Story by Eric Montgomery, Media Coordinator
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – (Press Book – PDF) (Bracket - PDF) (Live Stats) The 81st annual NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship tips off this Wednesday, March 14 inside Municipal Auditorium. The single-elimination championship begins at 9 a.m. CDT and runs through March 20. Coined college basketball’s toughest tournament, the national champion must win five games in a seven-day span.
The first 30 games of the national championship will be video-streamed live at www.NAIANetwork.com, the NAIA’s official video-streaming platform powered by Stretch Internet. The championship final will air on ESPN3 for the fifth-straight season on Tuesday, March 20 at 7:00 p.m.
For the second-straight season, the championship tips off with Life (Ga.) competing in the 9 a.m. matchup on Wednesday morning, facing off against William Carey (Miss.) in the Liston Bracket. The 2017 national championship runner-up, Life is making its 16th all-time appearance overall to begin the quest for a fourth national championship in program history. William Carey, the Southern States Athletic Conference regular season and tournament champion, carries a nine-game winning streak and 25-5 overall mark into its third-straight national championship appearance.
Reigning national champion Texas Wesleyan will look to become the first repeat champion since Oklahoma City (2007-08) on Thursday evening against first-time participant Graceland (Iowa) at 5:45 p.m. Texas Wesleyan captured the Sooner Athletic Conference regular season championship to qualify for its 16th all-time appearance. Graceland, one of two first-time participants in this season’s field (Central Baptist (Ark.)), won the Heart of America Athletic Conference Tournament title to earn its first trip to Municipal Auditorium.
No. 1 overall seed The Master’s – ranked No. 1 in each of the final three regular-season editions of the Top 25 Coaches’ Poll – enters the national championship with the most wins during the regular season, compiling a 29-2 overall record. The Master’s is the No. 1 seed for the first time in program history and will open the championship against Peru State (Neb.), which claimed the host berth out of the Heart of America Athletic Conference.
Four of the top nine leading scorers in the NAIA will be on display in Kansas City. Quantice Hunter of Peru State is No. 4 in NAIA Division I, averaging 22.3 points per game. He scored at least 20 points in 22 of 33 games this season and recorded a season-high 41 points against Northwestern (Iowa) on Nov. 11, 2017. Branden Jenkins of Texas Wesleyan ranks No. 6 on the scoring list, tallying 21.7 points per game, and boasts 20 games of 20-plus points. Shadell Millinghaus of Georgetown (Ky.) (No. 8 – 21.1 ppg) and Brian Egejuru of Central Methodist (Mo.) (No. 9 – 21.0) round out the participants in the top nine.
William Penn (Iowa) is the only repeat No. 1 seed from last season’s national championship, winning the Heart of America Athletic Conference regular season crown to enter the tournament with a record of 27-4. LSU Alexandria (La.), also a Fab Four qualifier in last season’s event, returns to Kansas City for the fourth-straight season and marks the first time since 2011 all four semifinalists from the previous championship return to Municipal Auditorium.
Thirteen programs will also have representation at the NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship – Campbellsville (Ky.), Carroll (Mont.), Central Methodist, Columbia (Mo.), Dillard (La.), Lindsey Wilson (Ky.), Montana Western, Oklahoma City, Our Lady of the Lake (Texas), Science & Arts (Okla.), The Master’s (Calif.), Westmont (Calif.) and William Penn (Iowa). Five teams in the 2018 national championship have at least 20 all-time appearances: Georgetown (37), Cumberlands (26), Oklahoma City (24), Columbia (22) and Westmont. Oklahoma City boasts the most national championship rings in NAIA history with six. The Stars last banner year came in 2008.
There are six other qualifiers with at least one previous national championship: Life (Ga.) (3), Georgetown (2), Texas Wesleyan (2), Dalton State (Ga.) (1), Pikeville (Ky.) (1) and Science & Arts (Okla.) (1).
For more information on the National Championship, go to NAIAHoops.com
- The 81st NAIA National Championship this year continues the event’s distinction as the oldest national championship basketball tournament in the country. Founded in 1937, the tournament preceded both the National Invitation Tournament (founded in 1938), as well as the NCAA Tournament (founded in 1939), and has produced national champions from 23 states, spanning the nation from Maryland to Hawaii. This year marks the 74th time the tournament has been contested in Kansas City, including 54 years at historic Municipal Auditorium, extending the city’s long tradition of hosting outstanding championship basketball on all collegiate levels.
- Since the national championship came back to Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium in 2002 (from Tulsa), the national champion teams have been diverse. In that time frame, five unseeded teams won the title while the No. 1 seed only took home the red banner once – Mountain State (W.Va.) in 2004. Pikeville (Ky.) was the last unseeded program in 2011 to win the national championship. Overall since 1967, there have been seven No. 1 seeds to win the national championship.
- The last 10 national champions have been different, with Texas Wesleyan taking the 2017 trophy. Five of those champions – Mid-America Christian (Okla.), Dalton State (Ga.), Vanguard (Calif.), Pikeville (Ky.) and Rocky Mountain (Mont.) – were winners for the first time in school history.
- The last team to enter the championship with an undefeated season record was Columbia (Mo.) in 2013. The 33-0 Cougars ended up losing in the Quarterfinal round to LSU Shreveport (La.). Overall, two previous programs have won the championship title with a perfect record, with Oklahoma City in 1992 and Central State (Ohio) in 1965.
- Recent NAIA Men’s Basketball Hall of Fame honorees have included legends such as Scottie Pippen (player), Terry Porter (player), Travis Grant (player), Clarence “Bevo” Francis (player), Bob Burchard (coach), Steve Jenkins (coach) and Rocky Lamar (coach).
- Georgetown (Ky.) will be making its NAIA-record 37th National Championship appearance and NAIA-best 27th-consecutive. The Tigers hold a 66-36 playoff record, which also is the most wins of any championship program.
- The state of Oklahoma claims the most championship titles with 11 followed by Missouri with eight. Oklahoma City University has won six national championships, the most of any institution. The Stars won consecutive titles on two occasions (1991-92 and 2007-08).
- There have been 48 states represented in the national championship -- Alaska and Wyoming are two states not represented. In all, there have been different 576 schools (heading into 2018) that have qualified for Division I Men’s Basketball postseason action. The 2018 event welcomed newcomers Central Baptist (Ark.) and Graceland (Iowa).