The Minot State University men's basketball team isn't exactly easing into its first full Division II schedule.
The Beavers play Metropolitan State University of Denver tonight at 8. The Roadrunners are ranked No. 5 in the National Association of Basketball Coaches preseason top 25 poll.
On Saturday, MSU plays 12th-ranked Colorado Mines, which finished last season 29-3.
Daniel Allar/MDN • Minot State University senior forward Josh Johnson finishes a dunk during an open practice Oct. 19 at the MSU Dome.
"It'll be a great test for us," said Matt Murken, the Beavers' first-year head coach. "It's our first season in Division II, and we start out playing two of the better teams in our area. We'll find out where we're at. We'll find out what we do well, and it'll expose the things we don't do well."
Leading returning scorer Josh Johnson (15.8 ppg last season) will start on the front line along with 6-foot-9 senior shot-blocker Kelvin Fraser, who redshirted last season. Sophomore Thomas Korf, a 6-4 shooter, will play a wing position and transfer Isiah Gandy and freshman Dominique McDonald will start in the backcourt.
"Playing together, that's our main key right now," Fraser said. "A lot of the guys are new and a lot of the stuff the coaches have taught us is new, so just coming together and being able to execute on both ends of the floor (is important)."
Murken was pleased with the team's defensive performance in an exhibition win over the Next Level Blue Angels in October and during a closed scrimmage against an undisclosed Division I opponent. This weekend, he'd like to see some progress on the other end of the court.
"Our offense has been pretty average and that's because we haven't been spending that much time on it," Murken said. "We need to show that we can score against good defensive teams, and we'll play two of 'em this week."
Metro State became a regional power under current Charlotte Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap. Dunlap coached the Roadrunners from 1997-2006, leading them to the NCAA tournament in all nine seasons and winning national titles in 2000 and 2002.
Four of the Roadrunners' five expected starters are preseason all-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference selections, and forward Jonathan Morse was picked as the preseason player of the year and defensive player of the year. The 6-8 senior averaged 13 points and 9.8 rebounds per game last season.
"They just play incredibly hard pressure defense and really have their program based on that," Murken said. "For us, it'll be fun because we try to do a lot of the same things that they do. They just have a program that's a little farther along than what we are now from being at the Division II level for a long time and being successful."
Murken described Colorado Mines as "an incredibly disciplined, solid team." Johnson said MSU's opponents share a couple traits.
"Both of them like to pound it on the inside a lot, so we've been working on it a lot this week," he said. "They like to pound it on the inside, they run the floor, have good guards and a good post. ... We're just going to have to really be on our toes."
With the quality of the Beavers' competition in their first two games, Murken's expectations are tempered. He said playing two high-level programs can only help MSU prepare for its first season in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
"We're facing a team in our first game that has a bunch of guys that have played together for two or three years," Murken said. "We've been practicing together for two or three weeks. ... We're far from a finished product right now, and we know that."