For the second time in school history — and the first year since 2016 — the Barry University Bucs men’s basketball team has qualified for the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Division II national championship.
The final three rounds of the tournament will be played in Sioux Falls, South Dakota — a long way from home for the Bucs.
“This thing could’ve been in Nome, Alaska, and our guys would not have minded,” said Barry coach Butch Estes, who hopes to be playing in the D-II semifinals on March 22 and the championship game March 24. “They’re excited about going.”
The Bucs (23-8) are the tournament’s Cinderella team as the eighth and final seed. They will face top-seeded Ferris State (35-1) at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
Ferris State, based in Big Rapids, Michigan, has won 23 consecutive games.
“Being underdogs is probably a good position for our guys,” Estes said. “It fits our mentality. We were the seventh seed in our regional, and we won it.”
The Bucs, who are one win away from what would be the furthest advance in program history, have three players back from the team that made the Elite Eight in Texas in 2016: star 6-foot point guard Elvar Fridriksson of Iceland, 6-7 forward Marko Tomic of Serbia and 7-0 center Theo Turner of England.
Fridriksson, who set the school record for career assists two months ago, is the 2018 Sunshine State Conference Player of the Year as well as the MVP of the NCAA South Regional. He averages 19.9 points and 7.1 assists while shooting 83.6 percent on free throws, 49.7 percent on field goals and 42.4 percent on three-pointers.
Estes said Fridriksson compares, in terms of style, to Heat point guard and fellow European Goran Dragic.
“Elvar, until you see him in person, it’s hard to judge how fast he is and how quickly he makes decisions,” said Estes of Fridriksson, who led the nation in assists as a sophomore. “He’s a winner. He’s small in stature but big in heart.”
Barry’s top shooter is Sawyer Glick, a 6-5 junior guard from Indiana who leads the team with 103 three-pointers, shooting 39.8 percent from distance. He averages 14.3 points, second on the team.
The Bucs have two other double-figure scorers in 6-5 senior Sunday Dech (13.3) and 6-8 junior Daniel Mortenson (11.7). Dech, an Australian native who was born on a Sunday, thus his name, leads Barry in rebounds (7.0). Mortensen, whose sister Sarah plays on the Miami Hurricanes’ basketball team, is a Denmark native who is second in rebounds (6.9).
Both Barry and Ferris State have been tested against Division I competition. On Nov 2, Barry upset the host Auburn Tigers 100-95 in overtime. Glick hit a three-pointer to send the game to OT.
Meanwhile, Ferris State gave host Michigan State a scare before losing 80-72 on Oct. 26. Ferris State led by as many as 10 points in that game and had the advantage early in the second half.
Both games were exhibitions, but the results still said something about the quality of Division II ball at the top end.
And, on Tuesday, when Barry gets its shot at Ferris State, the Bucs say they’ll be ready.
“We’re a high-scoring team,” Dech said. “We have to lock in defensively. We plan to give Ferris State a run for their money.”