The No. 17 Wittenberg Tigers departed Wednesday for Greensboro, N.C., flashing the “W” sign with their hands in the bus in a video posted to Twitter.
A “W” at 5:30 p.m. Friday against No. 18 Emory College (20-5) in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament and another one Saturday against host Guilford College (21-7) or The University of the South (22-6), known as Sewanee, would put Wittenberg (23-5) in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011, when it reached the Elite Eight.
The Tigers lost 68-60 in the second round last season at home to Wisconsin-Oshkosh in a game that was tied entering the final two minutes.
“I don’t want to feel that again,” junior Connor Seipel said. “That was no fun.”
Advancing past the first weekend will be a tough task. Not only did the Tigers (23-5) have to travel 429 miles for the the tournament, they have to get by a seasoned tournament team in the first round. The Eagles (20-5) are the only Division III team to have one at least one tournament game in the last six seasons.
If any team can end that streak, it’s Wittenberg. Its NCAA chances looked grim in January, but it didn’t lose a game in February and takes a 10-game winning streak into Friday.
“We’re really excited obviously,” Seipel said. “We were all sitting here waiting to see who we were going to play. We were nervous and excited. It’s going to be a fun week of practice and preparation. We’ll be ready to go on Friday.”
Emory is a high-scoring team (93.1 points per game) with a deep lineup. Eight players average double-figure minutes, and five average between 10 and 18 points per game.
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The second first-round game Friday at Ragan-Brown Fieldhouse matches Guilford against Sewanee. Guilford is making its sixth NCAA appearance. It reached the Final Four in 2009 and 2010. Sewanee is making its fifth tournament appearance and first since 1998.
NOTES: Wittenberg senior Mitch Balser was named the North Coast Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year on Tuesday. Seipel was named to the NCAC first team. Balser made the second team. Two Wittenberg women’s players were honored by the NCAC. Sophomore Kristie Kalis made the first team. Sophomore Delaney Williams earned an honorable mention.