The Mavericks are dancing the night away

2024 could turn out to be the year of the Mavericks. Minnesota State-Mankato completed a sweep of both the regular season and playoff titles in the Northern Sun, and both of those sweeps both by the men and by the women. The men soundly beat archrival UMD, who gave them one of their 2 losses on the year, 97-77. The women beat Mary almost as soundly 89-74. They’re the 1st NSIC team to win both the men’s and women’s playoff titles since 2011. I have no idea when anybody got a 4-peat before this.

So now we move to Selection Sunday. The D2 brackets will be announced on the NCAA web site Sunday night at 9:30 (the women) and 10 p.m. (the men). Mankato is guaranteed the 2 slots, and the men should get a favorable site. They’re 29-2 and ranked #2. The women are 26-5 and ranked #20. They started 2-4 when NSIC playoff MVP Joey Batt was out with an injury. They’re 23-1 since then. So both of these teams are a major threat to make the Final 4, at least, though you never know, the women could get a really unfavorable bracket. You just never know.

The Men

The Mankato men–oh, OK, Minnesota State (they don’t even say Minnesota State-Mankato anymore), but what the hell–Mankato, picked to finish 2nd in the pre-season coach’s poll, is 29-2. UMD, picked to win it in that same poll, finished 25-6. Minnesota State-Moorhead (they still say Moorhead) is 24-5 and shgould get a bid, too. Southwest State threw a scare into the Mavericks in the semis before losing 68-67, but they’re just 19-12 and I’m afraid they might end up on the outside looking in. 6th place Winona also got to the semis, and they’re 21-10, but they’re probably on the outside, too.

Mankato is led by the Willinghams, senior guard Malik and junior forward Kyreese. You might remember them leading Waseca to a state title a few years ago.  Malik averaged 19 ppg-4 assists and 2 stls during the regular season, then upped the scoring to 23 ppg in the playoffs, earning the playoffs MVP award. UMD is led by Drew Blair, who became Duluth’s all-time leading scorer way last fall, finished with 23 ppg in the regular season and scored 27 in the final. Moorhead and SW State feature a more balanced attack while Winona is led by Connor Dillon, #2 in the conference with 22 ppg.

I’ll say it again. The Mavs are a major threat to go all the way. They’re 29-2 in one of if not the toughest D2 conference in the country. Along with the Mavs at #2, NSIC teams rank as follows–UMD #9, Moorhead #11, SW State #40 and Winona #42. Malik Willingham is a tough customer and a great leader if not quite the shooter you wish he was. But I could see him being the MVP in the Final 4 just like he was at the Sanford Pentagon this week.

The Women

I’m not sure that the Mavericks women are quite the threat that the men are. Neither are the coaches who have them #20 in their latest poll (before their NSIC title was won). But I’m not sure they’re not just looking at the 26-5 record and not looking any further than that. Again, the Mavs were 2-4 when Joey Batt’s season began after recuperating from an injury. They’re 23-1 since then. I wonder what kind of rating that would get? Probably better than #20. But, while 5 NSIC men’s teams got at least a vote or 2 in that poll, Mankato’s are the only NSIC women to get any votes at all in the women’s poll. Runner-up Mary (both regular season and post-season, they’re now 22-11) could get a bid, and you can’t count Concordia or Northern Staten out, since they both have 20 wins. Or, Mankato could be the only NSIC entry in the women’s D2.

They’re led by Batt (from New Ulm) with 16 ppg-3 assists and 4 steals in the regular season, 21 ppg-2 rebouds-6 assists and 2 stls in the final and was named the tourney MVP. Her running mate Destinee Bursch (Eden Prairie) scored the same 16 ppg with a pair of steals in the regular season. Their stock in trade is their pressure defense, especially on the ball. They turn people over–they turned Mary over 32 times in the final, 16 of them on outright steals, and scored 46 points off those turnovers. You’re not gonna lose scoring 46 POT very often. So if you don’t handle the ball very well and you turn it over a little bit, the Mavericks are a pretty bad draw in this D2 tournament.


The championship coaches are Matt Marganthaler for the men and Emilee Thiesse for the women. Marganthaler, now in his 22nd year, is a 6X coach of the year with a 453-209 (.684) record (I think that was at the very beginning of this season). Thiesse is in her 12th year and was 196-111 (.638) coming into this season, so that would mean that she’s now 222-116 (.657) or thereabouts. Neither has won a national championship, of course, though some of you know that the Mavericks women won it all in 2009 at 32-2 when Pam Gohl was the coach. Gohl was assistant AD and then AD at Sioux Falls, but returned to Mankato in 2023. A good omen???