BY MAKENNA ALLEN
With the conclusion of the excitement brought to Hays by the MIAA Championships comes a lull for FHSU Women’s Basketball…. but not for long. In fact, there is little time to rest for Tigers’ head coach, Tony Hobson, and his team as they prepare for the NCAA Central Region Tournament that begins this Friday in Warrensburg, MO.
Even after falling 57-51 to the Nebraska-Kearney Lopers in the MIAA Championship game Sunday, the Tigers managed to secure the No. 1 seed in the regional. As they hit the road with a national championship title as the end goal, the team will face a slate of five other opponents.
COVID-19 has impacted even this aspect of the basketball season as the NCAA has reduced the field size for Division II Championship events. This year, 48 teams will participate in the tournament, instead of the usual 64. Thus, a total of six teams will compete for the Central Region title.
This year, the Central Region is composed of teams from the MIAA and Northern Sun Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (NSIC). As the Tigers study their opponents and their path to success, take a moment to learn about some of the teams that the Tigers may meet this week!
No. 1: Fort Hays State Tigers
Fort Hays State Athletics fans are very familiar with their 22-3 and top seeded Tigers. This season, the Tigers finished the regular home season 20-2, securing the title of MIAA Regular Season Champions. After advancing to the championship game of the MIAA Tournament hosted in Hays, FHSU was unable to bounce back from a slow start.
Hobson cited a physically exhausted team as one of the reasons’ for the Tigers’ struggle at home.
“It’s just one of those things,” Hobson said. “When you play in big games and you play tough teams in those games all the time, there’s going to be times when you don’t come out on top. We just didn’t play well enough on that day to beat them.”
Even after falling to the Lopers, the Tigers were able to secure a spot as the No.1 seed headed into the Central Region Tournament.
According to Hobson, his team would have likely fallen into the No. 1 or No. 2 position after Sunday’s game. However, he believes that the NCAA places a bit more weight on a regular conference title than the conference tournament title.
As they hold this top-ranking position, the Tigers will receive a bye and will not play until regional semifinals on Saturday. At this point, they will play either Central Missouri or St. Cloud State.
Hobson believes the Tigers will most likely tip off against the Central Missouri Jennies during Saturday’s game. Indeed, the team that ranked No. 2 in the regular season MIAA will have the home court advantage while also playing to avenge their upset by Washburn during the first round of the MIAA Conference Tournament.
“Right now, I’m planning on playing Central Missouri and that’s what I’m going to plan for, mostly,” Hobson said. “We’ll have things ready on St. Cloud also.”
As FHSU prepares for either opponent, the Tigers are currently ranked No. 10 in the WBCA Coaches Poll. They join three other teams from the Central Region in the top 10 rankings.
Headed into this game, the Tigers average 71.8 points per game. They are shooting 43.9% from the field, 33.5% from long-range, and 74.4% from the charity stripe.
No. 2: Nebraska-Kearney Lopers
After completing the regular season ranked fourth in the MIAA, the Nebraska-Kearney Lopers rallied in Gross Memorial Coliseum to defeat the regular season champion Tigers. The Lopers built up a strong lead and were able to maintain their dominance over the Tigers during the MIAA Championship game on Sunday.
The six-point loss for the Tigers did not affect their position headed into the Central Region Tournament. However, the victory allowed the Lopers to automatically secure a No. 2 seed that also gives the team a bye game. Like the Tigers, the 22-3 Nebraska-Kearney team will not play until Saturday. That evening, they will take on either Minnesota Duluth or Emporia State.
The victory also allowed the Lopers to pass the Tigers in the WBCA Coaches Poll. Currently sitting at No. 9, the Lopers join the two other teams from the region ranked in the top 10.
As they prepare for the regional semifinals, the Lopers average 64.2 points per game while shooting 44.5% from the field, 29.6% from beyond the three-point arc, and 63.0% from the free-throw line.
No. 3: Minnesota Duluth
The Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs travel to Warrensburg as one of the two teams representing the NSIC. The Lady Bulldogs managed to secure the title of regular season conference champions. After bringing home a 12 point win over St. Cloud State in the NSIC Conference Tournament on Feb. 28, the Bulldogs locked in their spot as an automatic draw for the NCAA Central Region Tournament.
Despite their possession of this title, Hobson suggests that there was talk in the NCAA regarding what seed the school would hold in the tournament.
“I know there was a lot of discussion on where to put Minnesota Duluth just because there’s so many variables and it’s so goofy,” Hobson said. “They didn’t play nearly as many games. That wasn’t supposed to play in (to the seeding decision) but I think it does and it should. They played all of their games at home. They did not play an away game. They played all in-division games until the conference tournament.”
Now, the Bulldogs will play another road game as they hit the road from Duluth, MN. Their nine-hour trip will bring the team to Missouri in time to play No. 6 ranked Emporia State in the opening round of games on Friday evening. This game will serve as the first meeting between the two teams.
The Bulldogs have played just 10 conference games this season. Throughout regular season play, they went 9-1. However, they have extended their record to 13-1 and are currently riding the momentum of a four-game winning streak.
