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Ridgewater opens state against Vermilion

WILLMAR -- Ridgewater College faces high-scoring Vermilion in the quarterfinals of the MCAC men's state basketball tournament that begins today.

The tipoff is at 6 p.m. at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

The teams have not met.

"They are fast and they will press," said Warriors' coach Bob Knutson. "They don't have much inside game, but they are amazing rebounders for their size."

The Ironmen's 87.33 per-game average is the most in the North Division. Vermilion and Central Lakes tied for the division title. Central Lakes got the No. 1 seed on a tiebreaker.

Willmar is the No. 3 seed from the South, but the Warriors are coming off a fast finish that included a win over No. 2 Rochester.

If Ridgewater wins its opener against Vermilion, it likely will face No. 1 Minneapolis, which opens against No. 5 Hibbing.

The Marauders (26-1) are ranked No. 1 in the latest NJCAA Division III poll. Their lone loss was by three points to North Dakota State College of Science.

"All the teams are even if you take Minneapolis out of the mix," commented Knutson. "If we shoot well our chances of finishing in the top three are good."

The Warriors (16-10) have five back from the team that went 1-2 at state a year ago. Forward Cory Nietfeld is averaging 14.3 ppg and 8.6 rpg. Guard Derek Eisenschenk is 33 of 102 (32.4%) on three-pointers. Also back are forward Ben Moser, who often scores in double figures, post Tom Boike and forward Chad Mulder.

Casey Sussenguth, a freshman forward, is averaging 17.5 ppg and 8.8 rpg. Shawn Neu is pumping in three-pointers at a league-leading clip of 43.4% (23 of 53). Beau Bredeson is among the league assist leaders with four per game.

Vermilion (22-5) will be a handful for the Warriors' defense. The Ironmen are led by Venzel Russell, a 6-2 freshman guard from Detroit. He leads the North in scoring (20.0 ppg), assists (6.6 apg) and steals (5.8 spg). He's second in rebounds (10.1 rpg). Ashley Thomas, one of only two sophomores, is second in scoring (19.9 ppg) and assists (5.9 apg game). Anthony Brandt (18.0 ppg) has canned 108 three-pointers while 6-8 sophomore center Randy Daniel, from Murphy, Texas, averages 8.7 rebounds.

The tournament runs through Sunday.