PARK CITY – Kansas Wesleyan basketball coach Anthony Monson might have wondered which team from South Bend, Indiana he was watching on video – the renowned Fighting Irish of Notre Dame or lesser-known Titans of Indiana University-South Bend.
Monson’s Coyotes play the latter in an Opening Round game of the NAIA Men’s National Championship on Friday night. Tipoff is 8 p.m. inside Hartman Arena and follows the first game of the night between Oklahoma Wesleyan and Saint Katherine (Calif.) at 6 p.m. The winners play Saturday in Hartman Arena with a trip to the Round of 16 March 17-18 at stake.
This is KWU’s third trip in the NAIA Tournament and first since 2007 when the Coyotes defeated Bluefield (Va.) and lost to Northwestern (Iowa) when the event was played in Point Lookout, Mo.
Wesleyan’s first trip to nationals was in 1950.
While IUSB isn’t Notre Dame, Monson is mightily impressed the Titans, who are 25-6 and seeded eighth in the Liston Quadrant; Wesleyan (22-10) is the ninth seed.
“They play really, really well together,” Monson said. “They do a lot of things any coach would want his team to do. They’ve got a ton of weapons; they can beat you a number of different ways.”
The most impressive is IUSB’s penchant for shooting and making shots from the perimeter. The Titans average 27 3-pointers attempts and make an average of 10, which ranks ninth in the NAIA. They’re shooting 37 percent beyond the arc and 49 percent overall.
“They like the three,” Monson said. “They’ve had more double digit 3-point made games (17) than they have single digit games (14). They made 17 threes in a game and 19 threes in a game. A big key for us trying to make we don’t let them go wild from the 3-point line.”
The Titans don’t stop there.
“They can get to the rim; they’ll post you up at times too,” he said. “They don’t do anything ‘wow, that’s amazing,’ they just do everything very, very well. They make simple plays and find ways to make those simple plays look really, really good.
“Everybody that plays is extremely skilled, one through five. They play their roles extremely well and they don’t go outside of them.”
IUSB averages 83 points and has six individuals who average between 9.3 and 14.3 points. Senior guard Dylan Allen averages a team-best 14.3 points followed by junior guard Donyell Meredith (14.1) and junior forward Miles Tracy (12.3). Meredith leads the team in rebounding (5.9) with Tracy second (5.4).
Defensively opponents average 66 points and the Titans rank sixth in the NAIA with 9.8 steals per game. They have a plus-2.8 rebounding advantage this season; KWU outrebounds opponents by 6.1 per game.
“If we get beat up on the glass and give up second and third opportunities that means we’re taking the ball out bounds almost every single time and we’re not a team that wants to do that,” Monson said. “We need to play the game at our pace and we’ve got to get the stops. When we get stops, we’re very, very dangerous, especially in transition.”
Jun Murdock (SO/Wichita, Kan.) (SO/Wichita, Kan.) is KWU’s top scorer at 14.0 and averages a team-best 3.6 assists. A.J. Range averages 12.0 points and team-high 7.7 rebounds while Cory Kaplan (SO/Merritt Island, Fla.) (SO/Merritt Island, Fla.) averages 11.3 points and Alex Littlejohn (FR/Newton, Kan.) (FR/Newton, Kan.) 8.3 points and 6.7 rebounds.
The Coyotes enter the game having won eight of their last 11; IUSB is 7-3 in its last 10 after a 67-64 homecourt loss to Lincoln, Ill. in the semifinals of the Chicagoland Conference tournament February 25.
Monson and the Coyotes relish the challenge and the chance to prove themselves under the NAIA spotlight.
“Our program is at a point where we’re getting some national respect and now we get to compete at the national level,” he said. “This is a pretty special moment for this program.
“We’re going to have our work cut out for us but we’re a really talented team too and we’re playing pretty well right now.”