Kentucky Wesleyan men’s basketball coach Happy Osborne wants his team to enter the semifinals of Great Midwest Atlantic Conference as a hungry dog in search of a lost bone.
On the surface, the Panthers appear to be in great shape to make the NCAA Division II tournament. They finished the regular season 24-3 overall and 11-1 in conference.
Because they finished first in conference, they earned the top seed for the conference tournament and will play host at the Sportscenter in Owensboro, Ky. Kentucky Wesleyan is also ranked ninth in the NCAA Division II coaches poll.
“I don’t think we have proved a thing, yet,” Osborne said. “All we have done is regular season. We are not in the tournament. Our work is still cut out in front of us to get where we want.
“What we want to accomplish the most is out in front of us.”
That is the goal for every men’s and women’s basketball teams still competing in conference tournaments. They want to win it to ensure a spot in the NCAA Division II Basketball Tournament.
The top eight teams in each of the eight regionals advance to the national tournament. A team that is currently ranked fourth or lower is in jeopardy of missing the tournament with a poor showing in the conference tournament.
Kentucky Wesleyan, which plays the winner of the Cedarville/Davis & Elkins winner in the semifinals at 1:30 p.m. Friday, probably needs to win its conference tournament to secure a spot in the Division II tournament. The Panthers are currently ranked eighth in the Midwest Regional.
“I want my players to be loose and believe in what we are doing,” Osborne said. “I want them to love each other. We have seven seniors. I want our guys to be aggressive and go hunt what they are looking for.
“We are going into the conference tournament knowing we don’t have a spot locked up. We know that.”
Now in his third season at Kentucky Wesleyan, Osborne likes plenty about the players, the program, the administration and the way the town is responding to the team.
“The thing that is the most gratifying is for the first time since I have been here, we got the guys we wanted and guys we recruited,” Osborne said. “What is neat is how they have meshed as a unit. They are fun to be around. Our team GPA is 3.0. They work hard. You get up every day and enjoy being around them. That is the sign of having something good. It has been a privilege to coach these guys.”
One of the newcomers, junior Jordan Jacks has fit right in, Osborne said. Jacks, along with senior C.J. Blackwell made first team all-conference. Senior Devin Langford and junior Ken-Jah Bosley made second team, and Osborne was selected conference coach of the year.
“Jordan Jacks has fit like a glove from day one,” Osborne said. “Jordan Jacks loves basketball. He brings it every day. He is the kind of kid who will practice for two hours, have an hour of individual improvement and then come back in the gym. I am watching tape and there is Jordan Jacks. He loves basketball. He is not the only guy. There is a core group that do that all the time.”
Osborne is thrilled people in Owensboro are showing up to watch.
“We only have 700 students,” Osborne said. “We have a 5,000-seat Sportscenter. We have to have the town. I feel like the town is coming along more and more every day. That was my goal when I got here. This would be the community’s team. It is a great sports town. We want our program to be the town’s program and every day, we are taking a step towards that.”
Another conference tournament to watch
The Great Northwest Athletic Conference men’s and women’s conference tournament runs Thursday through Saturday in Lacey, Washington.
On the women’s side, Alaska Anchorage is the top seed and Western Washington is the No. 2 seed. Alaska Anchorage finished the regular season 31-2 and 18-2 in conference and Western Washington was 20-8 and 16-4. Alaska Anchorage is ranked No. 1 in the West Regional and Western Washington is ranked No. 9. Western Washington is fighting to move up at least one more spot in the region and needs a good showing at the conference tournament.
On the men’s side, Western Oregon is the top seed and Alaska is the second seed, Western Oregon finished the regular season 25-3 and 18-2. Alaska was 21-7 and 15-5. Western Oregon is ranked No. 1 in the West region.
The men’s and women’s championship games will be televised on the American Sports Network beginning 8:30 p.m. ET Saturday. The second game will follow around 10:30 p.m. ET.