No Region V title? No problem.
Despite falling in the finals of the Region V men's basketball tournament this past weekend, the Howard College Hawks received an at-large bid to compete in the upcoming National Junior College Athletic Association national championship tournament.
Howard (28-5) is seeded 13th in the 24-team field and will begin play at 2 p.m. Monday against 20th-seeded East Mississippi (20-7). All tournament games will be at Hutchinson, Kan.
The Hawks were the beneficiaries of a new NJCAA rule implemented this year. In addition to 16 regional champions, the 2013 national tournament features four ‘zone’ qualifiers and four at-large teams for the first time in the event’s history.
The down side to making the field as an at-large team is that the Hawks will have to win five games to earn the national title — the 16 regional champions each received a first-round bye. And if Howard downs East Mississippi, it would then face No. 3-seeded and host Hutchinson Community College, which should enjoy a huge home-court advantage.
New Mexico Junior College, which defeated the Hawks in Saturday's Region V final, is seeded eighth.
“It would have been better is we had won the regional title. That way, we would have had a better seed,” HC Coach Mark Adams said. “But I'm excited for these guys who will get the chance to experience a national tournament.”
Adams believes the Hawks' overall body of work helped them earn an at-large bid.
“We had one of the toughest schedules in the country, plus our region is historically one of the toughest in the nation,” he said. “This has been a year when nothing has gone easy for this basketball team. Hopefully, that will prepare us for a very difficult tournament.”
Howard has only faced three of the national tournament teams this season, so Adams said he will be scrambling to find information about his team's possible opponents.
“We'll be busy getting information this week,” he said. “We'll try to locate some video on them … and just do the best we can.”
The Hawks will depart for the tournament early Saturday, he added.