Can I get away with saying any beloved Beatles song is just not that good? ("Here Comes the Sun"-The Beatles, 1969. "Highly overrated and somewhat annoying"-Tom Nieman, 2011) There.
Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference basketball teams start conference play this weekend. We have Minnesota State at Augustana on TV on Saturday. It will be great to get into the league schedule after a slew of pre-conference and exhibition games that were mostly lousy but did include a few that were shockingly fun! Northern State's men beat Butler. MSU-Moorhead knocked off NDSU. USF's women upset Augustana.
So now we get to the meat of the matter... the sizzle in the schedule.
The coaches have picked Wayne State's women and Augustana's men to win the conference regular-season titles. With the conference Player of the Year, Ashley Arlen, back this year Wayne State is off to a 6-0 start and a good bet to live up to the pre-season pick. With the pre-season Player of the Year, Cody Schilling, in uniform you would think the Augie men would be a fair wager as well. But the Vikings are like a father on Christmas Day staring at a menacing toy labeled "some assembly required"... they've got to put it all together.
For the record, Augustana's men have not won a conference championship since 1989 when they went 14-4 in the NCC. Expecatations can be a bit... of a burden. But Tom Billeter is the perfect Christmas Day dad to tear into this team and start inserting Tab A into Slot B. He is missing a few pieces right now. Two of his backup guards, Scotty Norwood and Nick Bennett are injured and out. Billeter says they will be a big boost when they return. The trick will be weaving them into the current backcourt of Drae Murray, Cam McCaffrey and Schilling. Those three are scoring 44 of Augie's 68 points per game so far. IF Augie can get enough (don't need a lot, but do need enough) from their big guys the Vikings have a shot at that conference crown. IF they don't, Moorhead or Winona or Concordia-St. Paul will be there to take it.
Augustana's women take on Minnesota State on Saturday as well. (4:00 pm start) Like the men, the Viking women are a bit puzzling at this point. I'm not sure Dave Krauth is sure what he's working with. He does have Molly Hayes and Alex Feeney which is a really good start. Hayes has a shot to be the career assist leader and Feeney should end up Top 10 in scoring. Beyond that the Vikings are a bit raw... not a whole lot of game seasoning. There is an impressive collection of freshmen and sophomores (Shaunteva Ashley, Emily Schulte, Sophie Kenney, Andrea Whitney) but to paraphrase Dean Wormer... young is no way to go through a rugged conference season. That said, do the Vikings have a squad capable of at least 20 wins for the 8th year in a row? I think so. I hope you tune in Saturday and see for yourself.