Photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru
CLEVELAND-The Final Four is on the horizon. But one weekend of games still stands in the way. And all signs are pointing towards it being the UMHB men’s basketball team’s toughest test yet.
The Cru travels to Cleveland, Ohio, set to face Case Western Reserve in the third round of the tournament on this sectional weekend, with the winner advancing to Saturday’s “Elite Eight” matchup. The winner of that one is bound for Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the D-III Final Four.
“There’s no doubt that they’re good, but they’re not a team we can’t beat,” UMHB head coach Clif Carroll said of Case Western Reserve on Monday. “We know that if we go in there and play the way we should, and with the energy we should, we’ll be ok.”
Four teams will descend on Cleveland on Friday evening, all holding the same goal: survive and advance. Here is a look at those four teams and some of what to expect in this weekend’s games, including each team’s third-round matchup and the squad’s most impressive regular season win. All games from Cleveland will be livestreamed by Case Western Reserve.
Mary Hardin-Baylor (27-2, 17-2 ASC)
Location: Belton, Texas
Conference: American Southwest Conference (ASC)
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2013
After using a 19-1 run to down Chapman in the final 4:30 of its first-round victory, the Crusaders came back the following day with a 99-82 win over Trinity (TX), extending their win streak to 15. With a large group of playmakers, both in the starting lineup and off the bench, it takes a lot to slow UMHB’s offensive attack, considering the Cru scored 87 points or more in each of the last six games. No. 2 in the nation in assists per game (20.0), the Cru shares the ball around the perimeter, which has led to a team shooting percentage of 48 percent.
Most Impressive Win: 79-77 at LeTourneau, Feb. 7
Third Round Matchup: vs Case Western Reserve, Friday, 7:00 p.m. CT
Case Western Reserve (20-6, 8-5 UAA)
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Conference: University Athletic Association (UAA)
Last Sweet 16 appearance: First
The Spartans were not anticipated to get this far in the tournament. Not in the program’s first tournament appearance, on a collision course to face defending national champion Wisconsin-Oshkosh, who was projected by many to cut down the nets once again in 2022. CWRU did end up facing Oshkosh, but earned the 77-74 upset victory in the second round on Saturday night on Oshkosh’s home court. The Spartans are a tenacious group, having won both tournament games up to this point after trailing in the final minute. Mitch Prendergast leads the charge for the hosts in this sectional pod, as the transfer from D-I mid-major Mercer averages 17.5 points per game. He is one of three graduate students on the roster, aiding in the depth that has contributed to CWRU’s success thus far.
Most Impressive Win: 75-70 vs WashU, Jan. 30
Third Round Matchup: vs UMHB, Friday, 7:00 p.m. CT
Calvin (22-8, 11-3 MIAA)
Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Conference: Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA)
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2014
Second-year head coach Bill Sall has the Knights in pristine form, playing team-first basketball on both ends of the floor. Having lost to Hope College on three occasions, including in the MIAA championship game, Calvin received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. And while Hope was eliminated in the first round, the Knights have reached the second weekend of the tournament for the ninth time in program history. Anchored by the play of four graduate students, including Emory transfer Luke Morrison, the Knights are poised and experienced in high-pressure contests. Morrison, in his third NCAA Tournament appearance, but first with Calvin, tallied 37 points in the team’s 76-64 win over Wisconsin-Platteville in the second round on Saturday. The Knights have won five of their last six games.
Most Impressive Win (Regular Season): 75-57 vs Elmhurst, Dec. 1
Third Round Matchup: vs Elmhurst, Friday, 4:00 p.m. CT
Elmhurst (24-6, 11-5 CCIW)
Location: Elmhurst, Illinois
Conference: College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW)
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2020
Out of the stacked CCIW, Elmhurst was one of three teams from the conference that reached the NCAA Tournament. All three are still playing. Regularly tested in one of the nation’s strongest conferences, the Bluejays are battle-tested, and showed that in victories over Washington & Jefferson and Pomona-Pitzer this past weekend. Unlike last weekend, however, Elmhurst will be forced to win on the road rather than on its home court. But that should not matter too much; the Bluejays claimed the conference title on Illinois Wesleyan’s home floor just two weeks ago. Jake Rode, a 5’11 senior guard, averages 17.6 points and 3.9 assists per game, leading the Bluejays offensively.
Most Impressive Win: 74-66 vs Illinois Wesleyan, Jan. 26
Third-Round Matchup: vs Calvin, Friday, 4:00 p.m. CT
Riley Zayas covers UMHB athletics as the managing editor of True To The Cru. He has also contributed to national outlets, such as Sports Spectrum, D3football.com and D3hoops.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.