Five Storylines as Saint Vincent Tries to End the Streaks

By Justin Zackal


Saint Vincent defeated Thomas More for the PAC title.

Saint Vincent qualified for the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament in four straight years as the PAC champion. The previous three years were short-lived, losing in the first round to Bates (92-80), Wooster (76-67) and Ohio Wesleyan (84-75), respectively.

Will this year be different?

Well, this might be the Bearcats’ (22-6) toughest challenge yet, as they travel to No. 5-ranked John Carroll (25-3) Friday at 8 p.m.

Here are five storylines to follow as the Bearcats look to break through.

SAINT VINCENT’S EXPERIENCE. Saint Vincent head coach D.P. Harris acknowledges there’s a different feeling this year as his senior-laden team includes six players who are punching their fourth ticket to nationals and 10 total with tournament experience.

“We’re a lot more calm,” Harris said. “We’re excited, but we’ve been here. It’s just all about experience. You just can’t teach that. Saying that we are calm, I don’t know how we’ll be at 8 o’clock on Friday night, but I know right now our guys are business as usual.”

John Carroll made the NCAA tournament last year, losing to Virginia Wesleyan, 101-86, but none of the Blue Streaks’ 12 other postseason appearances occurred in the last four years.

SAINT VINCENT’S ADAPTABILITY. The last week of February was a whirlwind for Saint Vincent. The Bearcats already had the top seed locked up for the PAC tournament when they traveled to Kentucky to face Thomas More, so they rested their top four scorers and won 63-62 anyway.

After winning their first two PAC tournament games, they beat Thomas More again the following Saturday, this time at home, at full strength and for their fourth straight PAC title. But it was the win at Thomas More that Harris thought was most impressive because it gave the team’s bench players an opportunity to shine.

“It was a demanding week,” Harris said. “Our league is very good. You’re also going to be prepared to play against a diverse style of play.”

JOHN CARROLL’S PACE. Which brings us to John Carroll. The one thing that struck Harris the most while evaluated the Blue Streaks on film is their fast pace.

“They want to get up and down the court and their shot selection is quick,” Harris said. “They want to get the first available shot. They don’t worry about the shot clock. Defensively, they play very hard and they play a lot of guys. They sub five guys at a time. For us, that’s different. We haven’t face that all year.”

To combat that frantic pace, Saint Vincent will have to switch up defenses on the fly when JCU substitutes. Harris also said his team will have no problem playing as many as 10 or 11 players.

The Blue Streaks have 10 players who averaged 15 or more minutes per game and only three who average double-figure points, led by junior guard David Linane’s 15.0 points and 22.1 minutes per game.

“We want to make the most out of every possession and we play fast,” Harris said. “It could be a sprint up there because we like to play fast and we like to press you. We can put some athletes on the court too.”

Bell, Jaylon

Senior Jaylon Bell is the PAC Player of the Year.

SENIORS AT THEIR BEST. Saint Vincent is led by its senior backcourt of PAC Player of the Year Jaylon Bell (16.6 ppg, 4.4 apg), all-PAC first-teamer Pat Jones (14.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and JC Howard (10.2 ppg).

This trio is playing at a high level entering the tournament. Their best game could be their next game. They’ll need their best to prevent Friday from being their last game.

“A lot of times seniors don’t get better,” Harris said. “Those guys, even today at practice, you see them getting better and we’re in the fourth year in the last couple weeks of a season, of a guy’s career, which tells me the potential that these guys have had. We’re very lucky that we keep working toward their untapped potential.”

Harris also said senior forward Bobby Swartwout (8.5 ppg) had a “tremendous PAC tournament.”

WHAT A WIN WOULD MEAN. Knocking off John Carroll would not just mean Saint Vincent advances to Saturday night’s second round to play the winner of Friday’s Denison-Alma game. No PAC men’s team has won an NCAA tournament since Bethany’s first-round win over Pitt-Bradford in 2002.

Westminster nearly won in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament at John Carroll’s DeCarlo Varsity Center, losing 87-83 to the Blue Streaks team that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.

“It would be tremendous, just because I know how good the coaches and the players are in this league,” Harris said. “And certainly for ourselves. It would mean a lot to them and a lot to our college too.”