Wonder Boys to Face Top-Seeded Mavericks

http://athletics.atu.edu. This marks the first time in more than a half-century that the Wonder Boys have enjoyed such a sustained run in the national basketball spotlight. Tech’s five consecutive NCAA Tournament berths is the longest streak in national tournament play for the Wonder Boys since they qualified for the NAIA National Tournament seven consecutive times from 1950-56. “I think, especially the last two years of not having an automatic bid, we had to really bump up our non-conference schedule just to make sure we had a chance to get in to the NCAA Tournament,” said Doug Karleskint, who has won more games in his first three seasons as Arkansas Tech head men’s basketball coach (69) than anyone in program history. “For our program to make it the last two years without that automatic bid is really special and an accomplishment we can be proud of.” Arkansas Tech was the regular season co-champion of the Great American Conference and the runner-up in the GAC Tournament. The Wonder Boys battled injuries from the very first day of practice, when sophomore forward and projected starter Nick Wayman of Valley Springs went down with a knee injury. When the worst of it was over, Arkansas Tech was down to just eight healthy players with any college basketball experience on its men’s roster. The Wonder Boys have since welcomed senior center Will Paul of Corpus Christi, Texas, back to the active roster. The 6-foot-10 transfer from Stanford University was out for almost two months with a foot injury, but his return during the GAC Tournament gave Arkansas Tech an additional offensive weapon. Senior guard Willie Kirkland of Graceville, Fla. (13.4 points per game), senior guard Jared Williamson of Russellville (12.3 points per game) and Paul (10.7 points per game) are the Wonder Boys’ top three scorers. But it is the defensive end of the floor that allowed Arkansas Tech to persevere and win enough games to get back to the NCAA Tournament. The Wonder Boys switched from man-to-man to zone defense in early December to make better use of the talents of their big men, particularly 7-foot junior Charles Mells — the GAC defensive player of the year. As a result, Arkansas Tech ranks 10th in NCAA Division II in scoring defense (60.4 points allowed per game) and eighth in field goal percentage defense (.387). The Wonder Boys’ defense will be challenged on Saturday by one of the most efficient offensive attacks in the nation. Minnesota State-Mankato, ranked sixth in this week’s National Association of Basketball Coaches NCAA Division II top 25 poll, is among the national leaders in field goal percentage (9th, .497) and assist-to-turnover ratio (16th, 1.26-to-1). The Mavericks’ driving force is sophomore point guard Zach Monaghan. A transfer from NCAA Division I South Dakota State, Monaghan is ninth in NCAA Division II this season in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.63-to-1) and 19th in the country in both assists (5.4 per game) and steals (2.4 per game). “I was trying to think of a guard like (Monaghan) that we have faced this season, and I really can’t find one,” said Karleskint. “He’s just so solid. He is the guy that brought their program back. They were 7-19 last year, and now they have won 26 games this season. We have to find a way to contain him. He’s a special player.” This year marks the third time in the last four seasons that Minnesota State-Mankato has hosted a men’s basketball NCAA Division II regional. The Mavericks are in the men’s NCAA Division II Tournament for the eighth time in the last nine years. They reached the NCAA D-II Final Four in 2011. The winner of the first-round game between Arkansas Tech and Minnesota State-Mankato will face either fourth-seeded Central Missouri or No. 5 seed Harding University in the regional semifinals on Sunday evening. The men’s NCAA Division II Tournament Central Regional championship game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday.]]>