by Andrew Goodwin | Sports Editor
The Whitworth Pirates men’s basketball team found out on Monday they made their eleventh consecutive NCAA tournament.
Competing in the Walla Walla pod, the Pirates face off against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Friday night at 5:30 p.m. If the Bucs win on Friday, they’ll square off with the two teams in the other half of their pod bracket: rival Whitman and Rhodes College.
The first two rounds of the tournament consist of sixteen pods held at host sites. Each pod consists of four teams competing for a spot in the D3 Sweet 16. In the single elimination tournament, the teams who win Friday play on Saturday with a chance to move on, and the losing teams on Friday are done for the season
As most Whitworth sports fans may not be familiar with the other three teams competing with the Bucs for a bid to the D3 Sweet 16, we elected to provide a comprehensive guide to the Pirates and their potential opponents this weekend.
Rhodes Lnyx (17-10) at Whitman Blues (27-0) – 7 p.m.
A guide to the Rhodes College Lynx:
Biggest Strength: Creating chaos. The Lynx run the The Grinnell System, where holding a team under 100 points is a recipe for a victory. The System (as many coaches call it) forces most teams to toss their usual game plans out the window, because taking care of the ball and defensive rebounding become premium commodities against a System team. In 23 of Rhodes’ 27 games, the Lynx have eclipsed the century mark. They do it by forcing the second most turnovers in the nation and grabbing the 12th most offensive rebounds.
“Our system is based on speeding the game up to a pace the other team is uncomfortable playing at,” DeGeorge said. “The key for our success is forced turnovers.”
Biggest Weakness: Post-Press Defense Rhodes ranks last (416th) in the nation in opponent field goal percentage. Rhodes’ defensive success is closely tied to turning the ball over, which means teams who can beat the press get easier shots than if Rhodes ran a traditional half court defense.
Best Player: Tyler Gee. As the Southern Athletic Association defensive player of the year, Gee sparks the Lnyx from the back line. The senior forward is 26th in the country in steals per game and blocks over a shot per game just to show he can do it all on the defensive end.
Impact Player(s): J.J. Weir and Mitch Rutherford are the co-lead guards behind a Rhodes attack which leads the nation in assists per game. Combined, the pair average 8.9 assists per game in the high-scoring Lynx offense.
Best Case Scenario: Rhodes hangs on to the ball against Whitman’s pressure defense and forces their usual bounty of turnovers to upset the Blues in Walla Walla. The System fares just as well in the second round to sneak Rhodes into the Sweet 16.
Worst Case Scenario: Whitman’s steady guard play keeps the ball away from Rhodes as the Lynx allow enough easy baskets for the Blues to win.
A guide to the Whitman College Blues:
Biggest Strength: Pressure defense. The Blues are third in the nation in turnover margin, taking the ball away over nine more times than their opponents. Whitman utilizes a full-court man-to-man press to force opponents into mistakes the Blues then turn into layups.
“Whitman plays faster than any team we have played this year,” Rhodes head coach MikeDeGeorge said. “It should be a very fast paced game and the team that makes the fewest mistakes will give themselves a great chance to be successful.”
Biggest Weakness: Free-throw shooting. Whitman currently ranks last in the Northwest Conference and in the bottom quarter of the nation with their 64.7 percent mark from the charity stripe. If opposing teams can keep games close, missing free throws could doom the Blues’ chance of an undefeated season
Best Player: Tim Howell. Howell is the engine that drives the Blues chances for a National Championship. The Northwest Conference player of the year led the league in scoring, and leads the team in free-throw percentage at 81 percent. Howell will need to have a couple big games if Whitman is going to escape a tough first pod.
Impact Player: Austin Butler. While Howell is the engine for the Blues, Butler is the gas pedal, deciding exactly how much pressure to put on opposing teams. The Blues’ lead guard ranked eleventh in the nation in total steals and third in the Northwest Conference in assists per game.
Best Case Scenario: Whitman’s pressure defense forces as many or more turnovers than Rhodes does, and the Blues come away with a first round win on their way to a long run in the D3 tournament.
Worst Case Scenario: Free throws haunt the Blues as Rhodes sticks with Whitman for a full 40 minutes and makes them pay for turning down points at the charity stripe.
Whitworth Pirates (23-4) vs. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (22-4) – 5:30 p.m.
A guide to the CMS Stags:
Biggest Strength: Man-to-man defense. The Stags rank 13th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing under 65 points per game. As with many defense-first teams, CMS rebounds well too. The Stags pull down seven and a half more rebounds than their opponents on average.
“CMS is one of the best defenses in the country, they make you work for everything and play the percentages,” Whitworth head coach Matt Logie said.
Biggest Weakness: Rim Protection. The Stags tallest two players stand 6 feet 9 inches, but rank in the bottom quarter of the nation in blocked shots. Sterling man-to-man defense on the perimeter usually does the trick for CMS, but if teams can get to the paint then the Stags are in a bit of trouble.
Best Player: Michael Scarlett. The Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference player of the year finished second in the conference in scoring with 19.3 points per game. He also led the SCIAC in three point shooting at 45.7 percent.
Impact Player: Riley Hall. The 6-foot-5 forward can do it all for CMS. Hall averages 7.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, three assists, and 1.1 steals per game. In the SCIAC championship, Hall poured in 16 points with six rebounds and four assists to help lead the Stags to the NCAA tournament.
Best Case Scenario: The Stags’ defense stifles Whitworth’s offensive attack on Friday and hangs on to the ball on Saturday to advance to the Sweet 16.
Worst Case Scenario: The Pirates prove to be too quick for the Stags on the perimeter and Sears dominates the paint on both ends of the floor to send the Stags home early.
A guide to the Whitworth Pirates:
Biggest Strength: Offensive diversity. The Bucs posses three players who can fill it up offensively: Christian Jurlina, ‘17, Kenny Love, ‘17, and Kyle Roach, ‘19. Freshman guard Ben College can score plenty of points as well when the Bucs need some instant offense.
Biggest Weakness: Turnovers. In a pod with Rhodes and Whitman, the Bucs will need to hang on to the ball in order to make the D3 Sweet 16. CMS doesn’t force many turnovers, but the Bucs goal isn’t a second round exit. Their goal is a title.
Best Player: Kenny Love. The Pirates’ preseason All-American guard can facilitate a top tier offense or lead the scoring in it. Love was an All-Northwest Conference first team selection this season after averaging 11.9 points per game and 4.4 assists per game.
Impact Player: Known around the program as “The Sears Tower,” seven-foot center Drew Sears can key Whitworth to a pair of wins this weekend with his defense alone. Sears blocked nearly two shots per game this season, and alters every shot he’s remotely close to. If Sears can stay out of foul trouble this weekend, the Bucs will have a much better chance of moving on.
Best Case Scenario: The Bucs don’t overlook a dangerous CMS team that could end their hopes early to pick up a Friday win. Then, the Pirates get their revenge against a Blues team who ended Whitworth’s hopes in the second round last season.
Worst Case Scenario: The Bucs can’t get anything going against a smothering CMS defense, and fail to advance past the first round for the first time in their run of `11 straight tournament appearances.