The hardcourt is calling and the Bemidji State men's basketball team is answering as it begins official practice for the 2010-11 season Friday, Oct. 15. The Beavers begin training at the BSU Gymnasium, looking to improve on their 12-15 record from a year ago.
The 2010-11 version of the Bemidji State men’s basketball team may be young, but the squad is battle-tested and primed to return to the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference playoffs for the first time since 2005-06. This season the Beavers will be sporting one senior, four juniors (two junior college transfers), eight sophomores and four freshmen.
“On paper we are really young, but our returners have played a ton of minutes already,” said head coach Matt Bowen. “Overall we are very experienced and I cant help but be excited. They are further ahead of the game because of the situation they were in to log a lot of minutes. By the end of the year maturity grew, as did our strength and confidence.”
The Beavers have improved their record each year under Bowen. Now entering his fifth season at the helm, Bowen and BSU are coming off a 12-win season. Youth is still the story for this building program, which is headed by lone senior Pat Cassidy, who has endured the growing pains for three seasons and is ready to guide Bemidji State over the hump. Cassidy averaged 8.4 points per game last season, playing in an average of 26.3 minutes per contest. Bowen will be looking to Cassidy for leadership and consistency this season.
“I don’t know if there is anyone in the NSIC that has as much experience as Pat does,” Bowen said. “He played a ton as a freshman, sophomore and logged a ton of minutes last year. Pat is in the best shape of his life, he’s stronger and has really taken on the leadership role. He’s an undersized power forward, but strong enough and smart enough to use his body and get into prime scoring and rebounding areas.”
The Beavers are returning a core group of guards, including top-returning points leader sophomore Lance Rongstad and junior point guard Bryce Tesdahl. Rongstad emerged as one of the top newcomers in the NSIC last season, displaying the ability to play any position on the floor. A smooth shooter with a hard-nosed, aggressive style of play, Rongstad averaged 12.7 points per game overall, while posting 14.9 points per NSIC contest. He posted 4.6 rebounds per game, shooting 51.2 percent from the floor.
“We have a couple potential all-conference players in Tesdahl and Rongstad,” Bowen said. “It might take some time for Lance to get back into basketball shape and shake the rust off, but he proved it didn’t take too long last year.”
Tesdahl showed the coaching staff and the league he can handle the point for the rigourous schedule of the NSIC, starting every game and logging 33.3 minutes per contest, ranking sixth in the conference. He covered the entire court for BSU last season, leading the team in assists (5.1 per game) and rebounds (5.0 per game), while adding 10.3 points per game. He also got to the line 119 times, draining 103 of them for a 86.6 percentage that placed him fourth in the NSIC and 28th in the country. Tesdahl’s energy and passion for the game was a jump starter for the Beavers on multiple occasions last season and he will need to provide that spark again in 2010-11.
“Bryce was a key player for us last year,” Bowen said. “He shot the ball very well, got to the line and had a high assist to turnover ratio.”
Junior Jake Lindstrom returns to the line-up for BSU after playing in 20 games, starting seven. He made 18 three-pointers last season, which is tied with Rongstad for the most of the returning players. He was the team’s best free throw shooter (87.8 %), on a team that finished fifth in the NCAA in that category. Lindstrom averaged 7.2 points per game last season and will be asked to provide more scoring this season.
“We need more consistency from Jake this year,” Bowen said. “He’s a great shooter and we’ll need him to fill the role of being a consistent scorer”
Sophomore Noah Shepherd returns to the backcourt for BSU after playing in 23 games, logging 9.3 minutes per game. He shot 50 percent from the field and will be a solid backup to Tesdahl.
“Noah brings a level of speed and quickness to our system,” Bowen said. “He played sparingly last year, but he made an impact in those games.”
The Beavers are welcoming three proven scorers to their line-up to try and replace all-conference performer Seth Haake. James Ellisor is a junior transfer from Glendale Community College (Ariz.). He is a tall, athletic guard that will fit nicely into the BSU system, vying for a starting spot. Freshmen Jake Schalow and Jeff Whicker were each all-state performers that scored more than 20 points per game and will be looking for some minutes at the one or two guard position in 2010-11.
“James has the ability to score in many ways, which is something we haven’t had at BSU in a while,” Bowen said. “Both Jake and Jeff are prolific scorers. It will be interesting to see where they fit in the mix and how quickly they can adapt to the speed of our game.”
