SIOUX FALLS -- Morningside, Briar Cliff and Northwestern all earned top-three seeds for the upcoming NAIA Division II Men's Basketball National Championship as the bracket was revealed on Wednesday night.
Morningside (26-6), the GPAC regular season and tournament champions, garnered the highest seed earning a second seed. The Mustangs will play their opening game next Thursday at 1:45 p.m. against seventh-seeded Trinity International (Ill.) at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls.
"It is going to be great for our fan base and hopefully we will have a good crowd up there," said Morningside Coach Jim Sykes, the GPAC Coach of the Year. "A lot of these guys have played (at the Pentagon). Our guys are excited, we are hungry and we are ready to get back to work."
Briar Cliff and Northwestern, who tied for second in the GPAC regular season, both earned No. 3 seeds.
The Chargers (24-7) play a 10:15 a.m. game Wednesday against sixth-seeded Oregon Tech (22-10). Northwestern (25-6) draws the 8 p.m. game Wednesday against sixth-seeded Bellevue (Neb.).
The Mustangs are back in the national tournament for the first time since 2015 when they reached the second round before falling to Saint Francis 72-70. Morningside, the GPAC regular season champions for the first time since 2014-15, added the postseason tourney title with a win over Northwestern 80-76 on Tuesday.
Morningside features a balanced scoring squad that has four players averaging more than 12 points a game. Brody Egger, who has surpassed 1,000 points in his career, leads the way at 15.4 points per game and Tyler Borchers is close behind at 15.0. Alex Brochers sits at 12.7 and Zach Imig is at 12.3. The Mustangs rank third in NAIA Division II in shooting percentage.
"They are selfless that is No. 1," said Sykes of his team. "They play as well together as any team I have ever had and possibly better. They don't care who gets it done it is just the fact that a job needs to get done. We have had different guys leading us in scoring and rebounding all the way through. Getting good balance has been key, and that is when we are at our best."
Trinity International brings a 21-10 record into their fifth national tournament as an at-large selection. It is 3-4 all-time in tournament games.
Briar Cliff head coach Mark Svagera has kept the ninth-ranked Chargers rolling in his first season at the helm.
"It is great to see your name pop up on that screen,” he said. “We have been incredibly confident that our body of work throughout the year was going to secure us a spot in the tournament, but at the same time when you are not an automatic bid it is great to see that name pop up."
Briar Cliff is making its fourth straight postseason appearance going 24-7 and dropping a tough 80-75 to Bellevue in the first round a year ago. That came a year after the Chargers made a run all the way to the national quarterfinals.
"It is funny because I was thinking this morning that the last four years we played a Thursday night game and I keep thinking we are due for a Wednesday game and we finally got one," said Svagera, whose team did not tip off until after midnight last season. "At the end of the day it doesn't matter when you play."
Briar Cliff is driven by its guards who have helped the team lead the nation in made 3-pointers at 378.
Erich Erdman, a returning All-American, leads the Chargers averaging 18.9 points per game and Jay Wolfe is at 17.6 while Jackson Lamb checks in at 15.3.
"Our guys have been really good all year minus the last few games where we struggled a little bit," Svagera said. "They probably exceeded outside expectations ... but we always talk about our own expectations where we are always in a spot to play at the national tournament at the end of the year."
Oregon Tech (22-10) is a tournament veteran making its 16th appearance and having won three national titles
Northwestern's Colton Kooima, the GPAC Player of the Year, is one of two 20-point scorers for the Red Raiders this season. He averages 20.8 points entering the national tournament while Nathan Wedel leads the Red Raiders at 21.2. Teams put Kooima at the free throw line at their own risk as he ranks second in the nation in free throw percentage at 91 percent.
“A lot of these guys have won state championships and now they have been to a national tournament and they are a group of winners,” said Northwestern Coach Kris Korver, whose team is one of the host schools for the tournament. “They leverage those experiences and for some of these guys it will be playing the tournament in their home town. Colton Kooima is from Sioux Falls.”
The Red Raiders reached the second round of the national tournament a season ago before dropping a two-point decision to Indiana Wesleyan. The Red Raiders had not been in the postseason the previous three seasons, but has now made it in back-to-back campaigns.
“I am proud of this group because last year we earned our way there and this year we did it again,” Korver said. “I am excited for this group and this group is looking forward to it."
Bellevue reached the national semifinals a year ago and is making its 19th appearance with a 21-11 record.
Dakota Wesleyan also made the tournament field out of the GPAC.