Posts Tagged With: NCAA Division II

The Elite Eight

With the West Liberty men’s basketball team making its second consecutive Elite Eight appearence, I’ve decided to come up with a new series called ‘The Elite Eight’.

This series will run under the same format as the ‘Taking a Look Around the Region’ segments. It will include who the team is, how they got this far, and a few key players that may give the Hilltoppers some fits.

Check back often to see updates on the teams West Liberty will face as it continues its journey to the National Championship.

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Deja Vu

With 1:03 remaining in the Atlantic Region championship game, Alex Falk hit a 3-point bomb that put the final nail in Shaw’s coffin. The Hilltoppers were up by 12 points and there was nothing the Bears could do to get back in the game.

Then the surreal idea came over all 1,174 fans at the ASRC: the West Liberty men’s basketball team was heading back to the Elite Eight.

But will the ending be different this time around?

Rewind one year. The No. 1-ranked Hilltoppers just won their 32nd straight game and John Wolosinczuk was climbing on top of press row to hold up the Atlantic Region championship trophy for all to see. It would have been crazy to think that he would not be holding up another championship trophy 10 days later.

But sometimes crazy things happen. And when BYU-Hawaii beat West Liberty in the Final Four, few thought the Hilltoppers, who would be losing four senior starters, would make a similar run the following year.

But sometimes crazier things happen. 

Here we are, one year later, and the No. 3-ranked Hilltoppers are just three games away from being national champions.

And you want to know something even crazier then just the idea of that? I like the Hilltoppers’ chances of becoming national champions this year better then I did last season.

Call me crazy, but this team right now is playing basketball at a high, if not the highest, level possible.

Look at West Liberty’s past two games. The Hilltoppers beat W.V. Wesleyan for the fourth consecutive time this year with a 99-69 stomping. To beat a team four times in one season is a hard enough task on its own, but to score 99 points on the best scoring defense in the WVIAC? That’s pretty impressive. And consider the fact that these two teams just met a little over a week ago in the WVIAC tournament semifinal where the Hilltoppers managed a 87-77 victory in a highly contested battle. The score was definitely not indicative of how close that game really was.   

Then there was Tuesday night’s 89-78 win against No. 7-ranked Shaw. Alex Falk, West Liberty’s leading scorer, did not score a single point in the first half of play and the Hilltoppers were only down one, 43-42, at intermission.

West Liberty led by as many as 10 points on three different occasions, but the Bears were able to get back in it with some easy lay ups. And I mean easy. As soon as a Hilltopper player would shoot the ball, Alvin Malkin, the Atlantic Region Player of the Year, would race down towards Shaw’s basket and catch a half court pass to put in the uncontested lay up.

Coach Jim Crutchfield called Shaw one of, if not the most talented team in the nation and despite Falk’s first half shortcomings and the team giving up easy lay ups, the Hilltoppers still won by 11. Eliminate those West Liberty setbacks and the Hilltoppers might have won by 30 points for the third straight game.

WLU has a lot of momentum heading into its Elite Eight matchup against Stonehill College on March 21 at noon at the Bank of Kentucky Center in Highland Heights, Ky. I have a feeling this train isn’t going to stop until its conductor is holding up the national championship trophy.

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Hilltoppers continue to dance, this time with the Bears.

After beating their opponents by a combined 67 points in the first two rounds of the NCAA Division II tournament, the Hilltoppers will compete in tonight’s Sweet Sixteen against No. 7-ranked Shaw. The winner of this game will be crowned the regional champion and advance to the Elite Eight in Highland Heights, Ky.

No. 3 West Liberty (31-2) is coming off one of its best performances of the year after a 99-69 stomping of W.V. Wesleyan. Last week, the two teams met for the third time this season in the semi final round of the WVIAC tournament.  The Hilltoppers managed to pull out an 87-77 victory in a highly contested battle. The fourth meeting between the two schools proved anything but.

Junior Alex Falk started the game 8-of-8 from the floor, 4-of-4 from behind the arc, and 2-of-2 from the charity stripe for 22 points to put the Hilltoppers ahead, 37-25, with eight minutes remaining in the first half.

“I was in a zone, it was a great feeling,” Falk said, who finished with 29 points. “I don’t really have that feeling very often, so I don’t know what I did, what I ate. I just had the normal Sub Way before the game.”

WLU went into halftime ahead, 61-40, after shooting 73 percent from the floor and 64 percent from 3-point. That tempo continued throughout the second half as the Hilltoppers coasted into the Sweet Sixteen.

Shaw’s Karron Johnson had 22 points and Curtis Hines added 18 as the Bears handily defeated Wheeling Jesuit 92-68 to advance to the Region Finals. Shaw (27-3) dominated in all aspects of the game, shooting over 54 percent, pulling in 39 rebounds to WJU’s 31, and forcing 20 turnovers while committing only ten.