After Cassidy, the Beavers have a strong talent pool to choose from at the forward position. Burke Lendl and Mason Walters return after their freshman seasons in the green and white, looking to improve on a solid first year. Both players saw the court in 24 of the 27 contests, as Lendl started nine games and Walters eight. Walters proved he can play on the inside in a tough NSIC, while also providing an outside presence, hitting big shots late in games. He averaged 6.2 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. Lendl played from the two guard to center last season, providing a versatile piece to the puzzle. He tallied 4.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 50 percent from downtown.
“Burke played from a two guard to center last year and has significantly improved this summer, so he should have another good year,” Bowen said. “He is always in the right position defensively, is a strong rebounder and is at the right place at the right time.”
“Mason is a power forward with very good perimeter skills,” Bowen said. “He made some big threes in key times last season and has the ability to score inside and out.”
Zach Noreen and Maxie Rosenbloom are two true freshmen looking to make an impact. Noreen was a Minnesota Associated Press All-State Boys Basketball Team member and Rosenbloom was named Pioneer Press Player of the Year after helping St. Paul Johnson High School to a perfect 32-0 record and the school’s first-ever class AAA state championship.
“Zach fits into our system,” Bowen said. “He has a similar body type to Mason Walters, but has a little bit more perimeter skills. I watched him in high school play anywhere from the center to off guard position. He shoots the ball well from the outside and moves well for a big kid.”
“Maxie is very good at rebounding out of his area, is a strong defender and takes care of the ball on offense and defense,” Bowen said. “We are looking for him to provide us energy, enthusiasm and strength on the defensive end.”
Junior transfer Ryan Kinnell also comes by the way of Glendale Community College and is the only true center on the roster. He will be asked to clog up the middle on defense and open-up the lane on offense. Kinnell will also be an asset when BSU needs a big to match-up against an opponent’s true center, something the squad didn’t have last season.
“Ryan is a eruo-style center,” Bowen said. “He has back to the basket moves and shoots the ball well from the perimeter, which allows us to spread the floor and keep the opponent honest by opening up the middle for driving guys. He has an exceptional amount of experience in defending the post, something we missed last year.”
Last season the Beavers were one of the top scoring teams in the NSIC, tallying 75 points per game. BSU also shot the ball well and made the best of its time at the free throw line. The Beavers shot 48.2 percent from the field, fourth in the conference, while leading the NSIC and finishing fifth in the country in free throw percentage (470-for-613, 76.7%). The green and white ran a quick offense with efficient shooters, but for everything it had on offense, it didn’t on the defense end. BSU finished 12th in the conference and 230 of 270 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 77.6 points per contest.
“Offensively we will run more of the same,” Bowen said. “We had one of the better offensive teams in the country with multiple threats, a lot of players in double figures, good shooting percentages and we got to the line.
“Our defense was the reason we won only 12 games. We were one of the worst teams in the country against the three-pointer, allowing our opponents to shoot almost 40 percent against us. Some had to do with youth, size and experience, which hopefully we gained though recruiting and time. We need to become tougher and more defensive minded.”
As always the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference will be one of the premier leagues in NCAA Division II basketball. The Beavers will again be trying to find their place in the competitive conference that has crowned a national champion twice in the last five seasons and sent three different teams to the Elite Eight in each of the past five years.
“The NSIC is much of the same,” Bowen said. “Since I’ve been here there have been four-five elite teams that finish on top. To me where the league is more unique, difficult and challenging is what teams five through 12 will do. One or two games can separate fifth through 11 and that is where the season is won or lost. We had some nice games against some of the teams in upper third of the league. Unfortunately, we did not have the same success against the teams in the middle of the pack. To earn a playoff spot this year we must find a way to win those pivotal games that separate the teams from sixth to 10th place. In years past that has proven to be a very small margin.”
The league has expanded the conference schedule from 20 games to 22 this season. With new NCAA regulations allowing 26 total games, BSU has only four nonconference contests. BSU opens the season in Michigan Nov. 16-17 with tilts against Michigan Tech and Finlandia University. It opens the home schedule with University of Wisconsin-Stout Nov. 23 and closes out-of-league play at Jamestown College Nov. 29. BSU opens the NSIC slate with a four-game homestand, beginning with Minnesota State University Moorhead Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. in the BSU Gymnasium.