At Whitworth, the cup is always half-full, even when the NCAA turns it upside-down.
Instead of a first-round bye and a home game, the 10th-ranked Pirates will open the Division III national men’s basketball tournament Friday in Belton, Texas.
But instead of crying about it, Whitworth athletic director Aaron Leetch and head basketball coach Matt Logie see a possible payoff down the road – apart from the frequent-flier miles.
“I don’t know if it’s much of a surprise, but we were hopeful (of hosting),” said Leetch, who still hopes Whitworth may host third- and fourth-round games on March 8-9, depending on this weekend’s outcomes.
“I don’t think that door is closed,” said Leetch.
For Logie, the Texas trip is a reprise of the Pirates’ December trip to San Antonio for a tournament “where we learned a lot about ourselves.”
Leetch and Logie are in their first year at Whitworth, but mindful of the Pirates’ previous bad luck with NCAA pairings. Monday morning, they watched the bracket unfold, an interdisciplinary seminar on geography, economics – and failed bracketology.
The projected bracket at the unofficial d3hoops.com website had Whitworth earning one of the tournament’s two byes, then hosting a second-round game.
“That was a best-case scenario for us,” Leetch said. “And it didn’t go that way.”
For now, Logie and his assistants will try to learn as much as they can about the team from McMurry University.
The surprising War Hawks (20-8) defeated Mary Hardin-Baylor in the semifinals of the American Southwest Conference tournament, then beat Hardin-Simmons in the championship game to earn the ASC’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Whitworth (24-3) will play McMurry on Friday at 3:30 PST. Host Mary Hardin-Baylor (25-2) will face Trinity (20-8) in the nightcap. The winners meet Saturday for a berth in the Sweet 16.
Fifth-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor was given one of 19 pool C (at-large) bids to the Division III tournament. Trinity earned the automatic bid from another league, the Southern Collegiate Athletics Conference.
Whitworth, the only non-Texas team in the group, will fly 1,600 air miles to Belton, while McMurry, of Abilene, will drive 151 miles. Trinity, located in San Antonio, is 122 miles from Belton.
The Pirates will fly out of Spokane on Wednesday afternoon, Logie said.
The trip is nothing new; last year, top-ranked Whitworth was sent to Ohio for a third-round game. It won that, reaching the program’s first Elite Eight, where the Pirates lost to host Wooster.
Two years ago, Whitworth played a third-round game in North Carolina.
Whitworth is making its sixth consecutive NCAA Division III tournament appearance and seventh overall. The Pirates are 6-6 all-time in the NCAA D-III post-season and have advanced to three Division III Sweet 16s since 2009.
Whitworth earned this year’s trip by winning the Northwest Conference tournament for the sixth season in a row. The Pirates defeated Puget Sound 86-71 in the final game.
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