RPI men’s basketball expecting defensive battle in Sweet 16’s second appearance – The Daily Gazette
TROY – Mason Memmelaar’s attention was split between his two teams.
While most of his RPI men’s basketball teammates were watching the NCAA Division III tournament selection broadcast on Feb. 28, Memmelaar was in class, working on an engineering project with other students as part of the program. Multidisciplinary Capstone Design from RPI.
So he learned the good news via a headset in the middle of the class.
“I think my teacher agreed,” he said with a laugh on Wednesday afternoon.
RPI’s name wasn’t announced until late in the show, but once it was, the engineers laser-focused on basketball, and it paid off with wins at the first and second rounds. They’ll need more at 4:30 p.m. Friday, when RPI plays in the Sweet 16 against WPI at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va.
The Engineers (23-5) were in good shape to make it into the NCAA after a 21-4 regular season, but a Liberty League semifinal loss to Skidmore cast doubt. After being included as an all-around team, RPI defeated Nichols 78-58 and Wesleyan 59-58 last weekend to reach the Sweet 16 for only the second time in program history.
“We were placed at the last second, but we were given an opportunity, and we are making the most of it,” Memmelaar said.
“You start looking across the country and see how many people have had really good seasons, and you start to get a little nervous,” RPI head coach Mark Gilbride said. “But to have it announced and everything was really exciting. It gave us an opportunity and we took advantage of it.
Although the RPI and WPI football teams have a long-standing rivalry, the respective men’s basketball teams do not and have not faced each other since 2014.
The Engineers’ stingy defense leads the NCAA Division III in scoring opponents (57.5 points per game), and RPI maintained that stat by giving up 58 in each of its NCAA games last weekend.
In fact, three of the top four teams in point defense will be on the Randolph-Macon Sweet 16 site, including the host school (58.6) and WPI (60.0).
Memmelaar laughed again when it was suggested that the first team at 60 would win the RPI-WPI game.
“Yeah, that seems to be the trend lately,” he said.
Spearheading the RPI defense is guard Dom Black, a senior from Arlington, Massachusetts, who serves as captain along with Memmelaer, Patrick Mahoney and Queensbury High graduate Cam Bleibtrey.
Black was named Liberty League Defensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row.
“The best way to approach defense is communication first,” he said. “Some teams play in your face, Handy ‘D.’ For us, it’s about staying on the ground, sliding our feet and making sure we’re communicating back support, moving on post-ups.
“It’s kind of our thing all year round,” Memmelaar said. “We have really stayed true to our roots [against Nichols and Wesley and] and did a great job collectively and bought into the system and really played as one.
“We’re a good defensive team, but we have to help our defense by not turning it around and getting good shots,” Gilbride said. “We play a man-to-man defence, but we change screens a lot, we work a lot on the assist and we have bigger guards and mobile forwards who can guard multiple positions.”
RPI was forced to find some positional flexibility when Mahoney, at the time the Engineers’ top scorer, suffered a season-ending injury after 15 games.
After making that adjustment, the Engineers are on course to tie the single-season winning program record, but they’ll have to do it against a tough opponent in the NCAA Sweet 16.
“Not a lot of room for error,” Gilbride said. “The teams are playing really hard, they’re really good, they’re playing really smart, so you have to be ready to match that, possession for possession, from the start of the game. Then you’ll have a chance to win on the stretch.
“We were actually the last quad to be announced, so that was a little nerve-wracking,” Black said. “I sat through the whole process [selection show]and it was exciting, and then I got a little scared, and then it was a ball of joy at the end.
“Everyone wants to play in March,” Memmelaar said. “That’s the goal at the start of the season. Some of us have experience. We lost a tough round of 16 to Tufts two years ago, so it’s good to get through the round of 16. Hopefully we can continue.
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Categories: College Sports, Sports