Morris, Northwestern picked as teams to beat
Northwestern College and the University of Minnesota, Morris, a pair of teams who were one and two games out of first place at the end of the 2008-09 season, were predicted to win the UMAC Men's Basketball Conference Championship according to the league's coaches. Both the Eagles and Cougars received 45 points and four first-place votes to best the remaining six teams in the conference before the 2009-10 campaign.
The Cougars, who finished last year with a fourth-best 9-5 UMAC record, return to the court with an arsenal of experience. Dan Fragodt, who became the Cougars' most dependable player last year averaging 11 points per game, welcomes back All-UMAC teammates Phil Allen and Eric Dalbey - both starters who went down with season-ending injuries early last year. Allen, a senior this year, averaged 18.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game in league affairs in 2007-08, while Dalbey, a sophomore, contributed 14.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in the same season.
Northwestern returns four of its five starters from a year ago when the Eagles finished 10-4 in conference action. All eyes will be on Stephen Hanson, the two-time UMAC First Team All-Conference winner. Reid Berens, another returning all-conference player, returns to the court. Guard Eric Garst rounds out coach Tim Grosz's senior trifecta.
The College of St. Scholastica, one of two teams to share the conference championship in 2008-09 and the league's post-season tournament champion last year, took third place in the poll. The Saints enter the season with the NCAA Division III's longest current winning streak at 11 games. Coach David Staniger returns almost all of his perimeter players from last year's 11-3 team, including UMAC First Team All-Conference selection Danny Schmitz. Bethany Lutheran College, recipient of fourth place in the poll, returns three key starters from last year's team. All-conference player Tommy Saffert is back.
Martin Luther College, who joined St. Scholastica as the UMAC Champions in 2008-09, was predicted to finish fifth in the conference. The Knights will be forced to replace several key contributors from last year's 11-3 team. One of coach Jim Unke's go-to players will be Greg Holzhueter, who was honored with first team all-conference accolades last season.
Presentation College earned sixth place. The Saints look to improve on last year's 6-8 conference finish, and hope a group of seniors led by Richie Ward, who was named to the 2008-09 all-conference listing, will lead the charge. Coach Matt Sevareid also welcomes point guard Trey Stephens back to the court.
Northland College boasts its strongest and deepest team in years, according to coach Rob Robinson. Northland, who took seventh place in the poll, returns four juniors and one senior from last year's team - the first time under Robinson that the Lumberjacks have had more than two upperclassmen. Ryan Cannata is the team's lone senior.
Crown College, who received eighth place in the pre-season poll, returns to the hard wood under second-year coach Jon Barsness. Barsness welcomes back six players from last year's squad, while nine new recruits will hope to help change the face of a team that went 0-14 in conference play a year ago.