(PHOTO AND STORY: whitworthpirates.com)
Whitworth University will make its 11th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Division III men's basketball tournament, and 12th overall, when the Pirates take on Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Friday night in Walla Walla, Washington. But for the first time Whitworth is into the tournament as an at-large participant.
The NCAA announced the 64-team field this morning and the Bucs were one of 21 schools to receive an at-large bid to the national tournament. Unlike the NCAA Division I tournament fields, only about a third of the available spots to go at-large participants. All 11 of the Pirates' previous appearances in the Division III tournament have been as automatic qualifiers.
Click here for an online interactive DIII MBB bracket.
Whitworth, ranked 4th in the most recent D3hoops.com top-25 poll, is 23-4 overall after finishing second in the Northwest Conference with a 13-3 record. The Pirates posted their 12th straight 20-win season in 2016-17. Whitworth advanced to the NWC tournament championship game at Whitman and fell 86-83 in overtime to the undefeated Blues. The Pirates are led by seniors Christian Jurlina and Kenny Love, who were both named First Team All-NWC for the third time in 2017. Sophomore Kyle Roach was a Second Team All-NWC selection and led the Bucs in scoring average.
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps is 22-4 in 2017. The Stags won the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletics Conference regular season championship with a 13-3 record and then defeated California Lutheran 77-71 in the conference tournament final to claim the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. CMS last appeared in the national tournament in 2015, advancing to the second round before losing to East Texas Baptist 80-75. Junior guard Michael Scarlett is the Stag's most dangerous scorer, averaging 17.7 points per game and making nearly 48% of his three-pointers.
Whitworth and CMS have played once before in the NCAA Division III tournament. The Pirates defeated the Stags 81-63 in a first round game played in Spokane in 2009.
The other half of the Walla Walla pod includes host Whitman and Rhodes (Tenn.). The Blues (27-0) won their first NWC title since 1987 and their first-ever conference tournament this season. Whitman remains the last unbeaten NCAA men's basketball team at any level and will likely be ranked #1 when the new D3hoops.com top-25 poll is released today. Rhodes (17-10) started the season slowly, but regrouped to win the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) with an 11-3 mark, then defeated Birmingham Southern 98-95 in the conference tournament championship game.
The tip-off times for Friday's games will be announced later. Watch WhitworthPirates.com for more information about game times, ticket prices and live links.