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SOU men a No. 5 seed, women a No. 1 seed at nationals

For the third time in four years, the Southern Oregon men's basketball team is back in the NAIA Division II National Tournament. And once again, the Raiders will head to Point Lookout, Mo., in upset mode.

The Raiders (24-8 overall) came in at No. 17 in the final coaches' poll, swapping spots with the 14th-ranked Mount Mercy Mustangs (25-7) of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, whom they'll take on in a first-round matchup at 10:15 a.m. Central Time next Wednesday.

Mount Mercy took the No. 4 seed and SOU took No. 5 in their quadrant of the 32-team bracket, which was released Wednesday afternoon by the national office. The winner will meet either Saint Francis (Ind.), the top overall seed, or Dakota State (S.D.) in the second round at 10:15 a.m. next Friday (March 11).

The first-ever matchup between the Raiders and Mustangs will be the second game of the tournament, which is being hosted by College of the Ozarks for the 17th consecutive season.

SOU, which earned the Cascade Conference's second automatic bid, will be making its sixth appearance in the tournament since 1999. Last year the Raiders were ranked 21st and started with 10th-ranked Midland (Neb.) — the 2014 runner-up — and pulled off a 73-71 upset on Jordan West's layup at the buzzer, and then advanced to the quarterfinals for the second time in program history with a 68-62 defeat of 24th-ranked Grace (Ind.), becoming the only unseeded team to advance to the Elite Eight. They were knocked out by second-ranked Embry-Riddle (Fla.), 79-71, after losing a four-point lead with nine minutes left.

SOU also upset 14th-ranked Madonna (Mich.) in the first round of the 2013 tournament but was knocked off by Ozarks in the second round.

Mount Mercy earned an automatic bid by winning the Association of Independent Institutions tournament championship. The Mustangs are also making their third appearance in four years and fourth overall. As the No. 9 overall seed last season, they defeated Cal Maritime in the first round, 64-61, and were eliminated by eighth-ranked Davenport (Mich.) in the second, 68-66. In 2013 they were the No. 12 overall seed and were upset by St. Thomas (Fla.).

In 2015, 14 of the 16 higher seeds advanced to the second round.

The Mustangs went 0-3 this season against teams currently in the top-25 poll, losing twice to third-ranked Saint Francis (Ill.) and once to fourth-ranked Briar Cliff (Iowa), but come into the tournament having won 15 of their last 17 games. They rank 10th in the country in scoring (88.3 points) and 11th in steals (9.1), and their led by 6-foot-5 senior forward Alex Houston's 15 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Houston and 6-6 forward Ben Struss are the only starters back from last year's team.

Elsewhere among CCC teams, 11th-ranked Northwest Christian drew 22nd-ranked Southwestern (Kan.) in its first-round game, and 15th-ranked Warner Pacific drew No. 18 Nebraska Wesleyan. All four CCC teams that qualified last year — SOU, WPC, College of Idaho and Concordia — won their first-round games

Women's Basketball

The Southern Oregon Raiders will see even more of the state of Iowa than they expected starting next week at the NAIA Division II Women's Basketball Tournament.

The Raiders (29-1 overall) — who moved up two spots to No. 3 in the final coaches' poll — earned a top seed in their quadrant of the 32-team bracket and drew the unranked Clarke Crusaders (19-12) of Dubuque, Iowa, in a first-round game that will tip off at 1:45 p.m. Central Time next Thursday.

The complete bracket for the tournament, which begins next Wednesday (March 10) at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, was released Wednesday afternoon by the national office.

SOU received one of 22 automatic bids — there were 10 additional at-large bids — by winning the Cascade Conference's regular-season and tournament titles. The Raiders will be making their second straight appearance and ninth overall at the national tournament, all since 1997.

The Crusaders hadn't posted a record above .500 since 2002 until going 20-13 last year and qualifying for their first national tournament. They lost to Davenport (Mich.) in the first round, 78-48, but returned nine players from that team this season and earned one of the Association of Independent Institutions' three automatic bids.

