TWTW: NSIC playoffs begin

The Augie men pretty much assured themselves of their fifth berth in the NCAA tournament in the last six years with Saturday’s win over regional No. 1 Winona State. We’ll see if the Vikings go with their notoriously indifferent approach to the NSIC tournament on Wednesday against UMD. My guess is with a younger team they’re going to be pretty excited, and I expect them to win, though I see Tom Billeter’s point of view as well. If you know you’re going to the NCAA tourney already, it may not be beneficial to expend too much energy advancing all the way through to win the conference tournament, unless you have home court advantage on the line, and I don’t think Augie vaults all the way to No. 1 in the rankings by winning the NSIC tourney.

I’m also guessing Billeter would rather not have a third meeting with USF, which would happen if the Vikings beat UMD and USF upsets Northern State in the first round. I could be wrong, and I’m certainly all for seeing a third rivalry game.

As for the Viking women, their loss to Winona sure wasn’t a good one. You’d like to think they were safe in the sixth spot in the rankings (top 8 get in), but a one-and-done in the NSIC tourney could cost them, especially if there’s an upset in a conference tournament.
That said, I have a hunch we might see the Augie women win the NSIC tourney. With no disrespect to Concordia, I’m still not sure the Vikings aren’t the best team in the league. The players feel like they blew perhaps their best chance ever to finally give Dave Krauth his first career conference title, so I think they see the conference tourney as a chance at redemption. Getting past Minot won’t be a cake-walk with Carley Boag in the middle, but assuming they do, Augie would then visit Mary for a berth in the Final Four in Rochester, where they’d likely get Concordia. I don’t see the Bears beating Augie three times in one season. Or the MSU-Mankato Mavericks.

As for USF, I like the men’s chances of pulling a first-round upset better than the women. They’re a much improved team from earlier in the season, having gone 5-4 in their last nine conference games after losing 10 of their first 13. That said, Northern seems like a sleeper to win the tourney, as they’ve got a strong record (19-10), but didn’t even crack the top 10 in the first regional rankings. They have to win this thing to get in. Out of the South, Upper Iowa and SMSU are in the same boat, and the Peacocks in particular seem like a team to keep an eye on. They played with a ton of emotion in upsetting the Vikings on Friday, and with a strong group of upperclassmen, I get a sense that they understand this is their chance to really do something special for a school that hasn’t done much at the D2 level outside of wrestling.

On a personal note, I just hope Winona doesn’t win the tournament, because I’d rather go to Mankato (2 hour drive) to cover the regional than Winona (4 hour drive).

As I did with NSIC football, I will be putting together my All-NSIC teams, men and women, with picks for league MVP, Coach of the Year and Freshman of the Year. I know you’re dying with anticipation, especially since many of my basketball readers know the game a lot better than I do.
That said, I put a lot of time and thought into it, so you’ll want to check it out.