2016 NCAA Div. III tournament qualifier
PELLA—For the third time in five years the Central College men’s basketball team will serve as an Iowa Conference tournament host Thursday.
The league champion and top-seeded Dutch (18-7 overall, 11-3 conference) will square off against No. 4-seeded Buena Vista (14-12 overall, 8-6 conference) in one of two tournament semifinals at 7 p.m. inside P.H. Kuyper Gymnasium. The contest will be broadcasted via www.kniakrls.com. There will also be a video stream and live stats available through www.central.edu/athletics.
Central, which was picked to finish last in the conference preseason poll, is the first team in league history to improve from last place to first place in consecutive years. Last season the Dutch finished 10-14 overall and 3-11 in league play, tying for sixth with Simpson and Loras.
Thursday’s winner will advance to Saturday’s tournament title game against the winner of the other semifinal between No. 2-seeded Dubuque (21-4 overall, 10-4 conference) and No. 6-seeded Luther (16-10 overall, 7-7 conference). Saturday’s game will be hosted by the highest-seeded participating team. The tourney champion earns an automatic berth into the 61-team NCAA Division III tournament field which will be announced Monday morning.
Buena Vista advanced to the semifinals with an 85-83 win over No. 5-seeded Wartburg at Storm Lake Tuesday night, while Luther upset No. 3-seeded Loras at Dubuque 86-77. Central and Dubuque each received a first-round bye.
“The parity in our league is unbelievable,” coach Craig Douma said. “Buena Vista is one of the most talented teams we’ve faced. Their post play is solid and they have one of the best guards in the conference. They’ve had an opportunity to win every game this season, but good teams suffer some losses in our league. Their record is very deceiving.”
Central swept the two-game season series with the Beavers for the first time since 1998-99. The Dutch surprised Buena Vista with a 76-72 win at Storm Lake, their first win at Siebens Fieldhouse since Jan. 9, 1999 (W, 82-75). It was the second of Central’s nine consecutive conference victories spanning Jan. 22-Feb. 19. Forward Matt Greenfield (senior, Huxley, Ballard HS) scored a career-high 35 points in the win.
In the Feb. 12 return trip to Pella, the Dutch tied a program record with 13 made 3-pointers in the first half of a 92-78 win that vaulted Central into a tie for first place in the conference standings. Three Dutch players—Greenfield, guard Kevin Kaerwer (senior, El Paso, Texas, John L. Chapin HS) and forward Colby Taylor (freshman, Creston)—scored 20-plus points in a single game, the second such occurrence this season.
It plays into the age-old theory that it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season, but Douma said the Dutch are up to the task.
“There’s some truth to that,” said Douma. “It’s never easy to beat a team a third time. We are going to look back at those games, recognize what we did well and invest in the things that will give us the best opportunity to win.”
Buena Vista’s Cole Darrow is the league’s leading scorer at 19.2 points per game, while the Dutch are the only team in the league to boast two of the league’s top-six scorers. Greenfield is second with 18.7 points per game, while Kaerwer sits sixth in scoring with 15.5.
But Darrow is not the Beavers’ only offensive weapon, a fact that Douma and the Dutch are well aware of as Thursday approaches.
“We need to defend well in the paint,” Douma said. “Darrow is a good player who creates opportunities for his teammates. We need to limit his transition opportunities and make him shoot tough shots. We did a good job guarding the perimeter in our last meeting, but we need to contain Darrow as best we can.”
Taylor is also on the conference scoring chart, tied for 22nd with 9.4 points per game, while guard Nile Eckermann (junior, Cosgrove, Clear Creek Amana HS) is 24th with 9.3. Douma said the ability to spread the ball around is what makes the Dutch dangerous offensively.
“We’ve had success making teams work on defense,” said Douma. “We’ve had good ball movement, good player movement and it has led to good looks. We need to execute our offense and find the open man. If we do that and we are active on the glass, we’ll put ourselves in position to win.”
Greenfield is the top rebounder in the league with 9.7 rebounds per game and third in blocked shots with 1.24. Kaerwer is also second in assists with 3.64 and leads the league in free throw percentage at .877. Guard Fred Pratt (senior, Rosenberg, Texas, Lamar Consolidated HS) is fifth in assists with 3.12 per game, while forward Yaw Sapon-Amoah (senior, Ghana, Africa, Des Moines Christian HS) is sixth in blocked shots averaging 0.72 per game.
“Our seniors need to step up for us,” Douma said. “Matt and Kevin need to keep doing what they’re doing. Both games Fred came off the bench and gave us good minutes, which he has done all year. We will need good bench play again and our post players need to give us solid minutes as well.”
As a team Central is tops in the conference in blocked shots with 3.80 per game, second in 3-point field goals made with 8.48 per game, third in 3-point field goal percentage at .367 and third in scoring offense at 78.4, all while allowing 73.4 points per game. The Dutch are also second and third in 3-point field goal percentage defense and field goal percentage defense, respectively, holding opponents to .331 from 3-point range and .424 overall. Central is also third in free throw percentage at .733.
“This season we thought that we would be a good defensive team,” said Douma. “We have bought into the strategy and carried out the game plans. Our men are very coachable and have worked hard to improve on the defensive end. (Assistant coach) Joe Steinkamp has done a great job preparing schemes that play to our strengths.”
Central’s conference title is its second outright in the past five years and 17th overall. The Dutch are 2-11 all-time in the league tourney, with both of its wins coming in its 2009-10 championship season. And in both of those wins, the college basketball atmosphere was exciting. Douma said that a loud, supportive crowd will play a role in Thursday’s game.
“We need support,” Douma said. “We want to fill the gym. It’s a big game for us and a great opportunity to showcase our school, our program and our community.”