When the 80th NAIA Division I men’s basketball tournament tips off Wednesday at Municipal Auditorium, the men will have the town to themselves.
For the past two seasons, the men’s and women’s NAIA Division I tournaments were staged simultaneously with the men at Municipal and women in Independence, but the women’s championships moved to Billings, Mont., this season.
To commemorate the 80th men’s tournament — which is under contract to remain at Municipal through 2019 — the NAIA has instituted all-day tickets instead of day-night sessions for the six-day event. An all-day ticket allows a fan to watch up to eight games for $25 (reserved seat) or $15 (general admission) on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday or for all four quarterfinals on Saturday.
The semifinals are set for 6 and 8 p.m. Monday, March 20 and championship game will tip off at 7 p.m. March 21.
A tournament pass, good for all 31 games, costs $100, and for the first time, VIP courtside tickets for all 31 games will be available at $45 per day or $300 for the tournament, including lunch and dinner. Children 5 and under are free every day, and student prices run from $5 to $10.
The annual DST Family Day/Youth Day includes three-point and slam-dunk contests with NAIA players at 4 p.m. Saturday, after the second quarterfinal. Admission to the March 20 semifinals will be $5 for anyone with a coupon from The Kansas City Star; and $8.10 for the championship game for those who receive a discount code from WHB (810 AM).
Five players to watch
Guard Taran Buie, Science and Arts (Okla.). A powerful 6-2 junior, Buie led the NAIA in scoring at 27.3 points per game with 3.2 assists. Buie, of Albany, N.Y, averaged 5.8 points in 11 games at Penn State in 2010-11 and 12.4 points at Hofstra in 2012-13, but he’s had a checkered career, having been booted from Penn State and suspended at Hofstra.
Guard Andre Yates, Benedictine College. Yates, a 6-0 senior, led the Ravens in scoring at 18.3 points per game and was voted to the Heart of America all-conference team. Yates, from Dayton, Ohio, began his college career at Creighton and spent two seasons at Cleveland State, where he started 51 games in two seasons before transferring to Benedictine.
Forward Dalarian Williams, Life (Ga.) University. Williams, a 6-6 senior forward from Atlanta, was the Mid-South Conference Player of the Year and led the Running Eagles to the league’s tournament title by matching the school record with 43 points in the semifinals and scoring all 21 of his points in the second half of the championship game. He’s sixth in the nation in scoring at 21.4 points per game.
Guard Reid Shackelford, The Masters (Calif.), led the Mustangs in scoring at 16.9 points per game, and was second in the Golden State Athletic Conference with 85 three-point baskets and third in free-throw percentage at 86 percent. Shackelford made a school-record 10 three-pointers en route to a career-best 51 points against Embry-Riddle (Ariz.) last November.
Guard Lou Dunbar, Oklahoma City. Dunbar, a 6-3 junior, is the son of the Harlem Globetrotters’ “Sweet Lou” Dunbar. He became the first Oklahoma City player since 1967 to score 50 or more points in a game in the Stars’ 95-93 win over Science and Arts on Jan. 26. Dunbar tied the school’s single-game record for three-pointers when he made 11 of 14 in the game.
Five story lines
A new champion: Mid-America (Okla.) Christian, the 2016 champion, did not qualify, assuring there will not be a repeat winner. The last school to win back-to-back titles was Oklahoma City in 2007-08. Five of the past eight champions — Mid-America Christian, Dalton State (Ga.), Vanguard (Calif.), Pikeville (Ky.) and Rocky Mountain (Mont.) — were first-time champions.
The undefeated: Top-seeded LSU Alexandria, 31-0, is the first team to enter the tournament unbeaten since Columbia (Mo.) College brought a 33-0 mark to the 2013 tournament but lost in the quarterfinals. Only two schools have won NAIA titles as unbeaten teams, Central State (Ohio) in 1965 and Oklahoma City in 1992.
No. 1 jinx: LSU Alexandria faces another tournament tradition. No top seed has won the tournament since Mountain State (W.Va.) in 2002. Georgetown (Ky.) came close last season, losing to Mid-America Christian in overtime.
Biola coach bows out: This will the Biola (Calif.) University coach Dave Holmquist’s 21st and final trip to the tournament. Holmquist, in his 37th year at Biola, also could claim his 950th career win, all as a NAIA coach. Holmquist, who ranks sixth on the all-time win list for four-year college coaches with 947, is still searching for his first national championship. His Biola teams are 26-20 in the tournament, including a second-place finish in 1982.
