The St. Thomas Aquinas College men's basketball team is making its fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance, taking the #6 seed into Saturday's opener against #3 LeMoyne at 12:00 noon at Stoutenburgh Gymnasium at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH.
How They Got Here - The Spartans completed an impressive regular season with a 23-5 record, including a 15-3 East Coast Conference mark, good enough to take the #2 seed into the conference tournament. After receiving a bye into the semi-finals, STAC fell in a classic battle against eventual Tournament Champion Molloy, 73-72. Their record was still enough to earn an at-large bid and their fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance, having won the East Regional in 2017. LeMoyne comes in with a record of 18-9, 14-6, winning their first NE-10 Tournament match-up before falling to eventual champ Merrimack in overtime in the semi-finals.
The Match-Up, First Meeting This Season - These teams have met just once in the Tobin Anderson era, with the Spartans taking a 72-67 victory at Aquinas Hall on December 5, 2017; STAC went on to capture the East Regional title that season. The Dolphins proceeded to win the Northeast-10 Tournament Championship as well as the East Regional title last season, advancing to the Elite Eight.
Spartans in the Post-Season – STAC won five games in each of the two seasons preceding the hiring of Coach Tobin Anderson (‘11-12 and ‘12-13). The Spartans have advanced to the ECC Finals in five of the past six seasons, winning the first three Tournament Championships in the program’s history. In the Division II era, STAC is 13-5 in playoff competition (all in the past five years under Anderson), with a 9-3 mark in ECC Tournament action, 4-2 in NCAA East Regional play, and 0-1 at the Elite Eight. Today’s game is STAC’s sixth NCAA Tournament meeting against a Northeast-10 foe – with the Spartans posting a 4-1 record in those matchups.
All-Conference Selections –A testament to the recruiting prowess of Coach Anderson and his staff, St. Thomas Aquinas placed three players in this year’s All-Conference awards, none of whom was on the team last season:
Demetre Roberts – ECC Rookie of the Year/Second Team All-Conference – The freshman point guard started on the first day of the season and never looked back, running the offense of the ECC’s second-place regular-season squad. He was second on the team in scoring (11.6 ppg), 6th in the conference in assists, 7th in steals, and 3rd in free throw percentage, while leading his squad with 31.2 minutes played per game.
Osbel Caraballo – ECC First Team All-Conference – Another impact freshman on the Spartans’ roster, Osbel also started all 29 games and was a major force. Not only did he lead STAC in scoring (13.1 ppg, 10th in ECC), he was third on the team in rebounding (6.9 rpg), and 5th in the ECC in field goal percentage (52.2%), often while drawing double- and even triple-teams from opponents. Interestingly, while both are freshman, Roberts earned ROTY honors and was on the ECC’s Second Team, while Caraballo was a First Team choice.
Sekou Cisse – ECC Third Team All-Conference – Sekou was one of the first players off the bench early in the season but was just too talented to keep out of the starting lineup, making 12 starts, most in the final weeks of the season. While averaging just under 24 minutes per game in STAC’s player rotation, he is currently third on the team in scoring (11.4 ppg) and 2nd in rebounding (7.4 rpg).
Reversing the Trend - Over the previous three seasons, STAC had been a more-than-respectable 29-10 in games played from the start of the season through December 31st. After January 1, however, they were an amazing 52-8,. Record by Months: November/December – 29-10. January – 23-2. February – 19-3. March – 10-2 (all post-season). They flipped that script this season, however, winning 11-of-12 before the new year, and going a very respectable 12-5 thereafter. They still carried momentum into the end of the season, playing some of their best ball and winning their last seven straight regular-season games before falling to Molloy in the ECC Tournament semis.
Everyone Plays a Role – Though Tobin Anderson often uses many combinations in his lineup, he had a stable core of starters this season, with Demetre Roberts and Osbel Caraballo both starting all 29 games, Kevin Lynch starting all but two, and Kam Murrell starting 25. Jamar Sudan was an Opening Day starter and returned to that slot after returning from injury, but Sekou Cisse grabbed that spot in the season’s final weeks, with Sudan coming off the bench.
Caraballo – Lynch – Murrell – Roberts – Sudan (10)
Caraballo – Cisse – Lynch – Murrell – Roberts (9)
Caraballo – Lynch – Murrell – Roberts – Rzewnicki (3)
Caraballo – Lynch – Roberts – Singleton – Sudan (3)
Caraballo – Griffith – Lynch – Roberts – Rzewnicki
Caraballo – Cisse – Murrell – Roberts – Sudan
Caraballo – Cisse – Murrell – Roberts - Rzewnicki
Calm Under Pressure – The Spartans have developed a well-earned reputation for bringing games down to the wire before pulling out victories, and the start of this season was no exception. During their 10-1 burst to start the season, STAC’s average margin of victory was 5.7 points per game in the 10 wins, with six of those decided by six points or less. Their one loss, incidentally, was a one-point setback at home against Bloomfield.
Saturday, March 16 - Quarterfinals
Game 1: #6 Saint Thomas Aquinas vs. #3 Le Moyne - 12 p.m. (LIVE VIDEO | LIVE STATS)
Game 2: #7 Dominican (N.Y.) vs. #2 Merrimack - 2:30 p.m. (LIVE VIDEO | LIVE STATS)
Game 3: #8 Molloy vs. #1 Saint Anselm - 5 p.m. (LIVE VIDEO | LIVE STATS)
Game 4: #5 Daemen vs. #4 New Haven - 7:30 p.m. (LIVE VIDEO | LIVE STATS)
Tuesday, March 19 - Championship
Game 7: Winner of Game 5 vs. Winner of Game 6 - 7 p.m. (LIVE VIDEO | LIVE STATS)
2019 NCAA DIVISION II MEN'S BASKETBALL EAST REGION
No. 1 seed – St. Anselm College (22-5, 18-3 NE10)... NE10 Northeast Division Champions (at large bid)
No. 2 seed – Merrimack College (22-9, 14-7 NE10)… NE10 Tournament Champions (automatic bid)
No. 3 seed – LeMoyne College (18-9, 14-6 NE10)… NE10 Tournament Runners-up, Southwest Division Champs (at large bid)
No. 4 seed – University of New Haven (20-9, 13-7 NE10)… NE10 Southwest Division Runners-Up (at large bid)
No. 5 seed – Daemen College (24-5, 16-2 ECC)… ECC Regular-Season Champions (at large bid)
No. 6 seed – St. Thomas Aquinas College (23-6, 15-3 ECC)… ECC Regular-Season Runners-up (at large bid)
No. 7 seed – Dominican College (23-7, 15-4 CACC)… CACC Tournament Champions (automatic bid)
No. 8 seed – Molloy College (21-9, 14-4 ECC)… ECC Tournament Champions (automatic bid)