With two crushing home losses last weekend that knocked them out of a top-six Frontier Conference spot, the Montana Tech Orediggers men’s basketball team has two games in the next two days to set things right.
Standing at 14-12 overall and 5-7 in the league, the ’Diggers are outside looking in at a coveted Frontier Conference Tournament playoff spot as games against Rocky Mountain on Thursday night and Dickinson State Friday night, could help shape Tech’s postseason future. Both games are at 7:30 p.m. at the HPER Complex on Kelvin Sampson Court
“Last weekend was a tough weekend for us,” Tech head coach Aaron Woliczko said. “Northern and Lewis-Clark are two of the top teams in conference and they played like it the other days. We had breakdowns in areas we have been working on since the first day of practice and that was probably the most disappointing thing. But, I am confident our boys will bounce back and bring the energy and effort needed this week.”
Both Northern (18th-ranked team in NAIA) and Lewis-Clark (fifth-ranked) are tied for first in the conference with identical 8-3 records.
Tech could play one or both of those teams again if they can escape these last two home games with a .500 mark at 7-7 before heading off for their final two contests at Montana Western and Westminster College.
“Our conference has been so tough this year and anyone can beat anybody on a given night,” Woliczko said. “The playoffs are still what we are fighting for. At this point you can only guess, but an 8-8 conference record might get you in the playoffs if you hold the tie breakers with other teams. Currently, Rocky would have that tie breaker so having an opportunity to beat Rocky this week would be a tremendous boost to our playoff cause.”
Rocky Mountain (15-11, 6-6) currently owns the tiebreaker with Tech by virtue of the Bears’ resounding 78-52 win over the Orediggers on Jan. 11 in Billings.
“Rocky has arguably the most talent in the Frontier Conference,” Woliczko said. “They have a great point guard that shares the ball very well. They have two of the top post players in our conference, both with great size. We must be able to guard their athleticism on the perimeter while having great double teams in the post. Traditionally, Rocky would love a ‘track meet’ style game. I believe our strength lies in our execution and discipline. If our kids can do a great job defensively and run our offense it’s to our advantage.”
Their next opponent on Saturday, the men from Dickinson State (10-16, 3-7) have acquitted themselves well in their first year as a Frontier member. However, Bryan Bock of Tech welcomed them with a not-so appreciated 40-point explosion in the Orediggers’ 80-71 win their just two weeks ago.
The performance earned Bock NAIA National Player of the Week honors.
“Dickinson is a very unique match up for us and for us to beat them in Dickinson it took a great individual effort by Bryan,” Woliczko said. “They shoot the three very well. They are very well coached and Coach Orton gets them playing extremely hard and disciplined. I think the scoring power of our posts could help us in this game, since I know they will be prepared to play against Bryan.”
As this penultimate weekend approaches and Tech faces it future path that will go one way or another, Woliczko realizes his team has done some great things in his third season at the helm.
“We have accomplished a lot this season,” Woliczko said. “Each year that I have coached here I feel we have added a feather in our cap. Our first year we had as many conference wins as Tech had in a season for 10-plus years. Last year we had the best overall winning percentage in 10-plus years. This season we are currently at 14 overall wins, five conference wins and had a National Player of the Week, all of these highlights are firsts for Tech over the past 10-plus years. I feel our program is going in the right direction in everything we do. Not just wins and losses, but fundraising, academics, supporting our community...”
Two members of this building process were Tanner Neumann and Daniel Simon who will be honored as seniors wrapping up their home careers as Orediggers.
“Tanner has been with me since day one and I am very sad to see him finish his career, even more so is the fact that he is sitting on the sidelines in a boot,” Woliczko said of the Butte native who injured his foot a few weeks ago. “Tanner really came to understand what we expect on the court each and every day. He was playing, in my eyes, great basketball when he was injured. He is a young man that has sacrificed at a high level for our team and I am tremendously proud of him. He’s a great player and we miss him.
“Daniel has jumped in with both feet to Tech basketball and our style of coaching since he came on his visit a few years ago,” Woliczko said. “He wanted to be a part of moving Montana Tech Basketball in a positive direction and I believe he help us enormously. Coming out of high school, Daniel was a point guard and when you add his size to his ball handling and passing ability he causes great mismatches for us offensively. There have been times when he has been able to take over a game or make the other team change their defensive schemes because of his abilities which are a strength. He is a great young man that has been through much adversity in his adult life, I’m very proud of his fortitude and drive to help move our program in a new direction.”