NAIA Men’s Round of 16 Preview
WELCOME to Kansas City!! For those of you who are here, I can generally be found on the top walkway right on the midcourt line. I like a high vantage point to watch the games and it’s kind of been my spot over the past few seasons. If you want to come say hello, please do! The Round of 16 is upon us and there will be a lot of great basketball that will be played inside of historic Municipal Auditorium this week as we work towards corning a NAIA Men’s National Champion on Saturday. I do want to reiterate, before we jump further into our preview, that the Round of 16 and Kansas City are NOT the start of the NAIA National Championships. It is a final destination, where the final 16 teams in the NAIA meet up to crown a champion. I don’t think we should discredit the work the 48 teams, who already exited the championships, put in this season. They qualified for the NAIA Men’s Championships just like the 16 remaining teams did. They may have gotten beat in the opening rounds, but they still deserve to be recognized as National Championship participants. Congratulations to all 48 of those teams on terrific seasons and congratulations to the 16 teams who are still playing! The remaining part of the tournament is the most grueling. The NAIA National Champion will have to win four games in five/six days (depending on when they play their Round of 16 game). We have seen in the past that depth is important during this week. Muni tends to also be tough on shooters in the opening round before teams get adjusted. That isn’t to say that someone or team may get hot on Monday or Tuesday, but traditionally, the big arena causes some early issues. The refs also tend to let players play, which in our opinion, makes for better games. It is physical and you have to be tough around the rim. Shawnee State and Loyola, the past two champions since the merger, were also quite stout defensively. No matter what happens this week, we can assure you all that you are in for some BIG time basketball games!
Round of 16 Notes:
- Jamestown is the only team to make it to Kansas City all three years since the merger to 1 division.
- Arizona Christian, College of Idaho, Grace and LSU Shreveport are all back for the 2nd year in a row.
- The Iowa duo of Morningside and William Penn return back to Kansas City for a 2nd time in 3 seasons after both missed last year.
- Both teams to beat Jamestown over past two seasons have moved on to the Title game. Shawnee State (2021 Champions), Talladega (2022 Runners-Up).
- GPAC, GSAC, Mid-South and Sun Conf all have two teams in the field. Only the GSAC and Sun have a shot at getting two teams into Fab Four.
- Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Iowa all have two teams in the field.
- Not counting the reseeding of 2021 Covid bracket…10-seed St. Thomas and 11-seed Southeastern (FL) are the lowest seeds to make it to Kansas City. Prior to that was 7-seed Grace, last season.
- 4-seed Morningside and 10-seed St. Thomas are the only at-large selections to make it to Kansas City. They both did so from a neutral floor host-site.
Road To Muni Podcast
Fab Four Preview – Road To Muni Podcast
Round of 16 Schedule
Monday March 13th:
10-Seed St. Thomas (FL) vs 6-seed Tougaloo (MS)
5-seed LSU Shreveport vs 1-seed College of Idaho
11-seed Southeastern (FL) vs 7-seed Ottawa (AZ)
4-Seed Montana Tech vs 1-Seed William Penn (IA)
Tuesday March 14th:
3-seed Georgetown vs 2-seed Langston (OK)
5-seed Freed-Hardeman (TN) vs 1-seed Grace (IN)
3-seed Jamestown vs 2-seed Indiana Tech
4-seed Morningside vs 1-seed Arizona Christian
Round of 16 Preview
1-seed College of Idaho vs 5-seed LSU Shreveport
College of Idaho got a little bit of a scare in the opening round game against Westcliff. The Yotes though, have been back to a well-oiled machine over their past three halves of basketball as they pulled away from Westcliff and then ran away from 9-seed Xavier. LSU Shreveport provides a unique test for the Yotes though as the Pilots don’t shoot a ton of 3’s and the Yotes are going to have to figure out how to slow down Jalen Brooks. Although, teams, for the most part, did that in the two opening round games and the Pilots answered back with big games from Damon Davis and Calvin Carpenter. College of Idaho just comes at you with a balance attack. They are led by Johnny Radford, who actually comes off the bench for them. The Yotes, Jake O’Neil and Drew Wyman are also super tough matchups. Freshman, Samaje Morgan is a tough little guard who has had some BIG games for the Yotes. We could go on and on about this team. When they are clicking, which has been essentially every game this season, they are the best team in the NAIA. They haven’t lost since the 1st game of the season, which was a true road game against Arizona Christian. Shreveport will be one of the more athletic and aggressive teams they have faced this season though, so if the Pilots can continue to get teams in foul trouble and can get enough stops, they can pull off the upset!
6-seed Tougaloo (MS) vs 10-seed St. Thomas (FL)
For most, these two teams come into Kansas City as a surprise. However, Tougaloo has lost just one game this season and while they never cracked the NAIA Top 25, the Bulldogs have proved all doubters wrong by advancing to Kansas City. They are coming off of a very convincing win over SAGU in the second round. A game in which SAGU made things really difficult for Cameron Copeland, the GCAC POY. So, what did Copeland do while going 3-13 from the field? He differed to his teammates and dished out 16 assists by himself. That is how good Cameron Copeland is. He doesn’t have to score; he can do it ALL!! St. Thomas on the other hand is led by the trio of Milton Mathews, Dalon Dean and Fred Mulbah. The Bobcats are a talented and dangerous team who really get up for big games. They are going to need to come ready to go here as Tougaloo shouldn’t be overlooked. They have a knack for shutting down the other team’s leading scorer, but Copeland can really do damage in so many different ways that STU has their hands full in this one! This one is going to come down to which team can put together a full 40 minutes.
