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Frontier Notebook: Frontier season reaches the big finish line

Frontier Conference Notebook

 

February 19, 2014

Daniel Horton

Montana State University-Northern senior Allan Brown, left, drives by a UM-Western defender duirng a Frontier Conference men's basketball game last month at the Armory Gymnasium. The Lights moved up two spots in this week's NAIA Coaches Poll, ahead of their final home stand against Dickinson State on Thursday and Rocky Mountain College Friday.

It all comes down to this. The Frontier Conference has just one weekend of regular season basketball, and there’s plenty still to be decided.

The Westminster women wrapped up their sixth straight Frontier regular season title last weekend, but the men’s side is no more clear than it was a month ago.

Rocky Mountain College takes a one-game lead into the final weekend of the season, but the Battlin’ Bears finish with a difficult road trip to Havre and Great Falls. And it’s those two locations which could very well decide who wins the Frontier crown and gets home court advantage in next week’s playoffs because Friday night’s game in Havre is against the second-place Montana State University-Northern Lights, who are one game in back of the Battlin’ Bears at 10-4.

The Lights have to take care of last-place Dickinson State on Thursday night but are in control of their own destiny. Two wins this weekend could forge a tie with RMC, and a win over the Bears coupled with a UGF win over RMC Saturday night would give Northern the conference title outright.

Westminster will have a hand in how things shake out, too. The Griffins are also tied with the Lights for second place heading into this weekend, but they’ll have trouble holding that spot with road games at rival Lewis-Clark State and Montana Tech to finish the season.

Only RMC, MSU-N and Westminster can legitimately claim the top seed in next week’s playoffs, but positioning will go right down to the wire, too. Western currently sits in fourth place at 8-6, while UGF is 7-7 and in fifth. LCSC holds the last spot in the playoffs right now, and has a strong chance to hang onto it with its final two games at home this weekend. However, Montana Tech has a chance to pass the Warriors if LCSC drops one game and Tech sweeps at home this weekend.

Positioning on the women’s side isn’t done yet, either. The Griffins and Warriors have the top two seeds locked up, while MSU-Northern will use its final two games against Dickinson State and winless Rocky to hopefully lock down the No. 3 seed. Northern is pretty much guaranteed a home game in the first round, but two more wins would give them the third seed and give the Skylights the chance to avoid going to Westminster in the semifinals.

UM-Western has pulled even with Northern in the standings, as the Bulldogs have won seven straight games, while the Skylights have lost three in a row. However, Western plays at LC State and Tech to finish, so the Skylights certainly have the advantage on the last weekend of the regular season.

The race for the final playoff spots is close, too. Carroll College and Montana Tech are tied for fifth at 6-8, while Great Falls is still in the hunt at 5-9. Tech, while playing at home, will have a tough time hanging on to its spot with games against Western and Westminster to finish, while Carroll gets Dickinson State and Great Falls at home to close out the regular season, so the Saints certainly have the advantage of locking down a playoff berth over the Orediggers and Argos.

The Frontier playoffs begin next Tuesday with men’s quarterfinal games, while the women’s quarterfinals will be played Wednesday. The top two seeds on each side get byes in that round. The semifinals will be played Friday and Saturday, Feb. 28 and March 1, while the men’s championship game is set for March 3 and the women’s championship game is slated for March 4.

Ranking Power

There are just two NAIA Coaches Polls left before the selection of the NAIA national tournament, and both MSU-Northern basketball teams are holding steady.

The MSU-N men moved up two spots to No. 18 in this week’s NAIA Coaches Poll, even with a tough loss at Westminster last Saturday night. The Skylights, despite a three-game losing streak, stayed in the Top 25 as well. Northern is No. 22 in the new women’s poll.

Those rankings are good for MSU-N as both teams battle to get to the NAIA national tournament. The men’s and women’s tourney selects its at-large bids based on the final coaches poll, so being in the Top 25 in the poll which comes out the day after conference tournaments is over is crucial.

The Frontier men have three teams nationally ranked for the first time since early January as Westminster moved into the poll at No. 21. Rocky is ranked No. 10. On the women’s side, Westminster remained No. 3 this week while Lewis-Clark State stayed at No. 16.

Scoring Title

The race for the Frontier scoring title comes down to the final weekend on both sides.

UGF’s Marcel Towns is averaging 20.78 points per game, while LCSC’s E.J. Farris averages 20.56 points per game, so it will be close between the two down the stretch. On the women’s side, it’s just as close between UGF teammates Erin Legel and Lindsey Abramson. Legel heads into the final weekend of the season averaging 17.78 points per game, while Abramson averages 17.37. Northern senior Alfie Miller is 12th on the men’s side at 15 points per game, while A’Jha Edwards is 10th in the women’s race, averaging 12 points per night.

Edwards is in the hunt for the rebounding title. She averages 11 rebounds per night, while Abramson pulls down nearly 12 boards per game. On the men’s side, Joel Barndt will win the rebounding title for the second straight year, as he averages 10 boards per game. Western’s Jake Owlsey is a distant second at seven per game.

Armory’s Big Week

It will be a special two nights in the Armory Gymnasium. Thursday night, the Lights and Skylights welcome in Dickinson State, and before the game, all of the people which participate in Northern’s Adopted Parent program will be honored.

Friday night, Northern will play Rocky on senior night. MSU-N senior Kassie Barta will be honored before the women’s game, while Lights Will Perry, Allan Brown, Roshawn West, Mike LaValley and Miller will be honored before the men’s game.

But the games will be huge too.

With a home sweep, the MSU-N women could very well lock up an at-large berth to the national tournament, and at the very least, the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Frontier playoffs. Dickinson State will be tough Thursday night, as the Blue Hawks bring a 4-9 league record into Havre. Still, Northern crushed DSU 82-43 last month in Dickinson, N.D. The Skylights’ game with RMC won’t be easy either, but the school in which Chris Mouat was once an assistant coach is struggling through its worst season in years. The Battlin’ Bears are 0-14 in league play, but they did give MSU-N a tough 54-48 game back in January.

The stakes are as high or even higher in the two men’s games in the Armory this week. Northern had to go to double overtime to beat the Blue Hawks 71-69 last month in Dickinson, N.D., and while DSU has lost six straight games coming in, the game won’t be easy.

And while MSU-N won’t look past DSU, Friday night’s game at the Armory will be the NAIA Game of the Week as No. 10 RMC comes calling. The Battlin’ Bears and Lights will likely be playing for the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Frontier tournament, and given the fact that RMC beat the Lights 74-63 last month in Billings, and with the Frontier regular season title on the line, Friday night’s game should be an all-out brawl.

 

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