This men’s basketball season could be best described in one word: groundbreaking.
With a record of 29-3 and multiple players hitting career records of 1,000 points, they’re worth a second look. Not only did this team finish well in the Sunshine State Conference, they also took home a South Regional Championship win and by doing so, have made it to the Quarterfinals in the NCAA Division II National Championship Tournament. This is the first time in the history of the men’s basketball program that this has happened.
“It’s a night I will never forget: to hit 1,000 points, win the South Regional Championship and make the Elite Eight. We had a goal of playing hard every day and focusing [MM1] on one game at a time. Now that we are looking to get a National Championship title, it’s mind blowing. It hasn’t really settled in yet,” said David Dennis, senior sports management major and guard for the Sharks.
It was a night to remember but it was also a point of change for the program. In preseason, national polls didn’t even rank the Sharks in the Top 25 teams. Now the Sharks sit as the No. 1 seed in the South Region. For a team that wasn’t even on the radar, they became a well-known name practically overnight but this was no accident. Two years ago, Head Coach Jim Crutchfield joined NSU and set out to change the culture of the program and its reputation.
“I came to NSU hoping that someday we would be in this position and someday came a little quicker than I thought. The players have bought into a different system. I might not be the easiest coach to play for but they respect the work and the process. I came here to help develop the program and make it successful and that certainly has happened this year. There is no guarantee for the future but it’s satisfying to see [the change in the program],” said Crutchfield.
Riding on the high of the win against Lynn University, the Sharks are pitted against No.5 seed Saint Anselm with NSU standing in the No. 4 slot. As the nerves set in for Wednesday’s game, the team is confident that no matter the outcome, they are going to give it their all.
“There is a lot of anxiety because everyone is just ready to play and the stands are going to be packed; Everyone a little nervous. We do have a little chip on our shoulder since no one in the league really expected us to be here so we play with a little swagger but our opponents need to know we are going to war for 40 minutes. We can be friends after, but on that court it’s you and yours versus me and mine,” said Dennis.
Before the boys leave the locker room, they will “clear the mechanism”. A tradition started by Crutchfield over 12 years ago inspired by a scene from For Love of the Game.
“I want them to clear everything out of their mind. Take a moment and clear everything that’s [stressing them out] and only think about Basketball. Forget about everything else and just play,” said Crutchfield.
NSU’s men’s basketball team will face Saint Anselm on Wed. March 27, 1 p.m. at The Ford Center in Evansville, Ind.
With three newcomers and two players out for injuries, the regular season was a rough undertaking for the team. But NSU’s women’s basketball pulled through and earned themselves a spot in the NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Championship for the fourth time in program history. The Sharks hold the No. 8 seed in the Elite Eight and are using this position as a second chance to prove themselves to those that doubted them.
“Finding a flow and a rhythm as three newcomers joined the team halfway through the season was rough but we knew that we could do it. No one is expecting us to win so we are the underdogs. We really have nothing to lose so we are going to go out and go for it,” said Christen Prasse, point guard for the Sharks and second year graduate student in business administration.
The Sharks may be considered the underdogs but they have the appetite to compete with any of the other teams because they’ve been doing exactly that all season long. In their regular season schedule they faced Union and Florida Southern. Both of these teams made it to the NCAA tournament by taking a win from NSU to get there, but ultimately NSU beat both of those teams to make the Elite Eight.
“I set up those games purposefully because I want us to see what the teams at the top look like. We’ve worked hard and we had to experience some tough losses along the way but we firmly believe that you learn from failure. Florida Southern beat us three times but we beat them when it counted,” said Leann Freeland, head coach of the women’s basketball team.
In the first round of the Quarterfinals, the women are against No. 1 seed Drury University but because of their intense schedule, they played them before which puts them at an advantage.
“I think our team is way more prepared in facing Drury this time. They are undefeated but they can be beaten. Their defense is really good but so is our offense. As long as we can handle their pressure and play our game, I really think we can win these next games and become national champions,” said Prasse.
This season was a rebuilding year for the women’s team and through this process, the team has had some unexpected successes. With five seniors graduating, the players stepped up to realize their dreams and came together as a team towards this one ultimate goal.
“It’s so amazing to see how well-balanced the team has become. Everyone found their own niche in the team and are encouraging each other to play better. The postseason really comes down to how bad the seniors want it and how supportive they are of each other. It’s one thing for a coach to encourage the players but when the players are [invested] in the game, that’s [MM2] when coaches and players work as a unit and that’s what’s happening right now,” said Freeland.
According to the team, when the Sharks hit the court in Ohio, they will be cool, calm and collected as they compete against Drury and the other big teams in the league. For the Sharks, it’s all about precision and emotional control.
“In big games and big moments, it’s all about the details and how well you can just zone in and perform and I think we do that very well,” said Freeland.
The women’s basketball team will face Drury University on Tues. March 26 at Alumni Hall in Columbus, Ohio at 6 p.m.