Minnesota, Crookston lost three starters from last season, its three leading scorers from last season.

In the past five seasons Golden Eagle Men's Basketball has won just 13 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference games. The NSIC is also, arguably, the most competitive conference in Division II men's basketball.

Last year Minnesota, Crookston lost nine games by 12 points or less.

UMC Head Coach Jeff Oseth enters his 11th season with his squad picked last in the NSIC Preseason Coaches' Poll.

"In the last ten years we have knocked off six different teams that have been ranked in the top ten in the country," Coach Oseth explained in an email interview with the Times. "We were in a bunch of games with a chance to win a number of times last season and some we did win and some we didn't. Very similar to the year before where each game seemed to come down to the last five minutes. As the coach of the UMC men's basketball team that is my goal. To find a way to be in the game at the end of the game. The NSIC is an outstanding men's basketball league, arguably the best in the country. We need to find a way this season to put oursevles in positions to be there in the end."

Minnesota, Crookston lost three starters from last season, its three leading scorers from last season.

The two returning starters are senior point guard Almir Krdzalic (5-11, 160 lbs., Sioux Falls, S.D.) and senior forward Broderick Schmidt (6-10, 205 lbs., Marion, S.D.). Krdzalic averaged 5.2 points per game last season, 3.8 assists per game and 1.8 steals per game. Schmidt led the Golden Eagles last season with a 55.3 field goal percentage. However, Schmidt will need to take more than his 76 attempts last season.

The Golden Eagles do have seven newcomers this season but six return from last season, including redshirt junior forward James Sparkman and redshirt freshman guard Derrick Redd.

Senior shooting guard Justin Rake, 6-foot-10 senior forward Abdou Niang, sophomore guard Tim Lubke and sophomore center Tomas Parker each saw time last season. Rake is the top returning three-point threat, shooting 31 percent from beyond the arch last season. He was second on last year's team from the charity stripe with a 77.3 percentage.

"James (Sparkman) tore up his knee last August so he is a little rusty as of right now with his game," noted Coach Oseth. "But as the season moves along I think we will see a lot of improvement in his play. Almir Krdzalic is back for us at the point guard spot. He has been the starting point guard for the last two seasons so that really helps. He has an understanding of what we have to do to have a chance night in and night out. He along with the other three seniors have a pretty good idea of how hard you need to practice on a daily basis to be able to compete in the NSIC conference."

The Golden Eagles will push the ball up and down the court but they need to take better shots, as they shot just 44.7 percent from the field last season.

"We would certainly like to push the basketball and get up and down the floor," Coach Oseth said. "But we need to take good shots, not quick shots. So I call it an opportunistic fast break. Let's get up the floor but be smart. We run an offense that has some shuffle cuts and a variety of screening options. We like to get five guys out around the three point line and read what people are doing in terms of how they are guarding cutters and screeners. We have a variety of entries into our offense so it might look like we are running a lot of different things, but it basically comes back to reading the defense with a few basic principles. I like to post guards and I think it is very important to break down a defense with either a penetration pass into the post area or off the dribble trying to get into the paint."

Minnesota, Crookston was one of the best defensive teams in the NSIC last season, holding opponents to just 68.4 points per game.

"Defensively we will play a lot of man-to-man defense," noted Coach Oseth. "We can pick up full court, but in the this league you need to be able to play solid man-to-man defense. I think we have the type of players to pressure the passers and make them uncomfortable and to push them out a little farther from the basket. We are long in terms of our height and wing span but we are not overly strong. So teams that are physical may prove to be a challenge for us especially in the post area. We play back to back nights in the NSIC, so very few teams full-court pressure because of the turn around time to have your team physically ready to go in less than 24 hours."

The season opens Friday at home against Presentation College of Aberdeen, S.D. The Golden Eagles have four non-conference games to start the season before the NSIC schedule starts Dec. 1 on the road against Bemidji State. Coach Oseth likes the student-athletes he has this season.

"We have a good team in terms of the type of young men that are on the team," he said. "They are very coachable, they are good citizens, and for the majority of them they are very good students. I have a couple of Health Science majors so that is a good thing in terms of academical accountability, but it is a bad thing in terms of when we can practice. Becasue of classes and labs we are practicing at 5:30 a.m. That is a tough time for bodies to be at their peak, but the guys are doing their best to get it in.

"This year will have to be a total team effort," Oseth continued. "We won't have one or two players that we can go to and get points from. Each person on this team will have to contribute on both ends of the floor."