While the NCAA used the 75th Final Four stage to honor some of the top players and teams in the history of the event, the governing body did something else that had never been done.
The NCAA scheduled both the Division II and Division III title games to be played at Phillips Arena on Sunday, marking the first time that those games have been played in the same city as the Division I Final Four.
In the first game of the day Amherst (29-2) won its first Division III title since 2007 with an 87-70 victory over Mary Hardin-Baylor (27-5). Allen Williamson led four Amherst players in double figures with 18 points, and Division III Player of the Year Aaron Toomey capped his season with 16 points, six rebounds and six assists.
While the Division III title game lacked suspense the Division II title game more than made up for it, as Drury (30-4) survived a frantic final sequence to knock off Metro State 74-73. Two Alex Hall (21 points) free throws with 22.8 seconds remaining proved to be the difference for Drury, which led the game for a grand total of 68 seconds.
Drury shot 54.2% from the field and made 11 three-pointers, outscoring Metro State (32-2) 33-15 from beyond the arc. That disparity allowed Drury to hang around in a game they trailed by as many as 17 points, and Metro State missing the front end of two 1-and-1 situations led to Hall’s game-winning free throws.
The question now is whether or not this format is something the NCAA will use in future years, and there are certainly those who are in favor of the setup.
However there’s scheduling to be considered, especially in regards to the Division III tournament. After playing the quarterfinals and semifinals in Salem, Va. on March 22 and 23, Amherst and Mary Hardin-Baylor had to wait two weeks to play one game.
“We’re not ‘scholarship kids.’ I’m not saying it’s a bad thing but it’s not a job. Our kids do other things,” Amherst head coach David Hixon remarked following his team’s victory. “So they need to rethink how they’re going to redo the year.”
Hixon made sure to note just how special the experience was for his players, because it isn’t as if they receive a police escort to the arena (and be honored during the Division I semifinals) on a regular basis.
The wait wasn’t as long for Drury and Metro State as the Division II quarters and semis were played last weekend in Louisville, and overall the feedback was positive in regards to the new idea.
But the scheduling of the Division II and III tournaments is something the NCAA will need to look at if they’re to do this in North Texas next spring.