FINDLAY - The University of Findlay men's basketball team begins its defense Saturday of its NCAA Division II national championship when the Oilers face Grand Valley State in a Midwest regional.
Findlay, which went 36-0 last season, is making its ninth straight appearance in the NCAA tournament.
The Oilers (24-6) claimed their fifth Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament title this season with a very different team, replacing five seniors from last season.
"The first thing we had to do was find our own identity," Findlay coach Ron Niekamp said. Niekamp is a five-time GLIAC coach of the year who has a 574-180 record in 25 years at Findlay. "With this group, we had a lot of little things to resolve, such as getting set with our roles, and understanding who fit best in the starting lineup."
The Oilers are led by junior guard Nathan Hyde from Liberty-Benton and senior guard Marcus Parker from Canton McKinley. Hyde recently set a GLIAC tournament record with 84 points, averaging 28 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game in the three games while hitting all 23 of his free throw attempts, and 15 3-pointers.
"Those veteran guards have carried us through some tough situations," Niekamp said. "They've been poised and really helped this team develop."
Findlay will face Grand Valley (21-8) at Kentucky Wesleyan in Owensboro. Niekamp said he expects the eight-team regional there to be a "free-for-all."
"The field is so evenly matched that it's unbelievable," he said. "A team that gets on a roll and has a player or two get hot can win it. In a short series, anything can happen, and a couple of guys can carry you."
The Oilers made the Elite Eight in 2005, and the Sweet 16 in 2008, before winning it all in 2009.
Defiance College men's team recently dropped a first-round game in the NCAA Division III tournament to Wisconsin-Whitewater 75-71.
The Yellow Jackets (23-6) won the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament and made their fourth NCAA tournament appearance. The 23 wins set a school record for the D-III era.
St. John's Jesuit graduate Mike Floyd was one of six seniors instrumental in the championship run. Floyd averaged 10.7 points per game as a point guard and made 135 assists. He is second all-time in Defiance history with 502 assists.
No.10 ranked West Liberty of Wheeling, W.Va., hosts the NCAA Division II Atlantic regional this weekend, and the 27-2 Hilltoppers feature two players from northwest Ohio.
Jordan Fortney of Bowling Green is a junior starting guard who averages 13.2 ppg and is second on the team with 93 3-pointers this season.
Southview grad Tim Hausfeld, a freshman, has appeared in 24 games. His 87 percent from the free-throw line leads the team.
West Liberty, which opened the season with a 113-72 victory at Tiffin, is second in the nation in scoring, averaging 103.1 points per game, and leads the country with 13 made 3-pointers per game.
The Hilltoppers have the top average margin of victory nationally at 24.9 points per game.