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The Journal Gazette

  • Elizabeth Wyman | The Journal Gazette The NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Championship will be held Friday and Saturday at Memorial Coliseum.  

Thursday, March 14, 2019 1:00 am

Tourney teams get plenty of fanfare

D-III players receive red carpet treatment

ELIZABETH WYMAN | The Journal Gazette

At a glance

What: NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Championships

When: Friday: Swarthmore vs. Christopher Newport, 6 p.m.; Wisconsin-Oshkosh vs. Wheaton (Ill.), 8 p.m.; Saturday, semifinal winners, 7 p.m.

Where: Memorial Coliseum

Tickets: Adults, $15.50-$26; students/seniors/military, $10.50-$16; 5-under, free; ticketmaster.com

Website: www.muspartans.com/NCAA

Wheaton men's basketball isn't used to all this attention.

A greeting committee, signs and banners and balloon arches with their team colors, were displayed as Wheaton, Christopher Newport, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Swarthmore arrived in town Wednesday for this weekend's NCAA Division III men's basketball championship.

“It was very kind. A little bit of a surprise because we're not used to that kind of stuff, so it was very gracious,” Wheaton head coach Mike Schauer said.

No big send-off from campus happened for the Thunder as the university in Wheaton, Illinois, is on spring break, but Schauer said that's not a bad thing as his team can focus on the task at hand – winning a national title.

“We were kind of able to just practice on the stuff we had to get done,” he said. “You're kind of trying to balance between wanting the guys to have a great experience and the unique opportunity it is, but somebody is going to walk out of here a national champion, so you want to stay focused on what got you here.”

Luckily for Wheaton (23-8), after 23 years of the championship being held in Salem, Virginia, it had a much closer trek to this year's tournament.

This is the first of four years that Fort Wayne will host the championship, in conjunction with Memorial Coliseum, Manchester University and Visit Fort Wayne.

“It's one of the basketball states in the country,” Schauer said. “Indiana is a basketball state, so I think they'll be some excitement generated simply because Indiana likes their basketball.”

Christopher Newport (29-3), located in Newport News, Virginia, had a slightly longer trip to get to the Summit City, but head coach John Krikorian said he could care less where the tournament is – as long as the experience is a good one.

“I don't think the location matters nearly as much as the experience for the student-athletes,” Krikorian said. “If Fort Wayne can provide a similar or better experience than Salem did then we're all for it.”

While Wheaton and Swarthmore (28-3) are making their first championship appearances, UW-Oshkosh (27-3) and Christopher Newport have been in this spot before. UW-Oshkosh lost 78-72 to Nebraska Wesleyan in the national championship game last year. Christopher Newport fell to St. Thomas in the Final Four in 2016.

Krikorian hopes that experience will be of use to his team in its quest for its first national championship.

“We think it's going to really pay off. Even over the first two weekends, (upperclassmen) experience in the tournament has really helped us,” Krikorian said. “There's a lot of different variables that come into play this time of the year and you have to be able to adapt and still be able to focus on your play, and having that experience makes everything a little more comfortable.

The red carpet treatment is just beginning for the four teams, as Swarthmore and Christopher Newport tip at 6 p.m. Friday with Wheaton and UW-Oshhkosh to follow.

“They don't get to fly charter jets and play in 60,000 seat arenas like in Division I, but they put a heck of a lot out there and they've accomplished quite a bit to be on this stage,” Krikorian said. “They just want to be somewhere where that's appreciated.”

ewyman@jg.net