2024 First/Second Round Preview: Concordia to meet IU Northwest in Salina

By Jacob Knabel on Mar. 11, 2024 in Men's Basketball

2024 Concordia MBB Press Guide (PDF)

SEWARD, Neb. – The Concordia University Men’s Basketball program will officially make its 13th all-time national tournament appearance when the ball is tipped on Friday evening in Salina, Kan. As the No. 4 seed in the Duer Bracket, the Bulldogs will draw No. 13 seed Indiana University Northwest in the first round. Fifth-seeded Kansas Wesleyan University (in conjunction with the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference) serves as the host of a pod that will also include No. 12 seed LSU Shreveport. The NAIA Men’s Basketball National Championship tournament features a 64-team bracket. The final 16 teams remaining in the field advance to the final site, Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.

First/Second Round Info (March 15-16)
-Host: Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference
-Site: Mabee Arena (Salina, Kan.)
-Tickets: https://kcacsports.com/sports/2023/1/6/tickets.aspx
--Cost: $20 for adults, $10 for K-12 students
-Live Streaming Link: https://www.kcacnetwork.com/ (fee required)
-Live Stats: Presto Stats

Game Schedule

2024 NAIA Men’s Basketball National Championship Bracket (PDF)

Friday, March 15: (4) Concordia (23-7) vs. (13) Indiana Northwest (21-10), 6 p.m. CT

Friday, March 15: (5) Kansas Wesleyan (23-8) vs. (12) LSU Shreveport (22-8), 8 p.m. CT

Saturday, March 16: First round winners, 6 p.m. CT
(winner advances to the final site)

By the numbers

·        The 2024 trip to nationals will mark the 13th all-time appearance on the national stage for the program. Head Coach Ben Limback has now led the Bulldogs to four national tournament appearances, including the national tourney trips in 2020, 2022 and 2023. 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 third 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. Limback owns a national tournament record of 3-3.

·        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.

·        In the national tournament experiences since 2020, Limback has traveled his teams to Sioux Falls, S.D. (2020), Omaha, Neb. / Kansas City, Mo. (2022), Park City, Kan. (2023) and now Salina, Kan. Concordia got one of the last at-large bids into the field in 2023 and was seeded 15th and matched up with No. 2 seed Oklahoma Wesleyan University. The Bulldogs nearly pulled the upset before falling, 72-70, after two missed 3-pointers on potential game-winning shots in the final seconds. Noah Schutte paced Concordia with 23 points and seven rebounds and Brad Bennett added 18 points. In his final game as a Bulldog, Gage Smith totaled seven points, eight rebounds and six assists. The Laurel, Neb., native Schutte has had no problem succeeding on the big stage. He was named to the 2022 NAIA National Championship All-Tournament team and has averaged 20.6 points and 9.2 rebounds per outing in five career national tournament games.

·        Concordia’s three most prominent veteran players each appeared on the 2024 GPAC All-Conference honor roll announced last week. Schutte landed on the conference’s first team for the second-straight year while Smith moved up to the first team and Bennett bumped up to the second team. Schutte is averaging 20.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game while shooting 55.6 percent from the floor, 36.1 percent from 3-point range and 83.3 percent from the foul line. Smith is averaging 18.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.46 blocks and 1.25 steals per game while shooting 60.5 percent from the floor. The sharpshooting Bennett is averaging 10.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game while shooting 48.4 percent from the floor, 39.8 percent from beyond the arc and 72.2 percent from the foul line.

·        Despite the return of Schutte and Smith, the Bulldogs found themselves off the national radar for a good portion of the 2023-24 season. Concordia did not receive a single vote in the NAIA coaches’ poll until Feb. 14 when it checked in at No. 21. Respect was earned when the Bulldogs went on a nine-game winning streak from Jan. 20 through Feb. 14. That stretch included a CIT championship and wins over No. 19 Morningside (away) and No. 12 Northwestern (home). Concordia developed into one of the NAIA’s top 25 teams while combining veterans like Bennett, Schutte and Smith with perhaps the GPAC’s best class of freshmen. There are four freshmen averaging more than 5.0 points per game: Hayden Frank (7.1), Jaxon Stueve (6.4), Lukas Helms (6.2) and Brooks Kissinger (5.1). The influx of athleticism has allowed the Bulldogs to push the pace and play faster as compared to a year ago. Concordia ranks 15th nationally with an average of 87.2 points per game.

·        The layout of this year’s postseason schedule is a unique one. Everything has been pushed back later in the calendar, including the GPAC tournament, the first two rounds of the national tournament (March 15-16) and the final site of the national tournament (March 21-26). The team that wins the national title will have triumphed through a five-month grind (six months counting preseason). As for the Bulldogs, the delayed tournament schedule means they will have had roughly two weeks between their GPAC semifinal game and their first-round contest at the national tournament. As mentioned above, Concordia met IU Northwest in the first round in 2022 in Omaha. The Bulldogs last played in Salina in October 2014 and came away with an 85-72 win over Kansas Wesleyan.

Salina site breakdown

(4) Concordia University
Overall Record: 23-7
Location: Seward, Nebraska
Conference: Great Plains Athletic Conference
Head Coach: Ben Limback
RPI: 15th
SOS: 63rd
O-PPG: 87.2
D-PPG: 78.4
All-Conference: Noah Schutte (first team); Tristan Smith (first team); Brad Bennett (second team).

(5) Kansas Wesleyan University
Overall Record: 23-8
Location: Salina, Kansas
Conference: Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference
Head Coach: Anthony Monson
RPI: 21st
SOS: 45th
O-PPG: 81.1
D-PPG: 75.1
All-Conference: Alex Littlejohn (first team); Jun Murdock (first team; all-defensive team); Thubil Bile (honorable mention); Izaiah Hale (honorable mention).

(12) Louisiana State University – Shreveport
Overall Record: 22-8
Location: Shreveport, Louisiana
Conference: Red River Conference
Head Coach: Kyle Blankenship
RPI: 50th
SOS: 143rd
O-PPG: 84.2
D-PPG: 78.7
All-Conference: CJ Carpenter (first team); Paul King (second team); Tyler Washington (second team); Damon Davis (honorable mention); Melvion Flanagan (honorable mention).

(13) Indiana University Northwest
Overall Record: 21-10
Location: Gary, Indiana
Conference: Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference
Head Coach: Javier Heridia
RPI: 73rd
SOS: 165th
O-PPG: 78.2
D-PPG: 61.9
All-Conference: Dannie Smith (first team; newcomer of the year); Anthony Taylor (second team); Trace Williams (second team).

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 21-26. 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.