Noteworthy Nebraska Wesleyan facts
- Defeated No. 1 Whitman College in the national quarterfinals 130-97.
- Five players average double figures scoring (Nate Schimonitz [17.3], Cooper Cook [16.5], Ryan Garver [14.1], Jack Hiller [13.5], Deion Wells-Ross [12.5]).
- Lead the IIAC in points per-game with 96.2 .
- Lead the IIAC in points allowed per-game with 78.1.
- Lead the IIAC in 3-pointers per-game with 11.8.
- Lead the IIAC in opponent 3-point percentage with 32 percent.
- Lead the IIAC in blocks per-game with 3.6.
- Lead the IIAC in steals per-game with 9.8 (second-best team averages 6.6)
- Second in the IIAC in offensive rebounds per-game with 11.8.
Noteworthy Nebraska Wesleyan wins and loses
- Jan. 3, Buena Vista University, 91-75 L
- Jan. 10, Loras College, 97-87 OT L
- Jan. 27, Simpson College, 102-97 OT L
- IIAC Championship, Feb. 24, Central College, 82-78 W
- Mar. 9, No. 8 Wisconsin Platteville, 79-78 W
- Mar. 10, No. 1 Whitman College, 130-97 W
Players to watch
#30 Cooper Cook
Cook was named IIAC MVP and earned All-Conference honors as a sophomore last season. He has been a NABC Division III West Region 1st-Team All-District selection and was named 1st-Team All-West Region by D3Hoops.com.
Although almost everyone the Wolves put on the floor is an above average player, Cook stands out from the rest. He is a 6’5 forward that has his hand in almost every aspect of the game. He crashes the offensive glass with authority (leads team with 63 total offensive rebounds) and can stroke it from behind the arc (shooting a team-best 41 percent from beyond the arc).
It’s difficult to exactly pin down how to stop Cook. If he isn’t getting looks from behind the arc, he can bully his way into the paint and score in traffic. If he is getting boxed out well on offense, he can swat away any light-hearted shots in the paint on the defensive end (leads team in blocks with a total of 49).
On top of all that, if he isn’t playing well offensively, there is a good chance that at least one of up to four others players on the floor will. He should be the Pride’s No. 1 responsibility throughout the game.
#10 Nate Schimonitz
Schimonitz made an impressive debut in his freshman campaign last season. He was named 1st-Team All-IIAC at guard, D3Hoops.com West Region Rookie of the Year, and was a 3rd-Team All-West Region pick.
Although he can shoot the 3-pointer, Schimonitz doesn’t do it exclusively (fourth on the team in 3PM per-game [1.8]). He brings up the ball on offense and likes to push the tempo. He can either get into the paint and dish to a big for an easy layup, or he can take it to the rack himself. If the Pride stick with the plan of having Cam Earle defend the best guard, the matchup between the two should be intriguing. Earle has turned out to be one of Springfield’s best defenders throughout the tournament, but Schimonitz will arguably be the best player he will have to defend in the tournament up to this point.
Keys to the game
Breaking the 3-2 zone
The Wolves play almost exclusively a 3-2 zone. That means, if the Pride can attack it correctly, the corners will be exposed for the likes of Jake Ross, Earle, and Andy McNulty to exploit.
If the primary ball-carrier (Ross/McNulty) can break through the first line of defense and force a defender to come help in the paint, that leaves shooters wide open to the outside. If Springfield plays its cards right, the Pride could have a field day from behind the arc on Friday.
It seems to be a key every game, but its importance cannot be understated.
The Wolves are coming off a game where they dropped 130 points on the No. 1 team in the country. Springfield cannot allow the Wolves to get a single extra possession if they can help it. The Pride did a good job of offensive rebounding against Swarthmore, but the team will have to perform even better in this area to defeat Nebraska Wesleyan. That means it can’t just be the usual suspects of Heath Post and Ross. Springfield is going to need role players to come up with a gritty offensive rebound or two to even things out.
Embracing the spotlight
As long as Springfield College has had a mens basketball team, the school has never been to the Final Four. Until now.
This is a Pride team that went 14-13 last year. Its a team whose top few players are underclassmen. The Division III basketball world is looking at the program as a Cinderella story. A group of guys from Western Massachusetts that have captured lightning in a bottle and rode it all the way to the national semifinals.
Springfield has to play like they belong on the national stage on Friday. The team has done a great job of staying focused each step of the way throughout the tournament, which is commendable. But, there is nothing quite like the Final Four. It will be interesting to see how the team responds to the bright lights. If the last few games serves as any indicator, they should embrace it, but time will tell.
Headshots courtesy of Nebraska Wesleyan Athletics. Featured photo courtesy of the NCAA.