By Chris McManes
WASHINGTON – Catholic University Coach Steve Howes thought his men's basketball team had played well enough to receive a bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament, but was left to wonder for 43 long hours. His concern evaporated Monday when an invitation was extended.
The No. 19 Cardinals (22-5) won the Landmark Conference regular-season championship with a 15-1 record but lost in the tournament championship game Saturday, thus leaving its fate in the hands of the selection committee.
"I'm thrilled that we were rewarded for the great regular season we had," Howes said. "We're blessed to have the opportunity to play in March and have another home game."
CUA will host Alvernia University of Reading, Pa., at DuFour Center on Thursday at 7 p.m. The Crusaders (18-9) won their third straight Commonwealth Conference championship Saturday. The winner will advance to play at Randolph-Macon College (26-2) on Saturday March 7.
This will be CUA's fourth NCAA playoff appearance in Howes' 11th year as head coach. The Cardinals participated in 2006, 2007 and 2013, the first two as Capital Athletic Conference champions. They are 2-3 in NCAA games during that time, losing in the first round in 2006 and the second round in '07 and two years ago.
CUA started the season 6-3, including two victories in the prestigious Hoopsville National Invitational Classic in Owings, Mills, Md. The Cards embarked on a 15-game winning streak – fourth-longest in school history – with two wins in the CUA Holiday Inn College Park Classic on Dec. 29-30.
Freshman Jay Howard leads the Cardinals in scoring (16.9 ppg) and field-goal percentage (53.7), and is second in rebounding (6 rpg). Junior playmaker Bryson Fonville averages 15.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists. He has a 2.7 assist-to-turnover ratio and paces the club in steals with 49. Sophomore Corey Stanford has a 14.4-point scoring average and is the team leader in rebounds (7.5 rpg).
CUA is 1-2 all-time against Alvernia. The Crusaders downed the Cards, 81-75, at DuFour Center in a 2010 ECAC South region semifinal and went into overtime to win 93-85 in the 2012 ECAC South title game in Huntingdon, Pa. Alvernia, 7-10 in 10 Division III tournament appearances, enters on a seven-game winning streak.
"All the teams in the NCAA Tournament are tough at this point," Howes said. "Alvernia won a very good league, so I expect we will match up against a very talented team."
This is the Cardinals' first NCAA at-large bid since 2003 under current George Washington Coach Mike Lonergan, who led CUA to nine NCAA Tournament appearances in his 12 years (1992-2004). The Cardinals have played in the NCAAs 15 times, with all but the first two (1944, 1964) coming at the Division III level.
CUA is 15-15 all-time in the NCAA playoffs. It lost its first six games before defeating Johns Hopkins, 67-62, at DuFour Center on March 7, 1998. The Cardinals went 6-0 en route to the 2001 National Championship.
CUA is 12-1 at home this season and 7-4 in NCAA games.
For the complete bracket, go to http://on.ncaa.com/1BQdoMJ.