It used to be that just getting to the NAIA Division II National Tournament was enough for the Bellevue University basketball team.
Getting to the Elite Eight was another step forward for the Bruins last season.
Now they’re ready to go even further.
Bellevue looks to build on last season’s success when it opens play in the national tourney Thursday in Point Lookout, Mo. Bellevue, 29-5 and seeded second, faces 15-13 St. Scholastica in a 9 a.m. game Thursday.
“The Elite Eight just isn’t good enough anymore,” senior forward Jared Andersen said. “We expect more.”
Classmate Donell Deleon-Thompson says the bar has been raised for the program after last year’s run.
“It’s important for us to not be content, to stay hungry,” he said. “We’re looking at the bigger picture and that’s a national title.”
Before the Bruins have any visions of cutting down the nets March 16, Coach Todd Eisner says they must focus on the first task, which is getting out of the first round.
“All I’m concerned about is winning the first game,” he said. “With our seeding, people expect us to play well. Now, it’s up to us to go out and do what we do well.”
St. Scholastica entered the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference as the fourth seed, but after upsets over top-seeded Northwestern and Presentation, the Saints earned a spot in the 32-team field.
The Saints have three players averaging in double figures, led by Chris Rauschenfels at 17 points per game. Matt Inda (11.5) and David Kapaun (10.8) join Rauschenfels in double figures while Kapaun leads the team in rebounds.
Much like the Bruins, St. Scholastica doesn’t go too deep on its bench as only six players average double figures in minutes.
A pair of All-Americans, T.J. Flanagan and Luther Hall, led the Bruins into nationals last season.
It’s a different look for these Bruins as five players average in double figures. Junior James Mills, a transfer from UNO, leads the way at 16.4 points per game while fellow starters Andersen, Ben Holling, Brent Heller and reserve Clint Duis also average double figures.
While it’s a balanced attack on offense, it’s still defense that will dictate how far the Bruins advance through the tournament.
Bellevue is second in the nation, allowing just 62 points per game, while its average winning margin of 16 points per game is fourth in the country.
The Bruins march through the tournament was ended by Cornerstone, Mich. in the semifinals.
Holling says the lesson learned in that game will pay major dividends for the Bruins this year.
“Last year, Cornerstone had been in that position before and knew how to handle it,” he said. “Now we’re the one’s with the experience and we can use that to our advantage.
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