Minnesota Crookston only hit 18 shots in its 88-51 exhibition loss at North Dakota State on Friday.
The bad? The score, devoid of context. The neutral? That context itself — the fact that the Bison play in Division I, with Division I talent and a Division l complement of scholarships to offer, and had no reason to ever fear the game’s outcome.
Eight Golden Eagles combined to score those 18 buckets. Twelve of them came off of assists. Those assists came against just 11 turnovers, a more than respectable total against North Dakota State.
Last Wednesday, Minnesota Crookston’s role was reversed. It throttled Division III Concordia, 93-50, at home. But while the “bad” and the “neutral” from Friday’s contest in Fargo had both been in the Golden Eagles’ favor two days earlier, one thread from both games kept in common: the “good.”
Minnesota Crookston’s performance one week ago featured four double-digit scorers, 13 scorers overall, and 25 assists on 33 made shots against 13 turnovers. No player took more than seven shots or played more than 22 minutes.
Much of that balance is a luxury that the Golden Eagles won’t have at any other point during the regular season. But the opposite — they won’t face anyone like the Bison the rest of the year either — also rings true.
Extreme talent disparities are usually one-off affairs, and shooting can be mercurial even for the best teams. But balanced scoring, solid ball movement, and a wealth of options have a tendency to stay around.
More than that, though, it’s what coach Mike Roysland desires.
“The team has been very bought in as far as trying to find the best shot in the monent versus, do I need to try to score,” Roysland said Tuesday. “That's the one nice thing that I really like about this team. They're not worrying about scoring, they're just trying to get it right and we're trying to find the best look. And consequentially, you have a lot of balance through that.”
There is one flip side of a team so reliant on its egalitarianism. Inevitably, there come times where you just need a basket and just need a player who can go and get you one, no questions asked and no help needed. The fact that Paige Weakley — the Golden Eagles’ leading scorer on Wednesday — didn’t even attempt a shot on Friday doesn’t bode particularly well on that note.
Still, having an array of players who can go and get you something, even if it’s not the same player every night, counts for a great deal. And for what it’s worth, Roysland is confident that when the moment arises, he’ll have players he can put his full trust in.
“(Junior guard) Abby (Guidinger) does a really nice job of setting people up and seeing the floor,” Roysland said. “Kylie Post had a lot of opportunities to score at the rim. So I think that we've got players that are kind of playing their role and playing through that, and I think that as we move forward we're gonna be hard to defend because we're just not relying on one person.”
Concussion-free, Peplinski showing massive improvement
If Minnesota Crookston does desire that go-to scorer, Julia Peplinski has to be at the top of the list of candidates after the pair of exhibitions.
The sophomore center played in just 18 games last year, averaging 2.3 points and 2.3 rebounds, due to a concussion and other injuries — “different things,” per Roysland.
But with a year under her belt and a clear-cut role as one of the Golden Eagles’ first women off the bench, Peplinski has excelled with her scoring touch inside. She scored 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting against Concordia, adding six rebounds and two steals, while putting in eight and four (with three offensive rebounds) against the Bison. Both nights, Peplinski was the Golden Eagles’ second-leading scorer.
“She's stepped up, just kind of figured it out and come into her own a little bit,” Roysland said. “We're really excited about that, and we need her to continue with that.”
To make the next step, Peplinski will have to stay on the floor, however — in 28 exhibition minutes she committed seven fouls. But with Bren Fox as the starter, Peplinski will have the luxury of time to work on decreasing her foul rate.
“We got a nice combination of our bigs being able to score, between Bren and Julia inside,” Roysland said. “Also our posts are doing a nice job getting assists.”
Burke reacclimating to action
Mary Burke’s true freshman year was lost due to injury, putting her in a unique position entering this season.
There’s never been a question that she’d play. Burke averaged 23 minutes in the two contests she played last year, and her ability to fire from deep opens up the Golden Eagles’ offense off the bench. But after a year of no game action, it’s been a process for Burke to find her best form.
“She's just getting her feet wet,” Roysland said. “She hasn’t played basketball in over a year, really didn't have a chance to go through the freshman roller coaster, as we'd call it.”
This doesn’t mean that Burke didn’t gain valuable experience last season, soaking up Minnesota Crookston’s system and scoping out the level of college competition from the bench.
While Burke was just 4-of-12, and 2-of-9 from three, against the Cobbers and Bison, her assertiveness certainly hasn’t taken a hit. As she eases back into game flow, Roysland expects her production to come.
“Things happen really fast in the moment,” Roysland said. “What Mary needs more than anything is getting time and experience. She’s seen enough, she knows our system, she knows what's what and what's next, but she just needs to get the reps.”
McWilliams’ playing career likely over
It’s been all positive for Burke, Peplinski and Guidinger — whose injuries last season hampered Minnesota Crookston’s depth — in their returns to action.
The same probably won’t ever be said for senior guard Stephanie McWilliams, though.
McWilliams averaged 3.1 points off the bench last season, but a knee injury has kept her sidelined so far.
“Unless something drastically changes I think Steph feels that her career on the court is over,” Roysland said. “But she really is a valuable asset, just in terms of from coaching to helping our players gain the experience that we're going to need.”
McWilliams, an education major, won’t be going into coaching after this season either, but that hasn’t stopped her from devoting her energy to helping the team in a leadership role.
“She's doing everything in her power to try to help our program be as successful,” Roysland said.
Carpenter impressing to begin her career
Emma Carpenter hasn’t looked like a typical freshman so far.
Against Concordia, the guard from Eagan scored 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting with six assists, and had five points and an assist at North Dakota State.
So far, Carpenter has served as Kylie Post’s primary backup at point guard, thanks to her court vision, driving and decision-making. At 5’10, Carpenter has size to rival some of the Golden Eagles’ forwards, which has made her a tough, versatile matchup for opponents.
“She's really tough off the bounce,” Roysland said. “For a freshman right now she's played against some really stiff competition.”
Roysland expects to keep deep rotation
One of the primary purposes of exhibition games is to experiment with different looks and get as many players as possible on the court.
But even though the exhibition season is over, the Golden Eagles will continue to experiment throughout the year, and Roysland said it will be “real easy” for him to play 10 to 12 players this weekend at Nebraska Kearney and Northwest Missouri State. It’s a pretty obvious decision for a team that prides itself on a bevy of contributors.
“It all depends on the matchups,” Roysland said. “Our players are gonna have to get accustomed to that, one night might be a better matchup than the next night, the other night it might be somebody else.”
As the season goes on, however, lineups and roles will become more defined as players grow into their niches, but according to Roysland, there’s no way to predict what will happen, or for what players, in this regard.
“Everybody's trying to find their way and see where they fit in,” Roysland said. “Somebody gets on a roll, you gotta stay with in that roll too. They're out here trying to perform the best that they can and those are things that are really hard. You just gotta let them unfold and players gotta learn how to play.”
For now? Expect Post running the show at point, joined in the starting lineup by Guidinger, Weakley, Fox and sophomore guard Paige Cornale. Carpenter, freshman Alyssa Peterson and sophomore Kylea Praska look like the primary backcourt bench options, while Peplinski and Burke spell Fox in the middle.