The Free Press, Mankato, MN


February 28, 2014

MSU teams are dangerous heading to Sioux Falls

The Mavericks are off to Sioux Falls.

The Minnesota State men’s and women’s basketball teams both opened the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament Wednesday with victories over Minnesota Crookston. The women were very impressive, while the men sleep-walked through a predictably non-competitive game.

Now, the teams will play in the quarterfinals this weekend at Sioux Falls’ new arena, impressively called The Pentagon.

The Minnesota State women take on Mary at noon on Sunday, maybe needing one more victory to ensure a berth in the NCAA tournament. The Mavericks (22-5) fell to sixth in the region rankings, and while that should be good enough, a neutral-court victory over a team with a winning record wouldn’t hurt.

Minnesota State’s performance in the second half of Wednesday’s victory shows that this team is dangerous. Senior Ali Wilkinson was unstoppable, building on one of the greatest careers in program history, but the depth is what sets this team apart.

There are 3-point shooters all over the court, and if the Mavericks defend as they did Wednesday — at one point making steals on five straight possessions — that keys a running game that can wear down opponents.

The women’s region is stacked, as Northern Sun champion Wayne State is only ranked fourth, but this is a team that made it to the region semifinals last season, losing by two. That’s enough history to show a team how to make the next step.

The men started slowly against Crookston, which has now lost 21 straight, but eventually built the lead to 27 before the Eagles rallied against the Mavericks’ reserves. It was the type of game that you just want to win, and keep everybody healthy, as you move on to more accomplished opponents.

The Mavericks (26-4) draw Augustana in the late game Saturday, essentially taking on the “home” team, even if they don’t play regular-season games on that court.

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