DILLON — The Montana Western men’s basketball team is making final preparations for its first round matchup at the 2015 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Men’s Basketball National Championship tournament in Kansas City, Missouri. The Bulldogs will tip off the sixth game of the 32-team tournament Wednesday evening against Benedictine College.
The Ravens are making their second consecutive appearance after a 45-year absence from the national tournament, while the Bulldogs were invited for the fifth time in six seasons. Aside from the experience difference, the Bulldogs and Ravens appear to be evenly matched opponents. Montana Western finished 18 and Benedictine 16 in the final coaches’ poll of the season. Montana Western claimed a share of the regular season title in the Frontier Conference and Benedictine won the Heart of America Athletic Conference crown.
Each squad was upset in their conference tournaments, Benedictine in the semifinal round, and Montana Western in the tournament championship. The Ravens arrived in Kansas City with a 24-8 record and the Bulldogs enter at 22-9. Each program is one of three national championship qualifiers from its conference.
The Bulldog offense has the statistical advantage as Montana Western averages 81 points per game to Benedictine’s 69. The Ravens have scored a third of their points this season from beyond the three-point arc while the Bulldogs long range game accounts for one-fourth of their offensive output. Both teams boast three players with double-digit scoring averages, but Bulldog junior Dexter Williams Jr. leads both squads with more than 15 points per game and a spot in the national field goal percentage top 20.
Both teams will rely on defensive intensity to set the tone in the contest. Benedictine ranks fourth nationally for scoring defense and holds top 20 spots in four other defensive statistical categories. Montana Western claims six top 20 defensive statistics rankings in categories from defensive rebounds to steals per game. The Bulldogs’ defensive effort is led by two-time Frontier Conference Defensive Player of the Year, senior Kris Castro who haunts opponents from his guard/forward position. The Ravens’ defense is anchored by senior forward Jallen Messersmith, the Heart of America Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year for the past two seasons.
The contest tips at 6 p.m. Wednesday and is available as a pay-per-view webcast from the NAIA. The winner will advance to face the winner of the matchup between number one seed Hope International and the 32 seed West Virginia Tech.
— Montana Western Sports Information