Top-ranked Whitworth knew it had slim hopes of hosting Sweet 16
Jim Hayford figured all along that politics and economics would again trump fairness when the NCAA got down to selecting the four host schools for the third and fourth rounds of its Division III men’s basketball tournament.
And he was right.
That’s why Hayford and his No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Whitworth University Pirates (27-1) were denied the chance to play at home in the sectional semifinals of the tournament and were shipped to Wooster, Ohio, where they will challenge 11th-ranked Marietta College (27-3) on Friday in the first game of a Sweet 16 doubleheader.
Tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m. PST in 3,400-seat Timken Gymnasium, the home of fifth-ranked and host Wooster (28-2 ), which will face Cabrini (24-5) in Friday’s sectional nightcap. The winners will meet on Saturday for the right to advance to the D-III Final Four, which will play out in Salem, Va., the following weekend.
“We’re disappointed with the site selection, naturally,” said Hayford, whose Pirates are making their fifth consecutive appearance in the D-III tournament. “But our primary emotion is joy, because we’re still playing together as a team at this point in the season.
“We’ve won 35 straight home games, so we would have liked to have hosted, but it wasn’t meant to be. The good news, I guess, is that we’re undefeated in Ohio, as well.”
Also working in the Bucs’ favor is the fact that they have played well on the road, compiling a 12-1 record in games played away from Whitworth Fieldhouse. Their only loss came against Northwest Conference rival Whitman College in Walla Walla.
“We’d like some more home games,” said Michael Taylor, the Pirates’ senior guard and leading scorer. “But basketball is basketball, no matter where you play.”
In a scenario similar to this year, Whitworth knocked off Chapman College at home in the second round of last year’s D-III tournament, before being sent to Guilford, N.C., where the Bucs lost to Eastern Mennonite 74-71.
Hayford expects his players to draw motivation from the loss.
“The one thing about the teams I’ve had here at Whitworth is that they all want to advance farther in the tournament than the previous year’s team,” Hayford said. “So just making it to the Sweet 16 hasn’t really satisfied the hunger of my guys this year.
“They want more, and that, to me, is very compelling.”