Previewing the Belton Pod: UMHB men’s hoops hosts opening rounds of NCAA Tournament

BELTON- The eve of the NCAA Tournament has arrived, and for the first time since 2013, postseason games will be played in Belton. The UMHB men’s basketball team, ranked sixth in the nation, is set to host a “pod” of four teams for the first two rounds of the tournament, which will be contested on Friday and Saturday. 

Here is a look at those four teams; UMHB, Chapman, Whitworth and Trinity (TX), who will continue their seasons in Belton tomorrow, as four of the last 64 D-III men’s basketball teams that are still playing in March. 

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University of Mary Hardin-Baylor: (25-2, 17-2 ASC)

Location: Belton, Texas

Conference: American Southwest Conference (ASC)

Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2013

The Crusaders are back in the tournament for the first time since 2013, when they took an at-large bid all the way to the national title game. Entering with a 25-2 record, UMHB earned an unexpected opportunity to host this pod, after defeating LeTourneau for the ASC tournament title on Feb. 27. Led by second-year head coach Clif Carroll, the Cru has incredible balance and ball movement offensively, averaging 87.6 points per game. ASC Player of the Year Josiah Johnson headlines the offensive production, with 25 points per game, though Ty Prince and Luke Feely are both averaging double-digits in scoring as well. UMHB survived second-half comebacks from both Concordia and UT-Dallas in the first two rounds of the ASC Tournament, before emerging with a 99-82 win in the conference championship game, the program’s first since 2010. 

Most impressive win: 79-77 at LeTourneau, Feb. 7 

First Round Matchup: vs Chapman, Friday, 5:30 p.m. CT

Chapman University: (22-4, 12-3 SCIAC)

Location: Orange, California

Conference: Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) 

Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2016

Highlighted by the presence of 10 seniors, Chapman is deep, experienced, and led by head coach Mike Bokosky, in his 30th year at the helm of the program. The Panthers were ranked No. 3 in the most recent Region 10 regional rankings by the selection committee, having posted a 22-4 record, going 12-3 in SCIAC play. They fell 76-71 in the SCIAC championship game to Pomona Pitzer, who was sent to the pod in Elmhurst, Illinois, and are paced by the senior guard duo of Hayden Moore and Jack Roggin, both of whom average over 15 points per game. The Panthers have won 13 of their last 15 games entering Friday’s contest. 

Most impressive win: 71-58 at Claremont Mudd-Scripps, Feb. 12

First Round Matchup: vs UMHB, Friday, 5:30 p.m. CT

Trinity University: (22-5, 13-3 SCAC)

Location: San Antonio, Texas

Conference: Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC)

Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2014

The Tigers will make the short drive up from San Antonio, as they make their 11th NCAA Tournament appearance in program history. 22-5 on the year, Trinity won its first six games of the season, five of those coming against ASC teams, and posted an exceptional 13-3 mark in SCAC play. Despite not winning the SCAC tournament, falling 77-58 in the conference championship game to St. Thomas (TX), Trinity received the automatic bid, as St. Thomas is in a transitional year, and unable to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The play of Enzo Sechi, a forward from Houston, has guided Trinity offensively, as the junior averages 15.0 points, and is shooting 49.5 percent from the field. 

Most impressive win: 88-71 vs Calvin (neutral court), Dec. 22 (Calvin is in the NCAA Tournament field)

First Round Matchup: vs Whitworth, Friday, 3 p.m. CT

Whitworth University: (22-4, 13-3 NWC)

Location: Spokane, Washington

Conference: Northwest Conference (NWC)

Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2020

The Pirates defeated two quality teams in Pacific Lutheran and Whitman en route to a NWC title and automatic bid, reaching the tournament for the 15th time. In a challenging non-conference schedule, Whitworth faced Pomona-Pitzer, Wisconsin-Whitewater, Claremont Mudd-Scripps, and Wisconsin-Platteville, emerging with a 7-1 record. Ranked No. 25 in the nation, the Pirates play exceptional defense, holding opponents to an average of 71.3 points per game, and also outrebound opponents by an average of 5.9 boards per game. That is a testament to Whitworth’s athleticism around the rim, highlighted by the play of 6’4 forward Miguel Lopez (7.2 RPG).

Most impressive win: 73-58 vs Pomona-Pitzer (neutral court), Nov. 27 (Pomona-Pitzer is in the NCAA Tournament field and won the SCIAC)

First Round Matchup: vs Trinity (TX), Friday, 3 p.m. CT

Riley Zayas is the managing editor of True To The Cru. He can be emailed at rileyzayas@truetothecru.com.

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