Bulldogs earn program's 13th national tournament bid, sent to Salina

By Jacob Knabel on Mar. 7, 2024 in Men's Basketball

2024 MBB National Tournament Press Guide

Tournament Bracket | 2024 National Qualifiers

SEWARD, Neb. – As it learned while gathered for a watch party at Bottle Rocket in Seward, the Concordia University Men’s Basketball team will be headed to Salina, Kan., as the No. 4 seed in the Duer Bracket of the 2024 NAIA Men’s Basketball National Championship tournament. In first-round action, the Bulldogs will take on 13th-seeded Indiana University Northwest on Friday, March 15. Head Coach Ben Limback has guided the program to the national tournament for the third-straight year and for the fourth time in five years.

“Last year we were sweating it out on the bubble. We didn’t know what was going to happen,” Limback said. “That was exciting because we did get in. This year we put together a résumé throughout the season, despite the tough finish in the GPAC semifinals, that put us in the tournament. We’re blessed to be going to the national tournament for another year. It’s an advantage to have guys that have done this before. We’re excited about it.”

Kansas Wesleyan Pod
--Site: Mabee Arena (Salina, Kan.)

Friday, March 15 (first round)
Time TBA – (4) Concordia vs. (13) Indiana Northwest
Time TBA – (5) Kansas Wesleyan vs. (12) LSU Shreveport

Saturday, March 16 (second round)
Time TBA – Friday winners

Concordia’s tournament résumé included a final NAIA RPI rating of No. 15 with a strength of schedule that ranks as the 63rd toughest in the nation. The Bulldogs landed at No. 2 in the NAIA’s official North-Central region rankings released on Wednesday. Morningside stands at No. 1 in the region. Based on the RPI, the GPAC stands out as one of the very best leagues in the NAIA. Other teams from the GPAC situated in the top 25 are No. 13 Morningside, No. 16 Northwestern and No. 24 Hastings. Concordia defeated each of those teams once during the regular season. The Bulldogs also own a nonconference win over No. 44 Olivet Nazarene University (Ill.).

The 2021-22 Concordia team opened its national tournament run with a 96-78 win over the same Indiana Northwest program that it will face next weekend. The other teams included in the Salina pod are host and fifth-seeded Kansas Wesleyan University and 12th-seeded LSU Shreveport (La.). IU Northwest (21-10) qualified for nationals as the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament champion, Kansas Wesleyan (23-8) placed as the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament runner up and LSU Shreveport (22-8) received an at-large bid out of the Red River Athletic Conference.

Season Summary

The journey has been a wild one for Head Coach Ben Limback’s 2023-24 squad. After being picked to finish fifth in the GPAC preseason coaches’ poll, Concordia earned a share of the conference regular season title along with Hastings and Northwestern. It took a lot for the Bulldogs to finally generate respect on the national level. They eventually broke into the NAIA top 25 late in the season on the strength of a nine-game winning streak that included wins over No. 19 Morningside and No. 12 Northwestern. The thrilling run saw Concordia weather an injury to Tristan Smith while also raising the CIT championship trophy once again.

The Bulldogs enter the national tournament at 23-7 overall having navigated a schedule filled with down-to-the-wire battles. During the final week of the regular season, Concordia earned a piece of the conference regular season title while winning two home games in overtime – 69-67 over Hastings and 90-84 over Midland. Concordia is 4-0 this season in overtime contests with additional OT victories over Briar Cliff and No. 19 Olivet Nazarene University (Ill.). The Bulldogs proceeded to reach the semifinals of the GPAC tournament. They were clipped by Hastings, 82-78, in another nail-biter.

All-GPAC awards went to first teamers Noah Schutte and Tristan Smith and second teamer Brad Bennett. 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. The Bulldogs reached this point by combining the veterans along with perhaps the GPAC’s top freshman class.

This will be the 13th national tournament appearance in program history and fourth under Limback’s direction. Concordia was an automatic qualifier in 2020 and 2022 and has now earned at-large berths in 2023 and 2024. The Bulldogs have gone 14-12 all-time on the national stage dating back to the very first appearance in 1991.

National Tournament Facts

·        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.

·        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.

·        During the ’22 run at the national tournament, Noah Schutte burst onto the scene and was named to the NAIA Men’s Basketball National Championship All-Tournament Team. During the four games, Schutte averaged 20.0 points and 9.8 rebounds while shooting 63.4 percent from the field. Of the 15 players on the postseason roster, six have appeared in at least one national tournament game: Schutte, Joel Baker, Brad Bennett, Zac Kulus, Tristan Smith and Jaxon Weyand. Last season, the Bulldogs pushed No. 2 seed Oklahoma Wesleyan to the brink in a 72-70 loss. In five career national tournament games, Schutte has averaged 20.6 points and 9.2 rebounds per contest.

·        The 2004-05 team set a still-intact school record with 32 wins that season. On the way to reaching the national title game, the ’04-5 group defeated Trinity Christian (Ill.), Flagler (Fla.), Cornerstone (Mich.) and Cedarville (Ohio) in Point Lookout, Mo. The Bulldogs then fell at the hands of Walsh (Ohio) in the program’s lone national title game appearance.

·        Concordia’s Marcus Wernke was the NAIA Division II national tournament record holder for most blocked shots in a game (nine) and most blocked shots in a single tournament (23). Both of those feats were accomplished in 2005. Jason Jisa was also honored with the Hustle Award at the ’05 tourney. NAIA Division II came to an end with a fusion of the two divisions following the 2019-20 season.

·        Schmidt led the Bulldogs to their first-ever national tournament appearance in 1991. At that time, the NAIA was still just one division for basketball. Four members of the 1990-91 squad have been inducted into the Concordia Athletic Hall of Fame: Matt List, John Puelz, Devin Smith and Mike Works. The latter three were also members of the 1991-92 squad that broke through with the program’s first-ever national tournament win.

·        On March 12, 2020, the Bulldogs played in the final NAIA Division II men’s basketball game ever. The remainder of the tournament following Concordia’s 87-84 loss to Ottawa (Kan.) was shut down due to COVID-19. Just one Bulldog on the current roster saw action in that national tournament game: Gage Smith. The contest took place at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.