Connor Seipel doesn’t shy away from talking about the ultimate goal for the Wittenberg men’s basketball team. It’s a prize that has eluded the program for 43 years despite five Final Four appearances in the last four decades.
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It’s something Seipel should feel justified in talking about in early January since his team is 12-0 and ranked second in the country, the highest it has been since 2006.
“I want a national championship,” said Seipel, a 6-foot-6 senior forward from Groveport Madison. “That’s our goal as a team.”
Wittenberg won its first national championship in 1961 under coach Ray Mears and captured its second in 1977, the first year for coach Larry Hunter. In his fourth season, coach Matt Croci has built a roster capable of making a deep NCAA tournament run after second-round exits the last two seasons.
Seipel is the centerpiece of that roster. He made 11 of 16 shots from the field and scored 24 points to go with 11 rebounds Wednesday in an 80-63 victory against Denison at Livingston Gymnasium. He scored 21 points in the first half, making six shots in a row after missing his first attempt and finishing 10 of 12 from the field in the half.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into the end product you see during a game,” Croci said, “and he works awful hard at it. Our guys trust him. We throw the ball inside and play from there. It’s fun to have him.”
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The Tigers overcame an early 14-7 deficit to lead 45-28 at halftime and enjoyed a comfortable lead throughout the second half as they improved to 5-0 in the North Coast Athletic Conference. They remain a game ahead of Wooster (10-2, 4-1) and two games ahead of Wabash (7-5, 3-2) and DePauw (6-6, 3-2).
Seipel ranks sixth in the conference in scoring (17.1 points per game) and first in rebounds (11.2) and field-goal percentage (69.2).
“We throw it to him, and if they’re not going to double, I’ll just sit out and wait for him to pass,” senior guard Jake Bertemes said. “If not, he’s going to score. To have that luxury is really nice, especially in that first half when some shots weren’t falling.”
Seipel began his senior season tied for 31st in school history with 1,028 points. He now has 1,233 points and ranks 15th, 10 points behind Brian Agler, who was a freshman on the national championship team in 1977 and is now the head coach of the Dallas Wings in the WNBA. Seipel passed Al Thrasher (1,228 points) and Aaron Smith (1,230) on Wednesday.
Wittenberg has 13 regular-season games remaining. At his current pace, Seipel would enter the postseason with 1,455 points. That would put him at 10th place in the record book. He would then have a shot to pass Dan Russ (1,472 points) and Dane Borchers (1,461), two of the stars of the last Wittenberg team to play in the national title game in 2006, in the postseason.
“He’s clearly one of the best big guys who has ever played at Witt,” Croci said. “Part of the deal for him is how our team does. Our program has always been about team success first and individual success second. If we can continue to win and advance and do what we want to do from a team standpoint, I think Connor will get recognized as he should.”