EVANSVILLE, IN — Northwest Missouri State and Point Loma are set to square off in the 2019 DII men’s basketball championship game. Tipoff is 3 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, March 30, from The Ford Center.
Five thrilling rounds of the NCAA DII tournament are in the books, and just two teams remain. The Bearcats are back for the second time in three years, while Point Loma continues its historic season, now in its first title game.
Let’s take a look back at how we got here and what to expect.
How to watch the DII men's basketball championship
|Championship||Northwest Missouri State vs. Point Loma||CBS | Stats | Live blog||3 p.m.|
|1||No. 5 St. Anselm 91, No. 4 Nova Southeastern 81||Stats||1 p.m.|
|2||No. 1 Northwest Missouri State 55, No. 8 Mercyhurst 51||Stats||3:30 p.m.|
|3||No. 7 Southern Indiana 94, No. 2 West Texas A&M 84||Stats||7 p.m.|
|4||No. 6 Point Loma 87, No. 3 Queens (NC) 74||Stats||9:30 p.m.|
|5||No. 1 Northwest Missouri State 76, No. 5 St. Anselm 53||Highlights||7 p.m.|
|6||No. 6 Point Loma 81, No. 7 Southern Indiana 71||Highlights||9:30 p.m.|
How the teams got to the DII title game
No. 1 Northwest Missouri State (37-0)
Beat Minnesota State 91-62, Southern Nazarene 70-59, Missouri Southern 82-70, Mercyhurst, 55-51, and Saint Anselm 76-53
The Bearcats tested themselves right out of the gates playing the reigning champions (Ferris State) and national runners-up (Northern State) in the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame Classic to open the season. Those two wins set the tone for what was to come.
It was a surprise to a lot of people. Northwest Missouri State lost four veteran leaders from its 2017 championship and 2018 NCAA tournament squad, and not many people expected them to get this far, especially without a loss. But a bevy of new starters, including a dynamic freshmen guard duo of Trevor Hudgins and Diego Bernard, played with what head coach Ben McCollum called a big chip on their shoulder to prove themselves all season.
“Diego definitely brings some juice to the game,” Hudgins said after Bernard ignited the Bearcats to a 76-53 semifinal victory over Saint Anselm. “We just start going with him. He brings us all up offensively and defensively.”
Diego Bernard for Northwest Missouri State with the SLAM! pic.twitter.com/TnHBD6LPeW— NCAA Division II (@NCAADII) March 29, 2019
In the first game of the Elite Eight, All-American Joey Witthus left injured and Bernard didn’t play at all. Once both returned at full strength in the second half of the semifinals, this team showed how dangerous it can be. Hudgins and Bernard dictate the game at the top, are explosive to the hole and feisty on defense, and are responsible for the seventh-best turnover margin in DII and most steals in the MIAA. Down low, Witthus, Ryan Hawkins, and Ryan Welty — the lone remaining Bearcat to log minutes in the 2017 title game — provide some much-needed height and scoring ability as athletic bigs.
No. 6 Point Loma (31-4)
Beat Western Oregon 70-58, UC San Diego 73-50, St. Martin's 60-54, Queens (NC) 87-74, and Southern Indiana 81-71
Point Loma has had an interesting run to the championship game. The Sea Lions left their West Region just once all year. That was an early season loss to then-nationally ranked St. Cloud State. Not many people knew what to expect from this school making just its second NCAA tournament.
Perhaps that’s what’s so impressive about the Sea Lions run. They didn’t face any familiar PacWest opponents in the tournament, although they certainly are familiar with CCAA rival UC San Diego. The way they handled a top 10 team in Queens (NC) in the quarterfinals spoke volumes to just how prepared Ryan Looney gets these guys.
When it comes to players to watch, one stands out above the rest. Daulton Hommes led the PacWest in scoring with 21.7 points per game, but his presence on the court made everyone around him better. That’s a large reason he earned the 2019 NABC National Player of the Year Award. He has help though, as Ziggy Satterthwaite and Preston Beverly join Hommes to put the Big in Big Three. The Sea Lions were one of the tallest teams in the Elite Eight, probably the entire tournament field. It's not just their length that is scary, but their ability to move with the ball and get the ball in the basket, whether it’s a drive to the rim or from behind the arc where they shot 41.9 percent, second-best in DII basketball.
Six No. 1 seeds entered the DII Men’s Elite Eight and the two No. 3 seeds that joined them were giant slayers, proving they belonged by taking down top 15 team after top 15 team. No matter what the end result was, this was going to be an exciting matchup.
|Northwest Missouri State||Point Loma|
|FG%: 51.3||FG%: 51.9|
|3-pt%: 40.8||3-pt%: 41.9|
|Scoring offense: 82.9||Scoring offense: 80.1|
|Scoring defense: 61.8||Scoring defense: 65.8|
|RPG: 33.1||RPG 37.7|
|Steals: 7.2||Steals: 5.9|
Both teams can shoot the lights out. The Bearcats and Sea Lions are in the top 10 in DII men's basketball in field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage. That length and height give the Sea Lions a distinct advantage in rebounding, but the Bearcats defense gives them a big edge. With all the offense they are capable of, it is often overlooked just how good Northwest Missouri State’s defense really is.
And that’s what ultimately gives them the edge. It may be as cliched as it comes, but defense wins championships.
But don’t think it will be easy. Point Loma has played 80 minutes of basketball in Evansville and has led for 76:46 of that time. That allows them to have small lapses, getting away from playing how they play, as Satterthwaite put it after the 81-71 semifinals win against Southern Indiana. They adjust so quickly and clamp down offensively, their height and athleticism make breaking the press look easy and they don't allow opponents to seemingly ever capture that lead.
Northwest Missouri State has gotten out to two slow starts. If Point Loma can do what it’s done the last two games and jump out to early a double-digit lead, Northwest Missouri State’s perfect season is in jeopardy.
While the Sea Lions have the height advantage, especially as much outside the paint as inside, Hudgins and Bernard are impressive and fearless. They can make up for the disadvantage with explosive moves to the hole, either resulting in baskets or finding the open man, which should be able to counter and keep the Sea Lions on edge. We haven't seen how Point Loma responds if it has to play from behind, and the Bearcats are not the team you want to test those waters against.
This could be one of the more exciting finals in recent memory. Two No. 1 seeds loaded with star players, neither of which want to lose. Expect this one to come down to the final seconds, with Northwest Missouri State winning by two.
Final score: Northwest Missouri State 87, Point Loma 85