Friday, March 28, 2008

Minnesota Madness

We'll be taking a break from the usual Land O' Links today for a special March Madness spotlight.

I do actually have one link for you. Broncos fans...enjoy your season.

Hopefully that will hold you over for a week. But for now, enjoy this!


There is a Minnesota collegiate basketball team who is playing in the NCAA Championship game this year. It doesn’t involve Tubby Smith or Pam Borton and in fact you may have not even heard about it at all this year. It is the NCAA Division II Championships being played in Springfield Massachusetts.

The Winona State Warriors are representing Minnesota in the college basketball scene.

The Warriors, at 37-1 after their Elite Eight win against # 1 Grand Valley State and Final Four Win against Bentley (34-1), are on a 31 game win streak and have found themselves in the D-2 Championship game for the third year in a row.

Last year, in the championship game, the Warriors saw their 57 game win streak end at the hands of Barton College. It was a bizarre ending to the game and this clip here will give you some insight into one of the greatest finishes in recent March Madness history. If you are a Winona State fan, you may not want to click on the link because I am sure that it is not something that you want to be reminded of this time of year.

The Warriors this year picked up the pieces from that devastating loss and are back atop the Division 2 rankings. They finished the season ranked # 3 and have re-established themselves as a powerhouse in the NCAA.

A look at the team:

Playing their home games in the wonderful confines of McCown Gym, the Warriors get solid numbers for their home games. This year they averaged 2,500 spectators per game and as many of us know, is a much larger number than the Division 1 Gophers men’s team averaged the last few years.

They were 18-0 in conference this year and were 22-1 at home. The one home loss came in overtime against the St. Thomas Tommies of the MIAC. The Tommies are known for their Division 3 prominence and may have been overlooked by the Warriors. They rebounded from the loss and started their current win streak and haven’t looked back since then.

The Warriors are paced by two of the best players at the Division 2 level. Senior John Smith (Johnsburg, IL) posted a career high in points averaged this season at 17.7 and averages 8.6 rebounds per game as well. Stats only mean so much, so what else makes Smith special? He is only the second player in history to be named State Farm/NABC player of the year two years in a row. Last year and this year, the National Association of Basketball Coaches voted Smith their player of the year. He is Winona State’s all time leading scorer and is second in Division 2 history in career blocked shots at 420.

The second player is Jonte Flowers (Cottage Grove, WI). He transferred from the University of Wisconsin where his brother Michael leads the possibly Elite 8 bound University of Wisconsin Badgers. Flowers, who is the 3rd youngest Flowers brother (one year ahead of Michael) walked on as a football player at the University of Wisconsin 3 years ago. He felt that Winona State would be a better fit and he was right. In his first year for the Warriors, he was named the Player of the Game in the championship game against Virginia Union. Flowers this year averaged 17.5 ppg and 3.2 apg. He and Michael at one time this year both led their teams in steals per game. The Flowers brothers are all very close. Check out this article as it gives you a fun look into the competitive lives of the Flowers brothers.

The rest of the team is a heavy mix of freshmen and sophomores. Usually this spells trouble for a team, when their seasoned veterans graduate and the younger players are left to carry such a heavy load. This has the potential to be the case for the Warriors but they have very talented younger players that ought to help keep this team competitive for years to come. All-time leading scorer at local Woodbury Senior High School in Woodbury MN, Max Hintz, will surely see time as well as Ben Fischer from Wausau, WI who saw a significant amount of playing time (35 games played with an avg. of 22.4 minutes per game).

2 titles in 3 years?

The Warriors will be playing the Augusta St. Jaguars (Augusta, GA) on March 29th for the Division 2 championship. If the Warriors win, it will be their 2nd title in 3 years. If this feat is accomplished, it will even further solidify the Warriors as NCAA elite and should do wonders for the schools athletics.

The Jaguars are 27-6 and defeated Alaska Anchorage (29-6) 56-50 in their game. Augusta St. led Alaska 28-11 at half and were outscored 39-28 in the second half to make the game more respectable.

The game should be a hard fought battle between the two teams. If Winona State pulls off the win, should they be considered the second best team in the state behind the Gophers? If you ask some Winona State fans, I am sure that they would tell you it is the other way around. The Warriors defeated the Gophers last year in Williams Arena. Granted the Gophers finished the year 9-22 but it was still a Division 1 opponent on their home court.

This could be a question debated come Saturday night.

Good luck to the Warriors and bring the hardware home!

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