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Entering the start of the Conference Carolinas tournament, work remains for both Barton College basketball teams if the Bulldogs wish to continue their journey into the NCAA field.
Postseason action begins for the Lady Bulldogs on Monday night, as Barton (23-4), the No. 2 seed, hosts No. 7 Limestone in the quarterfinal round of the Conference Carolinas tournament at Wilson Gym. Should the Lady Bulldogs advance as well as top seed Emmanuel College, then Barton will move into the semifinals in Franklin Springs, Georgia on Thursday.
Should Emmanuel falter against No. 8 North Greenville and the Lady Bulldogs prevail, then the semifinals and finals of the conference tournament will be in Wilson. As the Lady Bulldogs know, precedent exists for this, as Barton hosted the semifinals and finals from the No. 3 seed last season.
In the case of head coach Ron Lievense’s Bulldogs, Barton takes the No. 3 seed into the Conference Carolinas tournament after a 21-7 regular season. Quarterfinal action has Barton hosting No. 6 seed King University on Tuesday night at 7. To host the remaining rounds with a win, No. 1 Emmanuel and No. 2 Belmont Abbey would have to be upset in their respective quarterfinals.
For both, strong performances this week are vital if the Bulldogs harbor ambition of making the eight-team Southeast regionals.
In the latest release of the NCAA’s official Southeast regional rankings — considered by the selection committee when filling out the bracket — Lievense’s Bulldogs rank No. 10 in the region, just one spot behind Emmanuel at No. 9. While another set of rankings are due out Wednesday, it is feasible that only the Conference Carolinas champion will receive an automatic bid into the regional once results are factored in from the Peach Belt and South Atlantic Conferences.
Prior to conference tournament play, the Lady Bulldogs are in a better position. While their spot in the NCAA field is by no means secure given the possibility of unexpected automatic bids in the PBC and SAC, Wendee Saintsing’s Lady Bulldogs currently sit above the cut line in the No. 6 position.
The Barton men enter the postseason arguably playing their best basketball as winners of seven straight games. Although beating a team three times in a season is far from a guarantee, the Bulldogs do own a convincing 95-58 victory over King in Bristol, Tenn. — a building where Barton has had its troubles in the past.
But at the moment, the Bulldogs are conducting a nightly clinic on offensive basketball, ranking inside the national top 10 in Division II in several categories. Barton now owns the eighth-best scoring offense in the country at 90.4 points per game, ranks ninth nationally in field-goal percentage at 51.1 percent and are seventh nationally in 3-point field goal percentage at 41.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Barton’s efficiency from the field can be directly correlated to its willingness to make the extra pass to turn a good look into an even better one around the basket. As such, the Bulldogs are fourth in the nation in assists per game at 19.5, led by seniors Matt Woods and Zach Grant in the backcourt. Both are among the nation’s best in assist-turnover ratio, with Woods ranking seventh at 3.35 assists to every one giveaway.
King (15-13), which has carried the reputation of a relentless 3-point shooting team during its more successful editions, still makes over nine 3-pointers per contest. But its offensive output has dwindled into the middle of the country, as the Tornado score at an average of 74.6 points per game.
A Barton victory Tuesday sends it against the Belmont Abbey-Limestone winner Saturday.
DOING THE JOB INSIDE
How have the Lady Bulldogs won nine in a row and 13 of their last 14 contests?
Ownership of the paint has a lot to do with it.
Behind senior Kianna Wynn and sophomore Shanika Peterkin, the Lady Bulldogs are experts at cleaning up misses and generating extra opportunities.
The Lady Bulldogs are now owners of the eighth-best rebounding margin in Division II at 10.2 per game and are credited with an average of 17 offensive rebounds per game. Wynn ranks as the nation’s ninth-leading scorer at 22.7 points per outing, and Peterkin, who has spent time in her young career as Division II’s top shot blocker, is now seventh in that department with an average of 3.59 blocks per game.
That’s opened up the perimeter for senior Dinah Neal as well as promising freshman Akira Wiggins, who has developed an offensive game to go along with her tough on-ball, man-to-man mentality.
Should they win Monday, the Lady Bulldogs will play the winner of No. 3 Belmont Abbey and No. 6 King in the semifinal.