The Gustavus men’s basketball team will host Lawrence University of Appleton, Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, March 1 at 7:00 pm. The Gusties, who enter with a record of 22-5 overall, will be making their ninth appearance in the NCAA Tournament in the past 10 years, while the Vikings, who enter with a record of 19-5 overall, will be making their second consecutive NCAA appearance.
Gustavus received an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by virtue of winning the MIAC Playoff last week. The Gusties, who won the regular season title with a record of 18-2, defeated Bethel 65-49 in the semifinals and then knocked off St. Thomas 68-58 in the championship game this Saturday. The win over the Tommies extended Gustavus’ winning streak to 18 games dating back to a January 3 loss to Carleton 81-75. The Gusties are led by senior forward Doug Espenson who is averaging 20.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.8 blocks per game. Espenson is a very versatile player who is as comfortable bringing the ball up the court as he is posting up on the block. Joining Espenson in the starting line-up are sophomore guard Andrew Olson (9.6 ppg), junior wing Trent Hollerich (3.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg), junior wing Adam TeBrake (14.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and sophomore post Phil Sowden (11.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg). Olson and TeBrake team with Espenson to form a formidable perimeter shooting threat. The trio has combined to shoot 44.6 percent from behind the arc this season (154-345). Hollerich is the consummate team player for Coach Mark Hanson as he is called upon to match up with the opponent’s best perimeter shooter defensively, move the ball around the perimeter on offense and hit the boards on both ends of the floor. Sowden, who has started every game during his two years at Gustavus, is small for a true post player at 6-5, however his strength and quickness allow him to match up quite effectively with players that are usually several inches taller. The Gustavus bench consists primarily of junior guard Adam Hoffarber, freshman wing Trevor Wittwer, junior post John Wippler, and sophomore post Jay Stien. Hoffarber and Wittwer provide quality depth on the perimeter, while co-captain Wippler and Stien spell Espenson and Sowden in the paint.
Lawrence received an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning the Midwest Conference Playoff this past weekend. The Vikings, who won the Midwest Conference regular season title with a record of 12-4, defeated Carroll College 87-76 in the semifinals and then slipped past bitter rival Ripon 82-77 in overtime in the championship game. Lawrence is led by junior Chris Braier (6-5) who is averaging 15.2 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. Braier, last year’s Midwest Conference MVP, is a dangerous player who can score from the perimeter just as easily as he can in the paint. Joining Braier in the starting line-up are senior guard Jason Holinbeck (13.2 ppg), senior guard Dan Evans (9.5 ppg), senior forward Brendan Falls (10.2 ppg) and sophomore center Matt Osland (4.0 ppg). Holinbeck, a two-time all-conference performer is the Vikings premiere perimeter shooter having made 52-of-134 from behind the arc (.388) and 114-of-240 from the field (.475). He is joined on the perimeter by Brendan Falls who has made 35-of-100 (.350) from three-point range and 82-of-187 overall (.439). Senior point guard Dan Evans leads the team in assists with 83 (3.45 pg), however Evans has picked up his scoring in February averaging 11.9 points per game and shooting 48.1 percent from the field in the team’s past eight games. Center Matt Osland is averaging 4.0 points per game, however he is shooting 56.9 percent from the field (33-58) and 75.8 percent from the free throw line (25-33). The Vikings top reserve is junior forward Kyle MacGillis who is averaging 11.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per ame. MacGillis scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the win over Carroll in the MWC semifinal playoff game. Other top reserves are senior guard Brett Sjoberg (2.5 ppg, 11.3 mpg) and freshman guard Ben Rosenblatt (2.7 ppg, 9.3 mpg).
Both head coaches have been very successful and became the winningest coaches in school history during this season. Gustavus head coach Mark Hanson is in his 15th season. He has compiled an all-time mark of 306-109 (.737). Lawrence head coach John Tharp is in his 11th season. He has an all-time mark of 165-96 (.632). Hanson, a 1983 graduate of Gustavus, is the program’s all-time leading scorer (1,774 points) as well as the being the program’s winningest coach. Tharp, a 1991 graduate of Beloit, was a successful college player as well as he still holds the Beloit mark for career assists with 502.
Ironically, this will be the first ever meeting between Gustavus and Lawrence on the basketball court. Both program’s have long-standing traditions in Minnesota and Wisconsin, however their paths have not ever crossed before in regular or post season play. Gustavus has compiled a record of 1,240-868 (.588) in 94 seasons, while Lawrence has posted a mark of 802-929 (.463) in 102 seasons.