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Site preview: Who’s coming to King Horn for this weekend’s Sweet 16

Ohio Northern will play host to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds of games this weekend. It will be the second consecutive weekend in which King Horn will host NCAA Tournament action. (Northern Review photo/ Grant Pepper)

This weekend, King Horn will once again play host to NCAA Division III women’s basketball tournament action. After hosting the first two rounds last weekend, ONU will host the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds this Friday and Saturday, respectively, as well.

The fifth-ranked, undefeated Polar Bears will face 20th-ranked SUNY Geneseo (N.Y.) in the Sweet 16 on Friday night at 7:30 p.m., in the nightcap, while 10th-ranked Christopher Newport (Va.) and 18th-ranked Hope (Mich.) will battle in the first game of the night at 5:30 p.m.

While you may know about the hosting Polar Bears, you might be less familiar with the other three teams that will be playing on Friday night. On Thursday afternoon, we had a chance to ask each visiting coach a few questions before they took the floor at King Horn for their private practices. Here’s what we know about each team:

 

#20 SUNY Geneseo (28-1) -- will play #5 Ohio Northern in Sweet 16

The Knights beat Muhlenberg by 12 and Rochester by six last weekend to earn a spot in the Sweet 16. They have lost just one game this season, which was their conference tournament championship game, in which they fell to SUNY New Paltz (who is also in the Sweet 16 this weekend) by one point.

This is Geneseo’s 10th time in the Big Dance, but the Knights have never advanced past the Elite Eight. They last played in the Sweet 16 in 2015, when they lost to FDU-Florham.

Geneseo is anchored by their defense, which surrenders just 47.6 points per game; they are ranked sixth nationally in that category. The Knights have held opponents to 40 points or lower nine times this season.

“I think, as a whole, our commitment is to defense and rebounding,” Hemer said. “I’ve been at this long enough to understand that [players] won’t remember to do everything you ask them, but they’ll remember what you emphasize, and for us, we emphasize defense and rebounding.”

“We are going to try to do our best to force opponents into a low-percentage shot and then work hard on the boards to give them just one. That’s our philosophy every possession, and it’s worked pretty well for us this year.”

However, despite the Knights’ defensive success this season, critics might point out that the team only faced one NCAA Tournament opponent during their regular season, which was SUNY New Paltz (who got in because they beat Geneseo in the conference tournament title game). In the first two rounds of the national tournament last weekend, Geneseo also played two unranked opponents.

But to Hemer and the Knights, strength of schedule is of little importance.

“I think ‘strength of schedule’ is a bit of an overrated statistic,” Hemer said. “For us, it’s not about who we play, it’s about how we execute. You can go and look at New Paltz, and we beat them twice, and here they are in the Sweet 16 as well. So, if that number really means something to people, then so be it. We just try to worry about what we do and not focus on that stuff.”

Unfortunately, Geneseo comes into this year’s tournament with a tragic backstory. On January 17, 2016, a senior member of last year’s team was killed in a double-murder suicide incident, which shook the university community. Just 11 months later, on December 21, 2016, a freshman on this year’s team was killed in a car accident.

11 players on this year’s team have experienced both tragedies. Hemer says that although the past year has been almost indescribable, the team has become stronger through the tough times.

“[The team has] overcome a lot of adversity over the past 12-plus months -- adversity that you wouldn’t want anybody to have to go through, [much less] something that you’d have to go through while in college,” Hemer said. “But I think ultimately, part of our success comes from the bond they’ve shared through that. They’ve chosen to move forward through the adversity and they’ve done it together, and I think that togetherness has only made them stronger on the court.”

Geneseo will face Ohio Northern at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night.

 

#10 Christopher Newport (27-2) -- will play #18 Hope in Sweet 16

The Captains come to Ada this weekend following two blowout wins in the opening weekend of the tournament. They beat College of Staten Island 98-56 in round one, a game in which all 15 players on CNU’s active roster got playing time, and all but two scored. In the second round, Christopher Newport pounced on Lynchburg early and never let them back in the game, as the Captains won by 18.

This year marks the program’s second straight trip to the Sweet 16, and their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in the past five years. CNU has reached the Sweet 16 in their last six tournament appearances, and their best finish in school history came in 2011, when they made it to the Final Four.

CNU’s top eight scorers from last year’s 24-5 team are all back. Head coach Will Broderick believes that last year’s tournament experience has benefited his team so far.

“Last year, we weren’t really sure what to expect,” Broderick said. “We didn’t have anybody who had been to the tournament at all. We had no seniors, really no juniors [who played], and so it was just basically sophomores and freshmen. This year, we’ve got some experience. Especially in the first round, I think it really helped us.... we didn’t have very many jitters.”

Broderick will play anywhere from 10-15 players per night, and his team gives up just 53.4 points per game, which is good for 35th in the nation in that category.

On offense, the Captains are led by junior wing Sam Porter, who leads the team in scoring (12.8 points per game) as well as rebounding (seven boards per game). A tenacious on-ball defender, Porter also averages three steals per game.

“She’s really our energy player. She really brings the intensity for practice and in games for us, and it’s been nice,” Broderick said. “When you have someone that can really start off with that intensity and get everybody going… she’s been a joy to coach.”

The Captains’ patented pressure defense will go up against one of the nation’s premier offensive attacks in Hope on Friday night. Hope scores nearly 80 points per game, which ranks fifth nationally. For Broderick and CNU, limiting Hope’s attack will be the goal, although it is easier said than done.

“I’m not sure you can stop a team like that,” Broderick said. “I think really what we’re going to try to do is try to slow them up a little bit and maybe make things a little bit tougher for them.”

 

#18 Hope (24-4) -- will play #10 Christopher Newport in Sweet 16

The Flying Dutch will enter the Sweet 16 on the heels of the tournament’s biggest upset thus far, as they handed third-ranked Thomas More their first loss since March 15, 2014 last Saturday in the second round. Hope beat Thomas More 74-67 behind 22 points and 14 rebounds from senior forward Mandy Traversa.

“I thought we played well together. We withstood their early run -- they got up 19-11 -- and I thought we responded well to that adversity,” head coach Brian Morehouse said of Saturday’s win. “We just kind of hung in there, and I think that’s the big thing against those great teams that you play against -- stay within striking distance.”

Hope also knocked out Wisconsin-Whitewater in round one on Friday night, 78-71.

This year, Hope is making their fifth straight tournament appearance, and their 18th appearance in program history. While Hope lost in the first round of the tournament last year, they last played in the Sweet 16 two years ago, and went to the Final Four in 2010. They have won national championships in 2006 and 1990, and are one of just seven Division III schools to have won multiple national titles.

Three of Hope’s four losses this year have come to NCAA Tournament teams: Calvin, #2 St. Thomas and #15 Trine.

As previously mentioned, this year’s Flying Dutch rank fifth nationally in scoring at just under 80 points per game. They are led by sophomore forward Francesca Buchanan, who scores just under 16 points per game. Aside from Buchanan, Hope’s scoring is extremely balanced -- five players score between eight and 10 points per contest.

“We don’t feature one player, we always want to be balanced,” Morehouse said. “If you’re open, take the shot. Move the ball, play well together.”

Like Christopher Newport’s Broderick, Morehouse is not afraid to go deep into his bench, even in tournament games. In their win over Thomas More, Morehouse played nine players, although he has typically played closer to 11 this season.

Christopher Newport and Hope will tip off at 5:30 p.m. on Friday night.

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