KANSAS CITY, Mo. – After days of agony awaiting to hear if they qualified for the 2013 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship, the Drovers could be heard around campus yelling in joy when the coveted opportunity to play became a reality.
Less than a week and 400 miles later, the Drovers are set to compete in the first round of the tournament.
USAO faces sixth-seed Southwestern Assemblies of God at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo. USAO is hosting a free watch party for all students and fans in Dusty’s on the second floor of the Student Center.
“They obviously are excited to be here. But I think they understand why they are here. I don’t want them to be satisfied with just being here,” Head Coach Brisco McPherson said. “They don’t want to go home. You have to go into it the best you can.”
‘Nobody Wants to Go Home’
The men’s basketball team is eager to repeat what they were able to accomplish just 11 years ago in Kansas City: a National Title.
“There are 32 teams still playing. All these teams are going to play hard,” McPherson said. “Nobody wants to go home.”
The players arrived in Kansas City late Monday night and were able to get in just one practice on Tuesday morning. McPherson said the players understand the magnitude of the experience and what it will require to continue to play, something senior Brandon Cutler agrees with.
“I think everybody has a good vibe. It sounds bad, but we actually need to calm down,” Cutler said. “We are ready to tip off.”
Cutler said he is excited to make it into the national tournament his senior season.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “There’s nothing better than going out with a bang. Being here in the national tournament, and then graduating college, all within a semester.”
With an early 9 a.m. tip off, McPherson explains that a lot of the preparation will happen in the 12 hours before the game.
“I think they are committed to trying to do what they can as a team to win,” he said. “The preparation we are most concerned about is getting those guys in bed early enough and then getting them up at 5 a.m.”
When asked about the early tip time, Cutler said it didn’t bother him – it was just the “hand we got dealt.”
“We just have to deal with it and be ready to play because the team that shows up will win,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to affect us.”
After an annual Tip-Off Banquet on Tuesday night, the Drovers have a 10 p.m. lights out. The alarm will sound bright and early seven hours later. After a short walk to and from breakfast, the players will suit up and head to the game.
How to Tame the Lions
SAGU is 29-4 on the season and are coming off of a 67-51 loss in the Red River Athletic Conference Championship game to the University of St. Thomas. Their only other losses were to two other teams in the national tournament: Westmont (Calif.) and twice to LSU Shreveport.
Their success has been fairly recent with coach Donnie Bostwick turning the program around since arriving two years ago, McPherson said. Bostwick won two National Championships at the NAIA Division II level with Oklahoma Wesleyan.
“He’s a really good coach,” McPherson said. “He’s experienced. He has good players. He’s really turned that program around. He’s the key.”
The Lions are ranked fifth in the NAIA in total rebounds per game (42.9) and in field goal percentage defense (.380). Additionally, they are sixth in total steals with 354 on the season.
“They aren’t real big. I would probably compare them to Lubbock Christian. They all shoot well; they all rebound. They rely mostly on perimeter stuff,” McPherson said. “We will have to win the game with defense and rebounding … It will be tough. It will be a test for us.”
SAGU is set to join the Sooner Athletic Conference beginning next season.
Of course the Drovers want to play hard, but McPherson said the key to the game is whether or not they will show up as a unit Wednesday morning.
“This is the first time any of these guys have been here. The key for us is to not get caught up in the atmosphere. Our key is to play the way we play,” he said. “At times, this team looks like they can beat anybody.”
The winner Wednesday morning will advance to the second round at 9 a.m. Friday. They will take on the winner of (11) Westmont v. Martin Methodist (Tenn.).
Watch the Game
Other than the USAO-sponsored watch party, fans can purchase the game from the NAIA for $9.95 a game or the whole tournament for $29.95. The games are streamed live through NeuLion at www.NAIA.org.
Also, fans can watch the live stats for free on the NAIA’s Dakstats website, http://www.dakstats.com/Websync/Pages/WebcastPlayByPlay/WebcastPBP.aspx?association=10&sg=MBB&compID=161582&sea=NAIMBB_2012.
USAO’s sports information department will update fans on its athletics’ Twitter account, @USAOLive