Downtown Evansville is getting another dose of March Madness, with the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Tournament Elite Eight returning to the Ford Center this week.
Teams from coast to coast are battling to reach the national championship game, which will air at 2 p.m. Saturday on CBS.
The tournament kicked off Tuesday. In quarterfinals action, Black Hills State topped Minnesota Duluth, 86-68; West Liberty blew out New Haven, 95-58; Nova Southeastern edged past Missouri-St. Louis, 82-75; and Cal. State San Bernardino roared past Lincoln Memorial, 88-70.
In the semifinals Thursday, Black Hills State plays West Liberty at 1 p.m., followed by Nova Southeastern vs. Cal. State San Bernardino at approximately 3:30 p.m. Both games will be televised by CBS Sports Network. Ticket information is available online.
There’s also free basketball action at 6 p.m. Friday in the form of the NABC-Reese’s Division II All-Star Game, featuring some of the country’s top DII players.
Although the Elite Eight teams lack local flavor, tournament organizers hope for the best possible crowds, particularly for Saturday’s 2 p.m. title game, when Evansville will get national television exposure and a champion will be crowned.
The event brings economic and community impact beyond the basketball court, says Erin Graninger, marketing and events coordinator with the Evansville Regional Sports Commission.
On Monday, all eight teams performed a service project at local nonprofit agencies and schools, such as the Boys & Girls Club of Evansville, the YMCA of Southwestern Indiana, Lincoln School, and Cedar Hall Community School.
The Elite Eight requires a community volunteer force of about 70 people, Graninger says. She notes the DII Great Lakes Valley Conference, of which the University of Southern Indiana was a member before moving to DI, plays a significant role in staffing the event, and she credits GLVC Commissioner Jim Naumovich for leading those efforts.
Teams in town competing for the national title are from every region of the U.S.
• The Nova Southeastern University Sharks, the top seed among the eight squads, hail from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
• The West Liberty University Hilltoppers, from a West Virginia community of the same name, is the No. 2 seed.
• Black Hills State is the No. 3 seed. The Yellowjackets traveled to Evansville from Spearfish, South Dakota.
• All the way from San Bernardino, California, is the No. 4 seed, Cal. State San Bernardino Yotes (short for “coyotes”).
• The fifth-seeded Railsplitters of Lincoln Memorial University hail from Harrogate, Tennessee.
• From the upper Midwest comes the No. 6 seed, the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs.
• The Northeast is represented at the Ford Center this week by the No 7 seed, the University of New Haven Chargers from West Haven, Connecticut.
• Rounding out the Elite Eight is the University of Missouri-St. Louis Tritons, who trekked to Evansville via Interstate 64.
Evansville has a rich and lengthy history in the world of DII college basketball.
Roberts Municipal Stadium hosted the national championship from its inception in 1957 through 1976. It returned to Roberts one final time in 2002.
The Ford Center welcomed the event in 2014 and 2015, and again in 2019, 2021, and 2022. (The 2020 tournament was canceled because of COVID-19.) Evansville has a contract for the Elite Eight for two more years; it goes to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 2026.
Additionally, the University of Evansville and the University of Southern Indiana each hoisted the DII trophy before joining NCAA DI.
Back when DII was known as the “College Division,” UE won the championship under legendary coach Arad McCutchan in 1959, 1960, 1964, 1965, and 1971, all at Roberts Stadium.
USI, then led by current Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, captured the DII title in 1995 in Louisville.