March Madness in Estherville
Local junior college basketball fans can have their version of March Madness this weekend as the Region XI Men’s Basketball Tournament comes to Estherville.
All eight conference teams will compete at Iowa Lakes Community College for the right to advance to the regional final.
Play begins at noon on Saturday with No. 3 seed Ellsworth taking on No. 6 seed Iowa Central. Next is the No. 2 vs. No. 7 matches at 2 p.m. as Des Moines Area Community College plays North Iowa Area Community College. The winners of the two games play Sunday at 1 p.m.
At 4 p.m. Saturday, No. 1 Kirkwood faces No. 8 Clinton with host No. 4 Iowa Lakes taking on No. 5 Southwestern in the nightcap at 6 p.m. The winners play Sunday at 3 p.m.
The highest seed left standing will host the region final at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
Iowa Lakes coach Troy Larson expects the fans to turn out to watch the games.
“It’s nice to see a big home crowd for the regional tournament,” he said. “I’ve been pleased with the home crowd and the environment in our gym. It’s grown all year.”
However, the coach and his players know Southwestern is not an easy opponent. The Lakers won the first meeting on Jan. 12, 82-72.
“That game was back and forth and we made the plays down the stretch to win it,” said Larson.
When the teams met in Creston on Feb. 9, Southwestern won 84-66.
“We didn’t play well or compete well and they stuck it to us,” said Larson. “They’re definitely a good team. They have a Division I scholarship player that’s already signed in Anthony Davis and they have a couple other players that could play Division I.”
Davis, a 6-10 sophomore, leads the Spartans in scoring with 14 points a game.
Larson said overall, the Spartans are also bigger than the Lakers.
“But most teams in the league are taller than us,” he said.
Iowa Lakes posted its first 20-win season in Larson’s first season.
“Our goal at the beginning of the season and every year is to win 20 games and we were able to do that,” he said.
After going 18-5 though, Iowa Lakes won two of the last six games to end with a 20-9 mark.
Admittedly, three losses were to Region XI’s top three teams–Kirkwood, DMACC and Ellsworth. However Iowa Lakes beat Ellsworth at Iowa Falls on Feb. 2 and had a 13-point lead against the Panthers right before half in their home matchup last Saturday and ended up losing by eight.
“This has been a tough stretch at the end. I hope the lessons we’ve learned on consistent play and playing together have sunk in,” Larson said. “All the experience and growth we’ve had this season, we need to put to use in the conference tournament.”
Looking at the other matches, Larson sees Iowa Central and Ellsworth as an intriguing matchup.
“i think Iowa Central is a very good team and we were fortunate to beat them twice,” he said. “Ellsworth just beat us and they have a few Division one guys on the floor. The higher seeds (Kirkwood and DMACC) should have the advantage as the 1-2 seeds over the 7-8 teams.
“But I’ve been pleased with the parity in the league,” he added. “Any team could beat any other.”
Since Iowa Lakes last qualified for nationals in 2000, Kirkwood and DMACC have been the prominent teams in postseason play. Last year, DMACC beat Kirkwood in Cedar Falls to advance to the nationals tournament.
This weekend will determine if who will have the opportunity to represent Region XI and Iowa in the national Division II Tournament.