D2 Men's Update: Then There Were Three
Even though teams across the Division II landscape are navigating through postponements and cancellations due to COVID-19, there still is hope for the 2022 National Championship in Indiana.
Halfway through the season, only three teams in the National Association of Basketball Coaches Top 25 poll remain undefeated. Here are each teams’ case for why they will be the one to hoist the National Championship trophy at the end of the year.
Lubbock Christian (16-0)
The No. 1 team in the country right now has enjoyed so much success throughout the season.
The Chaparrals burst onto the scene with two ranked wins in their first three games. They took down Colorado School of Mines (No. 5 at the time) by double digits then turned around and squeaked out a win over then-No. 1 West Texas A&M. Lubbock Christian beat one more ranked team in Hawaii Hilo.
Even though all their ranked wins came early in the season before the fakers had been sorted out from the really great teams, the Chaparrals are paving a direct route to Indiana for the title game.
Lubbock Christian is outscoring opponents by 18.8 points per game, including those three ranked opponents. That scoring differential is fifth-best in Division II. The Chaparrals are proving it does not matter who they play — whoever shows up will take a beating.
LCU has a rematch with West Texas A&M on Feb 10 that is a must-see for Division II fans. The teams most certainly will have another date in the Lone Star Conference Tournament. Even a setback in the LSC Tournament to West Texas will look good on the already-stellar resume.
Oh, and don’t expect to score much against LCU as the Chaparrals have the fourth-best scoring defense at 59.1 points-allowed per game.
On the other side of the ball, LCU has four players scoring in double-figures but Parker Hicks is leading the way. The 6-6 senior is scoring 17 points per game and is a shoo-in for conference player of the year. He leads the LSC in field-goal percentage, double-doubles, defensive rebounds per game and total rebounds. Paired with Lloyd Daniels, a 6-4 guard shooting lights out from 3 this year, the Chapparrals will be hard to stop.
Nova Southeastern (15-0)
The Sharks are a much different story than LCU. While Nova Southeastern was ranked in the Top 25 to begin the season, they did so based on prediction more than last year’s performance. That is because the Sharks did not play a single contest in 2020-21.
Putting an eternal end to the “rest-vs-rust” debate, the Sharks lead Division II in offensive scoring average with a whopping 98.3 points per game, perhaps therapeutic for a program without basketball for an entire season.
Nova Southeastern has also done all of its work against ranked teams later in the season. The Sharks knocked out two Top-25 teams in one weekend, upending No. 15 Barry by 13 and No. 18 Embry-Riddle by 22.
It may seem like conference play has slowed the Sharks a bit. Nova Southeastern has scored triple digits five times this season, but just once against a Sunshine State opponent. The Sharks also have not surpassed 100 points in over a month but is still outscoring opponents by 13.8 points per game since the new year.
Sekou Sylla is NSU’s best player and eighth nationally at 23.4 points per game. Helping the Saint Rose transfer put up huge numbers is Nick Smith. The Pittsburgh native stuck around after being second on the team in scoring back in 2019-20. His passing abilities remain the main attraction for the Sharks. Smith has the second-best assist-turnover ratio in the land (4.3) and the third-best assist per game tally (7.7). Defensively, Smith is one of the best in Division II, leading the country in steals (59) and steals per game (3.93).
Sylla and Smith are one of the best combinations in the country and should garner All-America awards. With those two leading the way, the Sharks already took down the top teams in their conference and most likely will crown themselves champions of the Sunshine State Conference. Anything else would be a shock, but regardless, the top offense in the land will reach the National Tournament and have a great shot at grabbing the title.
Cal St.-San Marcos (12-0)
The Cougars play in a top-heavy California Collegiate Athletic Association but have still put together some quality wins during their undefeated season. For example, the Cougars beat then-No. 4 Chico State in overtime on the road and also defeated then-No. 24 Point Loma in an early season out-of-conference game.
Of the three undefeated teams in the Top 25, San Marcos has the least impressive resume with a lot of narrow victories. San Marcos’ biggest test comes on Jan. 22 at No. 5 Cal St. San Bernardino. The Coyotes fell to Chico State early in December, but complete the trio of ranked teams from the CCSA. Another win for the Cougars against a ranked conference opponent could solidify San Marcos as a true threat for the national championship.
The Cougars lead the CCSA in 11 categories, mostly defensive. Their stout defense helps the Cougars allow the 11th-least points per game in the nation at 62.6.
Blake Seits and Jayce McCain lead the way offensively for San Marcos and McCain leads the country in free-throw percentage. Nearly 20 percent of his points this season have come from free throws as he averages 15.2 points per game.
San Marcos plays a sound game defensively, but won’t blow teams away with offense. Ranked 61st in scoring offense, it makes sense the Cougars are beating teams with their defense. However, the way Nova Southeastern forces turnovers combined with its scoring efforts makes the Sharks a favorite over San Marcos. Lubbock Christian’s dominance up and down the schedule this year appears superior to the Cougars as well.
But all eyes should be keyed towards the Cougars-Coyotes matchup on Jan. 22, with a chance for additional validation for the Cougars.
Of the three undefeated teams left, Nova Southeastern is the trendiest pick to be National Champions. The combination of the best offense and some of the best defensive players makes the Sharks seem unstoppable … and Sharks never stop swimming.
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