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Get To Know A Marquette Basketball Opponent: St. Thomas

It’s the first meeting with the Tommies since they joined Division 1 in 2021.

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Saint Thomas Aquinas. Creator: Botticelli
There doesn’t appear to be any pictures of the St. Thomas mascot, so here’s a Botticelli painting of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images via Getty Images

Name: University of St. Thomas

But which Saint Thomas? There can be no doubt (Bible joke) that UST is named after Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century friar and philosopher.

Location: We’re going to say St. Paul, Minnesota as the answer here because that’s the address listed at the bottom of their school website. However, they do have some buildings seven miles away in Minneapolis, too.

Founded: 1885 by the Archdiocese of Saint Paul & Minneapolis as a Catholic seminary with the name of College of St. Thomas. In 1894, a local railroad tycoon (and that’s a fun phrase) funded the splintering of what we would consider a traditional college from the seminary, which is now known as Saint Paul Seminary and is still on the same campus as UST. They moved to university status in 1990.

Sometimes stories are too good not to share: I’m going to drop in this entire section from Wikipedia, which explains how UST ended up at their campus location.

The main campus, built on a farm site once considered “far removed from town”, is located where St. Paul’s Summit Avenue meets the Mississippi River. The site was farmed by ex-Fort Snelling soldier William Finn, who received the property as a pension settlement after he accidentally shot himself in the hand while on guard duty.

Rough look for my guy.

Enrollment: 5,840 undergraduates and a total of “9,000+” total enrolled students.

Notable Alumni: Actor T.R. Knight, best known as George O’Malley on Grey’s Anatomy; Pro Football Hall of Famer Walt Kiesling; John Schneider, general manager of the Seattle Seahawks; Bob Short, the owner who moved the Minneapolis Lakers to Los Angeles and then sold the team to Jack Kent Cooke; Patrick Lucey, the 38th governor of Wisconsin; and Will Steger, who led the first confirmed dogsled journey to the North Pole without resupply in 1986.

Being historically good at dogsledding is maybe the most Minnesota thing I have ever heard.

Why is St. Thomas in Division 1? Because they got kicked out of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, the league that they founded in 1920. Not because they did anything wrong, but because they were too awesome at Division 3 football. Here’s UST’s MIAC football scores in 2018, the final season of competition before the process to remove them started:

Beat Hamline, 62-0
Beat Concordia-Moorhead, 46-7
Beat Augsburg, 73-14
Lost to Saint John’s, 40-20
Beat Carleton, 68-0
Beat St. Olaf, 60-0
Beat Gustavus Adolphus, 14-13
Lost to Bethel, 21-15

They were pretty good at other sports, at least relative to the rest of the MIAC. From Sports Illustrated:

Since the 2013–14 school year, St. Thomas has 72 MIAC titles across all sports; the next closest league member has 16.

Enrollment also played a part, as UST was about twice the size of the next biggest school in the MIAC, and remember: Division 3 athletics is a non-scholarship situation. I do find it entertaining that a school that’s about three-quarters the size of Marquette is also twice as big as the rest of their league, if not moreso.

Anyway, apparently St. Olaf’s president got bent out of shape, some league bylaws got changed, and ta-da, a few years later, UST became the first school to ever jump straight from Division 3 to Division 1. This was mostly because the NCAA straight up banned it from happening in 2011, but they allowed UST to do it anyway. If I remember the story at the time correctly, part of that was because there’s not another D3 or even D2 conference that makes logistical sense for them to join, but the Summit League was happy to invite them to join.

Nickname: Tommies

Why “Tommies” other than they’re University of St. Thomas? No, that’s pretty much it, I guess. In 1947, questions about why UST didn’t have a mascot arose, and getting a dog with a sweater that said “Tommie” on it was part of the initial idea. Therefore, referring to students (and thus the athletes as well) as Tommies goes back long before 1947 if putting that on a sweater on a dog was a very obvious suggestion.

Last Season: 19-14, with a 9-9 record in the Summit League.

Final 2022-23 KenPom.com Ranking: #202

Final 2022-23 T-Rank Ranking: #193

Preseason Poll: St. Thomas was picked to finish fourth in the Summit League this year. They were the top team that did not earn at least one first place vote in the polling of coaches, sports information directors, and media. Parker Bjorklund was a preseason all-Summit First Team honoree.

This Year So Far: 6-4, with a 5-4 mark against Division 1 competition. They beat Division 3 North Central 100-54 in their third game of the year, and they have won three straight games coming into Thursday night.

Current KenPom.com Ranking & Projection: #222, with a projected record of 18-13 overall and 8-8 in the Summit League. That would get them to a three-way tie for third place.