“Obviously, it’s [going to be] a very tough matchup,” WLU coach Jim Crutchfield said. “They’re one of the most, if not the most talented team in the country. Someone told me earlier that they saw Shaw play against Duke in an exhibition and said that Shaw look liked they belonged on the court with [Duke]. And they got a pretty good basketball program at Duke.”

For the Hilltoppers to win, they must wear out the competition. The Bears defiantly have a size advantage over West Liberty, but they don’t have the speed that the Hilltoppers do.

In Shaw’s win over Wheeling Jesuit, Junius Chaney, a 6-foot-8, 260-pound forward, could not keep up with the Cardinals smaller, faster players. The big guy was very effective at the beginning of the game but seemed to fade down the stretch. West Liberty can exploit this.

This Hilltopper team is peaking at just the right time. A week ago, Crutchfield said he didn’t think there was a team out there that could score a 100 points against W.V. Wesleyan. His team came up one point short on Sunday.

These two teams put on a thriller last season in an Atlantic Region semi final and look for the same this time around.

“We’re really going to have to play a good basketball game to beat Shaw,” Crutchfield said.

Tip off for tonight game is at 7 p.m. at the ASRC.

 

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Six to go

There are six games standing in the way of West Liberty and a national championship. The first one begins Saturday as the No. 3-ranked Hilltoppers look to defend their Regional Title when they face East Stroudsburg in the first round of the NCAA Division II tournament.

The Hilltoppers are coming off of both WVIAC regular season and tournament titles. WLU won the tournament title in an overtime thriller against No. 17 Charleston, 93-90, at the Civic Center in Charleston, W.Va. on March 3. Down three with eight seconds remaining, Tim Hausfeld broke his 10-miss streak and drained a 3-point bomb that sent the game into overtime. Then the nation’s best free throw percentage team went 8-of-9 from the line to win the championship in back-to-back seasons.

East Stroudsburg University will be making its second appearance in the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Tournament in three years and the third in school history. The Warriors received the PSAC’s automatic bid by becoming the first No. 4 seed in 21 years to win the conference’s championship last weekend.

The two schools met in their season openers on November 12 in the Wolf’s Bus Lines Classic at Shippensburg, with West Liberty prevailing 96-92. Alex Falk scored 27 points and Cedric Harris had 22 in the win. Freshman Whis Grant scored 30 points in his collegiate debut and hit four three-pointers late in the second half for East Stroudsburg. The Warriors also got double-doubles from junior Duane Johnson (21 points, 10 rebounds) and senior Terrance King (18-11).

“We actually watched film of that game, and what I noticed was that we were all real tired,” Hausfeld said. “We hadn’t played with that kind of intensity in a game and you can’t match that intensity in practice.”

To keep pace with West Liberty, ESU will have to slow the Hilltoppers or continue one of the top scoring seasons in school history. The Warriors have scored more than 90 points in nine games and have won their last eight when scoring 90+. They scored more than 90 twice in their three PSAC Tournament games.

“East Stroudsburg has a great program,” coach Jim Crutchfield said. “They’re similar to W.V. Wesleyan and Charleston with their personnel.”

ESU, the second-highest scoring team in the PSAC with 79.7 points per game, has four players averaging at least 12 per night entering the NCAA Tournament in Grant (14.0), King (12.8), senior guard Russell Graham II (12.6), and Johnson (12.4).

Johnson, a first team All-PSAC East selection who was joined by King and Graham on the second team, leads the Warriors in minutes (32.8), is second in rebounding (6.1), assists (76) and blocks (26) and tied for second in steals (42). He averaged 13.3 points and 6.7 rebounds last week and had 19 in the title game.

King was named the PSAC Tournament MVP after averaging 22.3 points and 11.3 rebounds. He had a career-high 32 points along with 10 rebounds at Kutztown, nine points and a career-high 15 rebounds against Mercyhurst and 26 points and nine boards at West Chester in the championship game. Defensively, King has 44 blocks on the season and is third in school history with 140 career blocks.

On the defensive side, ESU has forced 17.0 turnovers per game and has a +2.7 turnover margin, ranked 33rd in Division II. Graham (47), Grant (42) and Johnson (42) are the team’s leaders in steals and the Warriors are also 33rd in the nation in blocked shots with 4.1 per game, led by King and Johnson (26).

West Liberty counters with an offense that leads DII in scoring (102.8), free throw percentage (81.2) and assists per game (21.2), ranks second in three-pointers per game (10.6), 10th in field goal percentage (50.3) and 13th in three-point percentage (40.6). On the defensive end, they are second in steals per game (11.5) and turnover margin (+5.8).

