Master vs. apprentice. Former teammate vs. former teammates. Bevo Francis finalist vs. Bevo Francis finalist. And a showdown of the top two offenses in the division. There will be storylines aplenty when the 2023 DII men's basketball championship game tips off on Saturday, March 25.
Here is everything you need to know about the Nova Southeastern vs. West Liberty showdown.
ELITE: Look back at the DII Men's Elite Eight preview
How to watch Nova Southeastern vs. West Liberty
The 2023 DII men's basketball championship game is on Saturday, March 25 from Evansville, Indiana. The game is on CBS, and tips off at 3 p.m. ET.
Preview: The DII men's basketball championship game
For the first time since 2018, we will see a new DII men's basketball national champion. On top of that, both Nova Southeastern and West Liberty are playing for their program's first national title in the sport. There are plenty of storylines to watch here, so let's take a closer look at three.
3 storylines to watch Saturday
- Old friends meet again. Nova Southeastern's head coach, Jim Crutchfield, was West Liberty's head coach for a long time, going 24-9 in the NCAA tournament and leading his team to an unmatched four-straight DII Men's Elite Eight appearances. Ben Howlett, West Liberty's current head coach, both played and coached under Crutchfield (fun side note: Howlett finished fourth in DII in scoring as a senior). Thus, we are looking at two very similarly coached squads that bring high intensity on each side of the floor. The Sharks' Will Yoakum, who has been on fire, averaging 26 points per game in the NCAA tourney, spent the past five seasons at West Liberty. It's not just the coaches that will take a trip down Memory Lane.
- Bevo Francis finalists on display. These two teams have plenty of stars. Yoakum has been sensational since the tourney started, but the Hilltoppers' Bryce Butler and Sharks' RJ Sunahara have been at it all year long (the past two seasons if we're being honest). Sunahara was both the SSC and South Region player of the year, and is a very tough defender as well, both in the paint and on the move. Butler was named the MEC player of the year for the second year in a row, while also being named the Atlantic Region player of the year. He was one of the top scorers in DII with 22.1 points per game, shooting nearly 60 percent from the field in the process. Both are looking to add a little more hardware to the resume, but the national championship trophy is top priority.
- Fire offenses matchup. We're looking at the top two offenses in the land, which is pretty much the way it has been since Crutchfield arrived in Florida. The Sharks scored 103.8 points per game in the regular season while the Hilltoppers scored 101.2. What people are going to forget is how both teams get those points: aggressive defense, usually the entire length of the court. Both teams' advantages are stamina and endurance — they pressure their opponent into errors and see if they can outlast them. With both teams under the same discipline... there may be no advantage. Let's take a closer look.
Nova Southeastern vs. West Liberty
Tale of the tape
|Stat (per game)||Sharks||Hilltoppers|
|Margin of victory||26.1||19.6|
|Points off TOs||28.2||24.6|
Talk about evenly matched. Statistically, the Sharks have a slight edge, but it's too tight for it to be called an advantage in this kind of game. Both the Sharks and Hilltoppers entire starting fives average double-digit points, so come opening tip, there will be at least 10 players scoring at least 10.5 points per game on the court.
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Prediction: Nova Southeastern wins 87-83
I'll go one step forward and say this goes into overtime and becomes a DII men's basketball instant classic. These teams play the same style of ball and have so many explosive players that it's a matter of who makes the least mistakes. Nova Southeastern has the slight edge statistically in both steals and points off of turnovers, so that gives them the slight edge in the victory column.
Also remember that the Sharks are a top-5 team in DII from behind the arc. If this becomes a game of breaking the press (which it will) and having an open shot from 3, that's another slight edge to the Sharks.
In West Liberty's favor, we've seen this before. Both are looking to cut down those final nets for the first time in program history. This is the furthest the Sharks have ever been, while West Liberty was national runner-up not long ago, losing to Central Missouri in the 2014 championship game. The Sharks have entered the DII Men's Elite Eight as arguably the best team standing before (coming into the quarterfinals undefeated in each of the past two seasons) but have been shut down when it matters most. I think those lessons may have shaped this current run, but West Liberty is simply too good to not take advantage of what these two know about each other.
In the end the Sharks win, but again, it will be one of the best championship games in DII history.