It will be the defending NCAA Division II South Region champions hosting the current No. 1 team in the country when the Christian Brothers Buccaneers welcome the top-ranked Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys to Canale Arena in Memphis, Tenn., on Monday.
Tip-off between the Buccaneers (14-5 overall, 4-2 Gulf South Conference) and the Wonder Boys (18-0, 5-0) is set for 7 p.m. Monday. Russellville radio station KWKK 100.9 FM and www.athletics.atu.edu will have live play-by-play coverage.
Christian Brothers made its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight last season. The Buccaneers were expected to take a step backward in 2009-10 after losing All-America post Nick Kohs and All-GSC guard Reggie Peyton to graduation.
But that has not been the case, thanks in large part to the emergence of 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Zack Warner. The St. Louis, Mo., native averaged just 4.1 points per game for CBU last season, but this year he leads the GSC West in scoring at 19.2 points per outing.
“They still have the same complexion about them, but their personnel is different,” said Downey when asked about preparing for CBU in the post-Kohs era. “They miss (Kohs), and I think they miss Reggie Peyton just as much. They don’t rebound it as well as they did before, and they don’t have that shot-blocking presence inside.
“Zack Warner shoots it a heck of a lot better than Kohs did,” continued Downey. “That provides a challenge defensively. They shoot a lot more (3-pointers) than they have in the past. They’re young, and they’re getting there. It’s going to be a tough game.”
The Buccaneers proved they could also get it done without Warner on Thursday night in a 56-41 win at Southern Arkansas. With Warner out due to illness, CBU out-rebounded the Muleriders 35-13 and closed the game on a 26-10 run to earn the victory.
Christian Brothers is the sixth-best team in the nation when it comes to protecting the basketball. The Bucs commit just 11.5 turnovers per game.
“We’re still going to try to force the tempo, pressure the ball and make them work,” said Downey. “They have three guys averaging 35 minutes or more per game and four guys playing 30 minutes or more. They don’t like to go deep into that bench, so we need to force the tempo, get it up the floor, force them to foul us and wear them out a little bit. I don’t think we’re going to force 30 turnovers like we have a couple of times this year, but hopefully we can get them up in the high teens and get some easy baskets in transition.”
Tech has been idle since an 88-77 home win over Delta State on Saturday, Jan. 23. Senior guard Brandon Friedel had 26 points and junior forward Jeremy Dunbar netted 18 points in the victory.
Monday will mark the first time that the Wonder Boys and the Buccaneers have met since CBU defeated Tech 65-63 in Memphis on the final day of the 2008-09 regular season.
The Wonder Boys saw that game — and with it a share of the GSC West Division title — slip through their fingers in the closing moments. It is a loss that Downey still feels, and he hopes memories of that setback will spur his team on Monday.
“Guys that are back from last year, they should remember it,” said Downey. “I hope that they do take it a little bit personal and understand that this is conference championship time. That’s our goal. We’ve just got to keep winning one at a time, and this is the next one.
“We’ve had good practices and good effort,” continued Downey. “Knowing our guys and knowing what they’ve done all year, I think we are fueled up.”
After its trip to CBU, Tech will head to Magnolia on Thursday for a 7:30 p.m. contest against Southern Arkansas. The Wonder Boys will return home to host Arkansas-Monticello at 6 p.m. Saturday at Tucker Coliseum.