Special seats: The Buck and Betty Farmer seat dedication will be held at halftime of the 5:45 p.m. quarterfinal on March 17 to honor a couple who attended every game — or more than 2,000 games — from 1946 until Betty Farmer’s death in 2014. Buck Farmer died in 2016. The two seats will be vacant this year and starting with the 2018 tournament, their legacy will be honored by having two dignitaries chosen to sit in those two seats for every game.
Three favorites to watch
LSU Alexandria, which has owned the No. 1 position in the NAIA Coaches’ Top 25 Poll for most of the season, is competing in just its fourth season of varsity status. The Generals lost in the first round of the 2016 tournament but learned from that initial experience in Kansas City.
William Penn (Iowa) is another relative newcomer to NAIA Division I status, having moved up from Division II last year. The Statesmen, champions of the Heart of America Conference, reached the quarterfinals of last year’s tournament, losing to top-ranked and eventual runner-up Georgetown.
University of Pikeville (Ky.) will be making its fifth straight appearance but the Bears haven’t advanced past the quarterfinals. Forwards Darrion Leslie and Michael Lewis could lead Pikeville to its first title since 2011.
Three sleepers to watch
Life (Ga.) was a perennial power during the time the tournament was based in Oklahoma during 1994-2001, winning championships in 1997, 1999 and 2000. But since the tournament returned to Kansas City in 2002, the Running Eagles have made six appearances during 2009-14 and lost all six first-round games.
The Masters (Calif.) University won just four games last year, but the Mustangs won their first Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament with a double-overtime victory over top-seeded Hope International last week and bring a 26-4 mark into their first national tournament appearance since a seven-year run during 1994-2000.
Harris-Stowe of St. Louis enjoyed the biggest triumph in the program’s 78 seasons when the Hornets qualified for their first NAIA Tournament in school history. As the No. 6 seed in the American Midwest Conference tournament, Harris-Stowe won its first league title since 1983 by winning three straight road games.
Meet the NAIA men’s national tournament field
Benedictine (Kan.) College
Coach: Ryan Moody
Top players: G Andre Yates, 18.3 PPG; F Jake Schannuth, 10.8 PPG; G Thomas O’Connor, 9.1 PPG.
Biola (Calif.) University
Coach: Dave Holmquist
Top players: G Dakari Archer, 15.1 PPG; F Caelan Tiongson, 13.4 PPG, 6.2RPG.
Carroll (Mont.) College
Nickname: Fighting Saints
Coach: Carson Cunningham
Top players: G Zach Taylor, 16.9 PPG; 4.5 RPG, 3.4 APG; G Ryan Imhoff, 17.4 PPG, 6.5 RPG.
Columbia (Mo.) College
Coach: Bob Burchard
Top players: G Nic Reynolds, 13.6 PPG; G Jackson Dubinsky, 12 PPG; F Malik Ray, 9.9 PPG, 2.0 BPG.
University of the Cumberlands (Ky.)
Coach: Don Butcher
Top players: F Chance Morton, 13.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG; F Bernard Samuel, 10.3; G Eddie Tornes, 11.7 PPG.
Dalton (Ga.) State
Coach: Hunter Hageman
Top players: F Carnilious Simmons, 15.3 PPG, 10.1 RPG; G Isaiah Box, 13.8 PPG.
Dillard (La.) University
Nickname: Bleu Devils
Coach: Mike Newell
Top players: F Demetric Austin, 18.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG; F Jalen McGaughy, 13.5 PPG, 7.9 RPG; F Quinton Jackson, 13.4 PPG, 6.5 RPG
Georgetown (Ky.) College
Coach: Chris Briggs
Top players: G Troy Steward 16.2 PPG; F Quan Poindexter, 14.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG; F Chris Coffey, 10.6 PPG, 9.7 RPG.
Grand View (Iowa)
Coach: Denis Schaefer
Top players: G Chase Mullen, 15.5 PPG, 5.0 APG; F Jjuan Hadnot, 15.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG; G Kerry Green, 15.3 PPG.
Coach: Brian Dunlap
Top players: F Jalen Fletcher, 14.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG; F Craig Davila Jr., 13.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG; G Trevor Roberts, 12.2 PPG.
