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Wittenberg seniors chasing banner of their own in NCAA tournament

The banners hang above the court at Pam Evans Smith Arena as lasting tributes to past Wittenberg teams and constant reminders to the current one of what they’re chasing.

Two years ago, the Wittenberg men’s basketball team hung a final eight banner, thanks to one of the most senior-dominated teams in recent history. The seniors this season played for that team and would like nothing more to hang a banner themselves by winning two games in the NCAA Division III tournament this weekend.

“That’s always a goal,” senior post Scott Masin said. “We really wanted to get a championship ring for the conference tournament. We missed out on that, but one of those banners would be just as good.”

The No. 23 Tigers (21-7) play No. 24 Calvin (22-5) in the first round at 6:30 p.m. today at Washington University in Saint Louis. The winner plays Washington or Wilmington in the second round at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Calvin, champions of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, brings a seven-game winning streak into the tournament and earlier this season beat Wheaton, the one common opponent it shares with Wittenberg. The Tigers lost 73-62 to Wheaton on Nov. 16, and Calvin beat Wheaton 78-51 on Dec. 7.

Tyler Kruis, a 6-foot-9 senior, and Jordan Brink, a 6-3 junior, dominate Calvin’s offense, averaging 15.8 and 15.6 points per game, respectively.

“They’re extremely long team at all positions,” Wittenberg coach Bill Brown said. “The first place most people think of length is at the center position and the power forward, but on a relative basis, they have length at the point guard and wings. So we’ll have to hopefully adjust pretty quickly and work even a little extra hard for shots. They’re ability to shot contest with their length is probably better than most teams we’ve seen.”

The Tigers consider themselves battle-tested, however, because of their play in the NCAA tournament. Wooster and Ohio Wesleyan also made the field, and the Tigers lost three games to Wooster and swept two games from Ohio Wesleyan. If all three win two games this weekend, they would advance to the same site — probably Wooster — in the Sweet 16.

“We think with our conference play and our schedule this year, we’re ready to play against anybody,” Masin said.

This is Wittenberg’s third tournament appearance in four years. This current run follows a four-year postseason drought. Prior to that, the Tigers had appeared in the tournament five times in six years.

“I think there’s way too much put on how one does in the tournament,” Brown said. “If they get in the tournament, people ignore the regular season too much at all levels of basketball. But there’s no two ways around it, it’s a nice way to be judged. Oftentimes you’re judged here at Wittenberg by ‘Did you get in the NCAA tournament?’ If you’re not going to win a regular-season title, which we’ve had a really difficult time doing, at least we can point to getting in three of four years. Getting in as an at-large takes it to a whole different level than getting the AQ.”

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