Center Tommy Hannon leads the No. 1 St. Thomas men’s basketball team with 32 points so far in the NCAA tournament as the Tommies continue their national championship dreams Saturday when they host No. 12 Calvin (Mich.).
This is the seventh trip for the Knights (26-3) to the Sweet 16. Calvin comes off a nine-point win over No. 14 Wisconsin-Stevens Point, who the Tommies (28-1) defeated Dec. 21, 2012 68-63 at home.
Earlier this year, one of Calvin’s losses was to Wheaton, Ill., St. Thomas’ last opponent. The Knights have won 20 of their last 21 games and ride a six-game winning streak into Saturday.
Forward Tom Snikkers is Calvin’s leading scorer, averaging 13.5 points per game. The Knights have four players standing 6 feet 7 inches or taller. Coach John Tauer said Calvin is a fundamentally sound team that has size down low and plays relentless defense.
“Calvin is really good,” Tauer said. “They’ve got a tremendous inside game and they’ve good shooters. You don’t get this far if you have a gaping hole somewhere. They hold people to 36 percent shooting, which is an unbelievable number.”
One asset the Tommies have is their speed. Guard Erik Tengwall said tempo along with depth will help St. Thomas pull off a victory Saturday.
“They’re pretty big,” Tengwall said. “They’re a physical team. They’re talented obviously, but we’re going to have to use our speed, our quickness and depth to get past them.”
Both defenses will have their hands full as both offenses like to run the floor in transition. Forward Noah Kaiser said his team must force Calvin to rely on its bench among other tactics.
“(Wear) out their first-line defense so they get some tired legs,” Kaiser said. “We get in the paint, attack their size, and hopefully our quickness and shooting from the perimeter will be an advantage this weekend.”
St. Thomas averages a shade under 82 points per game and holds opponents to 60 points per contest, putting the team at the 15th and 23rd spots respectively in the country. Calvin allows 57 points per game, the sixth-best number in the nation.
Coach Kevin Vande Streek has led Calvin for 17 seasons and won a national championship in 1999-2000.
Under Vande Streek, the Knights have seen the Sweet 16 round three times. Tauer said he doesn’t care who has a better record or ranking.
“There’s not much that’s going to phase Calvin,” Tauer said. “It would be beautiful if we got a 10-point head start for being No. 1 in the country, but we don’t.”
The Knights will be a tough matchup for the Tommies, but Tauer said if the team puts in 40 minutes of work, it will move on to the Elite Eight.
“Our guys know that they don’t have to be perfect on the floor, but we just ask them to be good at everything we try,” Tauer said. “That has gotten us 28 wins so far, and we hope we’ll be in a good spot Saturday night.”
Jesse Krull can be reached at email@example.com.