MARSHALL - With two weekends to go, men's basketball in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference was already hard to predict.
Now, the NSIC conference tournament has become even more unpredictable.
On Tuesday, the NSIC announced that No. 3-ranked Winona State's first 13 conference games will be nullified after junior guard Grant Johnson was deemed ineligible to play.
A transfer player from Wisconsin-Parkside, Johnson averaged 15.0 points per game in 19 games for the Warriors.
NSIC Commissioner Butch Raymond told the St. Cloud Times that Wisconsin-Parkside never granted Johnson his release to transfer to Winona State.
"The first thing a school has to do when talking to a transfer is ask the other school for permission to talk to them," Raymond said. "Parkside granted permission to Winona to talk to Grant. The unfortunate part was that Parkside didn't grant him his release.
A WHOLE NEW BALLGAME
With Winona State having 13 of its NSIC games nullified for having an ineligible player, the Warriors get bumped down to fifth in the conference based on winning percentage. Here is a look at the new NSIC standings:
|Team||NSIC||NSIC win %||Overall|
|St. Cloud State||14-5||.737||18-5|
"That's where the misinterpretation came. It wasn't the team's fault, it came from the athletic department. ... Grant withdrew from his classes at Parkside. He did everything he was told to do. Winona State just missed an integral part of the transfer process."
Winona State (22-2 overall, 17-1 NSIC) hosts Minnesota State-Moorhead and Minnesota-Crookston this weekend.
According to a press release from the NSIC on Tuesday, nullification is a mathematical calculation used to reduce the team's win/loss winning percentage and strength of schedule index.
For basketball, the nullification value is .023, and multiplied by the 13 nullified games, the total of .299 is taken away from the Warriors' .944 NSIC win percentage. Now, Winona State's conference winning percentage is .645, putting the team in fifth place in the NSIC. The Warriors will still be eligible for the NSIC tournament, which begins on Feb. 29
St. Cloud State (18-5, 14-5 NSIC) is now the No. 1 team in the conference, with Minnesota State-Moorhead and Southwest Minnesota State at the second and third spots.
"I think the entire conference was watching it closely and was wondering when some sort of statement could come out," said Mustangs head basketball coach Brad Bigler. "It's been known for a while that there's been discussion."
With the Warriors knocked down the standings, the dynamic of the NSIC tournament has completely changed. If the season ended today, Winona State would travel to No. 4-seeded Bemidji State (17-7, 12-6 NSIC).
With three games left of the season, including a home matchup with the Beavers on Friday, the final stretch of the season has some added urgency for Bigler and SMSU.
"Depending on how things play out, it can make things interesting for teams like St. Cloud, Bemidji, us and Moorhead when you might have to face a Winona in the first round depending on how it finishes," Bigler said. "To say the least, it'll be interesting.
"Any time there's a ruling for this, it's a tough situation for everyone involved. Obviously Winona has a tough situation. ... Another way of looking at it is there's also 13 other teams in the conference that have went up against that team, and the other Division II schools as well."
The Warriors are 2-0 against the Mustangs this season, including a 79-72 victory on Dec. 16 in Marshall. In that game, Johnson finished with 15 points, five rebounds and three assists.
"Early in the year, he had some big games. He was probably the reason why they won some of those close games," Bigler said. "They've been able to rally behind that now since he's been gone.
"They're a talented team with or without him, and they'll be a factor in the NSIC tournament."
For now, SMSU has its sights on Bemidji State on Friday and Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday, looking to get a home game in the NSIC tournament, regardless of whether Winona State looms in the future.
"With so many variables, right now, you need to keep your focus on the task at hand and that's worrying about the game on Friday night," Bigler said. "We know we have zero control over those other things.
"For us, it's just about keeping our focus and playing at the level we're playing."