NMU basketball notebook: Third-place Wildcats still in danger of missing GLIAC tournament
MARQUETTE – The Northern Michigan University women’s basketball team bought itself both some confidence and some breathing room with a pair of road victories last week.
A two-point victory at Grand Valley State on Thursday and three-point win at Ferris State on Saturday preserved the Wildcats’ third-place standing in the GLIAC North Division and kept them in the driver’s seat for home court in the first round of the GLIAC Tournament.
But Northern head coach Troy Mattson isn’t counting on anything just yet.
“I don’t even know if we’re going to make the tournament,” he said.
Though that might sound a bit sarcastic considering the Wildcats’ position, a closer look shows what the coach is talking about.
First off, after Northern started the GLIAC campaign at a sizzling 8-1, it has been just 3-5 since. That gives NMU an 11-6 conference record and 14-7 mark overall.
Eight of the league’s 16 teams, regardless of division, make the GLIAC postseason. Though sharing third overall with South Division leader Ashland, Northern is only two games ahead of a trio of teams currently tied for the seventh, eighth and ninth positions in Grand Valley State, Northwood and Hillsdale.
If the season ended today, one of those teams would be out. If they all catch NMU, it could be the Wildcats who are out.
Of the Wildcats’ remaining five games, two are against the league’s best teams, No. 1 Wayne State and No. 2 Michigan Tech.
“We’re trying to find ways to win games any way we can,” Mattson said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I feel like we keep gaining confidence by winning these games on the road.
“The last four games we’ve played extremely well.”
In addition to the two road wins, Northern lost on Feb. 3 at MTU, 71-65, and beat Northwood on Feb. 1 at home, 74-62.
This week’s home games should tell plenty about the ‘Cats postseason chances. At 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, NMU hosts Saginaw Valley at the Berry Events Center. The Cardinals are a half-game behind Northern, meaning an SVSU win could topple the Wildcats from a home berth in the first round of the playoffs.
Then at 11 a.m. on Saturday, league-leading Wayne State visits. The first time these teams met on Jan. 25, Northern just missed a big road upset, losing 75-72.
In the spirit of doing anything necessary to win, Mattson is tinkering with his front-line starters.
For example, just a week after announcing senior Annie Rubendunst as a starter at forward, he moved sophomores Alyson Matkovich and Nea Makela back to begin the game against Ferris.
“We’re trying to match up against our opponents as best we can,” Mattson explained about the moves. “Against Saginaw, I expect we’ll have Rubendunst and Makela starting.
“Every game it will change, depending on the opponent.”
NMU men’s coach Bill Sall said with the season winding down, his approach hasn’t changed much. It’s still to improve every game and look at wins as a reward for hard work.
“We’ve kind of been looking at the future the whole way this year,” Sall said. “We don’t have anybody who’s a senior, so that’s why we look at the future.”
He did correct that to say that walk-on Michael Smith, who is averaging nine minutes and 1.2 points per game, actually is a senior.
“We’d like to get a couple wins at the end of the season to reward the guys for their effort,” Sall said.
Two wins could also allow the Wildcats to end a streak of four seasons in the GLIAC North basement, especially if one comes against SVSU at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday.
NMU is 3-14 in league games, 4-17 overall, a game and a half (and just one win) behind the Cardinals, who are 4-12 and 8-12.
Sall agreed that Saturday’s home matchup against Wayne State (9-8, 11-9) is also intriguing, since the Warriors are half-in and half-out of the GLIAC postseason, tied for the eighth and ninth places in the overall conference standings.
“We’ve proven that we can compete with everybody in this league,” Sall said. “But there’s a difference between competing and actually winning games.”
Finally, the coach hopes to have a full lineup available after several players have been hobbled with nagging injuries and junior guard Larry Taylor has had to deal with a concussion and severely sprained ankle.