Championship Preview: Men's Basketball Opens Playoffs vs. Dickinson

Thursday, February 23, 2012
 

Women’s basketball championship preview Baseball preview

Everything points to an extremely competitive tournament when four men’s basketball teams gather at Franklin & Marshall this weekend to determine the Centennial Conference champion.

Well, almost everything.

With the exception of one game, the top three seeds in the field

Spencer Liddic
Liddic has played in four CC playoff games during his career, averaging 16.8 points and 9.0 rebounds. The Mules split the four games, both times losing to Franklin & Marshall.
have not lost to anyone but each other this month. Top-seeded F&M (23-2) has won nine of its last 10, its lone loss coming to Muhlenberg. The second-seeded Mules (17-8) have won seven of eight, the only set back coming to Dickinson. And the third-seeded Red Devils (14-11) are 9-3 since early January, with two of the losses to F&M.

Washington (14-12), which earned a spot in the semifinals with a 56-53 first-round win at Johns Hopkins last night, handed F&M its only home loss of the season.

Yet in a conference noted for competitive balance and close games, it is surprising that Muhlenberg and Dickinson, who play the first semifinal tomorrow night, each won at home by 19 points in their two regular-season meetings.

“Both teams are very tough at home,” said Mule senior Spencer Liddic. “My four years, we’ve always struggled at Dickinson. That’s why I’m very excited for this game to be on a neutral court.”

In the first meeting, Muhlenberg led 44-33 at halftime and was never challenged in the second half, winning 84-65. The Mules shot 52.8 percent against a Red Devil team that ranks 20th in Division III in field-goal percentage defense.

The rematch two weeks ago in Carlisle was a four-point game six minutes into the second half before Dickinson began to pull away, eventually winning 79-60.

“Dickinson is a very well-rounded team. They have all the pieces to the puzzle,” said Liddic. “Their shooters got hot in the second half, and that’s what really hurt us.

“We also got hurt down low in that game – we didn’t have much depth,” added Liddic, noting the absence of post players Kevin Hargrove and James Albano. “We’re looking forward to having those guys back.”

Austin Curry
Sophomore Austin Curry, the Mules’ third-leading scorer at 11.1 points per game, is two three-pointers away from 100 in his career.
Playing at less than full strength has been a common theme this year for the Mules, who finished the season exactly where they were predicted to (second) in the preseason poll, but took a strange route to get there. After starting 9-2, Muhlenberg lost five of its next six and was tied for seventh place in the CC entering the last week of January.

“We’ve gone through a lot of adversity this year, from players leaving the team to injuries,” said Liddic. “We went through a lot of tough games. Other teams might have given up, but it’s been unbelievable how well we’ve been able to play at those moments and succeed in those moments.”

The adversity extends to individual games, where Muhlenberg is 6-4 when trailing at halftime. The last week of the regular season, with their playoff fate hanging in the balance, the Mules overcame halftime deficits to win on the road at Haverford and Ursinus.

“We’ve talked a lot about this year being different and this team being different,” said Liddic. “Even at McDaniel, when we were down eight with two minutes left, there’s never a doubt in my mind that we can come back and win. What we accomplish when we play together can be pretty special.”

It’s been a pretty special year for the team, which has won 17 games for the first time in 10 seasons, and its two All-CC players. Liddic became the all-time leading rebounder in CC history and is just eight away from 1,000 for his career. Malique Killing broke the school record for points scored by a freshman.

And they’re not ready for it to be over yet. Muhlenberg has not been to the championship game since 2001 and is seeking its first CC title since 1998, but the goal the whole season has been to be in position to end those droughts.

“We know what it’s going to take to get the job done,” said Liddic.
Click here for a video preview, courtesy Service Electric TV2.
Click here for the championship site.