MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – John Tauer is in just his second year as head coach of the St. Thomas men’s basketball program, but he seems to be pushing all the right buttons.
The Tommies are 8-0, including a 4-0 record so far in the MIAC, and are ranked No. 4 in the national polls. St. Thomas will see just how good it is this Friday when it hosts another undefeated team in No. 5-ranked UW-Steven’s Point. The Pointers are 9-0 themselves, including a win at UW-Whitewater, last year’s national champion and the team to knock the Tommies out of the NCAA Playoffs.
Friday night’s game in St. Paul will be free admission for all fans who wish to attend. It should be one of the most competitive games of the season. It’s a big game for regional rankings, and the winner will move up in the polls after No. 1-ranked Virginia Wesleyan lost on Monday.
“It’s a big game on multiple levels,” Tauer said. “You really enjoy playing a team like Steven’s Point because they are really good and they never beat themselves. We respect how they play immensely.”
The Tommies are going to have to respect every opponent they play this year. As a program, St. Thomas is going for its eighth consecutive regular season MIAC title this year. The Tommies have also won six of the last seven conference tournament titles.
St. Thomas enters the year as a near unanimous favorite to win the MIAC again. The Tommies return virtually everybody from a team that went 22-7 last year, including a 16-4 mark in the MIAC. They’re also just two seasons removed from a national title.
The Tommies are still a young team as a whole, but are led by a pair of seniors in guard Will DeBerg and post Tommy Hannon. Hannon received an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA through a medical hardship waiver after injuring his knee nine games into the 2011-12 season. Hannon is averaging 9.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, figures that are likely to go up as the season progresses.
“It’s great having Tommy back. He’s got experience from our national championship team and he’s a great role model for our young guys,” Tauer said.
DeBerg leads St. Thomas in scoring at 13.8 points per game. The Tommies overall have some impressive statistics. They’re scoring 88 points per game on the season and more than 90 in conference play. They’re shooting nearly 53 percent from the field for the season and are limiting opponents to 31 percent shooting from three-point range.
Tauer said St. Thomas will play up to 11 guys a game and it speaks to the program’s balance and unselfishness.
“I don’t know if I’d say we’re loaded, but I like them a lot. We have some players with good experience and guys who are very unselfish. They buy into the team concept and continue to get better. “
Other players expected to provide significant contributions this year include seniors Noah Kaiser and John Nance as well as junior guard Erik Tengwall and junior forward Zach Riedeman. Sophomore forward Connor Nord is also very much in the mix.
Most teams settle on an 8-9 player rotation once roles get established early in the season. St. Thomas takes a little different approach. With as many as 11 players seeing action, it lets the Tommies play with a much higher tempo for a full 40 minutes and apply a full-court press for as long as it dictates.
It was a definite change in the program’s style of play and it started up to six years go. Steve Fritz, who retired after the team’s national title in the 2010-11 season, implemented the new style before stepping away from the program.
“We wanted to see what we could do to get better, so we had an outside consultant come in and give some objective analysis,” Tauer said.
St. Thomas has seven players with experience from the 2010-11 national title run, and it’s 105 wins over the last four seasons is the best in Division III. With that said, the Tommies expect to get every team’s best effort on any given night.
“What’s nice is that we have guys who just love to compete. We don’t need to do a whole lot to get them ready,” Tauer said. “They all believe in hard work and being committed to the program.”
After Friday night’s game against Steven’s Point, which is a 7:30 p.m. tipoff, the Tommies resume MIAC play on Jan. 2 against Carleton.