BEMIDJI - Sixteen may seem like a crowd. But for Bemidji State head coach Mike Curfman - and the rest of the basketball coaches in the NSIC, for that matter - the slightly-larger conference means two things: Improved scheduling and a better shot at the postseason.
Anything that makes an already-difficult conference a little easier to navigate could mean good things for the Bemidji State women.
"Our conference schedule is always really tough, but the new teams this year might make it a little easier to compete," Curfman said Wednesday following the official announcement of the Beavers' 2012-13 schedule.
The schedule features seven games against 2012 NCAA tournament teams and an exhibition opener at North Dakota.
The competition isn't getting any easier - Wayne State, Augustana and Minnesota Duluth are still as tough as ever.
But the addition of Minot State and Sioux Falls to the league gives the NSIC enough teams for an "all-in" conference tournament format - which was very difficult when the league had 14 and 12 teams.
It also gives the league two divisions for basketball.
For Curfman it's a welcome change. The Beavers suffered from some major injury problems and finished 9-18 overall and 7-15 in the league last season.
The new playoff format means one or two bad weekends can't kill a team's playoff chances - which happened often when only eight teams made the playoffs.
"It will be nice because it means every game isn't make-or-break this time," Curfman said. "You're still doing everything you can to try and win every game, but sometimes you get some injuries or something and have a bad weekend.
"In the past if that would happen, you'd be knocked out. It means we're guaranteed to be playing a little deeper into the season, which is always great for the kids."
In the new divisional setup, BSU will play in the North along with U-Mary, Minnesota Crookston, Minnesota Duluth, MSU Moorhead, Minot State, Northern State and St. Cloud State. The Beavers will play every divisional opponent twice, home-and-away, and every other team once.
"It's nice because we won't have to go to Upper Iowa or Wayne State every year," Curfman said. "It gives us more chances to develop natural rivalries and we won't have to miss as much class time going farther away."
The Beavers see 2012 Elite Eight finalists Wayne State only once this season. Ditto for Augustana and MSU-Mankato - all NCAA tournament teams.
Duluth and U-Mary also qualified for the tournament and should be the teams to beat in the North Division.
The Beavers, meanwhile, have some promise with young talent. The team graduated only two players and returns 10, including junior guard Morgan Lee and senior guard Shannon Thompson. Lee was the team's leading scorer and a second-team All-NSIC selection, while Thompson led the team in assists and steals.
Senior center Jessie Althoff and sophomore guard Erica Trabing will also be great additions to the roster after both missed considerable time with injuries last season.
"I like how our team is positioned," Curfman said. "We had some big wins last season, but we just need to become more consistent and I think we can compete."
Their first test will be an exhibition game against North Dakota in Grand Forks.
"It's nice that the NCAA allows us to play these games against D-I schools that don't count against out schedules," Curfman said. "It will be a great chance for us to work on some things and see where we're at against a solid program."
The schedule also features three home nonconference games - two against Lakehead University of Thunder Bay, Ontario, and a third against Maryville State, an NAIA squad. The Beavers will also play a fourth game outside the conference against Mount Mary College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.