If everyone in Pam Evans Smith Arena on Saturday night thought Wittenberg Tigers forward Connor Seipel looked surprised when he was named MVP of the North Coast Athletic Conference tournament, they were right.
“I was shocked,” Seipel said.
Seipel expected senior Chad Roy, his partner in the frontcourt, to earn the honor. After all, just three years ago, Seipel was coming off the bench as a junior at Groveport Madison High School. He didn’t even consider playing college basketball until he was a senior when Capital started recruiting him. Then Wittenberg coach Matt Croci heard about him from a friend of Seipel’s mom, and that’s how he ended up with the Tigers.
» NCAA TOURNAMENT: Wittenberg plays Misericordia on Friday
Seipel’s quick rise has been unlikely, but that has been the story all year for Wittenberg. A team that lost four starters was thought to be at least a year away from a season like this.
Instead, the Tigers (26-2) enter the NCAA Division III tournament with a No. 3 ranking — they even received two first-place votes in the D3Hoops.com poll this week — and the opportunity to host games in the first four rounds if they keep advancing. They play Misericordia (17-10) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Pam Evans Smith Arena.
The 6-foot-6 Seipel has played a big part in a season that ranks among the program’s best.
“Connor’s had a tremendous year,” Wittenberg coach Matt Croci said Monday. “He’s had a big jump from his freshman to sophomore year, and that’s when most guys have their biggest jump. He is a really hard-working kid. He’s a grinder. He puts a lot of time and effort in. He’s gotten stronger. He’s gotten more fit. There’s a lot that goes into it. I think he benefits from a certain degree to having Chad. Chad usually draws the No. 1 assignment. Connor gets who next, and he has made teams pay.”
Seipel ranks third on the team in scoring (11.1 points per game). He leads the team in rebounding (6.8). He scored 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting Friday in a 97-73 NCAC semifinal victory against Denison and 28 points on 14-of-17 shooting Saturday in an 82-70 victory against Ohio Wesleyan in the championship game.
Seipel and Roy combined to score 56 points and make 27 of 34 shots in the final.
“We made a concerted effort to go inside, which we do every game, but it was working,” Croci said. “I will give our guys a lot of credit for not going away from it at all.”
Last season, Seipel appeared in all 27 games as a freshman. He averaged 6.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in 14.3 minutes per game. He dropped his weight from 240 to 225 during his freshman year and weighs close to 220 this season.
“It makes me be able to stay on the floor longer,” Seipel said. “I’m not as tired. I’m better on defense.”
Seipel has come a long way in a short time. He was stuck behind more experienced players until his senior year at Groveport Madison. He said he came off the bench as a junior. It didn’t take him as long to earn a starting job in college. He moved into the starting lineup in the sixth game this season.
Junior point guard Mitch Balser, who played against Wittenberg and Seipel last season when he was at Wooster, said he was blown away by how much Seipel improved.
“I knew he was good last year,” Balser said. “It is impressive. I’m just glad I get to play with him for another year. He’s something else.”
NCAC awards: Roy was named the NCAC Defensive Player of the Year on Wednesday and was also named to the all-conference first team. Balser made the second team. Sophomore guard Jake Bertemes received an honorable mention. Croci was named the coach of the year. In the women’s awards, Wittenberg freshman guard Delaney Williams made the third team.