Hope (Calif.) International
Coach: Bill Czech
Top players: C Liam Hunt, 13.2 PPG, 9.4 RPG; F Josh Smith, 12.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG; G Donny Punter, 11.2 PPG.
Langston (Okla.) University
Coach: Stan Holt
Top players: F Curtis Jones, 17.1 PPG, 2.21 SPG; F Terrell Jones, 11.6 PPG, 8.9 RPG; G Michael Harris, 14.8 PPG.
Lewis-Clark (Idaho) State
Coach: Brandon Rinta
Top players: G Doug McDaniel, 17.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG; F Zavon Jackson, 19.6 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.0 APG.
Life (Ga.) University
Nickname: Running Eagles
Coach: Keith Adkins
Top players: F Dalarian Williams, 21.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG; F Jordan Beausejour, 12.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG; G Zach Landis, 10.9 PPG, 2.7 SPG.
Loyola (La.) University
Nickname: Wolf Pack
Coach: Stacy Hollowell
Top players: Johnny Griffin, 14.5 PPG, 10.3 RPG; G Nick Parker, 14.9 PPG; G Jalen Gray, 12.1 PPG, 4.1 APG.
Coach: Larry Cordaro
Top players: C Gilbert Talbot, 10.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG; F Brian Sylvester, 14.0 PPG, 7.8 RPG; F Brandon Moss, 16.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG.
Coach: Kyle Blankenship
Top players: G Benjamin Batts, 16.6 PPG; G Tyrell Springer, 10.3 PPG, 4.0 APG; G C.J. McGill, 10.6
Martin (Tenn.) Methodist
Nickname: Red Hawks
Coach: Scott Combs
Top players: G Caleb Chowby, 16.5 PPG; G Albert Lynch, 16.1 PPG; g Broderick Davis, 15.8 PPG.
Coach: Steve Keller
Top players: G Shyke Smalls, 15.2 PPG, 2.4 SPG; G Dom Robinson, 16.8 PPG.
Mount Mercy (Iowa)
Coach: Aaron Jennings
Top players: Ben Struss, 12.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG; F CJ Parker, 11.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG.
Oklahoma City University
Coach: Vinay Patel
Top players: G Terence Bonhomme, 17.2 PPG; G Lou Dunbar, 14.6 PPG.
Coach: Jason Kline
Top players: F Xavielle Brown, 20.9 PPG, 6.8 PPG, F David Sheppard, 14.5 PPG, 9.6 RPG, G Zach Rutland, 10.7 PPG, 4.3 APG.
University of Pikeville (Ky.)
Coach: Kelly Wells
Top players: F Darrion Leslie, 14.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG; G Jordan Perry, 10.1 PPG.
Coach: Donnie Bostwick
Top players: G Keyunta Watkins, 18.9 PPG, 3.0 APG; F Isaak Rowe, 12.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG, G Josh Williams, 10.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG.
Science and Arts (Okla.)
Coach: Chris Francis
Top players: G Taran Buie, 27.3 PPG, 3.2 APG; F Julius Foster, 16.2 PPG; G Imani Edwards, 17.4
Talladega (Ala.) College
Coach: Matt Cross
Top players: G Jordan Washington, 24.9 PPG; G Dominic Jackson, 9.7 PPG
Coach: Brennen Shingleton
Top players: G Dion Rogers, 19.5 PPG, 4.7 RPG; G Ryan Harris, 15.3 PPG, G Najeal Young, 14.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG.
The Masters (Calif.) International
Coach: Kelvin Starr
Top players: G Reid Shackelford, 16.9 PPG; F Lawrence Russell, 7.8 RPG, 4.0 APG.
Westmont (Calif.) College
Coach: John Moore
Top players: G Cory Blau, 15.3 PPG; G Gerald Karczewski, 13.3 PPG; F Sean McDowell, 12.6 PPG, 7.5 RPG.
Wiley (Texas) College
Coach: Jameus Hartsfield
Top players: Ricardo Artis, 16.1 PPG; George Page, 14.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG.
William Carey (Miss.)
Coach: Steve Knight
Top players: G Leo Garrett, 16.0 PPG; G Ashton Woodson, 12.7 PPG; G Troy Salvant, 11.9 PPG.
William Penn (Iowa)
Coach: John Henry
Top players: F Torren Jones, 20.2 PPG, 12.2 RPG; G Lionel Ellison, 11.7 PPG, F Charles Knowles, 11.0 PPG.