Havre Daily News Sports Editor
The Montana State University-Northern Lights basketball team has played a very competitive schedule so far this season. And to the Lights' credit, they are still perfect on the year.
Tonight, however, the Lights' (5-0) unbeaten record will be severely tested when the Minot State Beavers come calling at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse at 7 p.m.
Northern will host Valley City State, also of the Dak-10 Conference, on Saturday at 3 p.m.
“This is a very challenging weekend for us,” MSU-N head coach Shawn Huse said. “We have two very good Dak-10 schools coming in here, and Minot is the defending Dak-10 champion. So this weekend will be a very good measuring stick for where our team is and how far we have to go.”
The Beavers (0-1) come to Havre having played just one game thus far. That was a five-point loss at the hands of the University of Regina, a team Northern handled fairly easily two weeks ago. Still, Minot has downed the Lights twice in the last two seasons, and Huse knows that the Beavers bring a very good team into tonight's contest.
“Minot has a lot of quality players back from last year's team,” Huse said. “They also had a very good year recruiting. So we know they will be a very big challenge for us.
“The good thing about playing a team like them is that they are a lot like some of the top teams in the Frontier Conference. So this will be a very good barometer for us as a team,” he said.
Minot State returns four of its top five scorers from the team that downed the Lights in Havre last year, including leading scorer Courtney Haley. Drew Hyjulien, Jeremy Feller, Milan Cvetnovic and Josh Chambers all played well against the Lights last season.
“Minot is a team that will certainly challenge us defensively,” Huse said. “They have great size, they are very athletic and they have a lot of players who can score the basketball.
“We have been playing very good team defense this year,” he added. “But we are going to have to even be better than we have been if we are going to slow Minot State down.”
One difference between tonight's game between Minot State and MSU-Northern and those of years past is that Northern seems to have the scoring and depth to hang with the usually potent Beaver offense. Northern is getting solid scoring from senior Jordan Mathews as expected, but sophomore Cory Brothers has emerged as another threat to score 20-plus points on any given night. Junior college transfers Ronnie Simpson and Yanif Ducreay have also given the Lights some added scoring punch.
“I think one thing we have found out early this season is that our depth and our ability to look to more guys for scoring has made it so teams can't really key on one or two of our guys,” Huse said. “Our depth has certainly made us a more versatile team, and I think we are a lot harder to defend than we were last year.
“We'll need that depth a lot as the season goes along, and we'll certainly need help from all of our guys against Minot this weekend,” he added.
Depth will certainly play a roll in Northern's success this weekend when it has to turn around and play the Valley City State Vikings on Saturday afternoon, just 15 hours after the game with Minot wraps up.
The Vikings are off to a 1-0 start this season, defeating Trinity Bible College on Sunday night. Even though they are not expected to contend in the Dak-10 Conference this season, Huse said they are a team that can't be overlooked.
“We know they beat Trinity Bible College fairly easily,” Huse said. “And we know they have some very good athletes that can do some good things on the floor. So I expect them to come in here and give us a good test on Saturday.”
The Vikings won't present a size issue for the Lights but they are very athletic, with several key players between 6-2 and 6-4. The Vikings' tallest player is 6-7 Jonathen Lindah. Their leading scorer is guard Jackson Sussex.
“We'll find out a lot about our team after these two games,” Huse said. “Both opponents are going to present different challenges, and they should be very competitive games.
“Hopefully we can come out and play good defense like we have been and continue to improve in our offensive execution. Those are things that will make us successful this weekend,” he said.