By BRIAN LESTER
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Whatever dream the University of Findlay men’s basketball team is living in right now, I hope they don’t wake up for another couple of weeks.
The Oilers are one of 64 teams still standing in NCAA Division II basketball. Their championship dream still has a heartbeat and air in its lungs, and they intend to make the most of their postseason life.
They have been pushing for this opportunity all season, winning the big games they needed to win and assuring themselves of momentum heading into the tourney after winning the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament title for the third consecutive season.
For the three seniors on this team, Greg Kahlig, Sean Samsel and Mark Frilling, this is it. This is their last shot to lead the Oilers back to the top of the championship mountain.
They were the players who were burned badly as freshmen when the NCAA idea it would be a great idea to leave the Oilers out of the tournament despite a 24-4 record.
UF hasn’t missed the tournament since, making the job of the selection committee easy by earning the automatic bid to the tournament the last three seasons.
“We knew we were snubbed that year,” and it feels good to take care of business again and get back into the tournament,” Frilling said. “We’re tired of going one and done. We want to make a run in the dance.”
The No. 21 Oilers (24-5) will begin their dance Saturday at 9:30 p.m. Saturday night against No. 25 Lake Superior State (26-5) in the quarterfinal round of the Midwest Regional at the O’Reilly Center in Springfield.
UF head coach Charlie Ernst is thrilled about the way his team is playing as the Oilers head into the tournament for the 12th time in program history.
“I’m excited about how our team is playing, I’m excited about our confidence and I’m excited about our depth,” Ernst said. “Our depth was a real key last week, and we have a lot of guys playing with confidence right now.”
Confidence is key to success in a tournament, and I think the Oilers are playing with as much confidence as they could be playing with at this time of the year. They have hit their stride at the right time and are ready to seize the moment.
And unlike last season, when UF was knocked out of the tourney in the opening round by Drury. UF was the eighth seed last season and lost to the top-seeded Panthers. This year, the Oilers are seeded fourth.
“Last year, we were really happy we were going. We were playing the host team and gave a good fight, but we lost. This year, it’s a different feeling. I’m not saying we didn’t expect to win last year, but this year, we really expect to win this regional. We got a great draw, and even though the teams are tough, this team is special and we want to do something special.”
Only 64 teams still have a chance to do something special, and the Oilers are one of them.