By Matt Bos, NAIA Media Coordinator
POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. –Three teams will be making their first ever appearance at the national semifinals held tonight at the Keeter Gymnasium in Point Lookout, Mo., site of the 2014 NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship.
Southeastern (Fla.), no. 5 Indiana Wesleyan and no. 10 Midland (Neb.) are all newcomers to this stage and have a combined 11 appearances total at the national championships. The fourth team, Robert Morris (Ill.), is playing in its second Division II semifinal but overwhelmingly has the most experience at the Fab Four, reaching the NAIA Division I National Championship semifinal five times since 2003.
Monday’s Fab Four marks the first time since 2001 and the third time overall that none of the top four seeds reached the semifinal round. This also is just the second time that two of the four teams playing in the semifinal have been unseeded, last occurring in 1992, the first year that the NAIA broke into two Divisional Championships.
The first semifinal contest features unseeded Southeastern (Fla.) against no. 5 Indiana Wesleyan, the highest remaining seed left in the championship. Playing in their first Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship, the Fire have knocked off three seeded teams to get to Monday’s semifinal. They earned an 84-76 win over no. 16 Huntington (Ind.) in the first round, upset defending national champion and top-seed Cardinal Stritch (Wis.) 71-70 on a buzzer beater in the second round and then eliminated no. 9 Davenport (Mich.) 76-74 in Saturday’s quarterfinal. Southeastern finished tied with Northwood (Fla.) for second in The Sun Conference regular season standing and lost to the Seahawks in the conference semifinals. They are one of four teams from The Sun Conference at the Division II National Championship, joining Northwood, Embry-Riddle (Fla.) and no. 11 St. Thomas (Fla.). They earned at-large bid into the 32-team field, finished the year ranked 18th in the final coaches’ poll and are 27-6 overall heading into Monday night’s match-up.
No. 5 Indiana Wesleyan is the highest remaining seed and has the most experience at the Division II Championship of the four teams left. This is the Wildcats sixth consecutive and seventh overall trip to Point Lookout, all coming since the 2007 season. They are 12-6 all-time at the championship but this is the first time playing in the semifinals, having lost in the quarterfinals four times prior to Saturday. Of the 10 games decided by 10-or-more points at this year’s championship, the Wildcats have three of them, defeating Reinhardt (Ga.), Oklahoma Wesleyan and Friends (Kan.), all by double-digits, to get to Monday’s semifinal. One of four teams from the Crossroads League to reach the field of 32, IWU qualified by winning the regular season title and has won 12 of its 13 games heading into Monday. They closed the year ranked fifth in the NAIA Coaches’ poll and are 29-6 overall.
The other semifinal pits unseeded Robert Morris against no. 10 Midland in the late game Monday night. Playing in their third overall Division II national championship, Robert Morris returns to the semifinals for the first time since 2002 where they reached the title game and lost to Evangel (Mo.). Following that the season, the Eagles went to play at the NAIA Division I level where they made seven trips to the national quarterfinals and five appearances to the semifinals. Robert Morris defeated no. 14 Saint Francis (Ind.), no. 3 Indiana University Southeast and William Penn (Iowa), all by five points or less, including a 69-66 overtime win over the USF in the first round. One of three teams from the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference in the 32-team field, Robert Morris tied for fourth in the regular season with a 13-6 record, losing in the conference semifinals to Cardinal Stritch. They earned an at-large berth into the championship field and were ranked 19th in the final coaches’ poll. Robert Morris has won eight of its last nine games and is 26-9 overall.
No. 10 Midland is the final team and, like its semifinal opponent, are making their third overall appearance at the championship. They lost in the first round in 2000 and reached the quarterfinals last season, losing to top-seed William Penn (Iowa) on a last second shot, 67-66. Midland has wins over Embry-Riddle (Fla.), no. 7 Saint Xavier (Ill.) and Bethel (Ind.), all by under 10 points. One of three teams from the Great Plains Athletic Conference to qualify for the Division II Championship, Midland finished tied with Morningside in the regular season with a 16-4 record. They lost in the first round of the conference tournament and earned the second at-large bid into the field of 32. The Warriors have won seven of their last eight games, were ranked 10th in the final poll and are 29-5 overall.
The first semifinal game on Monday begins at 6pm, followed by the second at 8pm. The 2014 NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship game will be at 6pm on Tuesday, March18 with a 6:02 pm (CST) tip-off. The championship game will be televised live on ESPN3.