Wrangler Men ready for NJCAA D1 Basketball Championship

Tony Vengas:OA
Tony Vengas:OA

Waiting can be the hardest part and that was what head coach Kris Baumann and the rest of the Odessa College men's basketball team learned back on March 11.

It was the very last team to hear its named called as an at-large selection to the NJCAA national tournament. Afterwards, the team was able to breathe a collective sigh of relief after learning that the Wranglers were heading to the national tournament for the fourth straight year.

"I thought our resume would be enough to get us into the tournament so I was pretty confident," Baumann said. "That said, not hearing your name called until the very end definitely made things a little uneasy for us.

"Our players were fired up though. They're excited to play in the national tournament and happy that they get to continue the great Odessa tradition."

Now that that process is out of the way, the next order of the business for the Wranglers will be who they will play in their first game.

As the No. 6 seed, Odessa College earned a first-round bye and will play the winner of Pearl River (Miss.) Community College and Williston (N.D.) State College at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Hutchinson Sports Arena in Hutchinson, Kan.

That matchup is set to take place at noon Tuesday so the Wranglers will have a little more than 24 hours to prepare for their respective opponent.

Regardless of who that first opponent is, Baumann knows that his team will have to be ready for the challenge.

"It's a little difficult because you don't know which one of the two teams you're going to play," he said. "But when you get to this point of the season, everyone is really good. We've tried to get ready for both teams and we're going to watch that matchup on Tuesday. After that, we'll practice that night and focus on whoever we end up playing."

On the court, Baumann wants to see the Wranglers do a better job of taking care of the basketball.

Odessa College committed 17 turnovers in the 73-71 loss to South Plains College on March 9 in the Region V Championship Game and had 15 and 24 giveaways, respectively, in each of its previous two tournament games.

"Our biggest thing that we need to work on is limiting our turnovers," Baumann said. "I'm also a little nervous just because we've had such a long layoff from when we last played and we'll be playing someone that's already played a game. Once the ball goes up and we get our nerves and jitters out in the first five minutes, I think we'll be okay."

One thing that does help Odessa College entering the week is the amount of experience his team has.

For example, sophomore guard James Reese played for the University at Buffalo during its NCAA tournament run a season ago.

As a No. 13 seed, the Bulls upset No. 4 seed Arizona in the first round before Kentucky pulled away in the second half of its second round matchup with Buffalo.

With seven sophomores on the Odessa College roster and a deep bench, Baumann believes that can help his team as it makes a title run.

"I think that experience is tremendous," he said. "I try to recruit kids who have won state titles and have had that postseason success. Hopefully, that can carry over into the tournament.

"Our guys are ready to get out there and play again. These guys have been on a great run for the last month and a half. Now, it's about who can win four games in four day and goal is to bring home a national title back to Odessa."

ARTICLE & PHOTO BY- TONY VENGAS: ODESSA AMERICAN