The NCAA DIII men’s basketball committee chose Middlebury as one of 21 at-large teams to play in the 2018 championship this past Monday, Feb. 26.
Despite facing a whopping 10 ranked opponents this season, the Panthers finished 19–6, and went 4–6 against those ranked teams. Middlebury took care of business against the teams they needed to, going 15–0 against non-ranked teams.
Five of its six losses were on the road, with the lone home loss coming against Swarthmore on Jan. 2. And five were to NCAA tournament participants, the exception being Middlebury’s loss to Amherst, who was part of the five-way tie for first in the Nescac and won the conference by tiebreakers.
Middlebury will make its ninth appearance in the NCAA tournament in 11 years. The last two years, the Panthers earned automatic bids into the field by winning the Nescac championship, although last season they surely would have earned an at-large bid with a 24–3 record entering the tournament.
They will play Lebanon Valley in their first-round game at Eastern Connecticut State tomorrow, March 2, at 5:30 p.m. Eastern Connecticut State will host the four-team regional, and will play Johnson & Wales after Middlebury’s game on Friday. The winners of these two matchups will meet on Saturday, March, 3 to determine who advances to the final sixteen teams in NCAA Sectionals.
Lebanon Valley (18–9) made its way into the tournament by winning its first Middle Atlantic Conference Commonwealth championship since 1995. The Flying Dutchmen defeated longtime rival Albright 70–68 on a three-pointer with less than 10 seconds to play on Saturday, Feb. 24. Sam Light and Andy Orr lead Lebanon Valley on the offensive end, as they average 23.3 and 18.2 points per game, respectively.
Coincidentally, Lebanon Valley and Middlebury both lost to Hamilton, their one common opponent, 102–83.
Host Eastern Connecticut State (25–3) is the highest-seed in the regional, after winning the Little East Conference championship for the second straight season. Tarchee Brown leads the Warriors in scoring with 19.9 points per game. They fared very well against the Nescac this season, going a perfect 4–0 against Connecticut College, Colby, Amherst and Trinity.
Middlebury enters the tournament on a three-game losing streak, after losing to Hamilton and Amherst in the regular season and Wesleyan in the first round of Nescacs on Saturday, Feb. 17. The Panthers will return to the court nearly two weeks after their loss to the Cardinals in the playoffs.
In their last two losses, Middlebury recorded its lowest two scoring outputs of the season, shooting below 36 percent in each of its losses. On the season, the Panthers average 80.7 points per game. They also struggled to generate second-chance points off their misses in these losses.
“They were able to keep us off the offensive glass down the stretch,” said team captain Jack Daly ’18, after Middlebury’s loss to Wesleyan. “That’s been one of our biggest strengths this year and they did a great job of limiting our shot opportunities each possession.”
Daly and the Panthers firmly believe their losing streak is just that: neither emblematic of their whole season nor indicative of their future in the NCAA tournament.
“As Coach has been saying all year,” Daly said, “we just need to stay the course despite the bumps in the road.”