MANKATO — By most standards, a winning record and a berth in the championship game of the conference tournament would be considered an OK season for a men’s basketball team.
Minnesota State coach Matt Margenthaler agrees it was OK, but OK is not the bar he sets for his team every season. Anything short of qualifying for the NCAA Division II tournament is undistinguished.
To try to ensure there is no repeat, the coach has added some length and perimeter shooting to the roster.
“We definitely want to do better,” Margenthaler said. “Last year, we were decimated by injuries, but now we’re healthy. We have some new players who are going to help us and I think we can challenge for a spot in the NSIC tournament and make a run for the championship.”
Winning the conference title would give the Mavericks an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.
If that’s going to happen, it will have to be without three of the team’s top four scorers from last season. Seniors Cameron Kirksey (17.5 points per game) and Kevin Krieger (11.9 points) have graduated and would-be sophomore Corvon Seales (10.1 points) transferred out.
That leaves Ryland Holt, who was voted the NSIC’s Freshman of the Year last season, as the team’s top returning scorer at 14.1 points per game. He began the year coming off the bench but ended up starting 23 of the team’s 32 games.
“We didn’t anticipate he would start as a freshman, but he had been playing well in practice and, about five or six games in, we put Ryland in the starting lineup,” Margenthaler said.. “He held on to that spot, had a pretty good freshman year, and we think he can build on that.”
Holt, who hails from Gibson City, Illinois, said he chose to come to MSU for two main reasons. The first was the commitment from the coaches who drove seven hours to watch him play a high school football game and the second was the facilities.
“(MSU) started out about sixth on my list of schools that were recruiting me, but when coach Margenthaler and coach (Pat) Garvin made that drive, I knew they were serious,” Holt said. “That moved them up near the top of the list. Then I came and saw the campus and wow, I mean how could you not say yes when you see this place?”
Holt (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) credits the coaches and last year’s seniors with helping him make the quick transition to college ball. “They pushed me hard every practice,” he said.
Four other experienced players Margenthaler expects to make significant contributions this season are center Kelby Kramer (6-10,235, junior) guards Quincy Anderson (6-3, 190, sophomore), Malik Willingham (6-2, 170, sophomore) and Devonte Thedford (6-2, 180, junior).
Kramer averaged 9.1 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks while shooting 62 percent from the field, earning the conference’s top newcomer award. Anderson missed all of last season with a knee injury, while Willingham was second on the team in assists with 63. Thedford transfered from Kirkwood Community College in Iowa, where he helped his team win an NJCAA D2 championship.
“This is going to be the deepest team we’ve had in awhile,” Margenthaler said. “We’re expecting everybody to contribute.”
Like most sports, COVID-19 had forced the NSIC to shorten the regular season to 16 season games. The Mavericks (17-15 last year) open the campaign Saturday with a 6 p.m. game against Bemidji State at Bresnan Arena. They play again Sunday at 2 p.m.