The 2018 Division II Men's Basketball Championship field is set. The exciting three-week run of DII's best 64 teams is ready to commence.
What March has taught us in college basketball over the years is to expect the unexpected. That said, let's take a look at a few teams and players you can expect solid performances from this March.Obviously, Northwest Missouri State is on everybody's radar. The defending champs are 27-3, winners of four straight games concluding with the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association championship. The reigning DII player of the year Justin Pitts looks like he's getting in tournament form, dropping 25 and 24 in the first two games of the MIAA tournament. Though the Bearcats may be deeper in scoring than last season, defense is the name of the game, allowing a DII-best 58.9 points per game.
Lincoln Memorial seems like it may be the team to beat right now. Since a December 19 loss to then-No. 1 Northwest Missouri State, Lincoln Memorial has reeled off 19 straight wins. That includes three wins over South Atlantic Conference rival Queens (NC), each of those games a match-up between top 10 teams. It is hard to find a weakness on the Railsplitters. Emanuel Terry is a beast in the paint. Trevon Shaw leads the team in scoring and is tough to contain from 3. Dorian Pinson and Cornelius Taylor add 29.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per night. This team is deep and talented, and will be looking to avenge last season's semifinals loss to the Bearcats.
Ferris State has been cruising of late. A December 16 loss to Lake Superior State is the only blemish on the Bulldogs' record, winners of 20 straight. Ferris State is tough in the paint, a top-five team in both rebounds and blocks, which is huge this time of year. Zach Hankins has been one of the premier big men in DII all season. His 107 blocks are second-best in DII. They have signature wins against St. Thomas Aquinas, Indiana (Pa.), Findlay, and Lake Superior State, while also hanging with Michigan State, losing 80-72 in a preseason exhibition.
Why wouldn't you watch Southern Nazarene? The program has had one history-making game after the other this season, winning the Great American Conference for the first time in program history. The Crimson Storm set the GAC record for best start in conference history, winning 18 straight before dropping a one-point loss to Northwestern Oklahoma State. People took notice, earning Southern Nazarene its first ranking in program history, working its way into the top 10. The Storm wrapped up the season with its first GAC championship in program history, a thrilling come-from-behind win over Arkansas-Monticello.
Wheeling Jesuit has some sleeper appeal. While some may feel West Liberty's high-scoring offense is the team to watch out of the Atlantic Region, the Cardinals were able to hold the Hilltoppers in check twice during the season. West Liberty -- who leads DII scoring 106.1 points per game -- only mustered 81 and 74 points in its outings versus WJU, the second resulting in a victory for the Cardinals. That kind of defense speaks volumes in March. So does Haywood Highsmith, who is amongst the top scorers and rebounders in the nation, leading the Cardinals to their first Mountain East Conference title in program history.
Other players to watch:
Tanner Omlid, Western Oregon: The West Region will be a fun one to watch, and Western Oregon will lead the charge. Sitting at 29-1 on the heels of its second Great Northwest Athletic Conference title in three years, the Wolves will be tough to beat. Omlid may have been more known for his defense entering the season, but a clean sweep of the Preseason, Defensive and GNAC Player of the Year Awards show he's much more than that. The forward leads the team in scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks and steals.
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Dan Monteroso, West Liberty: The All-American leads the high-flying Hilltoppers offense in scoring, dropping 20.3 points per game. The Hilltoppers have dropped two of the last three, including a surprising early exit from the MEC tournament. He certainly has quite the supporting cast, but if West Liberty wants to right the ship, their All-American needs to lead the way.
Adam Eberhard, Bellarmine: The Knights, owners of a 57-game home court winning streak, have plenty of ways to beat you. Eberhard is one of the most well-rounded players in the division, able to flirt with a triple-double on any given night. He's second on the team in scoring (14.7 points per game) and shooting percentage (61 percent), but leads the team in assists (4.5), steals (34) and rebounds (7.0). While he doesn't shoot a tremendous amount, he's also deadly from 3, hitting 31 of his 57 attempts this season.
Tyrius Walker, Morehouse: The Maroon Tigers had a sensational 24-2 season, and was amongst the last undefeated teams standing in the nation. Walker led the way, recording 22.8/5.4/3.3 averages. If the No. 1-seeded Morehouse wants to advance, Walker and his squad will have to figure out a Claflin team that is responsible for both its losses this season, including an upset in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference semifinals.
Juvaris Hayes, Merrimack: Merrimack may be the No. 6-seed, but Hayes has been one of the most fun players to watch all season long. He can score (18.1 per game), board (a team-best 6.1 per game) and dish it out (second in DII with 8.0 assists per game).
Justin Reyes, St. Thomas Aquinas: Reyes will end his career as one of the East Coast Conference's greatest players of all-time and one of the more prolific scorers in the history of DII. Reyes averaged a double-double on the season with 22.3 points and 10.3 rebounds a game. The All-American has more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in his career as the ECC's all-time leading scorer.
Region to watch:
Every region has more than its fair share of capable, exciting teams and star players. The South Central, however, should be one of the more challenging to survive.
Senior guard David Chavolovich, who has more than 2,000 points in his illustrious career, leads No. 1-seeded West Texas A&M into battle in a region that has five teams in the Top 25, two more receiving votes and a Texas A&M-Commerce team that was in and out of the Top 25 all season. This conference is stacked. Texas-Permian Basin's Big 4 of Daeshon Francis, James McPherson, Josh Morris and Sammy Allen should make for fun basketball. Arkansas-Fort Smith is the No. 7 seed after hanging around the Top 25 all year. That shows just how deep this region goes.