By the time No. 1 ranked Augustana takes the floor at Minnesota State Moorhead’s Nemzek Fieldhouse around 6 p.m. CT Saturday, the Vikings should expect to see a sea of red.
Moorhead, ranked No. 8, is giving away 1,000 free red T-shirts before the start of the women’s game 2 hours earlier. There is also win a car contest. In the 6th Annual Fill the Fieldhouse event, Moorhead is trying to break its all-time attendance mark.
“It will be a great environment,” Moorhead coach Chad Walthall said. “I know our students, our city and our school are excited. It should be a great college atmosphere.
“Augustana is clearly the No. 1 team in the country. They have everybody back from a year ago. They are about the only team that can go into the University of Iowa and beat them. We have a lot of respect for their players and their program and Tom Billeter has done a wonderful job there.”
Simply put, it will be the game of the year in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. Augustana, which won 76-74 in an exhibition at Iowa, dropped its first game of the season and has won 19 straight since. The Vikings are 19-1 overall and 16-0 and in first place in the NSIC South Division.
Moorhead, 22-3 owns the North Division with a 14-2 mark, three games ahead of the second place team.
Even though Augustana beat Moorhead twice last year both games in Sioux Falls, San Diego. It was Moorhead that advanced out of the regional tournament and made it to the Elite Eight.
“Now we are returning the game to their place,” Billeter said. “They will have a huge home court advantage. We understand that.
“What makes them so good is they have scorers everywhere. Everybody on the floor can shoot, whether it is Tyler Vaughan or Tanner Kretchman or Aaron Lien and Isaac Sevlie averages 22 points and leads our league in scoring. They are scorers. They play up tempo like we do.”
Just the matchup between Sevlie, a 6-9 senior forward, and Augustana 6-9 senior forward Daniel Jansen drips with intrigue. Jansen is averaging 20.3 points per game.
“It is nice playing them at the end of season,” Jansen said. “We haven’t seen them play. It is a nice lead up heading into the conference tournament.”
The challenge for both teams is to not look past their games on Friday. Augustana plays at Northern State and Moorhead has a home game against Wayne State.
Both teams, though, have mastered navigating through the NSIC portion of the season in which conference games are generally played Friday and Saturday each weekend of the season.
“It is all I know since coming here,” Jansen said. “I enjoy it. It is a little different, of course. You play Friday and travel that night for your next game on Saturday.
“It plays a little bit to our strength. We are a team that likes to run and get up and down. We are in great shape because of that. Other teams are not in as good of shape as we are. That second day, Saturday, you can start to tell in the second half if they are not in as good shape as we are because we are going to keep on running and they are going to start to lag behind.”
Walthall said different teams handle the back-to-back conference games in different ways. Some teams will focus early in the week on the Saturday game and then switch focus to the Friday game as the week progresses.
“We really don’t do a lot of prep for Saturday’s game,” Walthall said. “It is difficult, in particular if you are not deep. You have to take an even keel approach.”
One of the drawbacks about playing back-to-back nights for conference games, Billeter said, is if a player catches the flu or slightly sprains an ankle, he will probably miss both games.
The benefits of this approach to conference play are the student-athletes miss less class time and parents have a better opportunity to see both games without missing much time at work.
Billeter said his team is facing a stiff challenge this week. He expects 6,000 fans to show up when the Vikings play at Northern State on Friday. After the game, he figures the team will leave around 10:30 or 11 p.m. from Aberdeen, San Diego, and make a 3-hour bus ride to Moorhead, Minnesota, and get in bed around 2 a.m.
After a couple of hours of sleep, the team will do a walk through at Nemzek Fieldhouse, and then 22 hours after they last played, they will face one of the top teams in the country.
Guess what? Jansen loves it and his teammates feel the same way.
“I think it is awesome,” Jansen said. “We have a lot of players who thrive in situations like that. We love when there is a big crowd. That is one thing that will be fun about playing at Northern. That is going to be a great atmosphere.
“Northern is a great place to play. We know that is not going to be an easy game. They bring a bunch of fans there. That is going to be a tough atmosphere to play in. Our main focus in practice this week is definitely Friday. And then we get to go to Moorhead where they are going to have something of the same thing. As a team, I think we thrive in it.”
Augustana has the type of veteran team to handle the difficult task. Senior Casey Schilling is averaging 18.1 points, senior Alex Richter is averaging 14.5 points and junior Adam Beyer 9.3 points.
Although Moorhead lost an All-American guard who was the MVP of NCIS last season and a couple of other key seniors, the Dragons still have plenty of offensive firepower. Kretchman is averaging 13.1 points and Vaughan is averaging 11.6.
“We shoot the three-point shot at a very high rate,” Walthall said. “We are very balanced. We are led by Isaac Sevilie, who in my mind, is one of the best big men in the country averaging 22 points per game. We have five other guys averaging double figures. It is a very balanced. We are very unselfish. We pass it around well.”
Billeter knows his team will need to be at the top of its game to extend the 19-game winning streak.
“Both nights will be great games,” he said. “It is going to be great. We are excited and looking forward to the challenge.”
Georgia College eager to showcase its Homecoming game on ESPN3
When you don’t have a football program, basketball is a great option for Homecoming.
This year Georgia College will have ESPN3 on campus for Homecoming. ESPN3 will televise Georgia College women’s and men’s games against Columbus State at 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. ET Saturday. Georgia College women’s coach Maurice Smith is thrilled about this opportunity.
For one, his team is doing well, compiling a 15-7 record, including one stretch of 13 straight wins. Another reason, Georgia College is a great place.
“It is a great opportunity to advertise our university,” Smith said. “We have one of the best universities in this area in the Southeast region. It is a great opportunity for people to know about Georgia College. We feel like this is a hidden gem.
“Once people come to our campus, who haven’t been here before, they are so thoroughly impressed. You get the television cameras here and bring our campus into people’s homes. We hope they have the same feeling of being impress when they see our campus, our facilities and just the wonderful student-athletes we have here.”
One student-athlete that Smith has been impressed by this season is senior forward Kadesha Gibbs. In her second season at Georgia College, Gibbs is averaging over 16 points, a dramatic increase from last year when she averaged 3.2 points.
“We haven’t had a player like Kadesha Gibbs in a very long time,” Smith said. “Kadesha Gibbs is probably the most versatile player that I have ever coached at Georgia College.
“She has probably had the most tremendous jump from one year to the next that I have ever seen on any side of coaching, men or women. She is playing with extreme confidence. She is a match-up problem for a lot of teams we play against. She has been a tremendous leader on the court. She is just a fabulous young lady who has a great attitude.”
Gibbs said last year was a year of growth for her.
“This year has been fun. I have enjoyed my teammates,” Gibbs said. “I have enjoyed stepping up and being a leader and playing better basketball. It has made being at Georgia College more fun.”
Getting an opportunity to play on ESPN3 is an added bonus for her.
“It is exciting,” she said. “I never imagine I would be on ESPN before. It is exciting to know that we will have this opportunity.
“The Homecoming game means a lot. There are going to be a lot of people here who are coming to watch us play. It means a lot that they will be here to support us, but we have to play well. We are on a mission. We can’t let ourselves down.”
American Sports Network Division II game
Southern Connecticut State men’s and women’s basketball teams will play at Saint Rose in Albany, New York. at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. ET Saturday in the weekly Division II Showcase on the American Sports Network.