Division II Elite Eight returns to original home

Zane Clodfelter

The Ford Center will host the GLVC men's and women's tournament in addition to the men's Division II Elite Eight in March. (FILE PHOTO/The Shield)
The Ford Center will host the GLVC men’s and women’s tournament in addition to the men’s Division II Elite Eight in March. (FILE PHOTO/The Shield)

For the second straight season, the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) Tournament will be at the Ford Center in Evansville, starting with the quarterfinal round on March 7, and ending with the championship game two days later.

Southern Indiana’s men’s basketball team hopes it will be playing long after the GLVC Tournament ends, since it was announced that Evansville will also be the host of the NCAA Division II Elite Eight beginning March 26.

“I think it’s a carrot for us,” USI Head Coach Rodney Watson said. “It shows the commitment by the Sports Corp and all of Evansville that this is important.”

The city of Evansville hosted the inaugural NCAA Division II national championship game at Roberts Stadium in 1957, at the time referred to as the “College Division.” Roberts Stadium would continue to host the event until 1976, and then again in 2002. The University of Evansville won five NCAA Division II national titles while playing on their home court at Roberts Stadium, winning in 1959, 1960, 1964, 1965 and 1971. UE would move to Division I beginning in 1977.

“You look at the wall in the Ford Center, and the champions that have been here from USI and the University of Evansville, and there were some great nights here in this town,” Watson said. “This town hasn’t forgotten. We haven’t outgrown this.”

Watson said the passion for Division II basketball, past and present, makes Evansville an ideal place to host an event so important to their program.

“While the tournament is here and it’s exciting and convenient for us, it’s a terrific place to play,” Watson said. “Evansville understands this level of basketball, and it’s important to us— it’s fun to be in a community where they get what we are doing.”

The Eagles aren’t overlooking the immediate task at hand, and trying to win the GLVC Tournament to make a trip to the NCAA Tournament is not guaranteed.

“If you win our league, there is going to be a place for us in the NCAA tournament,” Watson said.

His players are preaching the same thing.

“We always have goals before the season starts, and one is to win the conference,” senior forward Manny Ogunfolu said. “We want to end up there at the end of the season for the Division II championship.”

Since the men’s program won its lone national title in 1995, USI has advanced to the national championship game once, losing to Kennesaw State in 2004. If the Eagles are able to advance, senior guard Lawrence Thomas said things would be in their favor.

“It’s all set up for us, we just have to go out and take care of business,” Thomas said. “If we take care of business, we don’t have to travel and that could be our advantage.”