The team currently averages 69.3 points per game while they are 45.1% from the field, 37.1% from beyond the three-point arc, and are also 78.8% from the charity stripe.
Their appearance in Warrensburg will be the Bulldogs’ 13th trip to the NCAA Tournament. Overall, they are 7-11 in tournament play.
No. 4: Central Missouri Jennies
The Central Missouri Jennies are the third MIAA team to compete in the Central Regional Tournament. After going 19-3 during the regular season, the Jennies were knocked out of the MIAA Conference Tournament last Wednesday by a No. 7 seeded Washburn team. Prior to the upset in Warrensburg, MO, the Jennies were seeded No. 2 in the conference.
Though the 63-55 loss to the Ichabods sent the Jennies tumbling from MIAA Conference play, they were still selected for the No. 4 seed for the NCAA Central Region Tournament. Even further, the team will be hosting the series of games in Warrensburg this weekend.
This weekend will mark the Jennies’ fourth consecutive appearance in the tournament. It will also serve as the team’s 24th NCAA selection.
Similar to FHSU and Nebraska-Kearney, Central Missouri has been ranked in the WBCA Coaches Poll. However, they sit in the 20th spot.
As a lower seed than both of the afore-mentioned MIAA competitors, the Jennies will play in the opening round of games on Friday. The Jennies will be looking to defeat the No. 5 St. Cloud State Huskies.
If they manage a victory in this game, the Jennies will progress to play the No. 1 seeded Tigers in the semifinal game. The last time the two teams met on Feb. 20, the Tigers defeated the Central Missouri team 72-63, evening the season’s home away series. The first game between the two teams went to the Jennies who won by seven points on Jan. 7.
As the Central Missouri team focuses on its most immediate Husky opponent, however, they average 70.7 points per game. They are also shooting 42.9% from the field, 32.8% from beyond the three-point arc, and 76.5% from the free-throw line.
No. 5: St. Cloud State
After going 7-3 down the stretch and finishing the regular season as No. 2 in the NSIC, the St. Cloud State Huskies head to the NCAA Central Region Tournament as the No. 5 seed in the competition. This week, the team will travel from St. Cloud, MN to first take on the Central Missouri Jennies.
The team received an at-large bid to participate in the tournament after falling to No. 3 Minnesota Duluth in the NSIC Championship game just over two weeks ago. This will be the second straight season that the Huskies have been selected for the tournament. Had the regional championships not been cancelled last year due to COVID-19, the appearance would have been the team’s first in 11 seasons.
The Huskies are 13-5 in the regional tournament after trips to the Elite Eight in both the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons. The team’s next run at the tournament came during the 2008-09 season when they fell during the first round of play.
As the Huskies prepare for their match against Central Missouri, they must dig into 32 years of history to find the last time that the two teams met. In 1988, the Huskies played the Jennies during the regional tournament and lost 87-71. This trend was consistent among the other four times the teams met prior to this date. Indeed, the Huskies are looking to avenge their 0-5 record against their MIAA competitor this weekend.
In doing so, the Huskies head into the game averaging 66.8 points. Meanwhile, they average 40.9% from the field, 31.4% from long range, and 78.2% from the free-throw line.
No. 6: Emporia State
The Emporia State Hornets round out the selection of MIAA teams for the Central Region Tournament. The Hornets were 17-5 during the regular conference season and finished the year ranked No. 4 in the conference.
After defeating Central Oklahoma 82-80 in a nail-biter of a quarterfinal MIAA Tournament game, the Hornets left Emporia to take on the FHSU Tigers for the semifinal game. After a powerful effort to take an eight-point lead during the third quarter, the Hornets were unable to maintain their momentum and ultimately fell to the Tigers 77-72.
Despite their defeat in the MIAA tournament, the Hornets were still selected as the final team to participate in the 2021 NCAA Central Region Tournament. As the No. 6 seed, Emporia will play in the opening game of the tournament against NSIC Regular Season and Tournament Champion Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs.
If they progress from Friday’s game, the Hornets will take on the Nebraska-Kearney in the regional semifinals on Saturday.
As they prepare for play, the Hornets are shooting 41.6% from the field, 75.2% from the charity stripe, and 35.2% from long-range. They also score an average of 74 points each game.
This trip to Warrensburg will be the 22nd time the Hornets have qualified for the tournament in the last 25 years. The team is 40-19 in all-time tournament play and has recorded 14 Regional Championship appearances.
Games can be viewed through a free live video available through the MIAA Network. For those wishing to attend the game in person, tickets can be purchased ahead of time via the following link.
The opening round of games begins at 6 p.m. Friday with Central Missouri playing St. Cloud State, followed by Minnesota Duluth and Emporia State at 8:45 p.m. On Saturday, tune in for more action as the Tigers play at 5 p.m. and the Nebraska-Kearney Lopers follow with their game at 7:45 p.m. The Regional Championship is set to take place Mon., Mar. 15 at 6 p.m.
All games can be viewed on The MIAA Network.