HELENA — While the Carroll College men's basketball team prepares for its seventh straight appearance in the NAIA National Tournament, many teams are traveling far and wide to designated opening round sites, but the Fighting Saints men will not be.
“We are obviously excited to be playing in the P.E. Center. Big advantage for us not having to travel and get our own fans in the gym," said Carroll College head coach Kurt Paulson. "This is the first time we've been able to host like a regional round for the NAIA tournament.”
Following the cancellation of the 2020 NAIA National Basketball tournaments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NAIA opted to go a different route with the national basketball tournaments by giving individual schools a chance to bid for the opportunity to host an opening-round site of the tournament, before the 16 winners of those sites converge on one location a week later.
Though the chance to host one of those sites comes with a cost.
"It's called a bid for a reason. You have to put up some money. And so you have to look at: Do you have that financial backing? Is it worthwhile? Compare that to what could be the expenses to travel somewhere? How far could you travel? So you make a financial decision," said Carroll College athletic director Charlie Gross in February, shortly after Carroll was notified of its accepted bid.
Though travel is a certain fact of playing in the Frontier Conference, with the Fighting Saints men logging approximately 3,700 miles this season, being able to stay at home for the opening round of the NAIA playoffs is a huge bonus says freshman guard Garrett Long.
“It's a little easier to practice, you know we don't have to worry about travel or you know finding gyms to get in and stuff like that. So, it's nice we have home gym, you know we practice every day and stuff and get an extra workout if we want to," said Long. "There's no gym limits or anything like that. So it kind of helps us. It's in our favor, you know?”
While the gravity of this game is certainly not lost on Fighting Saints men, Freshman guard Andrew Cook believes many of them are taking it as just another game in the P.E. Center.
"We've played in tons of big games already this year, just this is just another game for us,” said Cook.
The Carroll College men will square off against the Mount Vernon Nazarene Cougars on Friday at 7:30 p.m. to open the NAIA National Basketball tournament.