in the North, the dropoff from the No. 4 seed MSU Moorhead (12-10) to No. 5 Minot State (9-13) is a bit more significant.
In fact, the eighth-place finisher in the South – Concordia – finished better than all three of the bottom seeds in the North (Minnesota-Duluth, U-Mary and Crookston).
All three of the top three finishers in the South – Mankato, Augie and Winona State – finished the regular season in the top 25. The North didn’t have any teams in the top 25, but that’s mainly because St. Cloud State lost twice in the final weekend – once to previously winless in the conference Crookston.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the teams in the South are BETTER – after all, both BSU and Moorhead especially could very well have three or four more wins to their name. The Beavers and the Dragons each lost five games by five points or fewer.
Of course, they didn’t win those games, which is why they are where they are. But I think that those close results just prove how close the top 10 teams in the conference actually are, regardless of division.