By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
— The Northern Sun Intercollegiate basketball season hits the halfway point this weekend, and what a difference a year makes for the Mavericks’ men’s team.
Last year, the program was reeling, with a couple players booted from the team and others who were too inexperienced and overmatched to have any success.
This season, with a bunch of new faces, the Mavericks have the deepest team in the Northern Sun, and the talent level is back to where local fans expect it.
Were you leery heading into this season? Even though the program had been to seven straight national tournaments, did the seven-win season cause you some concern?
Players such as Jimmy Whitehead, Connor O’Brien and Zach Romashko gained valuable experience last season, and they didn’t allow the lack of success interfere with their offseason preparation. Transfers Zach Monaghan, Assem Marei, Jarvis Williams and Gage Wooten have solidified spots in the starting lineup, and transfers Jaymeson Moten and Lucas Brown have provided the necessary depth to get through a 22-game conference schedule.
The odds were small that this mix of players could form a cohesive, effective group this quickly, but that’s what’s happened. Monaghan has dominated the ball late in games, but no one seems to mind. Marei has been the first option in the halfcourt offense, but that’s been OK. Williams takes the ball hard to the basket nearly every time he touches it, but that’s worked, too.
The other players have made shots or good passes or grabbed rebounds at key times, which has led to a 13-1 record and seven-game winning streak.
As a local basketball fan, part of you had to be thinking that coach Matt Margenthaler and his staff wouldn’t allow another seven-win season at Minnesota State. But you also had to wonder if things could be turned around so quickly.
If the Mavericks survive this weekend’s trip to St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth, the schedule looks pretty good. There’s a home game with Augustana on Jan. 26, then a Feb. 25-26 road trip to Upper Iowa and Winona State.
Then comes the conference tournament. With a realigning of the regions, putting the Northern Sun with the tough Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association and Great American Conference, there will be fewer berths into the national tournament this spring, meaning the Mavericks have put themselves in good position through 14 games but still need a good finish.
That’s a nice change from last season, when the final two months of the season were painful to watch.
Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at email@example.com, check out his local sports blog at www.mankatofreepress.com or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.