VWC is two games away from winning their second national championship. Yet, the defensive stalwart of UW-Stevens Point might put a stop to an amazing journey.
By Thomas Mills
There’s a famous saying in sports: the journey is always tougher than the final game.
For the Virginia Wesleyan men’s basketball team, that phrase could not be closer to the truth. Last Saturday, the Marlins defeated ODAC rival Randolph-Macon in Ashland, Va 49-47 and punched their ticket to the program’s first Final Four since 2007. The win over the No.1 ranked team in the country was something special, as the team had lost to the Yellow Jackets three times this season, including a heartbreaking 81-74 overtime loss to Randolph-Macon in the ODAC title game.
Moreover, the win vindicated this Marlin team. While inexperienced and young, it has flourished under head coach Dave Macedo in the NCAA tournament.
When the season began, I predicted, wrongly, that the men’s basketball team would have an off year. It had lost three valuable seniors the year before, one of whom was the irreplaceable D.J. Woodmore, which meant that VWC had to rely on its young, underclassmen talent to step up. Unsurprisingly, the young team faltered in the ODAC title game, as sophomore Khory Moore had his worst game as a Marlin, shooting 2-13 from the field, and the team as a whole struggled to create offense against a stout Yellow Jacket defense. With a roster filled with underclassmen, it was easy then to see the team falling in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament.
Amazingly, the team stepped up. Big time. Khory Moore put on a performance for the ages against William Paterson in the round of 32, scoring 41 points, the second highest total in program history. Senior Breven Lyons and junior Nick Doyle have rained down on opponents with their three-point game, giving Macedo and his staff another dimension to their offense. Most importantly though, senior Greg Montgomery, back from the injury that kept him out of the ODAC title game, has added an inside, in-the-paint presence that has been sorely missed by the Marlins.
What’s resulted has been one of the most memorable title runs in recent history. The Marlins aren’t blowing teams out, nor are they trying to be overly flashy as they play. Gone are the days of teammates trying to outdo each other with dunks, passes and complicated dribbles. Instead, this team employs a basic, fundamental approach to basketball that has allowed VWC to be tough and resilient.
In fact, their tournament journey has been so good, that it’s no longer unfathomable that VWC could win its second national title in program history. Yet, for the trophy to be truly within their grasp, the Marlins will have to defeat one of the goliaths of NCAA Division III basketball.
Tomorrow, the Marlins will play the Pointers of the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point in a matchup of polar opposites. The Marlins are a fast, agile team that thrive on scoring in the paint and at the three point arc. Over the past few years, coach Macedo has done a lot to make VWC a better defensive team, adding bigger bodies and creating better defensive schemes. Make no mistake though, VWC is an offensive team through and through.
The Pointers, on the other hand, are not.
Coming in as the No.8 ranked team in the nation, the Pointers own the top-ranked defense in the country, allowing an extraordinary 54.5 points per game. In fact, their defense this season has been borderline flawless, if not historical. Just last week in the Elite Eight, the Pointers defeated No.25 East Texas Baptist, a team that was 26-5 and had won the American Southwest Conference tournament championship, by holding them to an NCAA Division III tournament record 28 points for the entire game. So good was the Pointers defense, East Texas Baptist could only muster eight points in the first half.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Pointers are anchored by an all upperclassmen starting lineup, which includes four seniors who lead the team in scoring, scoring average, field goal attempts, field goals made and a plethora of other statistical categories.
In short, this University of Wisconsin Stevens Point team was built to win and it was built to win now.
Yet, should VWC get past the defensive juggernaut of UW-Stevens Point, the road to victory would be very clear.
On the other side of the bracket are two top five teams, No.6 Augustana and No.4 Babson. Neither program has ever been to the Final Four before, they have never played in the Salem Civic Center nor have they played a road game during this year’s tournament.
The Marlins, on the other hand, bring an experienced team, coach and program to Salem, Va. Moreover, VWC has been the road warrior team of this year’s tournament, as they are the only team remaining that has yet to play a home playoff game. This bodes well for the players, especially since the Salem Civic Center, the perennial host of the ODAC tournament, is like another home venue to them.
Should the Marlins get past UW-Stevens Point, their chances of cutting down the nets would be very high.
Of course, that’s if they get past the Pointers.