Preview: #7 Spartans Take the Floor vs. #2 Northwest Missouri State in NCAA Elite Eight Wednesday

Preview: #7 Spartans Take the Floor vs. #2 Northwest Missouri State in NCAA Elite Eight Wednesday

The St. Thomas Aquinas College men's basketball team takes on Northwest Missouri State at the NCAA Division II Elite Eight in Sioux Falls, SD, at 7:00 pm Wednesday night.

For Pre, In & Post Game LIVE Updates, Click Here for the Official Twitter Feed of St. Thomas Aquinas College. The Voice of the Spartans, Brad Sarno, is in Sioux Falls and will be updating fans as the game takes place.


The Match-Up – This is the second all-time meeting between St. Thomas Aquinas (28-5) and the Bearcats and first on the mainland. The squads met on December 20, 2004 at a tournament in Hawaii, with Northwest Missouri prevailing by a 75-47 margin.

Northwest Missouri State enters the NCAA Tournament as the top-ranked team in the final NABC/Division II coaches poll of the year; its football team also won the D-II national title in December. Justin Pitts, the leading scorer among all players in the Elite Eight, averaged 32.3 points per game in the Central Regional. That included the team's top two scoring performances this year of 38 against Minnesota State and 34 against defending champion Augustana. Zach Schneider is sixth in the nation in three-point percentage at 46.5 percent and is the school's all-time leader with 362. (Courtesy, NCAA)

The Spartans – champs of the East Coast Conference – dispatched a trio of Northeast-10 squads, including Tournament champs St. Anselm, 91-72 last Saturday. STAC outlasted Merrimack on Sunday in a 73-70 squeaker and topped Saint Rose, 69-66, in a weather-delayed finale on Wednesday. Justin Reyes has lived up to his ECC Player of the Year status with 82 points and 39 rebounds at the regional, earning Most Outstanding Player honors. This is STAC's second trip to the NCAA Tournament and first time in the Elite Eight.

What's at Stake? - The winner of tonight's game advances to the Final Four on Thursday, squaring off with the winner of the #3 Lincoln Memorial vs. #6 Cal State Chico contest. National Championship will be decided on Saturday, March 25 at 3:00 pm, in a game nationally-televised on CBS Sports.

Streaking STAC – Entering the Elite Eight, the Spartans carry a 9-game winning streak and 18-of-19 overall, They have now had two win streaks of nine, and another of 10 games this season. The Spartans were nationally ranked for much of the season, ascending as high as the #3 slot in the NABC Coaches' Poll. Last season, they won 21 straight before falling to St. Anselm in the East Region semi-finals.

Happy New Year(s) – Over the past two seasons, STAC has been a more-than-respectable 17-7 in games played from the start of the season through December 31st. Since January 1, however, they are an amazing 38-3, including a loss on January 4 of this season. Record by Months: November/December – 17-7. January – 16-1. February – 14-1. March – 8-1 (all post-season). Those three losses were by a combined eight points, and Justin Reyes was unavailable for two of them.

Closer Than You Think - Nearly 1,400 miles separate Sparkill, NY, from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and the only meeting in history of NWMS and STAC came in the state of Hawaii. Still, the connections run deeper than one might expect. Tobin Anderson's father, Steve, was a noted high school coach in Iowa for 25 years, before spending the next 10 at the helm of Douglas High in Box Elder, South Dakota. In 1996, Steve Anderson led the Patriots to a state championship, played at the old Sioux Falls Arena. His son, Tobin, joined the squad as a bench assistant for that run, making him 3-0 in the state of South Dakota. Steve is in the South Dakota Boys Basketball Hall of Fame, and loyalty for this week is not in doubt, though his own alma mater is… Northwest Missouri State.

Poise Under Fire – The Spartans have the distinction of having trailed with less than three minutes to go in three of their previous four post-season games, before rallying to victory in each. Against Molloy, STAC trailed 80-79 with 1:21 left in regulation, but a Justin Reyes free throw sent the game to overtime, where they cruised to a 97-86 win. In the East semis, Merrimack held a 69-68 lead with just over two minutes to play, but Reyes again came to the rescue with the next five Spartan points in a 73-70 triumph. And yet again, STAC's season was on the brink in the Finals, with Saint Rose holding a 62-60 advantage with under two minutes left. Who else but Reyes was on the spot, scoring the next five points in a 69-66 victory.

Fran's a Fan - ESPN hoops analyst and former Division I coach Fran Fraschilla was the featured speaker at STAC's Basketball Tip-off Dinner on October 20, 2016, at the Rockland Country Club. In his prepared remarks, Fraschilla expressed his admiration for Coach Tobin Anderson and the Spartans program, and he has continued that support during the season, including texting Anderson on NCAA Selection Sunday. He has tweeted about the team during the regional and added this after Wednesday's win: "Congrats to @andersontobin and @STACBasketball. Amazing win & amazing year, so far. You're going to D-2 Elite 8. "Begin with end in mind."

Elite Aussie – Jules de Courtenay was honored with the prestigious Elite 90 award for the Elite Eight player with the best grade point average, at Monday's welcome dinner. The native of Brisbane, Australia, carries a 3.89 GPA as a computer science major in his junior year. He started all 32 games in which he appeared this season, and is expected in the starting lineup for tonight's game.

Reyes of Sunshine – This week, Justin Reyes added three more accolades to his growing list, being named All-American by D2CCA, Basketball Times, and the NABC.

Community Kings – On Tuesday, as part of the Elite Eight community service program, the Spartans visited Hayward Elementary School in Sioux Falls, where they interacted with students from 3rd through 5th grade. STAC athletes are no strangers to community service, having earned seven straight East Coast Conference Community Cups.

Remember Us? (pt. 1) – The Spartans are not ones to back down from tough challenges. Two seasons ago, St. Thomas Aquinas made national news, opening the season with an exhibition contest against St. John's University. STAC became known as "the Division II School that beat St. John's" by ruining Chris Mullin's coaching debut and dousing the Storm by a 97-71 margin at Carnesecca Arena.

Remember Us? (pt. 2) – Two weeks after the St. John's game, the Spartans traveled to Spokane, Washington, to take on Gonzaga University as part of the NIT Season Tip-off. Not intimidated by the capacity crowd, STAC held tough in the opening minutes before the Zags – ranked #13 in the nation in Division I at the time – pulled away for a 109-55 victory.