By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
Exactly how good is the Dickinson State University men's basketball team that will take on the Montana State University-Northern Lights today at the MSU-Northern gymnasium?
Shooting guard Robbie Bybee, who sank 10 three-pointers and scored 36 points for the Bluehawks in last year's game against Northern, is slated to redshirt this season.
DSU underwent some serious changes following last year's 11-18 season. Longtime head coach Tim Daniel was fired and Yakima Valley Community College head coach Scott Berry was brought in to replace him.
With several players leaving the program after Daniel's dismissal, Berry wasted little time by adding several new recruits to the roster. Actually, several might be an understatement. The Bluehawks have 25 players on their full roster with 20 of them new faces.
Berry brought in several recruits from the junior college league he coached in and several players from around the United States and a few from overseas.
"Dickinson has a cultural diversity scholarship that allows them to recruit a little more widespread," said Lights head coach Shawn Huse. "They took advantage of that and really brought in some good players."
Huse did a little research on the Bluehawks' present squad and found some interesting and a little distressing information.
"They have 11 guys on their roster, who averaged double figures last year for the team they played for," Huse said. "They're absolutely loaded."
Only three returners from last year's squad will be suiting up for DSU against Northern, but two of them will play key roles in the Bluehawks success.
Senior forward Konrad Tota returns after leading Dickinson in scoring at 18 points per game last season. Tota is a versatile player, who can score from inside and outside. Also returning is 6-6 forward Derek Miller. The sophomore started all but three games last season for DSU as a true freshman and returns even stronger for this season.
As for the newcomers, for the most part, they are relatively unknown.
Former Missoula native and junior college transfer Scott Klaudt is on the DSU roster. Huse recruited Klaudt to come to Northern out of Yakima Valley Community College. But with his head coach moving to Dickinson, Klaudt, the most valuable player of the Northwest Athletic Association of Community College last season, followed.
Along with Klaudt, several other players from the NWAACC have also made the trip to Dickinson.
Like Klaudt, forward Beau Pilson followed Berry to DSU after averaging 13 points a game for him last season. Guards Cameron Rowland and Josh McLeod were also all-conference performers in the NWAACC for Edmonds Community College, while Croatian forward Senad Simic was an all-conference performer for Skagit Valley College, averaging 15 points and seven rebounds a game.
With several quality athletes, Berry will play a more up tempo style than Dickinson did last season.
"They play a little bit the way we do," Huse said. "Defensively, they are going to put a lot of pressure on the ball and try to force some turnovers."
That means the Lights must take care of the basketball and avoid turnovers that lead to easy baskets for DSU.
"We can't let their pressure affect us," Huse said. "We need to be smart with the ball and handle their fast break. If anything, we should be used to it because we've been playing against that style every day in practice."
One advantage that the Lights will have is game experience. Northern has already played five official games on the season, while the Bluehawks will be playing their first game of the season.
"This is their first game and we have to hope that it's to our advantage," Huse said. "That first game is always a little tough."
First game or not, Huse admitted his team still has its hands full.
"Going up against a team this loaded, our guys have to be even more prepared than usual," he said.
It certainly doesn't get any easier for Huse as his team will host another team from the DAC-10 conference, the Minot State Beavers on Saturday.
Minot outlasted Northern 87-86 in a triple overtime marathon last season and went on to finish 17-13 on the season.
The Beavers return several key players from last year, including forward Kent Bloms and guard Chad Jacobsen as well as reserves Steve Grabowski and Lloyd Flanders.
But like Dickinson, Minot State has several new faces that give Huse a cause for concern. Two recruits - both top quality players - have joined the Beavers this season.
Shooting guard Jeff Brandt left NCAA Division II University of North Dakota after an all-conference season to play closer in his hometown. At 6-6, Brandt causes matchup problems and is a deadly three-point shooter.
Joining Brandt is transfer Khalid Loda from Highland Community College, where he averaged 14 points and 11 rebounds. At 6-8, 250 pounds, Loda is a much welcome addition to a very undersized Beaver team.
"He allows Bloms to move into the post where he is more comfortable and more effective," Huse said.
While many teams choose to play an easy schedule to load up with wins, Huse knows these games will be anything but. Luckily, his team has prepared for them by playing some tough games at last weekend's tournament in Lethbridge.
"We're coming off a weekend where we played some very physical, good basketball teams," Huse said. "Those games did a good job preparing us as opposed to playing exhibition games."
Northern spent the week working hard to prepare for two more tough games.
"These are two of the better NAIA teams in the DAC-10 and in NAIA Division II," Huse said. "They would definitely do well in our conference."
Both of the games will tip off at 4 p.m.