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Raiders open NAIA tourney this morning

POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. — Southern Oregon's men's basketball team will open the NAIA Division II National Tournament at College of the Ozarks today.

The 17th-ranked Raiders (24-8 overall) take on the 14th-ranked Mount Mercy Mustangs (25-7) of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at 8:15 a.m. Pacific. It's the second of 16 first-round games. The winner will meet either top-ranked Saint Francis (Ind.), which is 29-4, or Dakota State (S.D.), which is 19-13, at 8:15 a.m. in Friday's second round.

A matchup with Dakota State would be intriguing for SOU coach Brian McDermott. He coached their for 10 years, including a 1992 Final Four appearance, before moving to Ashland.

The game between SOU and MMU will feature contrasting styles — SOU's shooters versus the Mustangs' slashers, and the condensed bench of the Raiders versus MMU's revolving-door approach.

More importantly, it pits two rosters that know how to win on this stage.

The Raiders are in the tournament for the third time in four years. They advanced to the second round as the No. 18 team in 2013 and to the quarterfinals as the No. 21 team last season. The Mustangs are back for the third year in a row, having earned their first tournament victory since 1996 as the No. 9 team last season with a 64-61 defeat of Cal Maritime. Eight players who helped SOU make its run are back, as are three of MMU's top performers from a season ago.

The 32-team bracket is split into four quadrants. SOU's is dubbed the "Naismith" quadrant, and within it the Mustangs are the No. 4 seed and the Raiders are No. 5.

The Raiders went 3-2 this year against tournament teams with wins over No. 15 Warner Pacific (twice) and No. 11 Northwest Christian, and losses to WPC, NCU and No. 23 Cal Maritime. The Mustangs went 6-3 against tournament teams with two wins apiece over unranked squads Dakota State, York (Neb.) and College of the Ozarks, two losses to No. 3 St. Francis (Ill.) and one to No. 4 Briar Cliff (Iowa).

SOU is making its sixth appearance in the Division II tournament (all since 1999). The Raiders have made the quarterfinal round twice, in 2005 and 2015. Last year they started with a 73-71 upset of 10th-ranked Midland (Neb.), defeated No. 24 Grace (Ind.) 68-62, and led second-ranked Embry-Riddle (Fla.) with nine minutes to play before falling 79-71.

SOU's senior Australians, Joel Spear and Jordan West, are set to become the first players in program history to appear in three national tournaments. West had a tourney to remember last season, making a buzzer-beating layup in the first round and scoring 32 in the second — an all-time tournament high for the Raiders.

At 13.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists, Spear is one of three players in the tournament who average at least 10-6-5.

Ben DeSaulnier leads the Raiders in scoring at 18 points per game. The sophomore came into last year's tournament averaging 9.5.

West has averaged 18.6 points in eight postseason games over the last two years. He comes into the week averaging 15.8 points and 5.9 rebounds on the season and ranks 11th in program history with 1,375 career points.

On the national leaderboard, SOU ranks second in assists per game (19.5), seventh in field-goal percentage (49.4) and 20th in 3-point percentage (37.8).

Mount Mercy is unique for its depth. Twenty players have made appearances for the Mustangs this season and 12 have averaged more then 10 minutes and appeared in at least 20 games.

Alex Houston, a 6-foot-5 senior forward, leads the team with averages of 15 points and 5.6 rebounds, but six others are averaging at least eight points.

Their 88.3 points per game rank 10th in the NAIA and their 9.1 steals rank 11th.