The men’s basketball team took a step closer to the NCAA Tournament by winning two road games last weekend.

UR defeated Case Western Reserve University 76-43 Friday and then posted a 96-59 victory over Emory University on Sunday.

The two wins move the Yellowjackets to 11-2 in the University Athletic Association and 20-4 overall. UR is ranked No. 21 in the nation by d3hoops.com and No. 2 in the East.

“If we continue to win, I can’t be unhappy with my squad,” head coach Mike Neer said. “I know there are a lot of other very good teams.”

NCAA dreams

The Yellowjackets have a good chance of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, but they need some things to go their way.

Randolph-Macon College lost the Old Dominion Athletic Conference title to Hampden-Sydney, but is ranked No. 6 in the nation and No. 1 in the South and will probably get one of the at-large bids. UR needs to hope that the other top teams in the country do not lose their conference tournaments and then grab valuable at-large bids.

Of most importance to UR is the SUNYAC Tournament. Brockport State is the only team in the East that would merit an at-large bid before UR, so the Yellowjackets want Brockport to win the SUNYAC and an automatic bid.

Capital University and Gustavus Adolphus College both have more than 20 wins, top three regional rankings and top 15 national rankings. They will both probably earn at-large bids ahead of UR.

That leaves five at-large bids for the Yellowjackets. There are 11 teams that are good enough to earn at-large bids ahead of UR if they lose in their conference’s championship game. The Yellowjackets must hope that at least seven of them avoid the upset bug and take their conference’s automatic bid.

There are also a handful of teams that could edge out UR for an at-large bid if they finish second in their conference tournament. However, the Yellowjackets have two advantages over each of these teams.

First, UR is ranked higher regionally and nationally than all of them. Second, UR is already guaranteed to finish second in the UAA, whereas some of these teams still need to win tough games to reach their tournament finals.

None of that will matter, however, if the Yellowjackets do not defeat Carnegie Mellon University in their last regular season game Saturday at 4 p.m. in Pittsburgh. The Tartans are only 9-15, but UR cannot afford to overlook them because a loss would drop the Yellowjackets in the regional and national rankings and make an at-large bid extremely unlikely.

“To say that the NCAA Tournament isn’t in the back of all of our minds would be a lie,” junior guard Jeff Joss said. “However, the games this past weekend and our game Saturday at Pittsburgh are considered tournament games to us. If we lose to Carnegie on Saturday, our season is over.

“The thought of the NCAA Tournament is in our minds, but it’s not overwhelming us. We may win the game Saturday and still not make the tourney, so there are certain aspects of the selection that are out of our hands.”

Approaching a milestone

A win at Carnegie Mellon would also give Neer 400 career victories, but he is more concerned with trying to get into the NCAA Tournament.

“I’ve never really payed a whole lot of attention to the 400th win,” he said. “A win that gets you into the NCAA Tournament would be much more important.”

He also sees 400 wins as a consequence of coaching for a long time.

“I don’t plan on retiring from coaching any time soon, so to me it’s like somebody celebrating you crossing the 15-mile mark when you’re running a marathon,” he said. “It just means I’ve coached a lot of games and coach a lot of good players.”

Neer’s 400th win would be the focus of this weekend if UR had not won both games last weekend.

UR shot over 50 percent from the floor in each game and used its depth and size to dominate both opponents.

“Since the loss at Wash U. our team has responded with a new emphasis on rebounding and playing the game each possession at a time,” sophomore forward Andy Larkin said.

Larkin and Joss each scored 26 points over the weekend to lead the Yellowjackets, who had four players in double digits in scoring in each game.

“Depth is one aspect that has allowed us to win 20 games this year,” Larkin said. “When we sub into the game there is no real dropoff between our starters and our reserves.”

The Yellowjackets have won as a team all season and, if they win Saturday, they will hope for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament as a team.

The field for the tournament will be announced Sunday and the Yellowjackets will be very disappointed if they do not hear their name called.

“I’m getting sick of watching teams with less talent go to the big dance while we’re stuck at home cleaning out our lockers,” Joss said.

Jacobs can be reached at bjacobs@campustimes.org.



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