ROCK ISLAND — The Augustana men's basketball team prides itself on defense, allowing just 68.6 points per game this season.
That aspect of Augie's game will get a serious test Friday when the 22-5 Vikings open their NCAA Division III National Championship run by hosting the top scoring offense in the country. The 19-8 Greenville Panthers, winners of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles, bring their 126.6 points per game scoring average to the Carver Center for Friday's tourney opener.
The other game in the pod features Hope (18-9) vs. Augsburg (21-7) opening the evening's festivities at 5:30, with Augie's game to follow. The title game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday.
Helping earn hosting rights this weekend — and potentially next weekend — was the fact the Vikings were the No. 1 team in the final Central Region rankings that the tournament committee used to set the 64-team bracket.
Riding the CCIW regular-season title share, the league tourney title and a six-game win streak, the Vikings are not daunted by the task at hand as they look to repeat last year's run to the D-III title game in Salem, Va.
While it will be a much different look than what the Vikings faced within the CCIW wars the last two months, they were taking the new challenge in stride.
“They're all about offense and we're all about defense, so it's going to be a showdown of which is more important,” said Augie junior guard Nolan Ebel. “Coach always says that defense wins championships and we really feel like that's been our M.O. and what made our system what it is.”
Utilizing “the system” which features quick shots — mostly 3s as they average 54 attempts per game — the Panthers scored 140 points or more in five games this season. They were held to under 100 just once in a season-opening 130-98 loss to Transylvania. They scored a season-high 154 in an overtime loss to Fontbonne.
“Your preparation is so different for a team that plays like that,” said Augie coach Grey Giovanine. “The good thing is that we've got a week. I wouldn't want to play them on a second night, but when we've got a week to prepare ... we'll be ready.”
Those in the Augie camp were sure that the coaching staff that is so good at game-planning will have a good idea how to attack the Panthers. That will add confidence instead of concern going into Friday's game.
“I know our coaching staff will prepare us very well, scout them well and give us opportunities to disrupt their system,” said junior Chrishawn Orange. “We have a system of our own — defend, rebound and run. We're going to hopefully do that and come out with a win.”
Not totally surprised by the teams in the pod, Giovanine was also not daunted by the task facing his team to stop such a prolific offense.
“We have a number of things in our system and now we'll be focusing on different things,” Giovanine said. “For example, what they do is transition and shoot 3s. We practice transition defense and we practice defending the 3. It just becomes more of an emphasis this week.
“They're going trap, press and gamble. We've got a press offense and have a plan to handle double-teams. Those are just things that you spend more time getting ready for. It's not like it's new. It's just parts of the game that a lot of teams don't stress.”