By Ryan Divish
No disrespect to Medicine Hat College or the Northwest All-Stars, this weekend will be the first test for the Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team.
After disposing of MHC and the All-Stars fairly easily, the Lights will host two members of the DAC-10 conference as Dickinson State University and Minot State University this weekend.
"This will be a true measuring stick to where we are as a team," said Lights head coach Shawn Huse. "Dac-10 teams had a winning record over Frontier Conference teams last season. If we can compete with these teams, I feel we can compete with teams in our conference."
Said junior forward Travis Moran: "This is definitely our first test of the season. I didn't know much about the Canadian team we played. But I've heard of Dickinson State and Minot State."
The Lights will host Dickinson State today at 5 p.m. at the MSU-Northern gymnasium. The Blue Hawks, according to Huse, are in a similar situation as the Lights. DSU returns only three players off last year's 15-14 team while adding 12 new players including seven freshman.
But one of those returning players is pretty good. Junior forward Konrad Tota is the only returning starter and he will be looked to carry the load for the Blue Hawks. Tota averaged 15.3 points last season and he dropped 33 points on the Lights last season.
Joining Tota will be returner Josh Olson at the point guard. Olson played sparingly last season but takes over the duty at the point. Also starting are newcomers Robbie Bybee a 6-foot shooting guard, who can also fill it up and Mislav Parlov, a 6-foot-8 bruising center from Croatia.
Blue Hawks head coach Tim Daniel hasn't decided on his final two starters but it likely will be James Johnson, a bruising 6-foot-8 junior college transfer.
It will be DSU's first game of the season and with the new faces the Blue Hawks will have their fair share of mistakes, it's something that Huse and the Lights hope to exploit.
"I'd like to think it would be an advantage having played four games this season," Huse said.
The Lights will continue to crank up the full-court defensive pressure while continuing to be aggressive offensively.
"We can't expect too much from opposing teams," Moran said. "We have to worry about doing what we do best."
If Dickinson State is tough, Minot State may be tougher. Unlike DSU, the Beavers return five players including three starters off of a team that finished third in the DAC-10. But like Northern, they aren't the biggest team in the world.
All-conference forward Kent Bloms returns to lead MSU. Bloms averaged 15 points and 7 rebound a game last season, but will move to center. At 6-foot-5, Bloms will be undersized at the center, but his tenacity and versatility will still cause problems.
Minot also returns senior point guard Ryan Johnson, who has started since he was a sophomore. He will be joined in the backcourt by junior Justin Daeley. At 6-foot-5, Daeley is a big guard who can shoot from three-point range. He averaged 10 points a game off the bench and shot 37 percent from three point range.
Minot is also going to give Northern a different look defensively.
"They use a 1-1-3 trapping zone," Huse said. "It's different and we've worked a little on it this weekend."
Northern will continue to feature a lineup consisting of Moran, Charlie Ereaux and Kent Douglas up front with Zach McLean and Larry Morinia in the backcourt.
Both games will offer stern tests for the Lights, but Huse's team is far from intimidated.
"We are going to come out swinging," Huse said. "And win or lose, we're going to go down swinging."
Northern's game times will be pushed up because of women's volleyball matches. The Lights will host DSU at 5 p.m. today and Minot State at 4 p.m. on Saturday. Both games will be played at the MSU-Northern gymnasium and can be heard on 92.5 FM-KPQX.