A pair of 2017 national champions grace the seventh annual Christian College National Invitational Tournament that tips off Thursday in Oakland City University's Johnson Center.
Southwestern Adventist, the Keene, Tex., team that beat the Mighty Oaks 89-78 for the CCNIT championship last March, will return and begin its repeat bid by pitting an 8-21 record vs. Wilberforce (7-15), of Xenia, Ohio, in Thursday's 1 p.m. opener. Rhema Bible College, the 2017 Association of Christian College Athletics (ACCA) champion, will bring a 16-7 record from Broken Arrow, Okla., to face Wright State-Lake (12-18), of Celina, Ohio, at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Hiwassee, the Madisonville, Tenn., school whose women won the National Christian College Athletic Association Mideast Regional on Saturday, a day after beating the Lady Oaks, will pit a 15-8 record vs. Carolina Christian (10-12) at 5 Thursday. This is the first basketball season for Carolina Christian, located in Winston-Salem, N.C.
The Mighty Oaks, who won the CCNIT tourney its first four years before placing third in 2016 and second last March, will take a 14-game win streak and 22-2 record against Johnson (5-23) of Kissimmee, Fla., at 7 p.m. Thursday to complete the quarterfinals. Thursday afternoon losers will play Friday at 1, Thursday night losers Friday at 3. Thursday afternoon winners will open the semifinals at 5 Friday, followed at 7 by Thursday night victors.
Saturday's schedule will begin with the seventh-place game at 2 p.m. The fifth-place game is scheduled at 4, the third-place game at 6, championship game at 3. Southwestern Adventist is seeded first and the Mighty Oaks second, followed by Hiwassee, Rhema Bible, Wright State-Lake, Carolina Christian, Johnson and Wilberforce. Wright-State Lake has already played twice in the Johnson Center this season, losing to the Mighty Oaks 85-66 February 10 and 77-61 the next afternoon.
Southwestern Adventist's No. 1 seeding is no surprise despite its record 8-21 record. The Knights' 2017 title came after a 6-16 regular season, and they opened eyes in the first round by beating 2016 champion Morthland.
"This tournament has a lot of good teams," said Oakland City athletic director and men's coach Mike Sandifar, who organizes the CCNIT each year. "Records can be misleading. I think Johnson has lost 12 games by six or fewer points. Wilberforce can, run, jump, trap and
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create a lot of turnovers. Wright State-Lake gave us closer games than the scores suggest -- they were within a few points with five or six minutes left."
Sandifar said the Saturday program starts an hour later than the Thursday and Friday rounds because "the coaches want an extra hour of rest for their players before playing a third day in a row."
Tickets cost $12 per day. Three-day tickets cost $30 and must be purchased by noon Thursday. "Tickets for the Thursday games will go on sale at 12:15. "Our ticket sellers will be busy enough with that day's tickets that we don't want them having to sell those and all-tourney tickets at the same time," Sandifar said.
Some visiting teams will arrive Tuesday, others Wednesday. CCNIT activities will begin with Wednesday's 7 p.m. pre-tournament banquet in OCU's Bower-Suhrheinrich Student Center, katty-corner across the street from Johnson Center. Former Indiana University standout Kent Benson, 6-foot-10 center who was named the 1976 NCAA Final Four Outstanding Player after leading Bob Knights's Hoosiers to the title that capped an undefeated season, will be the banquet's featured speaker.