The ‘Road To Muni’ last week in the opening round of the NAIA Men’s Basketball Championship was a good one! We discussed earlier that you can complain all you want about the process of selecting teams, but at the end of the day we were able to see a lot of great games thru the first weekend! Sixteen teams are now in Kansas City with their eyes set on bringing home a National Championship. It won’t be easy, as this is the best of the best remaining within the NAIA! It’s been a crazy year with a ton of schedule changes and adapting to different protocols from different regions of the United States. All of the testing, the empty gyms and the merging of divisions here at the NAIA level all comes down to this! Teams are just four wins away from a National Title! All of the years hard work all comes down to this! Four wins in five days to see who the best team in the NAIA is for 2020-21!!
Friday, 3:45pm CT
Lewis-Clark State is no stranger to Kansas City. The last time we had an NAIA DI National Championship, the Warriors made it all the way to the Fab Four. They are so well coached and have elite PG play from Damek Mitchell. They are really well balanced too as they have seven guys who average 8ppg or higher with four of those averaging 11ppg or better. They are led by Trystan Bradley with 16.3ppg, the 6’7 inside/outside threat who is a really tough matchup for teams. This team is really at getting stops and locking up rebounds. They have only one loss on the season and it was a road game against #5 Arizona Christian! LCSC looks locked and loaded for another big run in Kansas City!
The Eagles ran thru their opening round bracket games jumping out to a 28pt win over Park and then following that up with a 27pt win over USAO. The Eagles were absolutely on fire during those two games! If they can carry that hot shooting in to Muni they can get themselves an upset or two! The Eagles are led by Kaleb Stokes and Brooks Haddock, but will need others to step up as they face a very good Lewis-Clark St team! Shooting is the great equalizer though, so we will see if they can shoot their way to victory in this game!
Friday, 2pm CT
Cameron Wolter and Christian Stewart have been really good all year long for the Knights, but they face a Loyola team that is long, athletic and plays really hard! You expect the Knights to really take the air out of the ball in this one an slow the tempo way down! If they can force Loyola to play at their speed then they should avoid the upset here! The Knights have looked good all year long, playing in the best NAIA league in the country. They are well coached and have veteran leadership that can help carry them into the NAIA Quarterfinals.
Zach Wrightsil and Myled Burns will look to lead the Wolfpack once again as they were able to get a win in Kansas City in 2019! While they didn’t make it past the final 16 that year, they were a young group who got valuable experience playing in Muni! Would think that would be a huge advantage in this game. However, if they get suckered into playing a slow game, the experience won’t matter! Loyola is going to try and use it’s athleticism on the defensive end to speed up Marian. If they can be successful they can win this game! A very underrated 11-seed!
Lewis-Clark State is the team to beat in the Duer bracket. Not only do they have the experience of playing in Kansas City and a Fab Four, but they are also super talented. Oh and it doesn’t hurt that they also defend and rebound at a high rate! The Warriors have a tough opening round game against a hot OKWU squad,. and no games are easy in the National Championships, but they are still the team to beat in this bracket!
Loyola and Marian could get really fun down the stretch! Two really contrasting styles of play and it’s going to be fun to see who can control the tempo! Loyola has the star power to keep up with Marian, but if Marian gets to executing their stuff they should win this game!
Friday, 5:30pm CT
This SAGU team, led by Head Coach Delton Deal, is so fun to watch play! They play hard and flat compete defensively! They have the Sooner Athletic Conference Player of the Year in Joshua Kashila and a very good big man in Joel Polius. Polius will be key in this game as SAGU will have to shut down Morningside big man Trey Brown! The one concern we still have for this group is that they have only played in 13 games this season. They are in mid-season form while Morningside played 26 games already this season and are in top form! If SAGU can defend the Mustangs they should walk away victorious, but this is not an easy matchup for them!
Morningside has a veteran group with a great Head Coach in Jim Sykes, who will be moving on to Athletic Director at Morningside next season. They are led on the inside by Trey Brown, who has been a beast all season long! Imig will be a key to watch as he will surely be locked up with Kashila all game. Imig is one of the best defenders in the country and if the Mustangs want to win this game they will have to limit Kashila. This team has been up and down all season long, but they come into Kansas City with one of the more impressive wins, knocking off a Thomas More team who was playing at home. Toughness wins this time of year and the Mustangs are very tough!
Friday, 7:30pm CT
William Penn is explosive! They didn’t really play that well against MACU in the Opening Round Finals, and still scored 82 points and walked away with the win! They are going to have to play much better in this game though if they want to advance! The Statesmen will be trying to push the tempo and make Carroll play faster then they want too. This is a deep and talented roster, they will throw a lot of guys at you! John Henry has been here before and the Statesmen, like Carroll, have a lot of experience in Kansas City!
Carroll isn’t a team to be taken lightly here. They played for the NAIA National Championship in 2019, are well coached, and have the experience and talent to hang with William Penn. This is a team that is very gritty defensively, they don’t turn the ball over on offense and are playing their best basketball of the season right now! All of that adds up to make a very dangerous team! Jovan Sljivancanin and Shamrock Campbell lead the way for a young group who you can bet we will be seeing a lot of over the next couple of years! If they can continue to lock up and rebound they can pull off this upset!
While William Penn is the favorite in the Liston Bracket, there are several teams who it wouldn’t be shocking to see make it to the Fab Four! William Penn has their hands full in game one with a tough and underrated Carroll team. SAGU has the same in Morningside! These could end up being the best two games of the entire day!
The Duer and Liston Brackets are full of teams who have had recent success in Kansas City. Going to be interesting to see if that matters or not! While one team will be knocked out in the WPU vs Carroll matchup, LCSC and Loyola have been able to find wins in Muni before as well. Just something to take note of and watch for as games tip off tomorrow!