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Central to Wisconsin to meet St. Olaf in NCAA men's basketball tourney

Men's basketball | March 3, 2014

PELLA—A game that was admittedly not even on the Central College men’s basketball team’s radar when preseason drills began last October is up next for the Dutch as they open NCAA Division III tournament play in Stevens Point, Wis., with a first-ever meeting with No. 25-ranked St. Olaf College (Minn.) Friday at 5 p.m.

Central, which was picked to finish last in the Iowa Conference preseason poll, used a nine-game winning streak spanning one month of conference play to become the first team in league history to improve from last place to first place in consecutive years.

The Dutch (20-7) will battle the Oles (22-5) on Bennett Court inside Quandt Fieldhouse on the campus of Wis.-Stevens Point. The host Pointers (26-1) are the top-ranked team in Division III and square off against Marian (Wis.) (22-6) in the other first-round game. The winners will play Saturday at 7 p.m.

It’s Central’s second NCAA appearance in five years and its 10th overall, the most of any Iowa Conference school. Central has never played another team in its four-team pod.

“St. Olaf is a tough team,” coach Craig Douma said. “We have a couple common opponents, but we don’t know a lot about them. They beat a very good St. Thomas team in their conference championship, so they’re definitely talented. Both of our programs have a storied tradition.

“It’s going to be a battle.”

Central’s game will be broadcast on KNIA-FM (95.3). The broadcast can also be accessed at Live video of all three weekend tournament games will be available with live stats at

Tickets go on sale Tuesday at noon but will also be available at the door. Fans can call 715-346-4100 to pre-purchase tickets. Single-game tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for students college age and under. Tickets for both first-round games are $12.

The Dutch are among 42 conference champions or conference tournament champions earning automatic berths in the 62-team tournament field.

“I’m most happy for our players,” said Douma. “It’s a great experience that they’ll never forget.”

Double-digit appearances—The Dutch, who won their 17th Iowa Conference championship, earned the automatic NCAA berth by winning the league’s six-team tournament. Following a first-round bye, top-seeded Central edged No. 4-seeded Buena Vista 86-84 Thursday and No. 6-seeded Luther 74-70 Saturday.

The Dutch are seeking their first NCAA tournament win since 1991, an 88-77 victory over Bethel (Minn.) at Pella. Central is 5-10 overall in the national tourney.

Coach Craig Douma—Douma is in his second year with the Dutch, after a highly successful 15-year high school coaching career. Douma endured a 10-14 campaign in 2012-13 before leading this year’s squad, which was picked to finish last in the conference preseason poll, to the league title.

It’s Douma’s first NCAA trip. As a player, Douma led the Northwestern (Iowa) Red Raiders to three NAIA Division II national tournaments, finishing runners-up in 1992 and reaching the final eight in 1994. He’s third in program history on the all-time scoring list.

“What we have accomplished this year is awesome, but it’s not over,” Douma said. “It’s not something we were thinking about at the end of last year, but the way this team came together was fun to watch. I thought we would be pretty good this year and our confidence built as the year went on. We believed in each other. It’s been fun to watch a different player step up in every game.”

Beat the best to be the best—St. Olaf is making its first-ever Division III tournament appearance. However, the Oles earned three national tourney berths in the early 1970s prior to the NCAA’s split into three divisions. St. Olaf punched its ticket with a 63-53 upset win over No. 12-ranked St. Thomas (Minn.) (22-5) in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship game Sunday. The Tommies are also in the field of 62.

The Marian Sabres earned the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference’s automatic bid with a 65-61 win over Edgewood (Wis.). It’s Marian’s second trip to the NCAA tournament, with the first coming in 2001.

Wis.-Stevens Point coasted through the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament and finished it with a 74-57 win over Wis.-Whitewater in the championship game. The Pointers are three-time NCAA champions, the most recent title coming in 2010. Wis.-Stevens Point has made 12 NCAA tournament trips, including eight straight and 10 of the last 11. The Pointers own a 28-9 tournament record.

“We anticipated drawing a Wisconsin school (in our bracket),” said Douma. “It’s a little bit of a drive, but we’re excited to play in the NCAA tournament. It’s a great opportunity to showcase our school and our program. It’s going to be a great college basketball environment. It’ll be a thrill for our team.

“Playing in the NCAA tournament is a special feeling.”

