- David Jablonski Staff Writer
Twelve years ago, the Wittenberg Tigers began their run to the NCAA championship game in Springfield, playing at home in the first four rounds. They’ll get a chance to do it again in 2018.
The NCAA announced the Division III tournament bracket Monday, and No. 6 Wittenberg found out it will host games on the first weekend and on the second weekend if it advances to the Sweet 16. The Tigers hope to reach the Final Four in Salem, Va., for the first time since 2006 when they lost 59-56 to Virginia Wesleyan in the title game.
“That’s our plan: Go all the way,” senior Chad Roy said Saturday.
Wittenberg (26-2) will play Misericordia University (17-10), of Dallas, Pa., at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the first round at Pam Evans Smith Arena. No. 19 University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (20-7) and No. 24 Marietta College (21-6) play in the other first-round game at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Wittenberg. The winners play at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Misericordia, a program Wittenberg has never faced, won the Middle Atlantic Conference Freedom tournament to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. Wittenberg beat Marietta 83-70 in Springfield in December. Wittenberg has never played Oshkosh.
Wittenberg earned the North Coast Athletic Conference’s automatic bid by beating Ohio Wesleyan 82-70 on Saturday in the conference championship game. The Tigers won the tournament for the first time since 2006.
“We know it’s been a long time since the program has won the tournament,” coach Matt Croci said. “It means a lot to do it on our home court in front of our home fans. They were tremendous all three games this week in the tournament for us. It was a pretty cool experience for our guys.”
The Tigers will make their 35th appearance in the NCAA tournament and their first since 2014 when they lost 66-51 to Calvin in the first round. Wittenberg hasn’t won a NCAA tournament game since 2012 when it reached the Elite Eight, losing 70-49 to Illinois Wesleyan.
Wittenberg will host NCAA tournament games for the first time since 2006. The Tigers played their first four games at home that season, beating Lake Erie, Baldwin Wallace, Hope and Transylvania.
One other NCAC team made the tournament. Wooster will play Illinois Wesleyan in the first round at John Carroll. Wittenberg and Wooster would meet in the Elite Eight if they both advanced that far.
If Wittenberg gets to the Sweet 16, its possible opponents are No. 7 Emory (21-4), Berry (11-17), LeTourneau (24-4) and Hanover (22-6). No. 1 Whitman, No. 8 Williams and No. 14 Wesleyan are the other top seeds in the tournament.
Croci feels Wittenberg’s non-conference schedule and games in the NCAC against the likes of Wooster and Ohio Wesleyan, which lost to Whitman 92-90 in December, prepared his team for the competition it will see in the NCAA tournament.
“We played some really good teams in our non-league schedule,” Croci said, “and our conference has become really tough. We’ve played a lot of styles. There’s great coaching. There are good players. I feel we’re prepared.”