By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
Northeastern State’s seeded seventh, so the test in second-seeded Winona State in today’s first-round NCAA-II Central Regional matchup (2:30 p.m.) was going to be a tall order anyway.
Facing the region’s Player of the Year in 6-foot-9 Clayton Vette brings out the David vs. Goliath a little more.
“He’s the best big guy we’re probably going to see in this tournament,” NSU coach Larry Gipson said following Friday’s practice in Mankato, Minn., site of the regional. “He’s highly skilled, strong, physical, and there’s not really any one-on-one matchup we’re capable of putting up against him.
“We can either clamp down on the perimeter or double-team low, but the point is we’ll have to limit his touches.”
Vette averaged 20.8 points and 8.2 rebounds for the 24-7 Warriors, who were ousted by Bemidji State in the second round of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Tournament. The Waverly, Iowa native has reached 30 points on four occasions, including a career-high 31 points three times.
“The closest thing we’ve got to him is size,” Gipson said of his 19-8 club. “We may start the game with that matchup but we’ve got three different schemes depending on the situation and who is in the rotation.”
Jermaine Bransford (15.7 points, 9.5 rebounds) at 6-7 and John Schneider at 6-8 comprise the size NSU can throw at Vette. Bransford has started all 27 games, Schneider has averaged 15 minutes of playing time and has yet to make a start, averaging 4.7 points and 3.8 rebounds.
“But it’s not like we haven’t got other weapons to counter with,” Gipson said, referring to the team’s leading scorers in guards Bryton Hobbs (18.3 points) and Ethan Anderson (10.7).
The RiverHawks come in after a third-place finish in the MIAA and bowed out of the conference tournament early after being upset by No. 5 seed Northwest Missouri State 69-65. The Bearcats used their momentum to advance to overtime of the championship game before falling to Central Missouri in the final five minutes of play.
It isn’t an easy connection for fans used to a South Central region that was played in connecting states, but Gipson isn’t looking at that as a negative, only a contrast.
“The big difference, and I like that difference, is that the region is stretched north and south to where it has the feel of a real NCAA tournament,” he said. “We’re on a plane, we’re in a state we’ve never been to and playing a school we’ve never seen before.”
The winner of today’s matchup gets the victor of the noon contest between third-seeded Augustana and sixth-seeded Upper Iowa in one of two semifinal contests on Sunday. The championship is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday.
The other two quarterfinals pit top-seeded Minnesota State and No. 8 seed Arkansas Tech along with MIAA member Central Missouri against Harding. Those games tip at 5 and 7:30 p.m., respectively.
NCAA DIVISION II CENTRAL REGIONAL
at Mankato, Minn.
G1: Augustana vs. Upper Iowa, noon
G2: Winona St. vs. NSU, 2:30 p.m.
G3: Minnesota St. vs. Arkansas Tech, 5 p.m.
G4: C. Missouri vs. Harding, 7:30 p.m.