The Frontier Conference is off to an exciting start in both men’s and women’s basketball. And with the first full weekend of league play in the rear view mirror, the action is going to get serious.
Both the MSU-Northern men and women are coming off weekend sweeps at home, but now the schedule gets daunting for the Lights and Skylights. With the addition of Dickinson State to the Frontier, the schedule has changed dramatically, and both Northern teams will feel the effects of it over the coming weeks.
Northern travels to Dillon to face UM-Western tonight, as well as Westminster Saturday night in Salt Lake City. That trip in itself is new to the Lights and Skylights as Lewis-Clark State and Westminster have long been paired together. However, under the new schedule, Northern will instead play Great Falls and LC State together on the road, and will face the Warriors and Montana Tech together at home. Also new is playing two games in a weekend which includes UGF. Under the old schedule, the Lights and Skylights played the Argos as part of single-game weekend’s both home and away, but only Northern’s Feb. 1 home game with UGF will be a single-game weekend this season.
“It’s going to be like that all season long,” Northern women’s head coach Chris Mouat said, referring to the new schedule. “Every weekend, whether it’s at home or on the road, will be very challenging. And it’s that way for everybody. There are tough road trips, really good teams and great players in our league, so it’s going to be a very challenging season, for everybody in our league.”
The MSU-Northern women have a great defense. The Skylights are holding opponents to 51 points per game this season, and they are coming off a win over Rocky Mountain College in which they held the Battlin’ Bears to a scant 46 points. Normally, it would be hard to find a better defense than the one the Skylights have, but they’ll see it when they trip to Salt Lake City Saturday night.
Not only are the Westminster Griffins ranked No. 4 in the NAIA, but they have the nation’s top scoring defense. Westminster is allowing just 49 points per game this season, which is almost unheard of in modern college basketball. And the Griffins have done so against good competition. Westminster has played six teams currently ranked in the NAIA Top 25, and the Griffins’ best effort was holding a very good Westmont (Calif.) team to just 29 points earlier this season.
It’s not too late for any team in the Frontier to turn things around, but a few have their backs against the wall already.
Obviously, the Carroll College men are the biggest surprise. The Saints have just one win this season and are off to an 0-3 start in the Frontier. The surprise is, Carroll has outstanding players like Nick Jones, Chris McGrath and Dennis Mikelonis, but the graduation of four-time NAIA All-American Andy Garland, as well as a season-ending knee injury to point-guard Ben Cutler seems to have the Saints in a funk so far.
The Dickinson State men, as well as the LC State women are also surprising this season, for different reasons. DSU was looking good with the return of star scorer Matthew Lee, who was among the top scorers in the NAIA early on. But Lee has left the team, and though the Blue Hawks beat Carroll last weekend, it will be tough for them to contend now. The LC women are also trying to rebuild after losing four great seniors a year ago. The Warriors have lost 14 games already in 2012-13, which is more than they lost in the last two season’s combined.
The Battle Continues
When the MSU-Northern and UM-Western men meet tonight in Dillon, it will be the first time the Lights and Bulldogs have faced off since their epic Frontier Conference championship game last March in Havre.
A lot has changed for both teams, as the Lights and Bulldogs graduated a combined 91 percent of their scoring from a year ago. Together, the two teams lost a combined eight starters, and three former NAIA All-Americans.
However, don’t expect the rivalry to be any different. The Lights have went 6-3 against the Bulldogs over the last three-plus years, but Northern has lost three straight times in Dillon, including a setback last season.
And with so much riding on every Frontier game this season, tonight’s game will likely be another instant classic, in what has become the best rivalry in the Frontier Conference.