Clarke will come into the contest with plenty of experience against the nation's top teams – just not positive experience. The Crusaders went 0-9 against teams currently ranked in the top-25, losing those games by an average margin of 19 points.

The winner will advance to play in the second round at 5:15 p.m. next Friday against one of two other Iowa schools: 15th-ranked Briar Cliff (22-9) or 19th-ranked Saint Ambrose (22-9).

SOU will be working with its best seed since going into the 1998 tourney No. 2 overall and the '99 tourney as the top overall seed. Only two teams in Cascade Conference history have advanced to the final four — the '97 Raiders and College of Idaho's 2001 squad. The Raiders had lost four straight first-round games until last year, when, with a No. 3 seed in their quadrant, they defeated Robert Morris (Ill.), 96-61. They went on to lose in the second round against unranked Tabor (Kan.), 72-65.

The other teams with No. 1 seeds are top-ranked defending champion Morningside (Iowa), second-ranked Saint Xavier (Ill.) and third-ranked Olivet Nazarene (Ill.).

Oregon Tech, the only other school representing the CCC in the tournament, landed at No. 25 in the poll and will take on eighth-ranked Jamestown (N.D.).

All-CCC Men

The Southern Oregon men's basketball team's backcourt duo of senior Joel Spear and sophomore Ben DeSaulnier landed on the All-Cascade Conference team, which was released Wednesday by the league office.

The 12-person team is voted on by the CCC's head coaches was headed by Northwest Christian senior guard Javonte Byrd, who was named player of the year a day after his Beacons won the CCC tournament title.

Along with Byrd, DeSaulnier and Spear were among nine players who were All-CCC selections for the first time. SOU senior forward Jordan West was honorable mention for the second year in a row after again ranking among the league leaders in scoring, rebounding and blocks.

DeSaulnier, a 6-foot-3 guard from Philomath, led the Raiders and ranked 11th in the CCC during conference play in points per game (17), sixth in 3-pointer percentage (45.3), 13th in field-goal percentage (51.9) and 15th in free-throw percentage (74). He was one of the CCC's most efficient scorers, going for at least 20 points eight times while averaging just under 11 field-goal attempts in those games. He also played a key role in SOU's biggest victories – sinking a buzzer-beater in SOU's 78-76 win at Warner Pacific on Jan. 29, converting the go-ahead 3-point play with 32 seconds left in a 92-90 win over Warner Pacific on Dec. 31, and scoring 16 second-half points in SOU's 80-75 win over Northwest Christian on Dec. 6. He also averaged two more rebounds per game (4.4) than he did last season.

Spear, a 6-3 product of Adelaide, Australia, has turned arguably the best season for an SOU point guard in Brian McDermott's 20 seasons as head coach. He was among the CCC leaders in points (14.7, 20th), rebounds (7.2, 8th), assists (5.6, 3rd), steals (1.3, 14th), blocked shots (0.9, 8th) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.6) – ranking ahead of Byrd in all of those categories except steals. He shot 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range — making 41 3-pointers in CCC play after hitting seven last season — and is one of just four players in the nation averaging at least 10 points, six rebounds and five assists overall.

Spear and West already have more career victories (97) than any players in program history and will become the first Raiders to ever appear in three national tournaments.

West, a 6-8 forward from Gymea Bay, Australia, was his usual steady self while ranking 14th in points (15.9), 14th in rebounds (6.7), third in blocks (1.2), and 12th overall and first among post players in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.9). He scored in double figures in 16 of 20 conference games after doing so in all 18 last season, and he notched a career-high 38 in SOU's overtime win on Dec. 20 at Northwest. His conference percentages were 50 from the field, 35 from beyond the arc and 70 at the line.

NCU's Luke Jackson was named the coach of the year, Eastern Oregon's Kentrell Washington was the newcomer of the year, and NCU's Omar Richards and EOU's Kalvin Johanson were the co-defensive players of the year.