MIAC ’22 playoffs outlook

Abe Woldeslassie
Photo courtesy Mac Athletics

The MIAC Men’s and Women’s Basketball Playoffs begin Saturday, Feb. 19. Due to the impact of COVID-19 related cancellations during the 2021-22 regular season, all 11 men’s and 12 women’s teams for the first time are eligible for the annual MIAC post-season tourney. 

St. John’s (men) and Augsburg (women) are the 2021-22 MIAC regular-season champions and are the respective top seeds in their brackets.

Macalester, the sixth seed, will host No. 11 St. Scholastica in first-round action on, Saturday, Feb. 19, at 3 pm.  “It’s going to be our first [playoff] game since 2004,” Scots Coach Abe Woldeslassie told the MSR Tuesday.  The men’s squad clinched the home court for the first round after last Saturday’s 65-63 victory over Augsburg, the No. 2 seed.

Woldeslassie, the MIAC’s only Black head coach said he likes that all MIAC teams are playing in the postseason. “I like it.  It’s great,” he pointed out. “You got a chance to make the NCAA Tournament.”

The winners of Saturday’s games will advance to the MIAC Quarterfinals on Tuesday, Feb. 22.  The semifinals are scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 24 and the men’s championship game is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 26.  The MIAC tournament champ gets the automatic NCAA qualifying spot.

Augsburg claimed its first-ever MIAC regular-season title on Monday and have home-court advantage throughout the tournament.  The Auggies will host and play Saturday’s No. 8 vs. No. 9 winner on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 5:45 pm.  As with the men, the MIAC semifinals and finals are scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 24, and Saturday, Feb. 26, respectively, and the tournament winner also gets the automatic NCAA bid.

Macalester defeated Hamline Wednesday 76-62 to end the league’s regular season and improved to 12-12 overall, 9-10 in conference play.  The 12 wins by the Scots this season are the most since an 18-9 mark in 2003-04, the St. Paul school’s best record ever, and the nine league victories are the most since 2004-05 when Macalester went 10-10 in the MIAC.

Also, this is the fourth consecutive season that Macalester has improved its winning percentage, all under Woldeslassie’s watch.  He returned to his alma mater in 2018.

But the fourth-year head coach quickly pointed out that this season’s success can also be attributed to, along with the players, Scots assistants Conner Nord and Bridge Tusler.

“It takes a whole community to try to build a program and sustain it,” stressed Woldeslassie.  Both Nord and Tusler “played in the MIAC.  Both of them won championships as players.”

Prior to the season, Woldeslassie told the MSR he was very high on his squad, one of the league’s youngest teams: “We were playing a lot of younger guys,” he noted.  “Right now, we’re starting two sophomores, one freshman and two seniors, and we’re playing two freshmen off the bench.

“Earlier in the year,” continued Woldeslassie, “we had some COVID on our team.  I think now our younger guys have played more minutes, more confident.”

Finally, with the playoff seeds now set, and knowing who will be their next opponent, Woldeslassie surmised that his Scots’ post-season chances in the one-and-done, or better put, win or done MIAC tourney on Saturday, “Anyone can beat anybody,” he concluded.  “It gives everyone a chance to keep fighting … an opportunity to keep competing.”