Saints March Into March As Men's Championships Favorite
Saint Martin's enters the GNAC Men's Basketball Championships with a 23-5 overall record.
Saint Martin's enters the GNAC Men's Basketball Championships with a 23-5 overall record.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

BELLINGHAM, Wash. – For the second year in a row, Saint Martin’s leads the field for the GNAC Men’s Basketball Championships, presented by Under Armour, which begin on Thursday at Western Washington University’s Carver Gym.

But unlike last year, the Saints hope that the coveted No. 1 seed in the tournament will not result in an early exit.

In last year’s tournament, a 10-team affair held in Lacey, the top-seeded Saints bowed out in a loss to Western Oregon in the quarterfinals. It is not a new trend as the last three years have seen the No. 1 seed eliminated. In the 12 years of the tournament, the No. 1 seed has hoisted the trophy just five times.

After going 25-3 during the regular season with a 15-3 conference mark, and with many of the same players that led the team to the top in 2022, the Saints hope that they can buck the top-seed trend in 2023.

Saint Martin’s has been an offensive juggernaut all season, ranking second in the GNAC with 81.8 points per game while leading the league in scoring margin (+11.8), assists (17.43 per game) and three-pointers made per game (11.14). The team’s 28.9 three-point attempts per game rank 10th in Division II. The Saints also lead the conference with 37.5 rebounds per game and are second in offensive boards.

Junior guard Kyle Greeley is SMU’s top scorer, ranking fifth in the GNAC with 15.4 points per game, while junior guard Tyke Thompson is ninth in rebounding at 5.7 rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Jaden Nielsen-Skinner has been a spark plug for the offense, averaging 10.1 points per game while ranking second in the conference in assists (6.43 per game) and third in steals (1.75 per game).

Prolific from outside, the Saints boast three of the top-10 shooters in the GNAC in three-point percentage, led by Greeley and Branden Bunn, the GNAC Newcomer of the Year, at 42.6%.

Montana State Billings, the No. 2 seed, is experiencing its best season since joining the GNAC in 2007. The Yellowjackets’ 20 wins are the program’s most since 2012-13 and is the first 20-win season since 2005-06. While the second-place GNAC finish is the best in program history, MSUB will aim to win the GNAC Championships for the first time since 2012, when it won it all as the No. 5 seed.

While averaging just 68.5 points per game, eighth in the conference, MSUB has excelled on the defensive end by limiting opponents to 67.5 points per contest and ranks third in the GNAC in field goal percentage defense (.432).

Senior guard Carrington Wiggins, the GNAC Player of the Year, continues to be one of the top scoring threats in the conference, ranking second in the GNAC with 18.1 points per game and fifth with 2.07 three-pointers made per contest. His free-throw percentage of .918, making 112 out of 122 attempts, is among the top 10 in Division II.

Senior forward Bilal Shabazz, the conference's Defensive Player of the Year, is one of just two players to rank in the GNAC top 10 in both scoring and rebounding. His 8.6 rebounds per game rank second while his 13 points per game rank ninth. One of the top defensive players in the conference, he leads the GNAC with 7.21 defensive rebounds per game and ranks fourth with 1.21 blocks per game.

Seattle Pacific, the No. 3 seed, is in the GNAC Championships for the 11th time in program history, the most of any of the six teams in the field. The Falcons’ hallmark has been solid shooting, ranking third in the conference with 79.6 points per game. Among Division II teams, SPU ranks among the top five in field goal percentage (.507) and free-throw percentage (.770), leading the GNAC in both categories.

Junior forward Shaw Anderson has led the GNAC in scoring for most of the season, averaging 19.8 points per game. Anderson also ranks among the top free-throwers in the conference at 85.1%. Sophomore guard Zack Paulsen is averaging 11.7 points per game and is third in the GNAC with a .888 free-throw percentage. Sophomore forward Kelton Samore ranks third in the conference in field goal shooting at 62.6%.

Central Washington used an exciting late-season run to secure the No. 4 seed. The Wildcats won their last four regular-season games, including a 77-75 upset of Saint Martin’s on Thursday in Lacey, and emerged on top of a three-way tie for fourth place at 9-9. Central won those final four games by a combined total of 11 points, which included three two-point victories. The Wildcats advanced to the 2022 GNAC Championships final, where they were upset by eventual West Region finalist Alaska.

Central Washington averages 74.1 points per game, ranks second in the GNAC with a .485 field goal percentage and third with 15.89 assists per game.

Junior guard Camron McNeil leads the Wildcats offensively, ranking fourth in the GNAC with 15.4 points per game while ranking seventh with 1.96 three-pointers made per game. Senior forward Matt Poquette is the other player in the GNAC top 10 in scoring and rebounding, ranking third with 6.7 points per game and 10th with 13 points per game. Senior guard Brock Gilbert ranks in the Division II top five in assists with seven per game.

Western Oregon also benefitted from a late surge to secure the No. 5 seed, winning three of their last five games of the regular season. The Wolves enter the tournament averaging 73.4 points per game and rank third in the conference with 7.80 steals per game.

Senior guard Cameron Cranston, the GNAC Preseason Player of the Year, ranks third in the conference in scoring at 16.7 points per game and is fifth with a .851 free-throw percentage. Senior forward John Morrill-Keeler ranks fourth in the GNAC with 6.4 rebounds per game while junior forward Cameron Benzel ranks second in field goal shooting at 63.4%.

Northwest Nazarene, the No. 6 seed, is making its fourth consecutive GNAC Championships appearance and is looking for its first win in the tournament since 2019. While averaging 66.1 points per game, 10th in the conference, the Nighthawks lead the GNAC with 66.4 points allowed per game, are second with a .430 field goal percentage defense and rank third with 37.1 rebounds per game.

Sophomore guard Tru Allen paces NNU offensively with 12.4 points per game and ranks second in the GNAC with 1.88 steals per game. Junior forward Gabriel Murphy leads the conference with 8.8 rebounds per game and is among the Division II leaders with 3.52 offensive boards per contest.

The GNAC Men’s Basketball Championships begin with the quarterfinals on Thursday. No. 3 Seattle Pacific and No. 6 Northwest Nazarene square off at noon with No. 4 Central Washington facing No. 5 Western Oregon playing at 2:15 p.m.

The winner of the Seattle Pacific/Northwest Nazarene game will face No. 2 Montana State Billings in the semifinals on Friday at noon. The winner of the Central Washington/Western Oregon game will face No. 1 Saint Martin’s at 2:15 p.m. The championship game will be on Saturday at 5 p.m.

The winner of the GNAC Championships receives the conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA Division II Championships.

Tickets for the GNAC Basketball Championships are available at All games will be live-streamed on the conference’s YouTube page,