MidcoSN returns to the Hub City on Friday, Jan. 27. Al Bahe and I have the call for the NSIC twinbill between Minnesota Duluth and Northern State. Game times at Wachs Arena are 6 and 8 p.m.
These teams met just over a month ago with UMD claiming a 68-52 decision. Shelly Stemper (Sr., Becker, Minn.) scored a game-high 20 points for the Bulldogs, who forced the Wolves into a season-high 26 turnovers. Emily Becken (Sr., Lino Lakes, Minn.) led NSU with 17 points.
UMD is just 4-3 since that win over NSU, but that's proven to be par for the course. Inconsistentcy seems to be only thing keeping the Bulldogs from reaching the top tier of the NSIC. A win Friday would give them their longest winning streak of the season at three games.
Sophomore sensation Katrina Newman (So., Barnum, Minn.) figures to be a big part of the equation. Newman, who scored 19 points in the first meeting with Northern St., leads the Bulldogs in scoring (14.7 ppg) and rebounding (8.4 rpg). Teammates Stemper and three-point threat Courtney Doucette (Jr., Colfax, Wisc.) also average double figures in scoring.
On the other side, Northern State has been reeling a bit. The Wolves are 1-4 in their last five conference games. Their defense is solid (59.5 ppg; 4th NSIC), but the offense has struggled to keep up (63.7 ppg; 11th NSIC).
Injuries haven't helped matters much. Starting forward Sarah Hintz (Jr., Woodbury, Minn.) injured a knee against U-Mary on Jan. 21 and will miss the weekend. There is no timetable for her return. Either way it's bad news for Hintz, who was leading the NSIC in field goal percentage (.619) before the injury. Her 8.5 points per game will certainly be missed.
Fellow starter Jenna Higgins (Sr., Maple Grove, Minn.) has been playing through a shoulder injury. Reserve forward Brittany Euerle (Sr., Litchfield, Minn.) has been dinged up all season, but is also expected to play. Euerle is not a scoring threat, but is a significant defensive presence off the bench.
Keep an eye on Mikayla Barondeau (Sr., Frederick, S.D.). After struggling, initially, to get back up to speed after last year's ACL injury, Barondeau has started to look like her old self. She's averaging over 13 points and 8 rebounds over her last three games.
Men's Matchup: Minnesota Duluth (11-6, 8-5 NSIC) vs. Northern State (10-7, 6-7 NSIC)
This matchup has the potential to be one of the more entertaining ones we've seen on Midco Sports Network this season, so get your popcorn ready.
UMD and NSU combined for 175 points in their first meeting this season, a 93-82 win for the Bulldogs on Dec. 17. UMD had five players in double figures, led by Jake Hottenstine's (Jr., Green Bay, Wisc.) 24. Jared Hannigan paced the Wolves with 18.
That kindof offensive output is nothing new for UMD, which scores an NSIC-best 81.1 per game. The Bulldogs have gone for 90 or better five times, and hit the century mark twice. Defense is their biggest liability. UMD surrenders 80 per game, so if you can slow them down offensively, you've got a good chance to win.
That's easier said than done, given the fact that UMD owns two of the top three scorers in the league.
Ryan Rasmussen (Sr., Waupun, Wisc.) is no. 2 with an average of 19.2 points per game. He's coming off an incredible 62-point weekend--30 vs. SMSU on Jan. 20, 32 vs. MSU on Jan. 21-- and is especially dangerous beyond the arc, where he's hit a league-best 49 three pointers.
As you good as he is, you could make a case for Hottenstine being the more complete player. He currently ranks in the NSIC's top ten in scoring (3rd; 17.5 ppg), rebounding (9th; 6.5 rpg), assists (10th; 3.1 apg), and three-point percentage (10th; .431). He's dropped 30 or more three times this season.
As for the Wolves, it's been a rough couple of weeks. After losing three of its last four, NSU is clinging to eighth place in the NSIC standings (top eight qualify for NSIC Tournament).
Head coach Paul Sather says turnovers are at least partially to blame for his team's recent struggles. The Wolves gave it away a season-high 23 times in a loss to Southwest Minnesota State on Jan. 14.
Turnovers also played a role in the earlier loss to the Bulldogs (19). They'll have to fix that before Friday because explosive teams like UMD will generally make the extra possessions count.
Like the women, the Wolves men will be a little short-handed. Collin Pryor (Jr., St. Charles, Ill.), one of the top rebounders in the NSIC (6.6 rpg), sprained an MCL in the Jan. 8 loss to Minnesota State Moorhead and hasn't played since. I'm told Pryor has resumed practicing, but has not been cleared for contact. They're hoping to get him and his 14 points per game back in time for next week's Moorhead-Crookston trip.
Seth Bachand (Fr., Sturgis, S.D.) will start in his place. Sather loves what this kid brings to the floor, particularly his energy and physical presence. He calls him "fearless."
Since defense will be a big key for the Wolves in this one, you might want to also keep an eye on Alex Thomas (Sr., Independence, Minn.) and Jared Hannigan (So., Aberdeen, S.D.). Those two will likely be depended on to contain Hottenstine and Rasmussen.
Hannigan has struggled offensively the past couple of games, but remains the team's top defender. That likely means he'll be matched up with Rasmussen, leaving Thomas to guard Hottenstine. Sather seems comfortable with that, mostly because of Thomas' improvement in concentration and discipline on the defensive end. He currently ranks fourth in the NSIC in steals (1.6 spg).
Now that we've past the halfway point of the NSIC schedule, the margin of error is getting smaller. There's only eight spots available in the conference tournament. And while all four of these teams would qualify if the season ended today, they all realize that one bad weekend can prove costly.