Falcons focused on great opportunities

More news about: UW-River Falls
Alex Herink leads the Falcons in scoring, rebounding, shot blocks and every major shooting category.
Photo by Wade Gardner, d3photography.com

UW-River Falls finds itself atop the WIAC standings, but Jeff Berkhof recognizes his team has a long way to go to win his first conference title in 11 years as the Falcons’ head coach.

With just three games remaining, River Falls currently stands with a 20-2 overall record, including 10-1 in the WIAC, two games ahead of UW-Whitewater with three to play. The Falcons also sit atop the NCAA's first set of Central region rankings.

“It would be great just because we haven’t won the conference in a while at River Falls,” Berkhof said before the Falcons' 92-51 victory over UW-Stout on Wednesday night. “We won a conference tournament recently, but we’d love to add a regular season title.”

River Falls’ last regular season conference championship came in 2004. Before that, the Falcons had not won the WIAC since 1950.

The Falcons took their first conference loss on Saturday, dropping a game at home to UW-Oshkosh, and they do not have an easy road the rest of the way. Two of River Falls’ last three regular season games will be on the road, and the only home game will be against No. 18 Whitewater on Saturday.

Coming into the season, Berkhof said expectations around the WIAC were varied.

“Before the season, all of the WIAC coaches knew the conference was up for grabs one through eight because of what teams had coming back and what they added to teams,” Berkhof said. “We all knew it was a grind each game, and that’s been the case.”

Berkhof said he knew he had a team that would be able to contend.

“I expected us to be pretty good coming in,” Berkhof said. “We have all-conference players and other guys returning that have done a nice job for us.”

River Falls also added Alex Herink, who transferred from Division II’s Minnesota-State Mankato. He is a 6-foot-7 junior who lead the Falcons with an average of 16.1 points per game.

According to Berkhof, it has been a combination of things that has River Falls on top of the conference standings with just a few games remaining on the schedule.

“I think we have a team with good depth, and everyone accepted their roles,” Berkhof said. “Combined with returning players, transfers and incoming freshmen, we’ve got a good group. Everybody really gelled well together throughout the year.”

Berkhof said no matter how the rest of the season plays out, he thinks this season has been a big success for his program.

“I think at this point in time with our win/loss record, the season would be a success,” Berkhof said. “Now we have to do something with it. We put ourselves in a good spot and have a big opportunity in front of us.”

Berkhof said he has a few goals the rest of the year, which will hopefully lead to the NCAA tournament.

“We’re hoping to win the conference, win the conference tournament and if we don’t, hopefully we’ve done enough to give ourselves a shot in the NCAA tournament,” Berkhof said.

The last tournament appearance for the Falcons came in 2012, so no players on the roster have any NCAA tournament experience.

“I think all our guys would love the opportunity to be in the NCAA tournament, but it will take a lot to get there,” Berkhof said. “We’ve talked about this from the get-go that it takes a lot, and we’ll see where we put ourselves and worry about everything else after that.”

Berkhof said, with the way his team has played this year, River Falls has a chance to come out of the WIAC and make a run at the NCAA tournament.

“If we stay healthy and continue to try and get better with constant daily improvements playing our best basketball, we’ve got a shot,” Berkhof said. “In most cases, it’s been proven if you contend for the WIAC, you have a shot to win the whole thing, and I think we have a legitimate chance to do that. I know it’s a bit of a hard process, and we still have a long way to go.”

Poll position

One team from the Central region dropped out of the D3hoops.com Top 25 rankings, as UW-Eau Claire slid out from No. 25. The WIAC’s UW-Whitewater jumped up from No. 21 to No. 18, and UW-River Falls slipped three spots to seventh.

In the CCIW, North Park went from No. 20 to No. 25, and Augustana jumped two spots to No. 20.

Washington U. is ranked No. 5 in the UAA, Benedictine represented the NACC at No. 16, and St. Norbert increased one spot to No. 9 in the MWC.

On the women’s side, CCIW’s Wheaton (Ill.) dropped from No. 24 to unranked in the CCIW, and Washington U. remained ranked ninth.

In the WIAC, UW-Whitewater slipped from No. 19 to No. 24, and UW Oshkosh jumped up two spots to No. 14.

Check these out

The regular season is winding down, but there are plenty of big games down the stretch. Here are four of them to watch over the next week.

#18 UW-Whitewater @ #7 UW-River Falls (MBB) – Saturday, Feb. 11 – UW-River Falls had its 17-game winning streak ended by UW Oshkosh, but the Falcons did beat UW-Whitewater by 16 on Jan. 11. If the Falcons win, they clinch the WIAC title. If the Warhawks win, the race continues.

#4 Rochester @ #5 Washington U. (MBB) – Sunday, Feb. 12 – As one of the two UAA teams in the Central region, Washington U. has a chance to grab a firm hold of the conference by beating Rochester a second time.

What’s your story?

Do you have a story that you would like the D3hoops community to know about? I am on the hunt for Around the Central stories, but I could use the help from the readers. Be sure to reach out for broken records, approaching milestones, breakout players or any other storylines from the region. Or just drop me a note to let me know what you think of the column. All ideas and feedback are welcome. Send an email to ebuchinger16@alumni.uwosh.edu for a chance for your story to be told or reach out and follow me on Twitter @ImErikBuchinger.

Adam Turer

Adam Turer graduated in 2006 from Washington and Lee University where he was a two-year starter at free safety for the Generals' football team. A contributor to D3football.com since 2007, Adam is now the lead columnist for the site, writing Around the Nation and other national features. He lives in Cincinnati and covers area high school sports in addition to his full-time job as an attorney.
2016-17 columnist: Erik Buchinger
2011-16 columnist: Josh Smith