Much of the country's focus during this month of madness will be on 65 NCAA basketball teams and their efforts to earn a trip to San Antonio. That's where the Road to the Final Four leads.
But eight of Utah's "small ball" teams have other destinations in mind. No offense to Texas, but they'd rather end up in Missouri, Tennessee or Kansas.
Those are the four sites of the NAIA and NJCAA national tournaments that will take place in the couple of weeks. But they've got some conference tournament business to take care of first this week.
Westminster's nationally ranked men (24th) and women (18th) play Thursday in the Frontier Conference tournament, which starts today in Butte, Mont. The league winners earn a spot into the national tourneys in Kansas City for the men and Franklin, Tenn., for the women while eliminated teams have to hope for one of 15 at-large bids.
CEU, SLCC and Snow also head north for their Region 18 tournament in Twin Falls, Idaho. SLCC's men and women earned first-round byes, so they don't play until the semifinals on Friday. But all four teams from CEU and Snow are in action Thursday.
In the NJCAA, only the conference tournament champions move on to the Kansas-based tournaments in Hutchinson for the men and Salina for the women.
Here's a quick look at each local small ball team heading into their respective conference tournaments:
WESTMINSTER MEN (20-6, No. 4 seed): The Griffins have been to five NAIA tourneys in a row, but they aren't guaranteed of anything this year after losing three of their last seven. A 75-72 loss at Carroll on Saturday snapped their three-game winning streak and created a four-way tie for first place, which sent them down to the fourth spot due to tiebreakers.
Westminster did sweep first-round foe Rocky Mountain, including a 68-51 road win last Thursday. A potential semifinal showdown with No. 1 seed Lewis-Clark State is a bit scary, considering the Griffins lost their previous two meetings.
Westminster has plenty of offensive weapons in Reeder (12.4 ppg, 7.2 apg), Danny Stosich (17.5 ppg), Blair Prowse (12.0 ppg), Nate Sanchez (11.0 ppg) and Jordan Jacobs (9.5 ppg).
WESTMINSTER WOMEN (23-7, No. 3 seed): The 18th-ranked Griffin women were riding high on a school-record seven-game winning streak until falling at Carroll College on Saturday. Though they also swept Rocky Mountain, their first-round opponent, they were beaten twice by Carroll, their likely semifinal foe.
The Griffins, who received an NAIA tournament invitation last year, are led by Shannon Evans (14.4 ppg/5.2 apg), Elisa Leader (13.0 ppg), Alexis Tucker (11.5 ppg/6.0 rpg) and Kelsi Olsen (10.0 ppg).
SLCC MEN (27-3, No. 2 seed): The fourth-ranked Bruins will be without standout point guard DaVell Jackson, who will serve the second of a two-game suspension for an altercation with a CEU player last week in Friday's semifinals. The Bruins are led in scoring by Jackson and Davis product Brian Green, who each average 13.7 points. But defense, which helped them give CSI its only loss, is their specialty. They only allow 56.7 points a game, second-best in the country.
SLCC WOMEN (23-7, No. 2 seed): Of the non-CSI teams, the Bruin women seem to have the best chance to get past the host school. SLCC, ranked 22nd, took CSI to OT once and beat the Golden Eagles at home two weeks ago. Michelle Pace is the Bruins' top scorer with 12.8 points per game, followed by Keshia Catten (11.6 ppg) and Breanne Haslam (10.3 ppg). Krista Farr adds 8.6 points and 7.1 boards an outing.
Coach Betsy Specketer's Bruins won the conference tournament the past two years, and finished seventh and 11th at the NJCAAs.
CEU MEN (16-14, No. 3 seed): The Golden Eagles are hoping standout Darington Hobson's sore knee heals up quickly. With Hobson, who averages a team-high 17.5 points, they are a contender. Without him at 100 percent, it'll be a much tougher task, especially considering they'll have to get past fourth-ranked SLCC in the semis and probably third-ranked CSI in the finals.
CEU WOMEN (13-17, No. 5 seed): Kendra Dalebout (12.1 ppg) and Erin Richardson (9.9 ppg) are the Golden Eagles' go-to players. But CEU has struggled of late, losing seven of their last eight games. Even if they do get by rival Snow, a semifinal against host CSI looms.
SNOW MEN (14-16, No. 4 seed): Rory Patterson (14.9 ppg), Rene Farias (14.5 ppg) and Ryan Brimley (11.9 ppg) are all capable of big nights, making the Badgers a dangerous tournament team. Their overtime win over North Idaho, their first-round opponent, last weekend gives them a bit of momentum coming in.SNOW WOMEN (12-15, No. 4 seed): Cori Nielson (11.9 ppg) and Lindsie Wilson (10.4 ppg) are Snow's only double-figure scorers. But the Badgers have eight players who average 5.5 points or more, so their balanced attack could help them make a run. They beat CEU twice in three meetings this year.
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