Championship hopes carry into regular season's final week

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 14, 2022 in Men's Basketball

SEWARD, Neb. – A lot may have to happen, but the Concordia University Men’s Basketball team still has hopes of sharing the GPAC regular season title. Only two games remain in the regular season as the Bulldogs look to put behind last week’s 54-50 downer at Doane. Head Coach Ben Limback’s program will honor a senior class of six student-athletes prior to tipoff with Briar Cliff on Wednesday. The regular season will then wrap up on Saturday with a trip to the Corn Palace. Concordia enters the week at 20-6 overall (13-5 GPAC).

This Week

Wednesday, Feb. 16 vs. No. 22 Briar Cliff (19-8, 15-3 GPAC), 7:45 p.m.
--Live Webcast/Stats | 104.9 Max Country

Saturday, Feb. 19 at Dakota Wesleyan (12-13, 9-9 GPAC), 5:45 p.m.
--Live Webcast | Live Stats | 104.9 Max Country

By the numbers

·        There’s only one path remaining for the Bulldogs to pull even with Briar Cliff (15-3 GPAC) in the final conference standings. Concordia must win twice this week and have the Chargers lose twice. Briar Cliff clinched at least a share of the title over the weekend when it defeated Hastings and Jamestown at home. The Chargers have won the regular season title for the second time in six seasons. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs continue to hunt for their first conference regular season championship since the 1995-96 campaign. Should Concordia fall short this regular season, it would then seek a GPAC postseason title as it celebrated in 2003, 2005 and 2020. A 14th GPAC win would effectively lock the Bulldogs into a top-two seed in the conference tournament.

·        The loss at Doane was frustrating in many ways. The Tigers managed to dictate a slower tempo and Concordia shot only 32.8 percent (19-for-58) from the floor. Doane neutralized the starting Bulldog backcourt trio that combined to shoot 4-for-21 from the field. The top performers for Concordia were Gage Smith (17 points and eight rebounds) and Noah Schutte (10 points and 11 rebounds). On the other side, 19 points apiece from Josiah Gardiner and Alec Oberhauser were enough for Doane to eke out the win. The Bulldogs had one a similarly ugly game, 60-50, inside Friedrich Arena on New Year's Day. Concordia slipped to 4-5 in GPAC road games.

·        A 2-0 week would push the Bulldogs to 15 GPAC wins and would break a program record for conference victories in a single season. The current school record of 14 conference wins is shared by the 2020-21 (14-6) and 2004-05 (14-4) teams. From a sheer winning percentage perspective, the 1994-95 team that went 11-1 in the Nebraska-Iowa Athletic Conference stands above the rest. Concordia also has a shot at its first top-two conference finish since that ’04-05 campaign that included a GPAC tournament title and run to the national championship game.

·        Prior to tipoff on Wednesday inside Friedrich Arena, Coach Limback and the program will recognize the senior class. The fourth-year senior class includes Nick Cito, Carter Kent, Gage Smith, Klay Uher, Justin Wiersema and Tanner Wubbels. Over the past four years, those Bulldogs have helped the program to a combined record of 76-41 with a 2020 GPAC tournament title and national tournament appearance. They aided in piling up 24 wins during the 2019-20 campaign (a highwater mark for wins during Limback’s tenure). Both Kent and Wiersema are members of the program’s 1,000-point club. The program will also acknowledge the contributions of super seniors Ryan Holt and Sam Scarpelli. This is Holt’s fifth season as a member of the program. He has totaled 572 points and 337 rebounds as a Bulldog.

·        Kent is on the verge of tracking down former teammate Tanner Shuck (1,579 career points) for eighth place on the program’s all-time scoring list. Kent enters the week with 1,577 career points. A big week could also allow him to leapfrog Matt List (1,608) for seventh all-time. Kent put together an impressive month of January that saw him average 19.4 points over seven games. He notched a career high 35 points at Mount Marty on Jan. 5 and then poured in 26 in the win at Jamestown and 25 in the home victory over Morningside. Over his career, Kent has also totaled 404 rebounds, 295 assists, 234 3-point field goals and 110 steals.

·        Despite the loss to Doane, Concordia remains a virtual lock to reach the national tournament for the second time in three seasons. In the most recent ratings percentage index, the Bulldogs appeared at No. 19 and were ranked third in the North-Central region ratings. Those metrics are much more influential in regards to national tournament selection than the NAIA coaches’ poll. In the poll released last week, Concordia was list as the first team among others receiving votes. The Bulldogs have been ranked as high as No. 23 this season in the coaches’ poll. The No. 1 seed in the conference tournament receives an automatic bid to the national tournament. The GPAC is a two-auto bid league.

The opponents
At stake for Briar Cliff on Wednesday will be a chance to win the GPAC regular season title outright and put a blemish on Concordia’s spotless home record. Expectations for the Chargers were not high from an outsider’s perspective after they went 9-11 in GPAC play last season. Head Coach Mark Svagera’s squad has risen back to the top of the GPAC with the help of a stingy defensive bunch that has allowed an average of only 67.9 points per game in conference play. After a hiccup out of conference last week (71-57 loss at Peru State College), Briar Cliff refocused and defeated Hastings, 75-53, and Jamestown, 78-64, this past weekend. A balanced team has been led by the 13.0 points per game from Kyle Boerhave.

Dakota Wesleyan has dipped in the standings this season, but it has shown an ability to knock off qualify opponents. The Tigers won at Briar Cliff on Jan. 29 and last week defeated Northwestern at home. DWU has been an arch nemesis of Concordia and ended the Bulldogs’ season in 2021 in the GPAC tournament quarterfinals. The Tigers will try to slow the pace. They average 69.1 points and allow 68.8 points per game this season. The team’s top two scoring options are in the frontcourt in Koln Oppold (14.6) and Jeffrey Schuch (11.1). Under Head Coach Matt Wilber, the program has been a national tournament regular.

Next week
GPAC tournament play will open on Feb. 23 with the quarterfinal round. Dates for the proceeding rounds are Feb. 26 for the semifinals and March 1 for the championship game. The highest seeds earn the right to host.