The Minnesota Duluth men’s basketball team jumped on Wisconsin-Superior early, taking most of the drama out of the teams’ exhibition opener Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, at Romano Gym, but this one was surprisingly entertaining, with lots of 3-pointers and perhaps more dunks in a UMD game than Bulldogs fans have seen in years.
At least in terms of entertainment, the Bulldogs will take it.
“Dunks and 3s, that’s what it’s all about these days,” UMD coach Justin Wieck said. “We’ve got a fun style of basketball.”
Jack Middleton scored 20 points to lead UMD to a 96-55 victory over UWS before 870 at Romano Gym.
Middleton not only led NCAA Division II in 3-point percentage last year (56.9%), he also led the NSIC in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.1 to 1.0).
“He’s a smart guy,” Wieck said. “He’s always moving. He’s one of those guys who, when he misses a shot or turns it over, you’re shocked because he never does it. You almost expect him to be almost perfect.”
Due to COVID-19 restrictions last year, crowds at Romano were limited to game personnel, media and immediate family members, with the fans located in the upper level of the gym, with hardly anybody other than players and officials courtside. Also, there were no back-to-back women’s and men’s doubleheaders, like Tuesday.
The crowd was certainly entertained. The 6-foot-4 Middleton also had a dunk, joking that even he can get up there — occasionally.
“We’re hoping to keep that energy every game,” Middleton said. “We’re bringing the people back and giving them a good show. It’s so nice to see fans in the stands again. Last year, it felt like a scrimmage every game. This felt like a real game — finally.”
Now, about the only restriction at Romano is wearing masks.
“I think we played really hard for the most part and it was great to get everybody in,” Wieck said. “Ten of our 14 guys have never played a game on this floor with fans in the stands, so everything was new. Everything about today was new for those guys. You could see some of those nerves in the first half. We didn’t shoot it great, but we were getting great shots.
“I think overall we have a really potent offensive team. I love where we’re at offensively. Our challenge is how good can we be defensively?”
Austin Andrews (15 points), Charlie Katona (14) and Drew Blair (13) also scored in double figures for UMD while while J’Vaun Walker (15), Josh Reinertsen of Duluth (11) and Eli Vogel (10) were in double figures for UWS.
Yellowjackets standout Mason Ackley of Superior didn’t play.
“Hopefully he’s back as soon as possible,” UWS coach Greg Polkowski said. “He’s week to week. Hopefully sooner or later but not immediate. He’ll help us, 100%, but that doesn’t take away from some of the things we need to work on, or some of the good things we did.
UWS, which returns 13 players from last year’s 3-4 team, as well as five newcomers, opens the season at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 5, against Finlandia in the Merrill Thompson Classic at Mertz Mortorelli Gymnasium in Superior.
“We showed flashes, but there were times where we lived on the perimeter a little too much,” Polkowski said. “We’ll learn from it. Their quickness got to us. To simulate a team like UMD over our first 14 days of practice, it’s tough to simulate that. Actually, it’s impossible.”
UMD is coming of a 6-7 season and 5-7 mark in NSIC play. The Bulldogs are picked to finish sixth in the 16-team NSIC and third in the NSIC North Division. Minnesota State-Moorhead is picked to win the overall league title while Wayne State and Minnesota State-Mankato are the favorites in the South Division.
While the Bulldogs basically return everybody, plus some additional incoming muscle, that’s the same for almost every team in the league after a COVID year where an extra year of eligibility was granted by the NCAA.
In addition to his 3-point prowess, Middleton also made 27 of 30 from the free-throw line last season.
“Just shoot the open ones and have confidence,” Middleton said. “That’s what it comes down to is confidence. I like being efficient.”
UMD opens the season at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 12, against Nebraska-Kearney in the American Family Insurance Classic at Romano Gymnasium.
“There’s a lot for us to work on, but I like what we can be,” Wieck said. “If you can score the ball the way we can, you’re always going to be in the game, so for us, it’s just about getting better on the defensive end.”
Saints look to be competitive in new league
St. Scholastica opens the season at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10, with a nonconference game against Wisconsin-River Falls at Reif Gym.
The Saints are well positioned for a competitive transition into their new league, the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, after going 10-1 overall and 7-0 in winning the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference regular-season title last season.
CSS only loses one player who was a contributor and returns the likes of senior guard Nick Carlson of Canyon, the UMAC player of the year last season who averaged 14.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.