WEST HARTFORD, Conn. – The anticipation is unprecedented, as the University of Saint Joseph (USJ) men's basketball team, which captured the 2019-2020 Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Championship in a thriller Sunday afternoon, completes final preparations before going head-to-head with Hobart College (HC) in the Regional Round of the 2020 NCAA Division III Tournament in Springfield, Mass.
The Blue Jays and Statesmen tipoff at 5:00 p.m. Friday. They will be followed by SUNY Canton (SUNYC) and Springfield College (SC), the latter serving as hosts in this 'pod' of the tournament bracket. We have everything you need to know about this playoff pod ahead of Saint Joseph's first NCAA Tournament game in program history:
Their defensive prowess is undeniable, leading all of Division III in rebound margin (grabbing nearly 13 more rebounds per game than opponents), and field goal percentage defense (opponents only shooting 37% from the floor). HC is also tied with the Blue Jays in eighth in defensive rebounds per game (nearly 32 per contest).
The Statesmen (21-5) are coming off a semifinal appearance in the 2020 Liberty League (LL) Tournament, falling 80-72 to Ithaca College. HC made a three-peat of NCAA Tournament appearances from 2012-2014. They also appeared in 2001. The Statesmen won the LL Championship in three of those seasons (2001, 2013-14).
Roster | Schedule | Stats
Springfield's 10-game win streak was snapped in the conference semifinals, but that does not downplay the damage this team has dealt in 2019-20. Senior guard Jake Ross (Northampton, Mass.) led the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) in scoring at better than 26 points per game (no other player in the NEWMAC averaged 20). He was a handful of rebounds shy of a double-double average for the season (9.8 RPG). SC as a team led the conference in offensive and defensive rebounds per game, three-pointers made and three-point percentage, among others.
The No. 17 Pride (22-4) made the Final Four for the first time in school history in 2018, before losing in overtime to Nebraska-Wesleyan, 90-78. After a disappointing 2019, SC made the NEWMAC semifinals this season, before falling to eventual champion Coast Guard, 88-82. Their impressive resume still earned them the right to host a regional in this year's NCAA Tournament.
Roster | Schedule | Stats
The Kangaroos did not make headlines with their numbers, instead, they made headlines with their hearts, winning two pressure-packed games to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. SUNYC did it by developing an attitude, and being the best rebounding and shot-blocking team in the North Atlantic Conference (NAC). At nine points, nearly eight rebounds, and better than three blocked shots per game, the 'Roos' relied on their seven-foot-one inch center from down under, junior Andrew Fitch (Melbourne, Australia) to lead the way, and he did just that.
The Kangaroos (16-11) are fresh off their first NAC Championship in program history, defeating Maine-Farmington, 72-71. In doing so, SUNY Canton also earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The men's basketball team joined the women's lacrosse team, who won the 2019 NAC Championship last spring, as the only teams in SUNY Canton history to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
The Blue Jays rank in the top-five in Division III in numerous statistical categories. They lead the nation in scoring margin (winning by an average of over 19 points per game), are second in field-goal percentage (shooting it at nearly 52% from the field), and are third in rebound margin (grabbing 11 rebounds more per game than opponents). Additionally, junior forward Jordan Powell (Middletown, Conn.) is second in the nation in field goal percentage at over 70% from the floor, right behind Trenton Krueger of Bethany Lutheran. Powell and Krueger have tied and swapped the lead multiple times.
The No. 14 Blue Jays (26-2) defeated Albertus Magnus College (AMC), 88-84, in a rematch of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Championship Sunday, capping a storybook sophomore season on a 25-game win streak, including a perfect 11-0 in the GNAC, becoming the second school in GNAC men's basketball history to do so (Albertus Magnus 2012, 2015). USJ is making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, in just its second-ever season.
WHO TO WATCH
Senior Guard Tucker Lescoe (Denver, Pa.) – Lescoe, a first-team All-Liberty League selection, dropped 38 points on 12-of-19 from three in a 93-67 rout of Skidmore on February 22. He leads the team in scoring at over 13 points per game. He is also second in assists at over three per contest. His uncanny ability to get hot at the right time (no other Statesman has had six threes in a game, Lescoe has done it four times this season) could cause problems for opponents this weekend.
Senior Guard Jake Ross (Northampton, Mass.) – Ross, the 2019-20 NEWMAC Athlete of the Year (and first-team all-conference), is a machine offensively, scoring 55 points in one game, a school record, in a double-overtime win over Coast Guard, 105-99. He also had 21 rebounds in that game. Ross had 13 30-point games and three 40-points games this season. Expect Ross to try and take over with his high-octane offensive skillset when it's time to make a run.
Junior Andrew Fitch (Melbourne, Australia) – Fitch scored nine points, grabbed nearly eight rebounds, and blocked more than three shots per game this season, winning the NAC Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season. His nine blocks on November 15 against Wentworth is the most in all of Division III in a game this season. He was also second in the country with the three and a half blocks per game. The Roos will need Fitch to clog the lane, clear the boards, and swat shots coming his way if they want to pull off the upset on the Pride in the first round.
Sophomore guard Jaecee Martin (Hartford, Conn.) – Martin's counterpart in the backcourt, sophomore guard Delshawn Jackson Jr. (Hartford, Conn.) may be the one steering the ship, but 'JC' is the all-important lookout. He was voted 2019-20 GNAC Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY), the first in USJ basketball history. He also made first-team all-conference, leading the GNAC in assists per game at 7.7 per contest (he would lead the nation if he played enough games). No other player in the conference averaged more than five. He also led the conference at nearly three steals per game. Before JC's arrival, no player in men's basketball history had ever recorded more than eight assists in a game. JC has already had 12 assists in a game six times.
'DJ' finished in the top-five in the GNAC in scoring at 22 points per game, including a career-defining and school record 46 points to lead the Blue Jays to the GNAC Title, but Martin could make all the difference with his pace on Friday. He had just two assists and seven turnovers in the GNAC Championship game, a game the Blue Jays struggled to run in. Expect Martin to bounce back and lead the pivotal Blue Jay fastbreak, should USJ want to keep dancing.
WHERE TO WATCH
The game is being held inside Blake Arena, on the campus of Springfield College, in Springfield, Mass. Gym doors open at 3:30 p.m., one hour and a half prior to tip-off. Ticket prices are $12 for adults and $7 for students and senior citizens. Tickets can be purchased on game day (Friday) at the entrance of Blake Arena starting at 3:30 p.m. Fans who pre-registered will need to pay in cash for their ticket upon entry to Blake Arena. There are other ways to watch/follow the game if you cannot make the trip:
Lot 10, which is located behind the Physical Education Complex, will be the Championship Preferred Spectator Parking and cost $10. All other parking lots on Springfield's campus will be free of charge.
USJ will compete in the Regional Round of the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Tournament for the first time, playing its opening-round game against Hobart College (NY) on Friday, March 6 at 5:00 p.m., inside Blake Arena, on the campus of Springfield College, in Springfield, Mass.
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