“I feel like we’re a completely different team now [then from the first meeting],” WVIAC Freshman of the Year C.J. Hester said. “We didn’t have that much team chemistry. Now that we’ve gone a full season together, we play a lot more confidently. We’ve just really jelled well together this year.”

“Our players know each other a lot better now than they did in game one,” Crutchfield said. “I think we’re a lot better basketball team, unfortunately East Stroudsburg is a pretty good basketball team too.

“We’ve been focusing on East Stroudsburg all week, cause that’s what you’re suppose to do,” Crutchfield added. “If we can beat East Stroudsburg, we’ll go from there.”

Tip off for tonight’s game is at 6 p.m. in the ASRC.

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Taking a look around the region: Winston-Salem

Who are they?

No. 5-seeded Winston-Salem State (21-8) is entering the first round match-up as it returns to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. WSSU won the 2012 CIAA Tournament with a 62-51 victory over the Elizabeth City State University Vikings on March 3rd, capturing the school’s 11th CIAA Tournament Title.

Stars to Watch

Winston-Salem is led by forward WyKevin Bazemore, the CIAA Rookie of the Year, and guard Justin Glover. Both were first team All-CIAA. Glover led the Rams in scoring, averaging 15.4 points per game (5th in CIAA), to go with 3.1 rebounds.  He is also averaging 1.8 assists per game and 1.8 steals per game.  Also has six blocked shots on the season.  Glover is averaging 27.3 minutes per game, and is shooting 41% from the floor, 31% from behind the 3-pt arc and 76% from the free throw line.  Glover has scored in double figures in 23 of WSSU’s 25 games and has scored in double figures in 15 consecutive games. Bazemore is averaging 11 points per game to go along with a CIAA leading 8.4 rebounds per game. He is averaging 26.7 minutes per game and is shooting 53% from the floor and 60% from the free throw line.

Last time against the Hilltoppers

These two teams have not met in the past five seasons.

Should WLU keep an eye out for them?

Yes. WSSU upset No. 5 Shaw in the CIAA tournament and will be a handful for W. Va. Wesleyan in the first round. If WLU wins it’s game against East Stroudsburg, the Hilltoppers will likely face Winston-Salem. Expect a battle at the ASRC March 11 at 7:30 p.m.

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I’m proud to be a Hilltopper

Whenever I came back to my apartment after the Hilltoppers 109-99 loss to Wheeling Jesuit, I logged onto Facebook. The very first status I saw really pissed me off.

It wasn’t a WJU student saying that West Liberty was overrated, nor was it a WJU student celebrating their teams victory. It was a student from the hilltop that made my blood boil.

Her status read, “I must say that tonight I am not proud to be a West Liberty HillTopper.”

I was stunned.

How could you ever, ever not be proud to be a Hilltopper? We had the No. 1-ranked team in the nation.

Let me restate that.

Our team is not only in first place in the Atlantic Region and the new West Virginia Conference champions, but the No. 1 team in the nation.  And not just the No. 1 team, but the only team in Division II men’s basketball with one loss.

Now we have two. Three total over the past two seasons.

And you’re not proud to be a Hilltopper?

Let me slap you in the face with a stat.

60 games.

West Liberty won 60 straight conference games. That has never been done before. WLU came up one win short of having back-to-back undefeated conference seasons. That also has never been done before.

But doing the impossible is nothing new for this basketball team.

Maybe because we’re on the inside we don’t fully appreciate the insanity of the situation, but this team lost four senior starters. Four, 1,000 point scorers who combined for over 5,000 points during their Hilltopper careers graduated.

That would cripple a program.

The Indianapolis Colts lost one player for one season and everything turned upside down. West Liberty lost four Peyton Mannings.

The Hilltoppers started this season the No. 6-ranked team just based off of last year’s reputation. And they were supposed to one way: down.

Never in a million years we’re they suppose to go on a 23-game win streak and rise to the top spot of the polls.

And you’re going to throw that out the door because they lost one game?

They lost to a team that has the second ranked scoring offense in the country and the third place team in the conference. (Note that the WVIAC is no joke anymore. Two teams are currently ranked in the Top 25 and five are seeded to play in the NCAA Division II tournament.)

So let me tell you something, honey, you don’t need to help everyone celebrate when we win the WVIAC tournament. And you don’t need to come by the ASRC when we’re hosting the regional tournament. And you don’t need to get a seat on the bus to Kentucky to watch our Hilltoppers in the finals.

Because according to a poll in the Wheeling Intelligencer on Feb. 23, 100 percent of voters said yes when asked if they believed the West Liberty would return to the Final Four.

So I guess you could say that they have plenty of supporters.

I’m one of them.

My name’s Tony Viola and I am proud to be a West Liberty Hilltopper.

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