St. Thomas in Final Four
St. Thomas has won 4 games and is now a part of the Final Four next Friday and Sunday at Salem, VA. The Tommies (26-3) meet Middlebury (28-1) in a national semi-final while Wooster (30-2) meets Williams (29-2) in the other. This is the Tommies' first Final Four in 17 years and the MIAC's first since Gustavus in 2003. The Gusties lost to Williams in the 2003 D3 final.
The Tommies hosted a four-team pod and emerged victorious over Northwestern (Roseville) 70-60 and Illinois Wesleyan 78-70. Then, last weekend they defeated the defending national champs, Wisconsin-Stevens Point 66-64 on a last-second shot by Tyler Nicolai, and #3-rated Augustana (IL) 72-56 on the Augies' home court as Nicolai scored 28 points, 22 in the 2nd half.
Nicolai has now scored 79 points in 4 playoff games, 56 of them in the 2nd half. He has now made 249 3s for his career. It was the Tommies' 1st NCAA tournament win ever on the opponent's home court in six tries.
#2-rated Middlebury has won 3 NCAA tournament games by 26, 9 and 15 points. But the Tommies have outshot Middlebury on the year 49.5 percent to 47.5 percent, 38 to 35 percent on 3s and 70 to 66 percent from the charity stripe. St. Thomas averages more assists, more steals and a more favorable turnover margin. The Panthers' game would appear to be pounding the boards, as they enjoy a 9-rebound margin over their opponents on the year, compared to the Tommies' +4.
The winner will face #4 Williams or #5 Wooster. Wooster looks to be the hot team right now, having beaten #1-rated Whitworth 76-66 in their quarter-final game. Williams is the highest scoring team of the 4, however, at 82 ppg (Wooster scores 79) and Williams out-shot Wooster on the regular season 49-48 percent. Wooster has the better rebounding margin of 8.5 versus Williams' 5.5.
I would look for close games, and the Tommies would seem to have as good a chance as anybody as long as Nicolai keeps draining those 3 pointers.
Minnesota State-Mankato One Win from Elite Eight
D3 plays three sets of four-team "pods," so their final bash is a Final Four. D2 plays four regional tournaments with 8 teams each, and so their finals is in an Elite Eight format. Mankato State (for short) has won 2 games in its regional, and needs one more win to emerge as champion of the Central Region and to play in the Elite Eight.
The Central region consists of the NSIC and the Rocky Mountain AC, and their opponent in the regional final is Ft. Lewis of the RMAC. Mankato State is now 26-4, the Skyhawks are 24-7. The Central region tournament has been held at the Taylor Center in Mankato.
In the 1st round of regional play, Mankato avenged its loss to Winona State in last week's NSIC conference playoff 96-81 as Marcus Hill (27), Cameron Hodges (21) and Jefferson Mason (22) all scored more than 20 points. Metro State (CO) was the next victim 69-65 as Mason scored 25 points.
The winner of the Central regional final will meet either #7-rated Alabama-Huntsville (28-4) or Stillman (25-7) in a national quarter-final game. Also remaining in the running among the Sweet 16 are #1 West Liberty 31-0, #2 Bellarmine 29-2, #3 Augusta State 30-3 and #4 Central Oklahoma 30-3 and #4. The Elite Eight is scheduled for Springfield, MA, on Wednesday-Thursday and Saturday, March 23-24-26.
Mankato should defeat the Skyhawks on their home court, and Alabama-Huntsville appears to be a manageable opponent. But Bellarmine and Central Oklahoma loom in a national semi-final and either would represent a very formidable challenge for the Mavericks. St. Cloud State got to the Final Four a year ago before losing to Indiana U. (Pennsylvania).