The field—The NCAA announced the tournament field Monday morning.

The winner of this weekend’s four-team pod in Stevens Point, advances to sectional play March 14-15, taking on the winner of the three-team pod that features Emory (Ga.) (17-8), Centre (Ky.) (23-4) and LaGrange (Ga.) (18-10). LaGrange visits Centre in the first round with the winner traveling to Emory for second-round action.

The final four teams battle for the NCAA title March 21-22 at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, Va.

The Oles—Ranked No. 25 in this week's poll, St. Olaf enters the NCAA tournament on a six-game winning streak. The Oles sport three players averaging double digits: forward Connor Gunderson leads the team with 14.1 points per game and is seventh in the MIAC, followed by guard Sterling Nielsen with 11.3 and frontcourt mate Justin Pahl with 10.4. Gunderson is also the team’s leading rebounder with 5.3 boards per game, ranking No. 11 in the MIAC. Nielsen is sixth in the league in assists with 3.6 per game.

The Oles were the conference’s top defensive team, allowing a paltry 57.5 points per game while scoring 72.4, third-most in the MIAC. St. Olaf was seventh in rebounding.

The two teams have two common opponents this season. St. Olaf topped Bethany Lutheran 86-64 Nov. 15, but suffered a 68-59 setback to Augustana eight days later. The Dutch encountered a similar fate, besting Bethany Lutheran 96-64 Dec. 6, but falling to Augustana 79-57 five days later.

Dancing Dutch—One year removed from tying for sixth in the Iowa Conference, the Dutch (20-7) won their second league tournament title in program history thanks to a nine-game winning streak and victories in 11 of their final 12 games. The win streak was one short of tying the team’s longest since 2009-10.

Central boasts an experienced roster, bolstered by some talented younger players. The squad includes five seniors, three of whom have started all 27 games this season. Forward Matt Greenfield (senior, Huxley, Ballard HS) is the league’s leading scorer and rebounder with 19.0 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. He is also third in blocked shots with 1.22. Guard Kevin Kaerwer (senior, El Paso, Texas, John L. Chapin HS) is sixth in the conference with 15.5 points and second with 3.85 assists per contest. Center Spencer Bakerink (senior, Creston) has started every game this season and posted 4.8 points and 4.8 rebounds.

“The impact the seniors have had on this season cannot be overstated,” said Douma. “It’s fun to say that all of the seniors have contributed in a major way in terms of playing time. Whether it’s starting or coming off of the bench, they’ve all contributed.

“Matt and Kevin are our scoring leaders. Kevin heads up the point, leads us in assists and has hit big shots. Matt has been steady, averaging a double-double in conference play. Spencer does it with work ethic and defense.”

Douma also noted the impact of guard Fred Pratt (senior, Rosenberg, Texas, Lamar Consolidated HS) and forward Yaw Sapon-Amoah (senior, Ghana, Africa, Des Moines Christian HS).

“Fred comes off the bench as our backup point guard and it makes us harder to defend when both he and Kevin are on the floor,” Douma said. “Yaw’s athleticism and defensive effort have been vital as well. They all contribute in different ways, but they complement each other really well. It’s all about buying into your role. It doesn’t matter who gets the honors and the glory. They’re playing for the love of the game and they’re playing for each other. We knew we had something special early on.

“It’s been an incredible year.”

Joining the trio of seniors in the starting lineup is guard Nile Eckermann (junior, Cosgrove, Clear Creek Amana HS) and forward Colby Taylor (freshman, Creston). Eckermann is the team’s third-leading scorer with 10.0 points per game and is tied with Kaerwer for a team-high 52 made 3-pointers. Taylor is fourth with 9.6 points per game but has topped the 20-point mark in four of the last seven games while hauling in 5.1 rebounds per contest in his rookie campaign.

“Nile and Colby have been huge fulfilling those roles,” said Douma. “We weren’t sure how to fill the small forward position early in the season, so we tried Colby at that spot in Puerto Rico. We found our answer. We were better defensively and we were rebounding better. The offensive output was more than I expected, but he’s proved himself as a scorer.

“Nile has improved as the year has gone on. He played really well in the championship game. And what sometimes goes unseen is what he does on the defensive end of the floor. Nile is often assigned our opponent’s best scorer and he’s done a great job on those guys. He’s turned his defense into a positive. He’s a great shooter and he’s played really well.”

