UW Oshkosh Men’s hoops headed to NCAA DIII Final Four

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UW-Oshkosh continues its quest for the program’s first national title when the Titans make a return trip to the Final Four of the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship this weekend in Fort Wayne, Ind.

UW-Oshkosh (27-3), ranked fourth in the country by D3hoops.com, brings its blend of offensive and defensive prowess to the national semifinals Friday (March 15) against Wheaton College (Ill.) (23-8) and its prolific leading scorer. The opening tip is scheduled for 7 p.m. (central) in the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.

The Division III Final Four begins with a semifinal contest at 5 p.m. (central) featuring a pair of defensive stalwarts in sixth-ranked Swarthmore College (Pa.) (28-3) and ninth-ranked Christopher Newport University (Va.) (29-3).

Friday’s winners will meet in the national championship game at 6:06 p.m. (central) Saturday (March 16) in Fort Wayne.

UW-Oshkosh, the 2018 national runner-up, reached its second straight Division III Final Four by winning the Oshkosh Sectional title with an 82-79 victory over Guilford College (N.C.) in the title game. The Titans opened the national tournament with wins of 86-62 over Lake Forest College (Ill.) and 108-86 against University of Northwestern (Minn.) to claim the St. Paul (Minn.) Regional championship before downing 20th-ranked Loras College (Iowa), 86-75, in the Oshkosh Sectional semifinal.

Wheaton College, making its first trip to the Division III Final Four, clinched the Rock Island (Ill.) Sectional title by a 91-87 score over 22nd-ranked Marietta College (Ohio). The Thunder began the NCAA postseason with victories of 84-73 over Hanover College (Ind.) and 78-70 against The College of Wooster (Ohio) at the Wooster Regional before knocking off third-ranked and sectional host Augustana College (Ill.), 93-79, in the third round.

UW-Oshkosh and Wheaton College will be meeting for the second time this season. The Thunder defeated the Titans, 86-77, Nov. 17 in Wheaton, Ill.

Swarthmore College, which enters the program’s first Final Four trip on a 14-game winning streak, won the Amherst (Mass.) Sectional with narrow wins of 58-57 over fifth-ranked Randolph-Macon College (Va.) and 69-65 against 14th-ranked Nichols College (Mass.) in the title tilt. The Garnet won their regional crown comfortably at home, cruising past Mitchell College (Conn.), 90-73, in the opener and 12th-ranked Massachusetts Institute of Technology by a 105-65 score in the second round.

Christopher Newport University, appearing in the Final Four for the second time and first since 2016, romped through its own regional by scores of 85-59 over Albertus Magnus College (Conn.) in the first round and 88-53 over Alfred University (N.Y.) in the second. The Captains, who have won 13 consecutive games, then secured the Clinton (N.Y.) Sectional championship with wins of 75-67 at host and 10th-ranked Hamilton College, and 79-70 over 19th-ranked Williams College (Mass.) in the title game.

Christopher Newport University and Swarthmore College have played just once before – a 77-67 Christopher Newport University win at Swarthmore College during the second round of the 2017 Division III Championship.

UW-Oshkosh has broken program records this season with 27 wins, 2,515 points and 305 made 3-pointers. The Titans, scoring 83.8 points per game and allowing an average of 68.2 per contest, also produced a school-record 21-game winning streak from Nov. 20 through Feb. 9.

The Titans had four players named to the All-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) First Team for the first time as senior guard Ben Boots, the league’s Player of the Year, was joined by junior center Jack Flynn, junior forward Adam Fravert and senior guard Brett Wittchow.

Boots was named to the All-Central Region First team by D3hoops.com after leading the Titans with 15.7 points and 4.1 assists per game, 81 made 3-pointers and a .877 free throw percentage. The program’s all-time leader with 406 career assists and 266 made 3-pointers, Boots ranks seventh on the school’s scoring list with 1,664 points.

Flynn, a D3hoops.com All-Central Region Second Team selection, is averaging 14.7 points and a team-leading 8.0 rebounds per game while also pacing the squad with a .586 field goal percentage. One of three 1,000-point scorers on the Titan roster this season, Flynn on March 2 became the 35th UW-Oshkosh player to reach the milestone.

Fravert averages 14.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.5 steals per game on the year. He leads the team by shooting 40.8 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.

Wittchow is adding 13.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game while connecting on 65 3-pointers this season. Wittchow ranks 20th on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,175 career points.

Rounding out the UW-Oshkosh starting lineup is sophomore Connor Duax, who is chipping in 9.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per contest.

Key reserves off the UW-Oshkosh bench include junior guard David Vlotho and freshman guard Eric Peterson, who are both averaging more than 10 minutes per game.

