Gene's Blog: These Cats, Dogs share Hoops bond
February 11, 2013
Erik Tengwall and the Tommies became the first NCAA men's team at any level tro reach 23 seasons wins. (Greg Smith file photo)
Credit the Gonzaga karma.
Coach John Tauer and his Tommie men’s basketball team are enjoying the ride this season with a 23-1 record and No. 1 national ranking in Division III.
St. Thomas has secured the MIAC championship for the eighth year in a row, the longest current streak in Division III. That also broke a conference record that has stood for 60 years since the 1946-53 Hamline title run.
Out of 1,000 NCAA men’s basketball teams in Division I, II and III, the Tommies have the third-best winning percentage, behind Division II unbeatens Metro (Colo.) State and Western Washington. They rank first among all NCAA programs in field-goal percentage at 53.2 percent.
UST received all 25 first-place votes in the latest d3hoops.com national poll released Monday.
An early sign that the Toms had a potential top-five national team came just after Halloween when they recorded a 10-point exhibition victory at Winona State. The Warriors have since built a 21-4 record and are ranked No. 12 in Division II.
If you believe in outside influences and vibes, you can credit Division I Gonzaga for part of UST’s steady run this winter.
On a season-opening trip to Washington last November, St. Thomas was in Spokane and took a tour of the Gonzaga campus and basketball facilities. The Zags’ director of basketball operations Jerry Krause, a guru of sorts with his 30-year run in college hoops, gave the tour.
“Our players and coaches had a great time at Gonzaga on our trip out west,” Tauer said. “(UST assistant coach) Don Johnson called the Gonzaga basketball office and coordinated our visit with Coach Krause. Our players saw their arena, locker room, old gymnasium, and had a chance to tour their entire facility. Moreover, Coach Krause shared stories of the history of the program, providing our players a better understanding for what it takes for a program to be excellent over a long period of time.
"We were struck by their kindness, hospitality, and work ethic. We are grateful to get an up-close look at one of the premier basketball programs in the country, a program that balances academic and athletic excellence at the highest level. It was one of the highlights, along with tough road victories against Whitman and Whitworth (#3 in the nation), of our west coast road trip that has served as a springboard for an exciting season to this point."
Besides domestic animal mascots (Gonzaga: Spike the Bulldog; UST: Tommy the TomCat), the universities have other things in common.
The Zags have 7,500 undergrads; are located in Spokane, population 210,000; last season had an 11-year streak of conference championships end; have a 129-32 men’s hoops record over the last five seasons; and have a head coach, Mark Few, who was a 10-year assistant in the program before being promoted to head coach, five months shy of his 37th birthday.
The Toms have 6,100 undergrads; are located in St. Paul, population 288,000; have the aforementioned current MIAC title streak; over the last five seasons have a 128-16 record; and have a head coach (Tauer) who was an 11-year assistant before taking over as head coach at age 38.
Few was promoted in 1999 when Dan Monson left to become head coach of the Minnesota Gophers. He has a 365-92 record in 14 seasons as head coach of the Zags, an .800 winning clip.
St. Thomas has a 378-97 record in Tauer’s 17 seasons as a player (88-26), assistant coach (245-63) and head coach (45-8), an .800 winning clip.
First to 23
Last Saturday afternoon, the Tommies posted a 25-point win at St. John’s. That let them become the first NCAA men’s team this season at any level to reach 23 wins.
Later that day, a west-coast team won and joined St. Thomas with 23 victories –- the Gonzaga Bulldogs, now ranked No. 3 in Division I.
That Gonzaga-UST connection was not lost on Tauer.
“Gonzaga is one of the top programs in the country,” Tauer said. “Over the past 15 years, they have become the gold standard for mid-major teams, proving they can play with the top teams in the country on an annual basis. The humility, unselfishness, and teamwork we preach in our program were clearly evident during our short visit to Gonzaga."
The Tommies are home Wednesday to face St. Olaf in their final regular-season game. Then comes a nine-day layoff until they play host to a conference semifinal playoff game on Feb. 22.
A victory on Wednesday would let the Tommies become just the fifth men’s hoops team to reach 19 wins since the league went to a 20-game schedule 30 years ago. The Toms had 20-0 conference records in 1994-95 and 2008-09, and went 19-1 in 2009-2010. Augsburg also went 19-1 in 1998-99.