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The Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) Tournament begins this Friday, February 22, at host school Texas Lutheran University. The women's quarterfinals will begin at noon that day, with the men's bracket tipping that evening. The fifth-seeded University of Dallas men's basketball team gets things started on the men's side at 5 p.m. versus fourth-seeded Schreiner University.
Dallas wrapped up the regular season with a 9-16 overall record and 6-10 SCAC mark to tie sixth-seeded Trinity University in the standings. Due to Johnson & Wales University (CO) being ineligible to make the conference tournament, Dallas and Trinity each moved up a spot in the seedings.
The Crusaders have been mired by a five-game losing streak, which is their second this season. They fell at Schreiner University (83-62) and Trinity University (68-55) last weekend.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
It was a tough start to the 2018-19 season for Dallas, as the team went 1-8. The first seven setbacks were by double-digits and the team had dropped its sixth in a row after allowing Austin College to erase a 14-point halftime lead to win by five.
The Crusaders came back after Christmas on fire, rattling off five victories in a row – four in conference – to vault themselves towards the top of the league standings. This winning streak included victories on consecutive days in Colorado and at the Maher Center over Trinity and Southwestern University, which ultimately factored in Dallas' higher seeding in the tiebreaker.
A weekend at the top two-seeded teams, Texas Lutheran and Southwestern, ended the hot streak. However, UD came back winning three-of-four all by double-digits before hitting the current stretch that concluded the regular season.
Dallas was selected sixth in the preseason coaches' poll and finished around that expectation tying Trinity University in that spot in the final standings. The Crusaders boasted a roster of nine freshmen and seven sophomores. Four of the sophomores: Joshua Nunn (St. Louis, Mo.), Michael Wambsganss (Denver, Colo.), Dustin Mathis (Fort Worth, Texas), and John Russell (Bossier City, La.) are part of the regular starting five. Jai Love (St. Louis, Mo.), Cameran Hyde (Missouri City, Texas), Rashid Coombs (Houston, Texas), Ian Burns (Woodbury, Minn.), and Letrell Toussaint (Waco, Texas) have all seen significant minutes throughout the year.
Even with the youth, Logan Fruhwirth (Waynesville, Ohio) and Ben Norton (Louisville, Ky.) have brought experience to this group. Fruhwirth started all 25 games this season and was one of the top contributors on offense during league play with 10.1 points-per-game (ppg). Norton brought a toughness from the bench and has been a force on the boards – particularly on the offensive glass with 35 of his 67 rebounds coming on those.
WHO TO WATCH
Wambsganss has been the team's top producer this season with 13.2 ppg and 128 rebounds. Nunn checks at a 9.6 average scoring clip. Mathis is averaging 8.9 points, and has been tops on the team for assists (82) and steals (24). Fruhwirth as mentioned above has done most of his scoring against conference teams and ranks top-five in three-point field goal percentage (40.0). Russell is averaging 7.9 points and has grabbed 107 rebounds for the other Crusader in triple-digits.
GET TO THE LINE
Dallas has made 394 free throws out of 538 attempts for a 73.2 percent mark. This ranks second in the SCAC and is tops among teams in the tournament this weekend. UD's opponents comparably have only made 288-of-399 attempts.
Leading the team is Nunn for the second year in a row with 92 (career-best) makes and an 83.6 percent mark for third in conference. Wambsganss (52-64, 81.3%), Hyde (43-51, 84.3%), Mathis (35-43, 81.4%) and Fruhwirth (41-55, 74.5%) have contributed to the strong team mark.
The Crusaders will play Schreiner for the third time in just as many weeks to open the conference tournament. Dallas dropped both matchups (78-69) | (83-62) at both venues despite having early leads. Dallas had been 9-0 in contests it shot 45 percent or greater on the season, but the Mountaineers have handed its only losses when achieving the feat. The Crusaders have allowed SU to combine for 23 made trifectas and have combined for 37 turnovers.
Schreiner finished the season the opposite as UD, winning five straight and nine of 11. Both losses were to Centenary College. The hot finish helped the Mountaineers reach 10 wins and give the SCAC a quartet of teams with at least 10 conference victories.
REST OF THE FIELD
Southwestern University and Texas Lutheran University shared the regular season SCAC Championship this season with 11-5 records and earned a first round bye. Southwestern earned the top seed by virtue of its better record against the grouping of tied teams at 10-6 - Centenary, Johnson & Wales and Schriener. Southwestern was 4-2 combined against those three while Texas Lutheran was a combined 2-4 - therefore giving Southwestern the nod and next week's number one seed at the SCAC championship tournament. Centenary claimed the third seed with its season sweep over Schreiner. Trinity University rounds out the seeding with the final seed and will play the Gents in the second quarterfinals.
The winner of the Dallas vs. Schreiner advances to Saturday afternoon for the semifinals matchup against top-seeded Southwestern University.