LU looking for first NCAA berth since 1997

Andy York

The Lawrence University men’s basketball team fresh off their MWC Regular Season Championship get to host the 2004 Midwest Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament this weekend in Alexander Gym. The winner of the Tournament will receive the automatic bid to the NCAA Division Three Basketball Tournament starting next weekend. The Vikings are the number one seeded team, and come in with a record of 4-1 against all other teams in the Tournament. The Vikings will play their semi-final game against Lake Forest. The Vikings are 1-1 on the year against the Foresters with a 31 point victory at home and an 8 point loss on the road last Saturday. The Foresters gained the fourth and final spot with a victory over LU last weekend. The Vikings are undefeated at home in Alexander Gym, and are defeating teams by an average of over 20 points per game.

The Vikings come in statistically as one of the most sound teams in the MWC as well. The Vikings are ranked second in scoring offense, just trailing Grinnell and first in scoring defense. The Vikings are third in field goal percentage, and first in defending the three-pointer, something that will be crucial this weekend. The Vikings also come in second in rebounding, another stat that will be critical to this weekends play.

Players that will be key to watch this weekend for LU are of course the usual suspects. Chris Braier is a definite Player of the Year Candidate in the MWC, and will be closely guarded by most teams. That should leave opportunities open for the Vikings big six man, Chris MacGillis, or their penetrating guard corps of Rob Nenahlo, Dan Evans, Jason Hollenbeck, and Brent Vandermause. If all else fails it may come down to three-point shooting, and LU has two of the conference’s best in Aaron Sorensen and Brendan Falls.

The Foresters come in after just clinching the fourth spot last weekend over St. Norbert. The Foresters are a young team, but they have beaten some of the best teams in the MWC. Lake Forest comes in with a record of 2-4 having been swept by Carroll, and splitting with both Grinnell and Lawrence. Both wins have come at home however, and the Foresters will have to deal with a hostile LU crowd. The key to the Foresters game plan is defense. They are the worst team on offense in the league, but are in a close second defensively behind LU. The Foresters player to watch is Franklin Beckford, a freshman who is averaging 17.2 points per game. Beckford was shut down by LU in their first match up of the year.

The second seed is this years tournament is Carroll. The Pioneers come in with a 3-3 record against MWC Tournament opponents, having been swept by Lawrence, swept Lake Forest, and split with Grinnell. The Pioneers are a team who is much of an enigma. They can slow it down and play a defensive match up, or they can fight fire with fire and get into a shooting contest. The Pioneers are well rounded, coming in fourth in scoring, and third in defense. The Pioneers do have the highest field goal percentage in the conference however. The Pioneers are also the best three-point shooters in the MWC. The keys to Carroll’s success will be whether or not they can hit the trey. They were ice cold when they played LU in Alex this season and lost by 12. If they can hit, they will have a good chance on winning the MWC and getting the automatic bid. They players to watch for Carroll are Kevin Lauer, Ben Hickeither, Greg Monfre, and Jason Scheper.

Grinnell comes in as the third seed and is looking to get back to the NCAA’s for the 2nd time in 3 years. The Pioneers are a team that is very streaky. They play the “system,” shooting many three pointers and letting other teams get easy lay-ups. Sometimes it works, some times it doesn’t. Grinnell has a record of 2-3 against conference teams splitting with Lake Forest and Carroll, and losing to Lawrence. The Pioneers don’t like Wisconsin however as they went 0-4 in the state this year losing at LU, Ripon, St. Norbert and Carroll. The Pioneers can hit from outside as well, and if they are on, it could be a long day for their opponents. Their players to watch are Steve Wood, who at 29..6 points per game easily leads the MWC, and is in the top 3 in the Nation. The Nordlund brothers, Paul and Steve are another duo to watch for Grinnell.

The Tournament gets started tonight with Carroll and Grinnell playing at 5:00 and Lake Forest and LU playing at 7:00. The two winners will advance to the Championship game tomorrow at 3:00. There will be no attendance fee, but only the first 1350 people will be let in, so show up early if you want to see some great basketball. If you can’t get in, the LU semi-final and the Championship game will be heard on 91.1 WLFM, and will be webcasted via the Lawrence University website.