Current T-Rank Ranking & Projection: #216, with a projected record of 18-13 overall and 9-7 in the Summit League. That would get to fourth place in the league.

Returning Stats Leaders

Points: Parker Bjorklund, 15.1 ppg
Rebounds: Parker Bjorklund, 4.3 rpg
Assists: Brooks Allen, 2.3 apg

Actual Stats Leaders

Points: Parker Bjorklund, 13.9 ppg
Rebounds: Parker Bjorklund, 4.8 rpg
Assists: Raheem Anthony, 3.2 apg

Shooters? To steal a turn of phrase from Minnesotans everywhere, Yah, sure, yabetcha. As a team, the Tommies are shooting 35% from behind the arc, which is just barely outside the top 100 in the country. They have four guys attempting at least three long range shots per game, and all four are hitting somewhere between 38.7% and 34.1%. On top of those guys, led by Brooks Allen at 3.1 attempts, there’s also Carter Bjerke who is connecting 45% of the time on just barely under three attempts per game while coming off the bench for 14 minutes a night, and Raheem Anthony, who hits 42% but only averages 1.9 attempts. St. Thomas wants to shoot threes, as they’re currently getting more than 44% of their shot attempts from behind the line, and that’s a top 50 rate in the country according to KenPom.com.

Bigs? They are so close to me being able to say absolutely not. Carter Bjerke, who is a UST legacy by way of both parents, is listed at 6’9” and 250 pounds. However, you’ll probably remember just seconds ago when I said that Bjerke has come off the bench for every game this season and only plays less than 14 minutes a night. Is it wild that a 6’9”, 250 pound reserve shoots 2.9 of his 3.6 attempts per game from behind the three-point line? It sounds wild.

By way of size, Brooks Allen is UST’s starting 5-man — yes, the returning assists leader — and he measures up at 6’7” and 210 pounds. He’s got Parker Bjorkland, the leading rebounder on the team, beat by 10 pounds, and that’s the difference between the two in the starting lineup. Sophomore Ahjany Lee is listed at 6’9” and 215 pounds, but he plays less than 13 minutes a game off the bench. He does have a really nice defensive rebounding rate, better than anyone on MU’s roster, but we’ll have to wait and see how much he actually plays on Thursday night. That’s it for regular rotation guys who are bigger than 6’7”. Raheem Anthony joins Bjorkland as a top 500 offensive rebounder according to KenPom’s rate statistics, and that’s pretty good stuff for a 6’4”, 220 pound guy.

Head Coach: Dr. Johnny Tauer, who has a record of 34-37 as a Division 1 head coach and 252-94 overall as the St. Thomas head coach. He is also a tenured member of the faculty at UST after earning his doctorate in social psychology from Wisconsin-Madison, and he literally wrote the book on overinvolved sports parents.

What To Watch For: Glaciers.

St. Thomas is KenPom.com’s fourth slowest paced team in the country. I’m sorry, they’re the fourth slowest team in the country in adjusted tempo, beating out Middle Tennessee, Virginia, and Towson. They are the literal slowest paced team in the country, ranking #362 in the country at 61.6 possessions per game. So far this season, they have played four games with just 60 possessions and another with just 56 trips up and down the court. This isn’t to say that it’s not working for them. In those five games, UST is 2-3 with wins over Idaho State and Chicago State and 1) a five point loss to Cal, 2) a one point loss to Cal Poly, and 3) a four point loss to Cal Baptist. Say whatever you want to say about St. Thomas, but they’re not getting blown out all the time. Then again, Cal is the only other Major Six team that the Tommies have played, and the Bears are currently #166 in Ye Olde KenPom Rankings.

Given UST’s lack of size, this could be an interesting game for Oso Ighodaro. His usual mobility advantage may be minimized if they’re going to try and guard him with guys who generally speaking look like wings more than post players. Will he be able to play Zach Edey on the inside against them? Is this going to be a game where Marquette tends towards playing a little more small ball where David Joplin could play at the 5 and still be able to defend his position because of the relative size of the opposition? What about rebounding in general, something that UST has not done very well on either end so far this season? Is this a game where Marquette can dominate on the glass and control the game that way?

All-Time Series: Believe it or not, even with St. Thomas not being a Division 1 program until very recently, there is a series history. The two teams met three times in the 1920s, three times in the 1940s, once in the ‘50s, twice in the ‘60s, and twice in the ‘70s. Marquette is 8-3 all time in the series, and MU has won seven of the last eight meetings. St. Thomas last won in January 1957, 69-63, in Minnesota, while Marquette has hosted and won each of the last four contests in the series, up through the most recent game. That was an 80-45 encounter in November 1977.