FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Coming off one of the most successful seasons in program history, Nova Southeastern men’s basketball and head coach Jim Crutchfield are ready to dive into the second year of the “Coach Crutch” era, just seven weeks out from a tough opening-night challenge, hosting Claflin on Friday, Nov. 9 at Rick Case Arena to open up a 26-game slate with 16 contests at home.
Kicking off the year, the Claflin Panthers advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year as a three-seed in the South Region after winning the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC), closing out the season with a 26-7 record.
The Sharks are also an opening night challenge, finishing last season with a 17-10 record and 11-9 mark against Sunshine State Conference opposition during Crutchfield’s first year. Finding rapid success in the new coaching era, NSU used Crutchfield’s uptempo attack to average 90.1 points per game and exceed the century mark five times.
Led by senior point guard and D2CAA All-South Region honoree David Dennis, the Sharks look to build on a 2017-18 season in which they earned the first national ranking in program history, earned a No. 5 NCAA ranking in scoring offense and produced not only the fifth-largest turnaround in the nation, but also the best winning percentage for the Sharks since joining the NCAA.
“We’re going to have some new faces on the court and in year two it’s still a relatively new system that is being put in place,” Crutchfield said. “However, our returners have been battle tested in one of the toughest Division II conferences in the country and we have seven newcomers that will be battling to get on the court. Fall workouts will be competitive and intense, as we need to be ready to go when the ball is tossed up for the first opening tip.”
A home date with Florida National out of the NAIA on Nov. 17 follows the opener; meeting a dangerous guard-oriented squad that NSU downed 116-92 last season. However, the Conquistadors went 23-6 and gave fits to DI Atlantic Sun foe Stetson, claiming a 17-point halftime advantage before falling behind in the second half.
The Sharks then square off with St. Augustine’s out of Raleigh, N.C. and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) in a first-ever meeting between the schools on Nov. 24 at home.
Closing out a four-game homestand, the Sharks open the perennially-strong Sunshine State Conference (SSC) slate early at Rick Case Arena in a key meeting with Barry on Nov. 28 – NSU’s first midweek game of the campaign. The Buccaneers finished the year ranked seventh in the South Region, wrapping their 23-8 campaign just three points shy of eventual NCAA Champion Ferris State to move on to the national semifinal. Barry has earned the past two SSC titles.
“I feel like our conference is the deepest Division II conference in the country and there’s never a night off when you play in the SSC,” Crutchfield noted. “That’s 20 of the 26 games on the schedule and they’re all big games. That was obvious in my first year when the first-place team is vying for a national championship and also beat Auburn in an exhibition, but the league’s last place team stepped up and beat them.”
The Sharks break into December with their first road game and first of two conference meetings with Embry Riddle, traveling to Daytona Beach, Fla. and ERAU’s ICI Center on Dec. 1. NSU split with the Eagles (11-17), the host winning each time last season. One week later, NSU travels for a league game at Saint Leo (11-19) in the Marion Bowman Activities Center, after topping the Lions in both 2017-18 meetings.
Leading into the holiday break, the Sharks round out the non-conference schedule with three consecutive home games against St. Thomas (Dec. 13), Caldwell (Dec. 17) and Bluefield State (Dec. 19). A local rival, STU went 23-8 and won the NAIA Sun Conference regular season crown. STU has provided some challenging competition for the Sharks in recent years in a big game for the Bobcats. On the rise in recent seasons in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference out of New Jersey, CU pushed the Sharks to triple overtime in the last go-around before falling 105-102 at the Shark Tank; also defeating Palm Beach Atlantic on last year’s southern swing. Coming to Florida as an independent out of West Virginia to face NSU for the first time, BSC returns 13-of-14 members of last year’s Big Blues roster.
Setting off the largest stretch of the SSC schedule, the Florida Southern Mocs travel to the Shark Tank on Dec. 29. Coming off a 21-11 finish and just four years removed from a national championship, FSC split last season’s series with NSU and return their top scorer.
The New Year opens with a trip to Winter Park, Fla. and the Harold & Ted Alfond Sports Center to face Rollins (16-14) on Jan. 2, ahead of a swing to Melbourne for Florida Tech (13-16) on Jan. 5 at the Charles & Ruth Clemente Center.
The Sharks kick off a new SSC homestand with defending conference tournament champ Eckerd on Jan. 9, ahead of home matchups with Tampa (Jan. 12) and Lynn (Jan. 16). EC finished 26-7 with a No. 5 regional ranking in the South, going to the third round of the NCAA tournament before falling to Barry – the Sharks swept both meetings with the Tritons. UT went 10-16 and LU finished 14-13; NSU fared 3-1 against the pair last year.
A Jan. 23 meeting with the Sailfish at Palm Beach Atlantic’s Rubin Arena completes NSU’s first pass through the SSC. The road teams were the victor in a 2017-18 series split with PBA (15-17).
In the final month of SSC action, the Sharks will hit the road to Barry’s Health & Sports Center (Jan. 30), FSC’s George W. Jenkins Field House (Feb. 2), EC’s McArthur Center (Feb. 13), LU’s de Hoernle Sports & Cultural Center and UT’s Bob Martinez Center (Feb. 23).
Across that same stretch of SSC play, NSU hosts ERAU (Jan. 26), RC (Feb. 6), SLU (Feb. 9) and FIT (Feb. 16), before closing out the regular season with Senior Night against PBA on Feb. 27.
The 2019 Sunshine State Conference Championships begin on March 6 at the home venues of the higher-seeded quarterfinal teams. Both the semifinal and final tournament games will be on the Sharks’ home turf at Rick Case Arena at the Don Taft University Center on March 9-10.
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