2021 NAIA Men’s Basketball National Championship Preview
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The 83rd Annual NAIA Men’s Basketball National Championship is scheduled to tip-off for the 75th time in Kansas City, Mo., on Thursday, March 18 at 2:00 p.m. CT. The single-elimination championship runs through March 23. Coined college basketball’s toughest tournament, the national champion must win four games in a six-day span.
The first 14 games of the national championship will be video-streamed live at www.NAIANetwork.com, the NAIA’s official video-streaming platform powered by Stretch Internet. The championship final will air on ESPN3 for the seventh-straight season on Tuesday, March 23 at 7:00 p.m.
The championship tips off with Saint Francis (Ind.) competing in the 2:00 p.m. matchup on Thursday afternoon, squaring off against Stillman (Ala.) in the Naismith Bracket. Saint Francis is making its 13th all-time appearance overall to begin the quest for a second national championship in program history. Stillman, who is making its third trip to the national championship, will be looking for its first win in championship play. The Tigers earned an auto berth into the field out of the Southern States Athletic Conference and are led by Trey Petty who averages just over 18 points per game.
While there is not a defending national champion in the field, Morningside (Iowa) is making its 18th trip, the most amongst the teams in the 2021 national championship. The Mustangs defeated Thomas More (Ky.) 64-55 in Crestview Hills Bracket B a week ago to advance to Kansas City.
The No. 1 overall seed will be Indiana Wesleyan. The Wildcats are led by last season’s NAIA Division II Player of the Year Kyle Mangas. The senior out of Warsaw, Ind., is leading the nation with 29.75 points per game this season. He is also ranked No. 1 in overall scoring with 952 points to his credit.
With the new format including opening rounds beginning this season, there are no first-time teams in the final site field.
The Pilots of Bethel (Ind.) are the No. 16-seed, but may be the most intriguing team in the field. In his second season, Coach Steve Drabyn has led his team back to the championship field, and in 2021, to the round of 16. The team, led by all-around scoring threat Trevion Crews, will present as difficult an opponent to the No. 1-ranked Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats as anyone in the field. Crews leads the NAIA in total three-pointers made with 109, and only trails Mangas in total scoring on the year. One of the premiere matchups of the round of 16 tips at 7:15 p.m. on Thursday.
Of the teams in the 2021 field, six have won a national title in their history. Bethel (Ind.) and Indiana Wesleyan lead the field with three red banners. Faulkner (Ala.), Loyola (La.), Oklahoma Wesleyan and Saint Francis (Ind.) all have one apiece.
For more information on the National Championship, go to NAIAHoops.com
- The 83rd NAIA National Championship this year continues the event’s distinction as the oldest national championship basketball tournament in the country. Founded in 1937, the tournament preceded both the National Invitation Tournament (founded in 1938), as well as the NCAA Tournament (founded in 1939), and has produced national champions from 23 states, spanning the nation from Maryland to Hawaii. This year marks the 75th time the tournament has been contested in Kansas City, including 55 years at historic Municipal Auditorium, extending the city’s long tradition of hosting outstanding championship basketball on all collegiate levels.
- Since the national championship came back to Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium in 2002 (from Tulsa), the national champion teams have been diverse. In that time frame, five unseeded teams won the title while the No. 1 seed only took home the red banner once – Mountain State (W.Va.) in 2004. Pikeville (Ky.) was the last unseeded program in 2011 to win the national championship. Overall since 1967, there have been seven No. 1 seeds to win the national championship.
- The last 10 national champions have been different, with Graceland taking the 2018 trophy. Six of those champions – Graceland (Ioa), Mid-America Christian (Okla.), Dalton State (Ga.), Vanguard (Calif.), Pikeville (Ky.) and Rocky Mountain (Mont.) – were winners for the first time in school history.
- The last team to enter the championship with an undefeated season record was Columbia (Mo.) in 2013. The 33-0 Cougars ended up losing in the Quarterfinal round to LSU Shreveport (La.). Overall, two previous programs have won the championship title with a perfect record, with Oklahoma City in 1992 and Central State (Ohio) in 1965.
- Recent NAIA Men’s Basketball Hall of Fame honorees have included legends such as Scottie Pippen (player), Terry Porter (player), Travis Grant (player), Clarence “Bevo” Francis (player), Bob Burchard (coach), Steve Jenkins (coach) and Rocky Lamar (coach).
- The state of Oklahoma claims the most championship titles with 11 followed by Missouri with eight. Oklahoma City University has won six national championships, the most of any institution. The Stars won consecutive titles on two occasions (1991-92 and 2007-08).
- There have been 48 states represented in the national championship -- Alaska and Wyoming are two states not represented. In all, there have been different 576 schools (heading into 2019) that have qualified for Division I Men’s Basketball postseason action.