The Ashland University men's basketball team will host a GLIAC Tournament quarterfinal game for the third time in program history on Wednesday night.
NEW SEASON: The first 28 games are in the book, but now the 2018 postseason is here and the slate is clean. By virtue of its 12-8 GLIAC record (and a win over Northern Michigan in the regular season), the AU men's basketball team earned the No. 4 seed in the GLIAC Tournament and will play host to the Wildcats at Kates Gymnasium in the quarterfinal round. The winner will have to play the winner of top-seed Ferris State and No. 8-seed Saginaw Valley State in the semifinal at the site of the top remaining seed.
PLAYOFF PICTURE: With Step 1 of securing a home game in the GLIAC Tournament in the bag, the Eagles will now focus on winning the conference tournament and securing a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Ashland was not listed in the second edition of the NCAA Division II Midwest Region rankings and would need to wind up in the top eight to secure an at-large bid. The best opportunity to qualify for their second NCAA Tournament in three seasons will be for the Eagles to earn an automatic bid by winning the GLIAC Tournament. Last season, the Eagles were defeated by top-seeded Ferris State, 80-79, in the GLIAC championship game in Big Rapids, Mich. It was the first time in program history Ashland played in the conference tournament title game.
REGIONAL RANKINGS, ED. 2: While the Eagles were not included in the Midwest Region rankings, two GLIAC schools were – No. 1 Ferris State and No. 4 Lake Seuperior State. The next rankings will be announced Wednesday, Feb. 28. The top eight teams in the region will earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The field will be announced at 10:30 p.m. on March 4. Automatic bids will be issued to the tournament champions of the GLIAC, Great Lakes Valley Conference and Great Midwest Athletic Conference. The Eagles qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 2016 for the first time since 1991.
LAST LOOK AT LAST WEEK: The Eagles were dominant in a pair of in-division wins last week over Saginaw Valley State (82-64) and Northwood (81-57), holding the two opponents to a combined 36.5 percent (46-126) shooting and just 10 3-pointers over the two games. Meanwhile, the Eagles connected at a 55.3 percent (57-103) clip themselves and shot 40 percent from 3-point range.
HIGH-LEVEL DEFENSE: The Eagles, as they have been all season, were terrific on the defensive end. the Eagles blocked 13 shots last week, including a season-high eight against Saginaw Valley State. AU has climbed into the nation's top 100 in blocking shots. They have allowed opposing teams to shoot a GLIAC-best 41.5 percent from the field this season and rank 12th nationally in scoring defense, giving up just 65.4 points per game.
MORE DEFENSE: The Eagles, who are 13-2 at Kates Gymnasium this season and 98-30 in nine seasons under head coach John Ellenwood, have forced opponents to shoot under 40 percent (39.6 percent to be exact) for the season. Overall, the Eagles are 12-1 when they hold their opponents to under 40 percent shooting and 17-3 when their opponents score less than 70 points.
SERIES VS. WILDCATS: The Eagles are 16-9 all-time against Northern Michigan and are riding a five-game winning streak agains their Upper Peninsula counterparts. Ashland has also won five straight games against NMU at Kates Gymnasium. The Wildcats last won in Ashland on Feb. 5, 2009 by a 75-67 score. Ellenwood is 8-2 lifetime against the Wildcats. The schools have never met in postseason play.
GLIAC TOURNAMENT HISTORY: The Eagles have never won the GLIAC Tournament and qualified for its first-ever championship game last season as the No. 6 seed, falling to top-seeded Ferris State, 80-79. The Eagles are 6-13 all-time in the GLIAC Tournament. The Eagles have played in the semifinals in the last two seasons, including in 2016 when they hosted the GLIAC final four, but lost to the Bulldogs. Ferris State has eliminated Ashland in the last three conference tournaments. The Eagles went to overtime once in GLIAC Tournament play, falling to Hillsdale, 74-71, in 2012. This is the third time the Eagles are hosting a GLIAC quarterfinal, having also done it in 2016 and 2006.
THE W.D. POTW AWARD: Redshirt-senior forward Wendell Davis continued his historic season this week by winning his eighth GLIAC South Player of the Week award. The league office handed out 14 this season, so Davis finished the season having won 57 percent of those. He averaged 28 points, 3.5 assists and 2.5 rebounds last week while shooting 62 percent from the field and 46 percent from the 3-point arc. He poured in 33 points in Ashland's 81-57 win over Northwood on Senior Day and matched his career-high with 13 made field goals. Davis has now reached the 30-point plateau seven times in his career. He ranks in the top 10 in the GLIAC in scoring, rebounding, assists, field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, 3-pointers made, free throw percentage and minutes played.
WENDELL'S RANKS: Davis ranks among the greatest to ever wear an Ashland uniform, if not the greatest to ever don the purple and gold. He is second on AU's all-time scoring list with 1,917 points and third on the career rebounding list with 761. Davis is also the third player in program history to have scored 500 points in three different seasons.
DURABLE MARSALIS: On Wednesday, senior forward Marsalis Hamilton will become the program's all-time leader in games played with 116. He has missed just two games in his entire career. Earlier this season, Hamilton scored his 1,000th career point and now sits in 19th place on Ashland's scoring list with 1,145 points. Last week, Hamilton averaged 13 points and five rebounds and shot 9-for-16 from the field. He ranks eighth in the GLIAC in field goal percentage (54.2 percent).
THOMPSON IMPROVING: Redshirt-freshman wing Aaron Thompson had his best game of the season last Thursday, recording his first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, tying and setting career highs, respectively. He also dished out two assists, blocked two shots and had two steals. While he did not score on Saturday (taking just one field goal attempt), Thompson collected seven boards and matched a career high with three steals.
BEVO FRANCIS WATCH LIST: Davis is among the final 50 players on the Small College Basketball Bevo Francis Award watch list. The award is given to the top men's player in small college basketball in the country.