UW-Oshkosh interim head coach Matt Lewis, the WIAC Coach of the Year, has compiled a .900 winning percentage during his first season at the helm of the Titans. His winning percentage ranks second among the 1,099 active NCAA men’s basketball coaches across all divisions.

UW-Oshkosh heads into the Final Four ranked 13th in the nation with a 1.46 assist-to-turnover ratio, a +8.9 average rebounding margin and a +15.6 average scoring margin. The Titans, who have outrebounded 28 of their last 32 opponents, also list 18th in the country with 137 blocks and 19th with 305 made 3-pointers and 10.8 turnovers per game.

Wheaton College is scoring 79.9 points per game and yielding 74.8 per contest this season.

Senior guard Aston Francis, the D3hoops.com Central Region Player of the Year, leads all of college basketball by averaging 33.9 points per game. Francis has poured in a record 180 points during the Thunder’s four NCAA postseason contests, including a record 62-point performance during the sectional championship game.

Francis, the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) Player of the Year, also paces the country in made field goals (333), made 3-pointers (168), field goal attempts (755) and made free throws (218) while listing third nationally with 247 free throw attempts. He leads the team with 38 steals and in rebounding at 7.9 per game while shooting 44.1 percent from the field, 38.2 percent from 3-point range and 88.3 percent at the foul line.

As a team Wheaton College ranks 12th in the nation with 503 made free throws, 17th with 138 blocks, and 19th in both field goal percentage defense (.398) and made 3-pointers (305).

Completing the Thunder starting lineup are senior guards Luke Peters and Kobe Eichelberger, junior forward Anajuwon Spencer and sophomore guard Nyameye Adom.

Peters, an All-CCIW Second Team pick this season, adds 8.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, and leads the squad with 131 assists.

Spencer contributes 7.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest to go along with a team-high 46 blocks.

Adom and Eichelberger chip in 6.5 and 5.9 points per game, respectively, while sophomore guard Luke Anthony averages 8.6 points per contest off the Wheaton College bench.

Swarthmore College’s stout defense ranks third in the country with 164 blocks, fifth with a .385 field goal percentage allowed and seventh by surrendering 62.8 points per game. The Garnet, scoring 78.8 points per game, also lists ninth nationally with a +16.0 average scoring margin and 14th with a +8.8 average rebounding margin.

The Garnet are led by four players who received All-Centennial Conference recognition.

Senior guard Cam Wiley, the 2017 and 2019 Centennial Conference Player of the Year, averages a team-leading 14.7 points per game and paces the squad with 126 assists and 34 steals. Wiley was also named the Middle-Atlantic Region Player of the Year by D3hoops.com.

Swarthmore College junior forward Zac O’Dell joined Wiley on the All-Centennial Conference First Team while junior forward Nate Shafer was tabbed to the Second Team and sophomore guard Conor Harkins garnered Honorable Mention recognition.

O’Dell is averaging 13.0 points and a team-best 8.1 rebounds per game. He ranks 10th in the country with 72 blocks and 18th with a .628 field goal percentage.

Shafer, who ranks 15th nationally with 66 blocks, adds 8.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest. Harkins averages 12.9 points per game and ranks sixth in the country with 102 made 3-pointers.

Freshman guard George Visconti completes the Garnet starting lineup at 11.7 points per game.

Headlining the Swarthmore College reserves are sophomore guards Ryan Ingram and Abass Sallah, who played more than 20 minutes during the Garnet’s sectional championship game.

Christopher Newport University presents a formidable defense that ranks third in the nation with a .378 field goal percentage allowed and eighth by yielding just 63.1 points per contest and a .296 opponent 3-point percentage. The versatile Captains, averaging 79.6 points per game, also list fifth nationally with a +16.6 average scoring margin, 11th with 325 made 3-pointers and 17th with 489 made free throws.

Captains senior guard Marcus Carter, an All-Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) First Team selection, leads the team with 16.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game.

Christopher Newport University sophomore guard Jason Aigner, who was named to the All-CAC Second Team, is third in the country with 116 made 3-pointers on the year. He’s averaging 15.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.

Completing the most recent Captains starting lineup are junior forward Cutch Ellis, senior guard Tyler Femi and sophomore forward Adrian Beasley. Ellis averages 10.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while Beasley is adding 5.6 points and 3.4 boards per contest, and Femi is chipping in 4.9 points and a team-leading 3.6 assists per game.

The Captains bench includes junior forward Savonte Cappell and junior guard Dalon McHugh at 7.5 and 5.1 points per game, respectively.

UW-Oshkosh reached the Division III championship game for the first time last season. The Titans fell, 78-72, to Nebraska Wesleyan University during the title game last year in Salem, Va.

NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship • NCAA.com Website

2019 NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship Interactive Bracket

submitted, photo courtesy of UW Oshkosh

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Justin R. Mitchell

Justin is the founding editor of the Oshkosh Independent.

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