Team game—Central is the top rebounding and shot blocking team in the league with 40.6 boards and 3.78 blocks per game. The Dutch are second in assists (15.1), 3-point field goals made (8.48) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (343). Central is also third in scoring offense (78.5), 3-point field goal percentage (.368), free throw percentage (.732) and field goal percentage defense (.421) and fourth in rebounding margin (plus-3.1).

By the numbers—Greenfield became the 27th member of Central’s 1,000-point club by banking in a 30-foot shot as the halftime buzzer sounded in Saturday’s conference tournament championship game. He’s netted 513 points this season after scoring 496 points combined over his first three campaigns. Greenfield is also ninth on the all-time rebounding leaderboard with 596 career boards. He’s third in blocked shots with 93 as well.

Greenfield’s 513 points this season rank sixth all-time, his 266 rebounds rank third and his 33 blocked shots rank eighth.

Kaerwer has started the 14th-most games (50) and his 196 career assists also rank 14th, thanks to his 104 assists this year, the eighth-most in a single season. He has also made 88 career 3-pointers, good for 14th in program history.

The 52 made 3-pointers by Kaerwer and Eckermann this season tie for 10th all-time.

National ranks—Through Feb. 27, the Dutch rank fourth in Division III with 29.7 defensive rebounds per game and are top 50 in total rebounds (33rd, 40.6), total 3-point field goals made (33rd, 222) and 3-point field goals per game (39th, 8.5).

Individually, Greenfield ranks 12th in defensive rebounds per game with 7.8, 28th in double-doubles with 12 and 30th in total rebounds with 254. Kaerwer is 19th in free throw percentage at 88.2.

NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament, Stevens Point, Wis.
Friday, March 7, 2014
Central vs. St. Olaf (Minn.), 5 p.m.
Marian (Wis.) at Wis.-Stevens Point, 8 p.m. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014
Friday’s winners, 7 p.m. 

Complete NCAA Division III tournament bracket available on the Central athletics website at:

Probable starters
Central College (20-7 overall, 12-4 Iowa Conference, first place)
Pos.     Name                           Ht.       Yr.       PPG     RPG
G         Kevin Kaerwer             5-10     Sr.        15.5     3.5
G         Nile Eckermann           6-0       Jr.        10.0     2.4
F          Colby Taylor                 6-6       Fr.        9.6       5.1
F          Matt Greenfield            6-8       Sr.        19.0     9.9
C          Spencer Bakerink       6-6       Sr.        4.8       4.8

No. 25 St. Olaf College (22-5 overall, 17-3 MIAC, second place)
Pos.     Name                           Ht.       Yr.       PPG     RPG
G         Sterling Nielsen          6-1       Jr.        11.3     2.7
G         Josh Pratt                     6-3       Sr.        5.2       2.1
F          Connor Gunderson    6-6       Sr.        14.1     5.3
F          Justin Pahl                   6-4       So.       10.4     2.1
C          Matthew Hultgren        6-5       Sr.        3.9       2.8

Central College men’s basketball
NCAA Division III tournament history
All-time tournament record: 5-10

1976-77: Midwest Regional, Rock Island, Ill.
Central 73, Augustana (Ill.) 69
Hamline (Minn.) 53, Central 50

1977-78: Midwest Regional, Pella, Iowa
Minn.-Morris 62, Central 59
Central 81, Ripon (Wis.) 66 (consolation)

1978-79: Midwest Regional, Chicago, Ill.
Central 85, Minn.-Morris 57
North Park (Ill.) 81, Central 66

1979-80: Midwest Regional. Chicago, Ill.
Augustana (Ill.) 76, Central 74
Ripon (Wis.) 81, Central 71 (consolation)

1984-85: West Regional, Lincoln, Neb.
Central 72, Redlands (Calif.) 64
Neb. Wesleyan 76, Central 54

1990-91: Pella, Iowa
Central 88, Bethel (Minn.) 77
Wartburg 75, Central 73

1993-94, St. Paul, Minn.
St. Thomas (Minn.) 73, Central 62

1994-95, St. Paul, Minn.
St. Thomas (Minn.) 62, Central 58

2009-10, St. Louis, Mo.
Illinois Wesleyan 86, Central 81

2013-14, Stevens Point, Wis.
Central vs. No. 25 St. Olaf (Minn.), 5 p.m.

Central College