2023 First/Second Round Preview: Upset-minded Dawgs set for rematch

By Jacob Knabel on Mar. 4, 2023 in Men's Basketball

2023 MBB National Tournament Press Guide

SEWARD, Neb. – The Bulldogs are happy to have a seat at the table after sweating out selection Thursday in the NAIA. The Concordia University Men’s Basketball team was rewarded with one of the very last at-large berths into the field of 64 and was seeded 15th. In first round action, the Bulldogs will go up against an opponent they saw during the regular season, second-seeded Oklahoma Wesleyan University, who boasts the KCAC Player of the Year in big man Jaden Lietzke. Head Coach Ben Limback’s squad will enter the national tournament at 18-12 overall. The program will appear on the national stage for the 12th time in school history.

First/Second Round Info (March 7-8)
-Host: Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference
-Site: Hartman Arena (Park City, Kan.)
-Tickets: https://www.kcacsports.com/tickets
-Live Streaming Link: https://www.kcacnetwork.com/
-Live Stats: Presto Stats

Game Schedule

2023 NAIA Men’s Basketball National Championship Bracket (PDF)

Tuesday, March 7: (2) Oklahoma Wesleyan (24-6) vs. (15) Concordia (18-12), 12 p.m. CT

Tuesday, March 7: (7) Ottawa-AZ (21-9) vs. (10) Baker (22-8), 2 p.m. CT

Wednesday, March 8: First round winners, 3 p.m. CT
(winner advances to the final site)

By the numbers

·        The 2023 trip to nationals will mark the 12th all-time appearance on the national stage for the program. Head Coach Ben Limback has now led the Bulldogs to three national tournament appearances, including the national tourney trips in 2020 and 2022. In the first nine appearances, all presided over by former head coach Grant Schmidt, the Bulldogs went a combined 11-9. Limback played for the national qualifying teams of 1996, 1997 and 1998. This is just the second time in program history that Concordia has earned an at-large bid (1996 was the other instance). The 2020 and 2022 appearances both came on the heels of GPAC tournament titles.

·        Concordia has won its first-round game at the national tournament six times. Two teams in program history have reached at least the semifinals: the 1991-92 squad and the 2004-05 team (national runner up). The 1994-95, 2002-03 and 2021-22 squads advanced to the national quarterfinals. The 2021-22 team enjoyed a dream season while led by NAIA Second Team All-American Carter Kent. The Bulldogs dominated in the first two rounds held in Omaha, where they won by scores of 96-78 over Indiana University Northwest and 90-67 over Marian University (Ind.). Concordia then advanced to the round of 16 in Kansas City, Mo., where it knocked off Indiana University Kokomo, 75-65, before being eliminated in the quarterfinals by Talladega College (Ala.), 77-69.

·        The at-large bid gives fifth-year player Gage Smith, as well as the class of seniors, another opportunity to take the court as Bulldogs. The senior group includes Garrett Seagren, Kelly Vyhnalek and Skyler Woita. This will be Smith’s third trip to the national tournament. While starting 29 games this season, Smith is averaging 13.2 points, 8.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. He’s shooting 47.7 percent from the field, 29.7 percent from 3-point range and 71.9 percent from the foul line. On the program’s all-time lists, Smith ranks second in rebounds (891), 12th in assists (276) and 15th in scoring (1,348). He’s played in 133 career games as a Bulldog. The Elizabeth, Colo., native has been named all-conference three times. Gage sat out the GPAC semifinal loss at Jamestown due to being under the weather.

·        First Team All-GPAC honoree Noah Schutte made a name for himself on the national scene a year ago when he was recognized as an NAIA National Championship All-Tournament Team selection. Schutte raised his game to new heights in his third collegiate season. He’s averaging 20.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game after an impressive flurry in the regular season finale and in two GPAC postseason contests. Schutte produced career highs of 38 points, 18 rebounds and nine 3-point field goals (school record) in the GPAC quarterfinal win at Northwestern. Among GPAC players this season, Schutte ranks fourth in scoring average (20.0), fourth in 3-point field goal percentage (.452), eighth in rebounding (7.0), ninth in free throw percentage (.794) and 10th in field goal percentage (.540). In his career as a Bulldog, Schutte has totaled 1,134 points and 450 rebounds in 82 games.

·        Throughout the 2022-23 season, Concordia has stood out as one of the GPAC’s top defensive teams. Among GPAC squads, the Bulldogs rank first in scoring defense (69.6), first in defensive efficiency (0.966) and second in field goal percentage defense (.429). Gage Smith’s defense in the post has played a big role in that success. Offensively, Concordia has averaged 78.0 points per game while shooting 46.5 percent from the field, 34.6 percent from 3-point range and 72.4 percent from the foul line. The Bulldogs might get a boost on both ends of the floor if Tristan Smith is able to give it a go at the national tournament. He suited up for both GPAC tournament games but did not see action. Tristan has been sidelined since suffering an injury just before New Year’s.

·        While Schutte was named to the GPAC’s first team and Gage Smith landed on the second team, both Brad Bennett and Tristan Smith were recognized as honorable mention all-conference recipients. Bennett has averaged 10.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. The Elkhorn, Neb., native is shooting 46.8 percent from the floor, 40.4 percent from beyond the arc and 72.1 percent from the foul line. Tristan started the first 15 games of the season and averaged 14.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field and 70.8 percent from the foul line. The Elizabeth, Colo., native recorded a career high 23 points in the season opening win over Tabor College (Kan.).

Park City site breakdown

(2) Oklahoma Wesleyan University
Overall Record: 26-4
Location: Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Conference: Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference
Head Coach: Donnie Bostwick
RPI: 6th
SOS: 114th
O-PPG: 78.0
D-PPG: 64.0
All-Conference: Jaden Lietzke (Player of the Year; first team); Kaleb Stokes (second team); Derrick Talton Jr. (third team); Brandon Bird (honorable mention); Dylan Phillip (honorable mention).

(7) Ottawa University
Overall Record: 21-9
Location: Surprise, Arizona
Conference: Golden State Athletic Conference
Head Coach: Matt Keeley
RPI: 19th
SOS: 19th
O-PPG: 82.9
D-PPG: 74.8
All-Conference: Keshawn Bruner; Josiah De laCerda.

(10) Baker University
Overall Record: 22-8
Location: Baldwin City, Kansas
Conference: Heart of America Athletic Conference
Head Coach: Sean Dooley
RPI: 40th
SOS: 135th
O-PPG: 85.3
D-PPG: 77.7
All-Conference: Jalen Patterson (first team); Quentin Harvey (first team); Noah Rigatuso (second team); Braden Wiggs (honorable mention).

(15) Concordia University
Overall Record: 18-12
Location: Seward, Nebraska
Conference: Great Plains Athletic Conference
Head Coach: Ben Limback
RPI: 59th
SOS: 43rd
O-PPG: 78.0
D-PPG: 69.6
All-Conference: Noah Schutte (first team); Gage Smith (second team); Brad Bennett (honorable mention); Tristan Smith (honorable mention).

Final site

The hopeful destination for the Bulldogs is a return to Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo. The final 16 teams left standing will advance to that location for action from March 13-18. NAIA men’s basketball has a long history in Kansas City with the first national tournament having taken place there in 1937. Additional information about the NAIA Men’s Basketball National Championship can be found via the NAIA website HERE.