TERRE HAUTE —
At first glance, the men’s basketball teams of Calvin College and Rose-Hulman resemble each other in several ways.
Both will bring 24-3 records into their NCAA Division III tournament first-round clash today in Hulbert Arena.
Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m.
Also, both captured 2012-13 regular-season conference championships — the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) for Rose and the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) for Calvin.
And both emerged from their conference tournaments as champions last Saturday, thus earning automatic bids into the Division III tournament. The Engineers downed Hanover 64-59 behind 17 points from tournament Most Valuable Player Brenton Balsbaugh to claim the HCAC title in Hulbert Arena and Calvin got 18 points from reserve guard Bryan Powell in routing Hope 77-57 for the MIAA crown at Grand Rapids. Mich.
Another similarity is both squads possess balanced offensive attacks. The Engineers have five players averaging between 14.5 and 7.4 points per game, while the Knights from Grand Rapids utilize four double-digit scorers.
But for some reason, Calvin is ranked higher in the latest d3hoops.com national poll — No. 12 (compared to No. 19 for Rose-Hulman). In fact, this is the only matchup out of the Division III tourney’s 31 first-round games that features two top-20 teams.
This will be Rose’s 10th appearance in the Division III tourney, having lost a first-round matchup to North Central College 74-71 in St. Louis last season. Meanwhile, this will be the 18th DIII tourney appearance for Calvin, which won national championships in 1992 and 2000.
“They’re a real storied program, absolutely,” Rose-Hulman coach Jim Shaw told the Tribune-Star this week. “This year, they are really long and very skilled. They do a lot of things well. They’re really good defensively.”
Among the Knights’ front-line starters are 6-foot-9 junior Tyler Kruis, 6-8 sophomore Tyler Dykstra and 6-4 senior Tom Snikkers. That may be a challenging combination for Rose’s 6-6 starting big men, seniors Balsbaugh and Jon Gerken.
Calvin’s top scorer is Snikkers at 13.3 ppg, although Kruis (12.8 ppg), Powell (11.6 ppg) and 6-3 sophomore guard Jordan Brink (10.7 ppg) aren’t far behind. Kruis averages a team-high 6.2 rebounds per contest.
“I’ve heard they’re a good team,” Balsbaugh mentioned. “We’ve got to defend their guys who are a little bit bigger than us and we also need to rebound. … don’t give them any second-chance points. And then we need to get the ball out and run a little bit.”
“We always have to defend well … and we have to rebound,” added 6-3 junior guard Julian Strickland, Rose-Hulman’s leading scorer at 14.5 ppg. “[Calvin] is a long team, like coach [Shaw] has been telling us, so we’ve got to guard ‘em and when we stop them, we can’t give them second-chance efforts. So we’ll have to rebound. And we’ll have to execute our plays … running in transition and putting the ball in the basket.”
“Obviously, their length inside and on the perimeter concern us,” Shaw admitted, “because we usually have that advantage over people. But it might be a disadvantage this game. … [Calvin] is a program that really knows how to win. They’ve had a lot of success. This is a great opportunity for us to beat somebody with a national reputation.”
In addition to Strickland, the Engineers plan to rely on 6-2 senior guard Austin Weatherford (12.5 ppg), 6-4 senior reserve Nate Gissentanner (7.8 ppg), Gerken (7.6 ppg), Balsbaugh (7.4 ppg) and 6-2 junior guard James Pillischafske (3.9 ppg), among others. In last weekend’s HCAC tournament victories over Defiance and Hanover, Balsbaugh combined for 34 points, Strickland totaled 31 and Weatherford had 25.
“We probably need to play better [than last weekend],” Shaw assessed. “You need to play better at every level you go up. I think we beat good teams the last couple weeks, but Calvin’s at another level of good.
“By the same token, I don’t think we have to do anything that is out of character for us. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We’re not going to change who we are and neither will Calvin. We’re two really good teams … and whoever plays best will probably win.”
If Rose happens to knock off Calvin tonight, a 25th victory would give this group the highest season total in program history. The 1976-77 Engineers, coached by John Mutchner, posted 24 wins.
I I I
n Rose awards — Earlier this week, Strickland (Player of the Year) and Shaw (Coach of the Year) were honored by the HCAC for their achievements in 2012-13. Each offered his reaction following a mid-week practice.
“I’ve got to give credit to my teammates for getting me open, getting me shots,” Strickland said. “Coach is always pushing me in practice and it shows in the game. I’ve made some progress since I got here my freshman year — my mindset and my skill level. … I knocked down some open shots and I take what the defense gives me.”
“I’m proud individually, but first my team, the players, make a coach,” Shaw emphasized. “Second of all, I have the best assistant coach in America [Rusty Loyd] and we work as a team, so it’s his honor as well. And third, it’s a great honor because of the respect I have for the other coaches in the league who voted for me as Coach of the Year.”