Minnesota State men’s basketball coach Matt Margenthaler would love to play at least one exhibition game against a Division I program each season.

He said that one of the reasons he joined the National Association of Basketball Coaches was to get to know colleagues at all levels and set up some exhibition games against the big boys of college basketball. The NCAA allows three such games every season, regardless of opponent.

But Margenthaler said the only Division I program in Minnesota won’t play the Mavericks so it’s tough to get preseason “games” in the iconic arenas of top teams.

“I thought we were going to play at Kentucky last year, but that fell through,” Margenthaler said. “It has to be the right place at the right time. The Division I teams are just looking for games they can win.”

Margenthaler announced this week that the Mavericks will play an exhibition game against Southern Illinois on Oct. 22 at Carbondale, Illinois. It’s a bit of a homecoming for Margenthaler, whose mom and dad grew up in nearby Pinckneyville and he visited his grandparents there often. His father Jack coached at nearby Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Western Illinois.

“Southern Illinois has always been home for me,” Margenthaler said. “It’s a huge deal because I still have a lot of family in that area.”

There are plenty of Mavericks players who will be heading “home,” as well.

Six of the 14 players on the current roster are from Illinois: Ryland Holt (Gibson City), Jamal Nixon (Plainfield), Frankie Mack (Mount Prospect), Paris Parham, Jr. (Chicago), Landon Wolfe (Effingham) and Kevin Krieger (Plainfield). Assistant coach Mike Schott also has roots there, growing up in Winnebago, Illinois.

“Half of our team is from Illinois, and it will be fun for them to play in their home state,” Margenthaler said. “Minnesota and Illinois are where we recruit. There’s only one opportunity to play a Division I (program) in Minnesota, and they won’t play us.”

The Mavericks did play an exhibition against the Gophers in 2012, the last time they played a Division I opponent. They also played Iowa State that year. The Mavericks have played some exhibitions with Division III opponents more recently, including a home game against Wisconsin-River Falls last season.

The opportunity to play at Southern Illinois came in part because former Minnesota State assistant Pat Monaghan is now an assistant at Southern Illinois. The Salukis went 17-15 last season in the Missouri Valley Conference.

These games don’t count against/for either team’s record. It’s just a chance for a Division II team to see how it stacks up against Division I players, more often pointing out a team’s weaknesses than showing the strengths.

This trip, however, is a chance for the head coach to evaluate his team and visit some extended family. The players’ families don’t have to travel so far to see their sons play.

It’s a win-win.

Well, probably a loss, but you get the point.

Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-3446353, email at ccourrier@ mankatofreepress.com or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.

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