AZUSA, Calif. –- The NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific will meet John Brown University (Ark.) in the opening round of next week’s NAIA Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament. The NAIA national office released the entire bracket for the 32-team championship tournament, which runs March 26 through April 1 in Municipal Auditorium in Kansas, Mo.
Azusa Pacific and John Brown are scheduled to tip-off at 10:30 p.m. (CST) on Wednesday, March 26, to close out the first day of play. For the Cougars, it’s their seventh straight NAIA Tourney appearance and their ninth in the past 10 years. John Brown, however, is making its first-ever NAIA Tournament appearance.
“We don’t know much about John Brown so the preparation starts now,” said Azusa Pacific Coach Bill Odell, who has guided the Cougars to the NAIA Final Four in 3 of the past 5 years. “What I do know is that they come from a great conference. The fact that this is their first time in NAIA Tournament might have been an advantage to us had it been any other team. But John Brown is used to good competition and has to be pretty strong to do as well as it did in the Sooner Athletic Conference.”
Azusa Pacific, which is seeded No. 7 in the tournament field, is 27-6 overall. The Cougars won their tenth Golden State Athletic Conference championship in the past 11 years.
John Brown, which is unseeded, is 22-10 and finished tied for fourth in the Sooner Athletic Conference with an 11-7 mark. For several years now the SAC has generally been regarded as the NAIA’s strongest basketball conference. At least 1 SAC member has advanced to the title game in 5 of the past 7 NAIA Tournaments, and last year it became the first NAIA conference ever to have 2 teams in the championship game with Science & Arts downing Oklahoma Baptist.
The Golden Eagles are paced by SAC Freshman of the Year Brandon Cole, a 6-foot-1 guard who enters the NAIA Tournament with a team-high 16.7 scoring averaging to go along with 5.1 rebounds.
Azusa Pacific is led by GSAC Player of the Year Caleb Gervin, who is averaging 19.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals. Gervin tops the NAIA in 3-point shooting, converting 52% (66-for-126) of his long balls.
Azusa Pacific is 1 of 4 GSAC teams to earn a spot in the NAIA’s 32-team field. Concordia, which finished second to the Cougars during the regular season but knocked off Azusa Pacific in the conference’s postseason tournament championship game, is the No. 6 seed. Westmont is No. 12, and Point Loma Nazarene is unseeded after earning 1 of the final remaining at-large berths.
The Sooner Athletic Conference leads all conferences with an NAIA Tournament record 6 members earning berths.
Termed the most difficult championship to win, the NAIA Tournament features 31 games over a 7-day stretch. The eventual national champion must win 5 games in the process. Azusa Pacific advanced to the Final Four in 1998 and 1999, losing to the eventual national champ both times, and then returned last year before falling to Oklahoma Baptist.
Click here to view the entire NAIA Tournament bracket.