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Don Owen: A weekend of NCAA basketball grandeur awaits Thomas More, NKU hoops followers

It begins Friday night when Thomas More University squares off against Scranton (Pa.) in the women’s basketball NCAA Division III Final Four in Salem, Va.

It ends Sunday evening when Northern Kentucky University learns its NCAA Tournament destination on national television, likely surrounded by a legion of Norse followers in large room on the Highland Heights campus.

Thomas More head coach Jeff Hans cuts down the net after leading his Saints to the sectional championship last week. The Saints are 31-0 and ranked No. 1 nationally. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Does a weekend get any better for local college basketball fans? Well, it could if Thomas More — unbeaten (31-0) and ranked No. 1 nationally in Division III — is cutting down the nets Saturday night after securing the national championship. And what a way that would be for the Saints — who join the NAIA next season — to say farewell to the NCAA.

Thomas More is led by All-American guard Madison Temple, the WBCA’s NCAA Division III National Player of the Year. Temple, a senior from Anderson High School in Cincinnati, averages 23.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Temple scored 36 points — 18 of those in the decisive fourth quarter — against Washington-St. Louis last week as Thomas More rallied to win the sectional title.

The Saints meet No. 9 Scranton (Pa.) at 7:30 p.m. Scranton enters the NCAA Division III Final Four with a 29-2 record. The Lady Royals shocked No. 4 Tufts, 44-40, last week by scoring the final 15 points of the game to rally for the improbable win. Tufts owned a 40-29 lead with 8:04 remaining in the game and didn’t score again.

Makenzie Mason averages 13.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game to lead Scranton, which allows just 48.2 points per contest.

In the other national semifinal game on Friday, No. 2 St. Thomas (30-1) takes on third-ranked Bowdoin (30-1) at 5 p.m.

Thomas More has captured two NCAA Division III national titles on the court, even though the NCAA later made the Saints vacate their 2015 championship due to an eligibility issue. This marks the fourth trip to the NCAA Division III Final Four in the past five years for the Crestview Hills school.

NKU ON CBS: Meanwhile, a few miles to the east in Highland Heights, NKU will hear its name called on national television on CBS sometime after 6 p.m. Sunday. The Norse earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament by shredding Wright State’s defense and coasting to a 77-66 victory in the championship game of “Motor City Madness” on Tuesday night.

NKU earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament by shredding Wright State’s defense and coasting to a 77-66 victory in the championship game of “Motor City Madness” on Tuesday night.

NKU enters the NCAA Tournament with a 26-8 record and is led by Horizon League Player of the Year Drew McDonald, who averages 19.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. This is the second time in three years the Norse have earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament. NKU battled the University of Kentucky in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, with the second-seeded Wildcats holding off the 15th-seeded Norse, 79-70.

PLANTING THE SEEDS: With NKU guaranteed a spot in the 68-team field, the only questions for the Norse are seeding and location. Most bracketology experts have NKU slotted in as a 14 or 15 seed, though several have the Norse as high as a 13.

Some advice? Pay no attention to any of it because the only people who really know are the NCAA selection committee members. And they aren’t saying until Sunday at 6 p.m. The selection committee will be using the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) as the primary evaluation tool for seeding the bracket. It replaced the RPI system.

PROJECTED SEEDS: The Sporting News has these for 13-16 seeds in its updated bracketology:

No. 13: Liberty 28-6 (Atlantic Sun*), Northeastern 23-10 (Colonial*), Vermont 26-6 (America East), UC-Irvine 27-5 (Big West)

No. 14: Northern Kentucky 26-8 (Horizon*), Georgia State 22-9 (Sun Belt), Yale 20-7 (Ivy), Old Dominion 23-8 (C-USA);

No. 15: Bradley 20-14 (Missouri Valley*), Colgate 24-10 (Patriot*), Montana 23-8 (Big Sky), Sam Houston State 21-10 (Southland);

No. 16: Fairleigh Dickinson 20-13 (Northeast*), Iona 16-15 (MAAC*), Gardner-Webb 23-11 (Big South*), North Dakota State 18-15 (Summit*), Norfolk State 20-12 (MEAC), Prairie View A&M 19-12 (SWAC).

WEYER HELPS BELLARMINE WIN GLVC: Former Newport Central Catholic standout Ben Weyer helped Bellarmine win the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament championship last week. Weyer and the Knights (26-4) will face Walsh (24-7) in the opening round of the NCAA Division II Tournament on Saturday at Romeoville, Ill.

Weyer averages 11.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He leads Bellarmine in 3-pointers made with 51 and has converted 82.7 percent of his free throws. During his senior year at NewCath, Weyer averaged 21.6 points and 11.4 rebounds as the Thoroughbreds finished 30-5.

Thomas More’s Madison Temple averages 23.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. The top-ranked Saints are 31-0 going into the NCAA Division III Final Four. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

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