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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Riding the Wave

It was a simple question.

"What effect does the Minnesota State men's basketball success this year have on MSU and the community?"

Under the guidance of head coach Matt Margenthaler, the Mavericks had just completed their 2010-11 season having advanced to the semi-finals of the NCAA Division II Elite 8 national championship tournament held in Springfield, Mass.

Over the course of the year MSU had crafted a 28-5 record and captured the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference regular-season title before hosting the NCAA Division II Central Region Tournament. The Mavericks won three straight games in claiming the regional title in earning their first-ever trip to the Elite 8. Margenthaler was NSIC and Region Coach of the Year. Senior forward Jefferson Mason was All-NSIC, All-Region and All-American. Senior forward Cameron Hodges was the NSIC Defensive Player of the Year and along with senior guard Marcus Hill, was also an All-NSIC selection.

As the season extended deeper into the season, attention continued to grow. The local media entities provided extensive coverage with KEYC featuring Maverick players and Coach Margenthaler as in-studio guests on a regular basis. The Mankato Free Press and the MSU Reporter provided their regular coverage during the season, but both entities devoted additional resources as the postseason evolved including printing comprehensive tabs for the eight-team NCAA Regional held in Mankato. And when the Mavericks went to Springfield for the championship tournament, so did personnel from both publications. Radio Mankato carries every Maverick men's basketball live with MSU Hall of Famer Casey Lloyd courtside on the mic. Casey called both Elite 8 games and while people tuned in on the radio, many others caught the broadcast via the world wide web streaming audio.

And the Twin Cities took notice as well with WCCO coming down for a feature and Margenthaler in demand for interview requests from KFAN and several other media outlets throughout the upper midwest. Margenthaler became the feature of a story in his hometown newspaper and the players were the subjects of stories in their hometown publications, as well. The Associated Press, the Minnesota News Network and the major newspapers in Minneapolis and St. Paul did pieces. The Mavericks were the subjects of innumerable postings on blogs, Facebook and Twitter feeds and Youtube videos.

At the Elite 8, MSU's quarterfinal win over Alabama-Huntsville was streamed live on NCAA.com and in addition to a couple of hundred students and staff watching the game on the big screen in Taylor Center, watch parties in bars and restaurants around town were overflowing with patrons. Same thing for the semi-final game against Bellarmine in which the Mavericks fell to the eventual national champions.

When we host a regional, as we have the past two years, people from all over come to Mankato to watch the games and they, as well as the seven other teams attending the tournament, stay in local hotels, partake at our restaurants and visit River Hills Mall.

"What effect does the Minnesota State men's basketball success this year have on MSU and the community?" Short term....see above. The long term answer is somewhat more complicated.

With the women's basketball team capturing a national championship two years ago and the men's team advancing to the Final Four, the University derives publicity and notoriety from coast to coast. Same thing when the other teams at MSU do well, too. While we're unsure exactly how many column inches, television features, blog postings, Youtube video uploads, Facebook and Twitter mentions these successes have generated, we can assume the public relations effect has been massive. Not only do our students currently attending MSU follow along with pride, but we can be assured that a large many of our 90,000 alums are proud to be associated with our teams as well.

What does it mean? Student-athletes want to compete and win, so the easy answer is that we've proven we can do that with these programs at Minnesota State. Recruiting is extremely important to the success of any collegiate team and when our coaches can tell potential student-athletes that not only can you come here and play in an unbelievably great facility like Taylor Center, they can also come here and have an opportunity to be a part of teams that will have a chance to compete for not only conference and regional championships, but national championships, as well. Pretty powerful stuff.

And, of course, there are other implications such as fundraising in that people want to be associated with successful entities. So, in theory, this should help us in our developmental activities. With our corporate partners, with our sponsors and advertisers, with those who purchase season and single-game tickets and with our alums who so generously give back to their alma mater.

