MC men, women open NCAA tourney vs. Titans

Photo courtesy of Nate Knobel Marietta College’s Kyle Dixon, left, handles the ball during a college men’s basketball game against Mount Union earlier this season at Ban Johnson Arena.

Good thing the Marietta College women’s basketball team claimed the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament crown.

If it hadn’t, it probably wouldn’t have received an at-large bid to this week’s NCAA Division III Tournament.

But, by beating Ohio Northern University, 85-68, at the ONU Sports Center last Saturday, the unranked and underdog Pioneers (24-4) got an automatic bid to the national tourney.

“We played a really good game, and there was no way our team was going to be denied,” said second-year Marietta head coach Kole Vivian after the Pioneer women’s first-ever OAC Tourney basketball championship.

So, what did the top-seeded Polar Bears (23-5), the OAC regular-season champion with two triumphs over MC, get?

Nothing. Not even an at-large bid Monday afternoon.

Turns out, Marietta won the one game that mattered. Not only that, but the Pioneers also knocked ONU out of the D3hoops.com women’s Top 25.

Now, MC’s focus is on the Titans. Funny, but so is the Pioneer men’s after earning an at-large bid Monday.

The Marietta women are scheduled to tip off NCAA tourney play against the host Illinois Wesleyan Titans (24-3) at 8 p.m. Friday in Bloomington, Ill. The winner of that contest will play again Saturday against the winner of the DePauw University (25-2)-Trine University (24-3) game.

On that same evening at 5:30 p.m. over in Springfield, Ohio, the unranked MC men (21-6) will be squaring off against the Titans (20-7) of UW-Oshkosh.

The winner of that game will face Friday’s winner of the Wittenberg University (26-2)-Misericordia University (17-10) game on Saturday.

Ladies first….and once again, Marietta will be in the underdog role as host Illinois Wesleyan is ranked No. 14 in the poll. Matter of fact, No. 7 Trine and No. 12 DePauw are also in the Top 25.

“It is going to be a tough task going into their place and playing, but it is a task we are up for,” Vivian said. “We have a really determined squad, so we are looking forward to the challenge.”

MC has been rolling of late, winners of three straight postseason games, and could be the most dangerous team not only in Bloomington this weekend but in the entire bracket.

Against Illinois Wesleyan, Marietta is expected to start Brooke Borich (14.5 points per game), Amisha Herd (13.2 ppg), Jenna Andersen (6.4 ppg), Corrie Burkhardt (9.6 ppg), and Shay Lett, (9.5 ppg) the OAC Tournament MVP.

Look for Alexis Enochs (8.3 ppg), Marlo Taylor, Laura Pullins (7.1 ppg), Jo Herd-Middlebrooks, Marra Woods, Lexi Moore, and Bailee Brooks to also see playing time.

Marietta is averaging 78.7 points per game, which is No. 10 in D3, while giving up 67 ppg. The navy blue and white cagers get to the foul line a lot, making a D3-best 467-of-675 freebies this winter.

If Marietta, underdog or not, plays like it did against Ohio Northern last weekend, it’s going to be awfully tough to beat.

Illinois Wesleyan will probably counter with Molly McGraw (13.5 ppg), Maddie Merritt (12 ppg), Rebekah Ehresman (10.6 ppg), Nina Anderson (8.5), and Ashley Schneider (7.7 ppg).

“Illinois Weselyan is really good,” Vivian said. “They have great guards and will be putting a lot of pressure on us.

“If we can do our jobs in transition defense we have a chance to be successful. They average 23 points a game in transition, so we need to limit that.”

On the men’s side, Marietta is expected to start Dillon Young (14.4 ppg), Kyle Dixon (13.3), Avery Williams (11.6 ppg), Mel Shuler (4.7 ppg) and Mike Hall (3.7 ppg), a former Warren Warrior.

The Pioneers will have two players in the rotation who are averaging double digits — Anthony Wallace (13.1 ppg) and DeVaughn Wingard (10.3 ppg).

Caleb Hoyng is averaging 7.8 ppg.

UW-Oshkosh’s probable starters will be Ben Boots (15.2 ppg), Jack Flynn (13.5 ppg), Adam Fravert (12.6 ppg), Brett Wittchow (10.5 ppg), and Charlie Noone (9.3 ppg).

“It’s going to be a really hard fought game,” said MC boss Jon VanderWal. “Oshkosh is big, strong, and physical. They are a very good defensive team and they play extremely hard.”

That — playing extremely hard — could actually work in MC’s favor, because it doesn’t appear that the Titans are as deep on the bench as the Pioneers.

Still….

“They are a plus-9 rebounding team, so the battle of the boards will be a major factor in the game,” VanderWal said.

MC has two of the best window cleaners anywhere in Williams (7.7 rebounds per game) and Dixon (5.5 rpg).

Another incentive that the Pioneers might have is that they were not in the Top 25 in this week’s rankings. They had been No. 24.

Guess which team took MC’s place in the 24th slot?

Oh, my gosh, it was Oshkosh.

“We will need to play really well but we are excited for the challenge,” VanderWal said.

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