By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – For a fifth straight season, the Cabrini College men’s basketball team is headed to the Division III NCAA Tournament.
The Cavaliers were ranked as high as #2 in the country this season and are currently the #6 team in the land thanks to a 25-1 record. Now they were headed to the tournament regardless of what happened in their conference tournament, but they earned an automatic bid after winning the Colonial States Athletic Conference title.
“It’s always great to see your name come up (during the selection show),” Cabrini head coach Marcus Kahn tells KYW Newsradio. “We got the automatic bid, so we knew our name was going to show up on the board, just weren’t sure when. So when you do see it, it’s exciting. Then you have the little hashtag next to it, meaning that you’re hosting, that gives a whole extra level of excitement to the team.”
The Cavaliers will be the host team for their four-team pod, opening play against Bridgewater State on Friday night. The Cavaliers have had a ton of success in the tournament under Kahn. They advanced to the National Championship game in 2012. Last season, they made it to the Elite 8, a run they put together by winning three straight games on the road. So getting the chance to host this year is big.
“It’s still going to be tough games no matter who you play or where you play them,” Kahn says. “But it does give you a certain comfort level. Our guys are going to get to sleep in their beds, we know where our meals are coming from. There’s no, ‘Hey, we’ve got to cram practice in today because we have a six-hour bus ride ahead of us in the evening.’ So everyone’s just going to be a little more comfortable. For us this year, that’s a lot more important than years past, with the number of freshmen that we have, and the number of freshmen that we are playing. They can get the NCAA Tournament jitters out here at home. It’s always good to get off to a good start, and I think that just playing at home allows you to do that.”
Cabrini has one of the nation’s top players in junior guard Aaron Walton-Moss, who averages 24.9 points and 10.6 rebounds a game. He is complimented by senior forward Fran Rafferty who averages 14.2 points a game while shooting 47% from behind the three-point arc. But the list of weapons doesn’t end there for Cabrini.
“We’ve got a lot of contributions coming from a lot of different guys this year,” Kahn says. “(Junior guard) Vinny Walls, who didn’t play a lot for us first semester, came on when Aaron went down (with an ankle injury), has really picked up steam down the stretch here, has played five straight games (scoring) 25 points or more. (Guard) Brennan McCann, who is just a freshman for us, but certainly hasn’t played like one this year. (He) has probably been our most steady, consistent guy from start to finish this season. So we’re expecting big things from both of them.”
Bridgewater State, which hails from southeastern Massachusetts, brings a 16-11 record into the tournament. They are the champions of the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference.
“They’re going to be bringing a lot of energy,” Kahn says. “They play hard, both ends of the floor. They have a kid, (junior forward) Michael Lofton, who is very good, similar to guys we’ve seen in our conference, but maybe even a step above. He leads them in scoring (16.6 ppg) and rebounding (9.3 a game), he can do a lot of different things. Initial look at the film, he looks to be a tough match-up for us. They’ve got him, then they’ve got a guard that really shoots the ball very well. So it’s not like you can just pack in and double team him. We’ve got our work cut out for us defensively. I don’t think they’re going to show us anything we haven’t seen yet, but they’re just going to be a good, hard playing team.”
Cabrini and Bridgewater State will tip-off at 7:30pm at Nerney Field House. Prior to this game, Richard Stockton and Bowdoin will battle in another first-round match-up. The winners of these two games will play in the second round on Saturday in Radnor.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.