The Crossroads League has long been known as one of the premier men’s basketball conferences in the country.
The Hoosier State has long been known for producing some of the finest talent on the hardwood in the country.
Those two facts will be on full display tonight in the championship game of the NAIA Division II National Championship in South Dakota.
Indiana Wesleyan University and Saint Francis University, both members of the Crossroads League, will square off on Heritage Court in the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls for all the marbles.
The No. 4 ranked Wildcats and the No. 7 Cougars, a pair of schools separated by some 52 miles, will get together some 700 plus miles from home to play for the championship. IWU sports a 30-7 mark, while the Cougars check in at 29-8.
The season finale will be the fourth meeting of the season between the two. IWU has defeated the Cougars three times this year, the latest being a 95-84 final in Marion on Feb. 17 in the championship game of the conference tournament.
The Wildcats feature former Warsaw star Kyle Mangas. The superb guard is having a historic season in his first season for coach Greg Tonagel’s team, which is ranked No. 4 in the country. Mangas has scored a program record 795 points this year, surpassing Lane Mahurin’s previous record of 756 set last season.
Mangas has been fantastic all season long in his consistent, efficient and clutch manner. The Indiana All-Star of a year ago leads the Wildcats in scoring at 21.5 points-per-game and also ranks first in treys with 75. He also averages 5.3 rebounds per game and is second on the team in both assists and steals.
Mangas led the Tigers to three straight NLC championships and back-to-back Class 4-A sectional titles in his prep career. He finished fourth in school history in career scoring and was the 11th Tiger player to earn Indiana All-Star honors a year ago. Mangas, who scored 20 points Monday night in a 75-72 semifinal win over No. 1 IU East, was the first freshman ever named as the Crossroads Player of the Year this season.
Mangas, a 6-3 throwback guard who was vastly under recruited, has been outstanding versus Saint Francis this year. He scored 40 points back on Jan. 13 in their first meeting at IWU,hitting 13-22 field goals and 10-11 free trows in an 89-82 overtime win. The 40 points was the most for an IWU player since 1997 and just four off the school record set in 1991. Mangas had 24 points in an 86-82 win at Saint Francis on Feb. 10 and 25 in the title game of the Crossroads League tourney on Feb. 17.
The title game matchup features two teams with a combined 20 players who played their prep basketball in the Hoosier State. The Cougars have 13 former Indiana high school players on their roster. Saint Francis is led by senior guard Derek Hinen, a former standout at Columbia City High School. Hinen is averaging 16.8 points-per-game and scored 21 points Monday night in a semifinal win.
Hinen scored 26 points versus IWU in the overtime loss back in mid-January.
The Cougars, who are coached by former East Noble star Chad LaCross, are led by Bryce Lienhoop. The 6-6 senior forward from Columbus, Indiana averages 17.4 ppg. Saint Francis also counts on junior guard Chandler White, who played at Carroll High School near Fort Wayne. White, who began his career at Toledo, averages 13.2 ppg.
The Saint Francis roster also includes former Penn High School standout Billy Doslak. Doslak is a freshman for the Cougars.
IWU has gotten tremendous play in the national tourney from Evan Maxwell. The 6-10 junior, who transferred from Kansas, is averaging 17.4 points and almost seven rebounds per game on the season.
The Wildcats have won two NAIA national championships under Tonagel in 2014 and 2016. Three programs have won three national titles, including Bethel College, another member of the Crossroads League. Saint Francis won a national championship in 2010.
The championship game tips at 7 p.m. this evening and will be shown on ESPN3.