By Matt Noonan (@MattNoonan11)
Friday will be an exciting day for multiple New England NCAA Division III men’s and women’s basketball teams as they begin their quest toward a national title.
The afternoon and evening features some exciting match-ups, including a few local teams squaring-off in neutral sites.
The first-round also includes a pair of New England squads – Nichols College (men’s) and UMass Dartmouth (women’s) – making their initial appearances in the ‘big dance.’
Nichols, which captured its first-ever Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) crown, earned date with No. 11 Neumann, while UMass Dartmouth, which secured an at-large bid to this year’s tournament, will square off against La Roche.
“I am just so happy for the players and program,” UMass Dartmouth women’s basketball coach Matt Ducharme said, who is in his third year with the program.
“My Athletic Director is over the moon. She was the former coach before I was, so it was special for her as well, but it is certainly a good time for the program and great step for future success.”
Nichols coach Tom Glynn, who is also in his third season, expressed similar excitement for his program, too, but also added “the campus is absolutely buzzing.”
Both coaches know their respective foe presents unique challenges – the Bison will be facing a Knights squad that hasn’t dropped a home contest this season, while the Corsairs will meet a Redhawks unit that is riding a 17-game winning streak.
“They’re very talented,” Glynn said of Nichols’ first-round foe. “They’re very athletic and start four seniors, they press a little bit, they like to go up-and-down, and they’re really good at rebounding the ball, and they average 92 points per game, so it should be an up-and-down game and should be a great atmosphere, too.”
Said Ducharme, “I want to say (La Roche) is similar to UMass Boston because the (forwards and centers) are very athletic and they play a little bit more of a freestyle and they have a lot of sets.”
If both teams are able to advance to Saturday’s second round, then it would be possible to see a New England match-up take place on a neutral court.
Endicott will play the first game at Neumann on Friday against Salisbury, while Westfield State will play after UMass Dartmouth against host Montclair State. Both Nichols and Endicott have met three times this season, including the CCC Championship, while UMass Dartmouth defeated Westfield State last December.
“That would be so cool if we had two teams from the CCC playing in round two,” Glynn said. “Knowing that someone from our league would advance to the sweet sixteen would be amazing.”
In addition to both first-round contests, some other men’s games to keep an eye on would be Babson-Husson, Amherst-Keene State, Tufts-Salem State and MIT-Eastern Connecticut (just to name a few!).
The Engineers and Warriors will be meeting for first time – both teams captured their respective conference crowns as MIT defeated Babson in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Championship, while Eastern Connecticut beat Keene State to secure the Little East Conference (LEC) crown.
“We have played teams in (Eastern Connecticut’s) conference like Rhode Island College, UMass Boston and UMass Dartmouth, so I know they comes from a strong league and are extremely well-coached,” MIT men’s basketball coach Larry Anderson said.
“I know Bill (Geitner) and if you look at what his team’s have done overtime since he has been there – they have been a model program and remain that way, and I know Bill will have his guys ready to play.”
One of the players MIT will need to stop – or at attempt to slow down – is Hugh Lindo, who was tabbed this year’s LEC Tournament Most Valuable Player. Lindo is averaging 14.8 points and 12.6 rebounds per game and will most likely be defended by MIT’s Tim Butala, who was named the NEWMAC Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Butala was a big part of the Engineers’ exciting wins over the Beavers as he sank four important free throws down the stretch, which helped MIT defeat Babson, 67-62.
“He is a guy we follow without question,” Anderson said of Butala. “He was the one that (told our younger players) that you have to do the boring stuff to be able to get where you want to go, so I was just glad to see the guys get some results from all the hard work they have put in, especially Tim, who is (our only) senior.”
Switching to the women’s bracket, the NCAA set-up a possible national title game between Amherst and Tufts. Both teams will host first-round contests with the Purple and White meeting Regis, while the Jumbos will entertain St. Joseph’s (Maine). Both games are slated to tip-off at 7 p.m.
Also making the trek to Medford is Husson, this year’s North Atlantic Conference (NAC) tournament winner. The Eagles will take on a DeSales team, which saw its bid toward a Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) crown dashed by No. 25 FDU-Florham.
Additional women’s basketball games to follow include Babson-Messiah, Scranton-UNE and Eastern Connecticut-SUNY Poly (again, just to name a few!).
Similar to the Corsairs, the Warriors of Eastern Connecticut earned an at-large bid despite falling to Keene State in the conference championship.
“I think it is outstanding for the Little East Conference and says a little bit about the conference’s competition,” Ducharme said of his conference having three teams in this year’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
Friday promises to be an exciting day and we’ll have more from the opening round throughout the weekend, so make sure to follow-us on Twitter (@Noontime) and become a fan on Facebook, too.