DE PERE - The St. Norbert basketball team was all smiles Saturday. They secured their fourth trip to the NCAA tournament in the past five seasons with a hard fought win over Grinnell in the Midwest Conference title game. "It's good because we know we're in now,” St. Norbert head coach Gary Grzesk said following the game. “You never want to leave it to chance and have a guy sitting behind a desk crunching the numbers. I think we were kind of on the bubble coming in but this erases all doubt. This team deserves to be in. They paid the price all year, very happy for the seniors."
The Green Knights carry an impressive resume into the tournament: 24-1 overall record, 18-0 Midwest Conference record, 22 consecutive wins, and the #5 Ranking in the D3hoops.com national poll.
Pat Coleman, executive editor of d3hoops.com, watched the Midwest Conference Tournament and left impressed. "They pass my eye ball test,” Coleman said. “They look to me like some of the teams I've seen in other parts of the country who've made the round of 16, the round of 8. You know they may not be able to get to the round of 16 or round of 8 but they definitely have that talent."
Coleman explained that while the d3-hoops voters see the Green Knights as a top five team nationally, the NCAA seeding process is based on a list of 15 criteria along with a regional advisory committee. He explained the discrepancy between the number five national ranking for St. Norbert in the d3hoops poll and the number five ranking in the west region by the NCAA. An idea that leaves many fans scratching their heads.
"I think the difference is that this year especially the regional committee is so heavily focused on strength of schedule. What we look at is St. Norbert has won all these games; their only loss is to Whitewater, who's one of the best teams in the country. That signifies to our voters that they should be in the top 10 or the top 5 coming into this week. To the NCAA they look at it so much more numerically. Especially this year strength of schedule is a huge focus for them and the Midwest Conference kind of drags them down in that regard,” Coleman said.
Making matters worse for the Green Knights hopes of hosting an opening weekend round of games is the proximity to UW-Stevens Point and UW-Whitewater, two of the nation’s highest ranked teams.
"This is a bracket that's not going to be too geographically diverse. The NCAA at the Division III level is more about saving money than about getting the most equitable matchups,” Coleman said.
The Green Knights understand the NCAA's process but feel they’ve made their case to be a host in the round of 62.
"Well I don't know if we could have done much more,” Gary Grzesk said. “We lost to Whitewater, one of the top teams in the country, without Andrew Schwoerer, our second leading scorer. That's our only blemish on the entire season so I think we do deserve to host we'll see what happens."
For the St. Norbert senior class, they know what playing the waiting game feels like, and according to Garrett Thorn, it can be a tough wait.
"I guess it's pretty nerve wracking. I mean we've been through it two other times. It's just a matter of waiting around we'll do it all together," Thorn said.
The players feel they’ve gotten good support from “Norbs Nation” the St. Norbert student section, and would like to see the kind of atmosphere an NCAA game at the Schuldes Center would have.
“Obviously we'd like it because we play well at home,” senior guard Brandon Gries said. “We have a crowd that shows up and really has our back so whatever happens happens but either way we're going to have to beat some good teams if we're going to get where we want to go."
Kam Cerroni added, "It's nothing like anything I've been a part of. You play in front of fans and they're right on top of you. It’s a lot of fun.”
Andy Fox seconded the opinion of his fellow senior guards. "I think, you saw, we had this place rocking, hosting an NCAA game, we could turn it up another notch. I think it'd be awesome," Fox said.
The Green Knights have done all they can on the court, now they just have to sit and wait for Monday’s announcement of the NCAA bracket.