The reality is that MSU has been to the NCAA postseason seven straight years and broke through to make the school's first appearance at the Elite 8 this year. While we pause to revel in this season's achievements for a moment, my sense is that the Minnesota State men's basketball program is still ascending.

Thanks for the wonderful ride, fellas - it's great to be a Maverick!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ghosts on the Hardwood

With five consecutive NCAA appearances, five conference titles in the last six years and the Mavericks prepping for a men's regional championship game tomorrow night in Taylor Center, it's been a great time for those whose passions run deep for Minnesota State Basketball.

Minnesota State has a proud history with the game played on the hardwood dating back to its inception at Mankato in 1921-22 under iconic first-year coach C.P. Blakeslee.  Under Blakeslee, Mankato State Teachers College built a 123-85 record from 1921-22 to 1938-39 and in addition to capturing one Little Ten title in 1930-31, also won a Minnesota Teachers College Conference championship in 1932-33.

Head coach Jim Clark, who guided MTC for five years in the forties, had a 27-41 ledger before legendary Jim Witham came along.  Witham, who was hired after coaching at Bemidji State, built a 160-73 record in Mankato while leading his team to seven conference titles and two national tournament appearances.  His second team in 1946-47 advanced all the way to the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball championship game, where it eventually fell to Marshall by a 78-59 margin.  MSU's first basketball All-American Hank Epp was a member of this team and later on, near the end of Witham's career, other familiar names such Norm Ness, Manny Beckman, Lee Loewen, Bob Will, Hal Peper and Virg Goertzen and Duane Mettler emerged.

Bob Otto filled in for one season before one last year with Witham and then Bill Morris coached Mankato State College from 1956-57 until 1966-67. Morris guided his charges to a 134-112 mark and in addition to a pair of league titles, led the program to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 1963-64. After Morris pulled the pin in 1965-66, Art Ollrich put together a 9-38 mark the next two seasons and Red Severson crafted a 42-61 record from 1969-70 until 1972-73.  

Lloyd "Butch" Raymond ushered in a period in which the Mavericks went 164-133 over the course of the next 11 seasons and in addition to a North Central Conference title in 1975-76, won a NIC crown in 1978-79. Raymond's 1978-79 team hosted a NAIA play-off game vs. St. John's (Minn.) in front of a huge crowd in Otto Arena. Raymond's Running Mavericks featured the dynamic back-court tandem of Gene Glynn and Curt Clark along with a player some have described as the North Central Conference's best-ever player in forward Elisha McSweeney.

Following Raymond's departure for St. Cloud State after the 1983-84 season, Dan McCarrell was brought in from North Park in Chicago and he led MSU to a 284-189 record in his 17 seasons at the helm.  McCarrell, who recruited one of the top-scoring guards in the history of the program in sweet-shooting Brian Koepnick and also brought in Mankato native Pat Coleman - an All-American and the NCC's MVP in 1996, coached the team for 16 years in Otto Arena before christening Taylor Center in 2000-01.

That leads us to the current incarnation of the program. Since the 2001-02 campaign Matt Margenthaler has built a 217-85 record and is in his tenth year with the Mavericks.  And under the former South Dakota State assistant the Mavericks can boast All-Americans such as Jamel Staten, Luke Anderson, Atila Santos and Travis Nelson.  Senior guard Jefferson Mason will undoubtedly receive All-America consideration this year, as well.

You can bet that the luminaries of the program - from Hank Epp, Butch Meyeraan, Jon Hagen, Dewey Mettler, John Schultz and Gene Glynn to Brian Koepnick, Blaine Joerger, Pat Coleman, Drew Carlson, Kory Kettner, Monte Dufault, Paris Parham, Nick Ellenberger, Jevon Budde, Luke Anderson, Chris Whitfield, Tony Thomason, Jesse Clark et al - will all be watching with pride as the Mavericks take on Ft. Lewis Tuesday in the NCAA Division II Central Region championship game on their home hardwood.

It's great to be a Maverick!