John Carroll men's basketball team makes NCAA D-III tournament; Case will host first round

Feb. 27—The John Carroll men's basketball team is hitting the road for the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament.

Its neighbor about five miles away — Case Western Reserve — is staying home.

JCU Coach Pete Moran said he and his team are ready for the challenge. Case coach Todd McGuinness said he and his team are ready for all challengers.

Feb. 27, the NCAA announced its 64-team D-III men's field, which included JCU, Case and Mount Union.

.@JCUMensHoops is in as Pool C at-large bid and plays Albertus Magnus in first round of NCAA D3 tournament and will travel to pod host Oswego State in NY. @jcusports

— Mark Podolski (@mpodo) February 27, 2023

The Blue Streaks (22-4) were a Pool C selection (i.e. an at-large team) following its stunning loss to Marietta at home last week in an Ohio Athletic Conference semifinal. JCU tied with Mount at 16-2 to win a co-OAC regular-season title.

The Purple Raiders (25-2) eventually won the OAC tournament and were awarded first- and (potentially) second-round games at home.

"The complete body of work that we put in paid off," said Moran. "I know those guys in that locker room set lofty goals, and that was to play deep into March."

Like Mount, Case (21-3) — which won the University Athletic Association regular-season title — will be a host school for the first and second rounds. The Spartans open at home March 3 against Arcadia in a first-round game.

Said McGuinness, whose team feels like it is a national championship contender: "Anytime you get in, you think we can win it. We've won nine in a row. Now we need four more to get to the final four, then anything can happen. But right now, let's go win the first round."

JCU will travel more than 300 miles to host school Oswego State (25-2) in New York for its first-round site and plays Albertus Magnus (19-9) in Round 1. Its opponent is notable in that it defeated the No. 1 team in the country in its most recent game.

This past weekend, Albertus Magnus took down previously undefeated and top-ranked St. Joseph (Conn.), 82-79, in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference tournament championship game.

With 16 schools hosting on the first weekend of the tournament, Moran felt JCU deserved to be one of those host institutions.

With travel costs always an issue at the D-III level — for example, if a school is sent to a site more than 500 miles away, the NCAA pays for airfare — "bracket geography" likely won out putting the Blue Streaks on the road.

"Mount, Case and JCU (hosting?) I'll say it: I don't think the NCAA wanted to pony up and pay for teams flying in," said Moran. "I think geographically it had something to do with it.

"If you look at our resume, it was probably better than a half-dozen teams that are hosting. I thought we deserved the opportunity to host, sure. But I also understand Division III, and I understand the geographic constraints."

Regardless, Moran said his Blue Streaks are ready and welcome the challenge of starting on the road.

"It takes six wins, and I think we're as good as any team in the country," said Moran.

Case will enter as one of the nation's hottest teams. The Spartans began the season 11-0 then had a January stretch in which they lost three of four while welcoming back leading scorer Mitch Pendergast, who missed the start of the season with a wrist injury.

Since that stretch, Case has won nine straight. With plenty of star power — the team has four players averaging double figures in scoring, including Pendergast (17.2 points) and the lone Ohioan on the roster Cole Frilling (16.0) — the Spartans have the makeup of a tough out and bonafide Final Four contender.

"We have guys that have been through this," said McGuinness, whose team advanced to the Sweet Sixteen a season ago. "They know what to expect, and now we have that expectation that getting in isn't enough. We're in, and now we want to win it."