Men’s basketball season kicks off this weekend

It’s basketball season once again and the Minnesota State University, Mankato Mavericks men’s basketball team are ready to get back on the court. After a very impressive outing during the 2015-2016 season, the team is going to be looking to build on the success of last year and advance further in the postseason. With a win in exhibition play already under their belt, there is good reason for Mavericks fans to be excited about their return.

Minnesota State finished 2015-2016 with a 22-10 record. They started off the year winning nine of their first 10 being led by senior Jalen Pendelton, and junior Jon Fuqua. While Pendelton graduated at the end of the year, Fuqua’s return is going to be pivotal for the success of this team. In his only season playing for the Mavericks, Fuqua averaged 15.7 points per game along with 7.7 rebounds. Entering his senior year, the team will look to him to help lead the rest of the squad.

Their postseason play started in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) in March. They started the tournament with a win over Bemidji State before falling in the next round to the University of Mary. The Mavericks finished with a 15-7 record in the NSIC South, which was second best to Augustana. The season did not end in the NSIC Tournament in 2015-2016.

Minnesota State picked up a four-point victory over MSU-Moorhead, but were not able to overcome Northwest Missouri State the following day. With that loss, the Mavericks’ campaign came to an end.

Minnesota State opened up this year with an exhibition game against Saint John’s. They secured the victory in blowout fashion, as they won 99-69. It may just be an exhibition match-up, but it’s a good sign that the team is showing their dominance so early.

Their first regular season games will happen this weekend with back-to-back road games. On Friday, the Mavericks will take on Pittsburg State in St. Cloud. Pittsburg finished last year with a record of 16-13 overall. The last meeting between the two teams was a match up on Nov. 13, 2015. Pittsburg State proved to take the advantage in that one, and squeaked away with a 62-59 win.

On Saturday, the team will stay put in St. Cloud to take on Missouri Southern State. The Lions finished up last year with an 18-12 overall record. These two teams have only met once before, and that match saw Minnesota State pick up a 79-67 victory.

In addition to Fuqua’s return, Mavericks fans can look forward to seeing senior guard Grant Pope, sophomore guard Cole Harper, and sophomore guard Joey Witthus back. Witthus had himself a nice season last year, as he averaged 12 points and 4 rebounds a game while starting all 32 games as a freshman. He also had an impressive 46 percent shooting average from the three-point line. In addition to these three impact players, the Mavericks will welcome eight new players to the team along with the return of two red-shirted freshmen. Minnesota State will also welcome two former Division-I basketball players. Senior guard from the University of Northern Iowa Aarias Austin and sophomore forward from Loyola University-Chicago Jay Knuth will be nice additions to an already deep roster.

The Mavs will take on Pittsburg State on Friday at 7 p.m., and Missouri Southern State on Saturday at 3 p.m.

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