Later today, as the whole nation is glued to March Madness, I will be headed south along I-81 to the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball championship weekend in Salem, Virginia. It's my seventh Final Four and fourth as a member of the media covering the biggest weekend in small college basketball. And I already know it will be a special time.
Improbably, my alma mater, Cabrini College is making its first appearance in the national semi finals. The carry the nation's best record into the weekend, entering play at 31-1. Led by senior guard Cory Lemons, the Cavs score 82 points a game and stormed through conference play undefeated. Lemons is everything you could want in a point guard, strong with the ball, a dangerous outside shooter and quick enough to blow by nearly every defender around. He's a lock for several post-season All-America honors.
The Cavs are coached by 4th year head coach Marcus Kahn, the Middle Atlantic region's coach of the year. He's got just over 100 wins in his 4 years and has restored a storied program that had fallen on hard times when he arrived. Freshman sensation Aaron Walton-Moss's fortuitous recruitment has been the difference between this squad and a team that had a lot of weapons but fell short last year.
I am too much of a realist to think that the Cavs will win a national championship this weekend. Their opponent tomorrow night is the bracket's true Cinderella, Illinois Wesleyan, an unranked, at-large selection to the D3 tournament who had to beat #1 Hope College to even get this far. They are fast and tall and deep, well-coached with experience in the CCIW, the toughest conference at this level. They'll be the best team that the Cavs have seen all season and are certainly good enough to send the boys back to Radnor without the hardware.
On the other side of the bracket, things don't get any easier on the quest for the Walnut and Bronze as the MIT Engineers lead the nation in scoring margin, giving up only 57 points a game. They take on another stingy defense in the University of Wisconsin Whitewater Warhawks, who only allow opponents 59 points per game.
Regardless of the outcomes, it will be a great weekend of basketball and fellowship. For the first time in seven years, Cabrini coaching legend John Dzik will be in Salem (and at Corned Beef), supporting the current version of the program he built into a national power. Super fans Paul and Darnelle Engle will also be down south along with hundreds of others making the trek.
I'll see you in Salem! Go Cavs!!!!