Last weekend, we spent a full day watching hoops—a men’s-women’s doubleheader at Augsburg, then an unexpected trip to a mid-major men’s game in St. Paul.
Unlike many of my media brethren, I’m not a hoops snob. I’d rather watch a good game with both teams playing hard than a blowout no matter the level—prep, college, pro-women, or men.
The Macalester Scots (11-9, 15-10 overall) had hoped to clinch the third seed with a win at Augsburg last Saturday. They had qualified a week earlier for the MIAC playoffs and couldn’t drop lower than fourth, where they ended up after the 78-75 loss to the host Auggies (6-14, 8-17 overall).
At press time, Mac was scheduled to host No. 5 St. Olaf (10-10) on Tuesday, Feb. 21. The winner will advance to Thursday’s semifinals at either No. 1 Carleton, or No. 2 Saint John’s. The MIAC title game is Saturday, Feb. 25, at the highest remaining seed.
“There’s not a NIT—it’s win or go home in Division III,” Coach Abe Woldeslassie pointed out. “We have to win the next three games to make the NCAA tournament. Our next loss is our last game of the season. The sense of urgency is real now.”
“We do believe we can win a title this year,” predicted the Scots coach.
“I believe in Coach Abe, it’s the reason why I came here,” added 5’ 10” soph guard Robert Grace IV. The Minneapolis native and Blake School grad is a top reserve, averaging more than four points and around two assists a game this season.
“Robert Grace has changed our program for the better. He’s an amazing player, good teammate, great student, terrific leader. He is the heart and soul of our team,” said his coach.
The second half of the double-bill featured two squads with nothing to play for but pride.
Junior forward Moriah McLendon from Apple Valley told us after Augsburg’s 70-46 victory over visiting Macalester, “The biggest thing in the second half [they were down 24-22 at the half], we started to move the ball and played with a little more energy.”
After the doubleheader, I originally planned to see the final Black head coaching matchup at The Barn as Penn State played Minnesota late Saturday night. But before I left Augsburg, St. Thomas Coach Johnny Tauer via tweet invited me to take in at least the first half of his Tommies home game vs. Western Illinois, beforehand.
I accepted the invite and stayed for the entire contest with no regrets.
“Our team is peaking at the right time,” said UST Assistant Coach Cameron Rundles after Saturday’s 82-69 win over Western Illinois.
Western Illinois Head Coach Rob Jeter, at the helm since 2020, also talked to us after the contest. He was one of four Black head coaches in town last Saturday along with Macalester’s Woldeslassie, Ben Johnson (Gophers) and Micah Shrewsberry (Penn State).
On seeing more Black HCs, Jeter pointed out, “For so many years, there was one of us on the staff [as an assistant]. Now you are starting seeing staffs with more than one of us, and we are getting opportunities to be head coaches.”
Jeter and Rundles both touched upon my hoop snobbery topic. “It’s much easier or more sexy to go to a Big Ten game than come over and see a great Summit League matchup,” said the former. Added the Tommies assistant, “I don’t understand hoops snobs. If you love the game, you really want to see good basketball.”
“We play fundamentals just like the other levels and leagues,” McLendon said earlier. “If you love the game, you should be watching all levels of the game, women and men.”
“I think a lot of it is miseducation” about non-Division I basketball, concluded Woldeslassie. “There is so much great basketball in the Twin Cities. Go see a game.”
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