Brian Goodman is an RTC editor and contributor.
Seemingly every March, pundits put forth the idea that playing on consecutive days in conference tournaments wears teams down for the Big Dance. While Connecticut has laregly debunked the theory, imagine playing nearly every day for the whole thing. Welcome to the reality of the Buffalo Funds NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship, which recently concluded in Kansas City.
Operating outside the parameters of the NCAA are nearly 300 small schools from across the country, 32 of which make the championship’s field. After the 32 schools are selected to compete, a frenzy of 31 games in seven days determines the national champion. All told, the tournament’s finalists played five games in six days, with no days off between the semis and the final. Touting itself as “college basketball’s toughest tournament, ” the event was held solely in Kansas City, which meant nonstop opening round action from 9:00 a.m. local time to around midnight.
Though the schools may be obscure, some of the players are anything but. The tournament featured its share of players with familial connections and histories with some of D-I’s top talent:
- Brian Wanamaker (Texas Wesleyan College) – The twin brother of Brad Wanamaker of Pittsburgh, Brian ran the point this season, averaging 19.1 points per game.
- Michael Stockton (Westminster College, Utah) – Gonzaga fans are familiar with the Stockton family, with David following in the footsteps of his father and NBA legend John Stockton, but Michael isn’t too bad himself, averaging over 18 points per game to go along with four helpers.
- Taylor King (Concordia College) – King’s journey began as a 14-year-old UCLA commit before stops at Duke and Villanova left him a journeyman. Returning home to Southern California, King feels comfortable at Concordia, where he led the Eagles in scoring (15 PPG) and rebounding (7 RPG) this season.
- C.J. Henry (Southern Nazarene, Oklahoma) – The one-time New York Yankees draft pick followed his brother, Xavier, first to Memphis and later to Kansas, but carved out a niche at a smaller school, averaging 13 points per contest.
In Tuesday’s final, televised nationally on CBS College Sports, Pikeville (Ky.) College topped Mountain State (W. Va.) 83-76 in overtime behind 32 points and 17 rebounds from Trevor Setty. Quincy Hankins-Cole, a transfer from Nebraska, also chipped in with 21 and 16.
Next time they hear about a team losing its legs or looking worn out, a handful of players from a small college in Kentucky can deservedly scoff at their televisions, knowing they conquered a grueling test of stamina to capture a national crown.