1-seed William Penn (IA) vs 4-seed Montana Tech
Last season, William Penn lost to a tough River States team, at home, to advance to the Round of 16. This season they beat a tough RSC squad to advance. Two seasons ago, the Statesmen got blown out in the Round of 16 to the Frontier Conference Champs, Carroll. This season, WPU, faces off with the Frontier Conf. Champs, Montana Tech. Both teams come into this game a little banged up though as WPU was without starter James Pennington in their last game and Montana Tech’s, Caleb Bellach (Frontier Conference Player of the Year) got hurt in the opening round game and was on crutches for the second-round game. The good part, for both teams, is they have proven they can win without them. Malik Edwards leads WPU in scoring and he had a tremendous second half the other night to help the Statesmen return to Kansas City. Montana Tech will lean on Asa Williams and Michael Ure. The Diggers are a tough group, who play hard, physical and together. The team who can control the tempo will win this game!
7-seed Ottawa (AZ) vs 11-seed Southeastern (FL)
What both coaches; Matt Keeley (OUAZ) and Randy Lee (Southeastern) have done this season has been phenomenal. Coach Keeley started the OUAZ program about 6 seasons ago and already has them in the NAIA Round of 16. Coach Lee and Southeastern got off to a really awful start to the season. In his first season at the helm, it took some time for the Fire to find their new legs. They found them though and enter this game on a 8-game win streak and champions of both the Sun Regular Season and Tournament. Riley Minix is up for National Player of the Year and the Fire have played like a top-4 seed for the past month of basketball. OUAZ, after hitting the shot of the year in the opening round to get the buzzer-beating win, is also red hot as they won the GSAC Tournament and have been battle tested all season long. Josiah De laCerda and Keshawn Bruner continue to be impressive. This is also a matchup of two teams from leagues that have two teams in the Final 16, so you know that both teams will come into this game well tested. Really looking forward to a Minix/De laCerda matchup in this one!
1-seed Grace (IN) vs 5-seed Freed-Hardeman (TN)
The thing we keep harping on about Grace is that they have a great mix of talent, depth and balance. The Lancers lost to College of Idaho last season in the Round of 16. They would love a rematch with the Yotes this season, but ultimately that experience for Grace should help carry some weight headed into this one. They are the last Crossroads team remaining but were tested all season long in a tough league. The same can be said about FHU though. Who won the Mid-South Conference Tournament and, when healthy, has been nearly unbeatable this season. Brandon Thomas has been really good for the Lions. They have a balanced lineup though and have really been tough defensively. Defense wins this time of year, and they are going to need to play some of their best of the Sason in this one. Grace arguably has the best duo in the NAIA in Frankie Davidson and Elijah Malone. Add in the Gibbs twins and they have as talented as a foursome as you will see. They also have great role guys who are capable of stepping up big when needed. It is always fun having a Crossroads League/Mid-South showdown. As evident in the last round between Georgetown and Indiana Wesleyan.
2-seed Langston (OK) vs 3-seed Georgetown (KY)
Langston, after not receiving a 1-seed, has played their last two games with a lot of motivation which led to 17 and 22pt wins. They really haven’t played a close game in a while. They have been on an absolute terror and as one of the best defensive teams in the NAIA, they have imposed their will on teams. Georgetown comes into this one after a narrow escape vs Indiana Wesleyan. The tigers and Head Coach, Chris Briggs, are used to competing for National Titles. The Tigers won a National Title in 2019 and were the favorites to win the 2020 title before Covid ended the season early. Jake Ohmer and Kyran Jones were on that 2020 squad and now they look to add to the Tigers tradition. Langston is led by SAC POY, Tristan Harper and former LSUA All-American, AJ Rainey. Rainey had 32 points in their last game against Southwestern KS. The Lions are tough and physical and play a brand of basketball that has success on the National stage. This will be a great game between two really great coaches and two really talented teams!
1-seed Arizona Christian vs 4-seed Morningside (IA)
Arizona Christian is the lone Fab Four team from last year to make it back to Kansas City. The Firestorm are as talented of a team as there is the NAIA. They are finally healthy and now will look to put it all together to get back to a Fab Four and beyond. Dennis Flowers is actually making his 3rd straight trip to Kansas City as he made one two years ago with Carroll. Flowers is a phenomenal scorer and is coming off of one of his best games all season as he dropped 29pts on Antelope Valley. Morningside will be making their second trip to KC in the past three seasons, but their first one under Head Coach, Trent Miller. The Mustangs are led by Ely Doble and Joey Skoff. The inside/outside combination of the two, alongside of Aidan Vanderloo and Jack Dotzler make Morningside a tough team to guard. They run their stuff and are really efficient scorers. If they get going from deep, they are nearly unguardable on offense. ACU has the talent for sure, but don’t count out a tough and physical Morningside team who has played tough basketball all season long.
2-seed Indiana Tech vs 3-seed Jamestown (ND)
What a matchup this one is on paper! The WHAC POY, Rog Stein and Indiana Tech vs the GPAC POY, Mason Walters and Jamestown. Walters is also the frontrunner for NAIA POY as the big fella continues to just put-up huge numbers. The Jimmies Will Cordes and Cole Woodford are also having big seasons though and guard Marc Kjos is coming off of a 20pt game himself. Kjos, as we saw last season, can absolutely light up Muni with his shooting and when the Jimmies are shooting the 3-ball well they are tough to stop. Indiana Tech though is one of the few teams in the Round of 16 who can match up well with the size of Jamestown. Rog Stein is a real force and Grant Smith, Josh Kline and Cory McKinney have all had tremendous careers. The Warriors are one of the oldest teams in the field and this group of 5th year guys all returned to the Warriors to show they can make a run at a National Title. Expect this game to be really physical in the paint with the team who can knock down more shots from deep coming away victorious.