NCAA tourney snub doesn't spoil Bemidji State's great season
BEMIDJI – When Mike Boschee was hired last summer as the new men’s basketball coach at Bemidji State University among his top priorities was to bring sustained success to the program.
During his initial press conference Bouschee admitted that accomplishing that goal would not be easy but it is something he always strives for.
“We’re not here to change the game by any means, but I want to create an atmosphere where we can be consistent on a yearly basis,” Boschee said in July. “Guys know what’s expected of them. We want to play the way we feel is the right way to play.”
This winter Boschee, his staff and his players all agreed on what was the right way to play. Effectively implementing that style took some time but the head coach quickly learned that he had inherited the ingredients for success in the NSIC.
His league peers, however, did not have that same knowledge as the Beavers were picked to finish 12th in the NSIC preseason coaches poll.
“When you are picked 12th it is based on other people’s opinions and coming into the year I had no idea what to expect,” Boschee said. “But as the season wore on we just kept getting better and better and I knew we were much better than a 12th-place team.”
By season’s end the Beavers had elevated their game to the point where they were among the elite of the NSIC. Heading into the league playoffs BSU had earned the No. 3 seed in the North Division and used the home court advantage to batter Wayne State 71-54 in the first round of the playoffs.
That win sparked a postseason run that included a 74-72 upset victory at Winona and a 64-61 victory over Upper Iowa in the playoff semifinals in Rochester.
Saturday against top-seeded Minnesota State BSU’s playoff run finally ended when it fell just short, eventually losing 73-68.
A win over Minnesota State would have been rewarded with an automatic bid to the NCAA Central Regional tournament. The loss, however, meant that the Beavers would only continue their season if the NCAA officials awarded them an at-large berth.
“I felt that we were clearly a team that could win a regional tournament,” Boschee said.
On Sunday night the NCAA officials announced that only four NSIC teams would be invited to the regional event - Minnesota State, Augustana, Upper Iowa and Winona. Bemidji State did not receive an invitation.
“We were disappointed that we were not selected,” Boschee said. “In time we’ll get over it but right now it stings.
“During the season we had a 4-3 record against the teams in the NCAA tournament and only one of the games were played at home,” the coach continued. “If you look at the head-to-head results and the overall quality of the schedule, we are a heavy favorite to go. But the NCAA has different criteria and we did not meet those others.”
Bemidji State finished with an 18-12 record but it was an early-season loss that gave Boschee a preview of what was to come.
“I think a turning point might have been the (68-60) loss at St. Cloud (Dec. 7),” the coach said. “That game made me feel like we had a chance. St. Cloud was ranked in the top 15 in the country (No. 14) and we were ahead all the way but just couldn’t close it out.
“We also started playing well down the stretch and (by season’s end) we became a good team.”
Balance was one of the team’s strengths and on any given night a different leader would emerge.
Dermaine Crockrell averaged 14.6 points per game while Mason Walters scored at a 14.1 clip and Lance Rongstad at 12.4. Zach Noreen wasn’t far behind as he averaged 9.7 points.
“Most championship type teams have more than one go-to type player and we had many,” Boschee said. “We had a good, quality team, and you can underline team. We had many guys who could lead us. We were very unselfish and all we cared about was being successful.”
Crockrell, Rongstad, Walters and Jason Edwards will graduate and their contributions will be missed next year. Their influence, however, will always be remembered and appreciated.
“I’ll always remember this team,” Boschee said. “I’ll remember that this was my first team (at BSU) and I’ll also remember the quality of the players, their unselfishness and their willingness to learn.
“It was a very satisfying season.”