The Ashland University men's basketball team will play in its second NCAA Tournament in the last four years, beginning Saturday night against Southern Indiana.
DANCING TIME: The Ashland University men's basketball team will play in just its second NCAA Tournament since 1991 and its first since 2016 when they tip off against Southern Indiana Saturday night at Neil Carey Arena in Romeoville, Ill. The Eagles are the No. 5 seed in the Midwest Regional, earning an at-large bid into the postseason.
10 DAYS OFF: The Eagles have not played since their GLIAC Tournament quarterfinal defeat to Grand Valley State on March 5. After a grueling GLIAC schedule and a short bench rotation, the break (though it comes because of a loss) was much-needed for the Eagles and should have their legs fresh for the start of the tournament. The Eagles can qualify for the NCAA Division II Elite Eight with three wins in four days at the regional event.
LAST TIME: The Eagles ended a 25-year drought from NCAA Tournament play in 2016 when they qualified as the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Regional, which was played in Kenosha, Wis. at Parkside. The Eagles lost in the opener of that tournament to No. 6-seed Indianapolis, 77-60. Seniors Phil Frentsos, Jay Slone and John Brady all saw time in that game.
NCAA HISTORY: This is the 12th time overall the Eagles have played in the NCAA Tournament. They are 13-14 all-time in the tournament. The Eagles claimed national championships from the Associated Press and United Press International in 1969, but did not win that year's tournament. Three times in the NCAA era they have advanced past the regional to the national level (1968, 1969, 1991).
RELY ON THE DEFENSE: All season long, and really in the 10 years under head coach John Ellenwood, the Eagles have been one of the stingiest defenses to score on in the country. None have been better than this season, though. The Eagles rank fourth in Division II in scoring defense, allowing just 63 points per game. Teams shoot just 41 percent against the Eagles, including a 31 percent mark from 3-point range, which is the seventh-best in the country.
HANDS OFF: The other key to the AU defense is their ability to guard without fouling. The Eagles' pack-line defense commits just 12.7 fouls per game, the fewest in Division II. In fact, it's the second-best mark across all NCAA Divisions (Mt. St. Joseph, Division III, 12.3 per game). The University of Notre Dame (13.8 fouls per game) leads Division I. Opponents take just 13.1 free throws per game against the Eagles.
LAST LOOK AT LAST WEEK: The Eagles earned the No. 2 seed in the GLIAC Tournament, but No. 7-seed Grand Valley State upset the Eagles by leading wire-to-wire. Ashland had its deficit down to two on a couple occassions in the second half, but was not able to get over the hump. AU shot the ball well, connecting at a 47 percent (23-49) clip, but were outscored at the line, 17-6, and off turnovers, 20-10. GVSU also held a 34-27 edge on the glass.
NOBLE DOWN LOW: The Eagles have turned to junior center Drew Noble this season as the focal point of the offense and he has delivered. The 6-foot-8 Louisville, Ohio product ranks sixth in the GLIAC in scoring at 17.1 points per game while shooting at a 50 percent clip from the field. With constant double teams thrown at him, Noble has still been able to score at an efficient rate and pass out to open shooters. He ranks third on the team with 64 assists on the season. He is also sixth in the GLIAC in blocks (1.1 per game), fourth in field goals (181) and fifth in free throws (114). Noble was an All-GLIAC first team selection after earning All-GLIAC second team honors last year.
BEN FIRST TEAM TOO: Fifth-year senior guard Ben Haraway also was named to the All-GLIAC first team, making he and Noble the first set of teammates to earn first team honors in the same season in program history. Haraway is second on the team in scoring (12.6 per game) and leads the team with 77 assists. He is one of the league's leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.41 on the season. He has just 32 turnovers in a team-high 994 minutes this year. Haraway was an All-GLIAC second team choice last season and was the GLIAC Freshman of the Year in 2015 while playing at Malone. Earlier this year, he and Noble eclipsed the 1,000-point mark at Ashland.
THOMPSON DOUBLE THREAT: The Eagles have seen incredible development this season from redshirt-sophomore guard Aaron Thompson, who has grown into an efficient scorer, elite rebounder and top-level defender. He leads the GLIAC in rebounding (9.4 per game) and double-doubles (11), while averaging 11.1 points per game on 55 percent shooting. Thompson – listed at 6-foot-3 – has 16 games this season with at least 10 rebounds and five times gathered at least 14 rebounds in a game.Thompson has improved his shooting percentage by eight percent over last season and has more than doubled his scoring average. Thompson was an All-GLIAC second team selection by the coaches and was named to the league's All-Defensive Team.
SHARP-SHOOTING ROD: Junior guard Rodrick Caldwell, in his first season with the Eagles since transferring from Division I Bowling Green State, leads the team with 54 3-pointers on the season and is shooting them at a 36 percent rate. He is third on the team in scoring (12.5 per game), while also handing out 2.6 assists. In his last four games, he is shooting 39 percent (9-23) from 3-point range, hitting multiple treys in three of those four contests.
KOCH INSIDE-OUT: Sophomore forward Derek Koch joined Caldwell on the trip from Bowling Green to Ashland this season and has developed a role as an inside-out player for the Eagles. The 6-foot-9 West Salem, Ohio native has made 24 3-pointers on the season and is averaging 8.7 points and 5.6 rebounds in 24.5 minutes per game.
PHIL FILLS IT UP: Senior forward Phil Frentsos, who is now the program's all-time leader in games played, has filled up the stat sheet all season for the Eagles, having scored at least five points in 25 of his 29 games, and collected multiple rebounds in 26 games. He is shooting 49 percent from the field and averages 7.8 points and 4.1 boards per game.
SERIES VS. SCREAMING EAGLES: The Eagles are 13-20 all-time against the Screaming Eagles. The teams last played in the early part of the 2016-17 season with USI taking a 76-62 decision in Indianapolis. Alex Stein, now a senior for Southern Indiana, scored 36 points in the game. The programs played in the Great Lakes Valley Conference together from 1979-95.