The DII men’s basketball season kicked off this past weekend at the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame Classic. Former champions and tournament regulars tipped off the season in a two-day college basketball extravaganza.
Last year’s national champions, Ferris State, and defending runners-up, Northern State, were on hand as were the schools from the 2016 DII Men’s Basketball Championship title game. When the final whistle blew, two teams left St. Joseph, Missouri unscathed, ready to kick off their schedules a perfect 2-0.
Here are five takeaways from the Hall of Fame Classic.
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Northwest Missouri State opens 2-0 against DII basketball’s best
The Bearcats downed the 2018 national runners-up and defending national champions on consecutive days. Not bad for a team that lost its all-time leading scorer (Justin Pitts) to graduation.
Northwest Missouri State is alive and well, taking down Northern State 72-70 in an overtime thriller and then Ferris State 100-86 in an all-out 3-point assault. Despite losing some key pieces, the Bearcats are clearly ready to ball.
Joey Witthus, the Bearcats’ top returner, had a strong showing, scoring 15 and 17 respectively and pulling down 14 boards. Redshirt freshman Trevor Hudgins showed he may be the driving force in a Bearcats run this season, scoring 51 points in his first two games. He added 5.5 assists over the two games to earn MVP honors.
Watch out when the Bearcats get hot. They drained 10 straight 3-pointers to open things up against Ferris State. Northwest Missouri State finished the game 14-for-24 and showed that they are a dangerous team to watch this year.
Tarleton State opens up perfect
Tarleton State heads to the Texan Tip-Off Classic this weekend undefeated. That makes first-year head coach Chris Reisman perfect in his young career. While they have a bevy of people who can score, Josh Hawley played like a total beast.
Hawley, known for his defensive prowess, was filling the stat sheet with points and rebounds this weekend. The junior forward is a perfect 2-for-2 in double-doubles, going for 12 and 14 in the opening two-point win over Missouri Western and then 22 and 13 in the 92-81 win over William Jewell. Hawley is definitely one to keep eyes on in Stephenville, Texas this season.
Northern State has a balanced attack once again
Last year, the Wolves made it all the way to the finals on the heels of a team that could hurt you in a few different ways. While Darin Peterka may have been the go-to scorer, that team was deep in players that can put it in the bucket. Nothing has changed in 2018.
Though they dropped the opener to the Bearcats, Northern State fired back to take down a very tough Queens (N.C.) team 87-74. The Wolves got those 87 points behind six players dropping double-digits. Ian Smith is the star and can do everything well, going for 14 points, eight assists, and six rebounds in the victory, but he has a sound supporting cast. Parker Fox is one worth watching, making it to the free throw line 17 times over two days.
Queens should contend once again
Having Lincoln Memorial and Queens in the same league is a treat for South Atlantic Conference fans. The Royals lost a few pieces but showed there is still plenty in the tank for another big run.
Shaun Willett is going to do great things this season. We know that because he already has. Willett left Missouri with a pair of double-doubles, scoring 19 points in each of Queens first two games while pulling down 29 total rebounds. Daniel Carr, whose primary role last year was as a key reserve like Willett, showed little trouble adjusting to the role of starter, scoring 35 points and dishing out 14 dimes. Mark your calendars. The Dec. 8 showdown against LMU in Charlotte is going to be a good one.
Missouri Western’s model of consistency
The Griffons fell one basket short of leaving the Hall of Fame Classic undefeated. It certainly wasn’t Lavon Hightower’s doing.
Hightower, Missouri Western’s senior forward, exploded for 52 points, scoring 26 points in both the Griffons two-point loss and seven-point win. He also grabbed 16 rebounds over the weekend. That’s right, he grabbed eight in each game. His game was particularly helpful against Fairmont’s red-hot Jason Jolly who went for 30 in the Griffon’s victory. Missouri Western is certainly hoping he can keep up that consistency straight through March.