Friday, March 5, 2010

NCAA Meeting is First for MIT and DeSales

For the first time in school history, MIT men's basketball will face DeSales University when the two teams square off on Friday in the opening round of the 2010 NCAA Division III Championship. The game will mark MIT's (22-4) second consecutive appearance in the NCAA postseason tournament, while DeSales (22-5) will be hoping to duplicate the magic that resulted in a run to last year's Elite Eight.

The Engineers have been battling an unfortunate series of injuries in the last several weeks, most notably to sophomore Billy Bender, who has missed the last three games. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs enter the postseason tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country, having won 15 of 16 including their last eight games. Led by 2009 NABC First Team All-American and two-time Freedom Conference Player of the Year Darnell Braswell, DeSales won the Freedom Conference Championship with a 69-61 victory over Misericordia. Braswell scored 27 points in the league final, while adding nine rebounds, five assists, and three steals.

Although DeSales features a deep bench (nine players average 14+ minutes), Braswell is clearly the centerpiece of the team. Against Misericordia, he accounted for nearly half of the Bulldogs' shot attempts, and despite being a 6'1" guard, he leads the team in scoring (21.0 ppg) and rebounding (8.3). DeSales is well-balanced offensively, taking 38% of its shots from three-point range. Senior Rob Schubach (47%) and sophomore Bob Zanneo (44%) are the team's top three-point threats, although neither player starts. At 6'5" Zanneo probably plays above most of the competition, but his ability to get open looks against a long MIT team will be an interesting aspect to watch. Junior Brian Hunter averages 10.6 ppg and is the team's top playmaker (3.8 apg), but the 6'3" point guard is DeSales' worst free-throw shooter at 60%. Jim Malatesta, who scored 10 in the conference championship win, has also been a sub-par shooter at the line (62%). The Bulldogs round out their starting five with 6'4" senior forward Matt Zwetolitz and 6'6" sophomore middle Jamey Bercier.

The Engineers enter the contest with a definitive size advantage and will need big contributions from Noel Hollingsworth and Will Tashman. Bender, who is expected to play, would create another favorable size matchup for MIT, while 6'8" senior wing Billy Johnson will need to step up defensively. Despite suffering another ankle injury in the NEWMAC playoffs against Clark, Mitch Kates is still the floor general for this young group of players and his effectiveness on both sides of the ball will factor heavily in the outcome. Expect to see different looks from MIT defensively as the team has demonstrated the willingness to shift between man and zone. MIT heads into Friday's tilt as the proverbial underdog, but don't think that means much. The Engineers were the decided underdog in last year's opener where it shocked Rhode Island College for its first NCAA win.

MIT Release