Setting the Scene:
Not enough can be said for the 2005-06 Wittenberg men's basketball team. With the return of three starters, and eight letterwinners from one of the top 10 teams in the nation in 2004-05, including North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) Player of the Year Dan Russ (Louisville, Ky./Trinity), the Tigers were expected to enjoy another successful season in 2005-06.
But this successful? When the dust had settled, the Tigers had tied the school record for wins in a season with 30 and advanced all the way to the national championship game before losing a heartbreaker to Virginia Wesleyan on a last-second three-point shot.
Russ, along with post player Dane Borchers (Russia, Ohio/Russia), wing Kenny Brady (Reading, Ohio/Reading), and guard Phil Steffes (Centerville, Ohio/Centerville) were the heart of the team, a senior class led the Tigers to one of the best seasons in school history - which is saying something for the NCAA Division III program with the most wins and highest winning percentage ever. As a class, that quartet had a hand in a 99-19 four-year record, including an NCAC regular season title, two NCAC Tournament crowns and three trips to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The National Picture:
Wittenberg was ranked in the top 10 nationally all season, including a three-week stretch at No. 1 for the first time since 1994. The Tigers advanced to the NCAA Division III Tournament for a record 24th time by winning the NCAC Tournament title.
The Tigers won their first two NCAA Division III Tournament games in convincing fashion, dispatching Lake Erie College 76-40 and Baldwin-Wallace 78-60, both at home in the HPER Center.
Awarded the host site for the sectional round games, the Tigers took advantage of that homecourt advantage to defeat Hope 56-49 and Transylvania 74-61 to advance to the NCAA Division III semifinals for a record seventh time. It was Wittenberg's first Final Four berth since the 1994 squad turned the trick.
The Final Four, hosted by the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in Salem, Va., featured four evenly-matched squads. In the semifinals, Wittenberg rallied past Amherst 64-60 as the Tigers put together a 13-1 run in the closing minutes of play to advance to the national championship game.
Wittenberg led almost the entire national championship game, but Virginia Wesleyan used a pressure defense and some clutch shooting to stun the Tigers 59-56. It was the Tigers' fourth national runner-up trophy - third in NCAA Division III.
The Tigers collected postseason awards like they collected victories during the 2005-06 season. Dan Russ returned to the first-team All-NCAC status for a second consecutive year after leading the team in scoring with 15.6 points per game and ranking second on the team with 6.0 rebounds per game. Russ was also named first-team All-Great Lakes District from the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC), second-team All-Great Lakes Region from d3hoops.com, and second-team All-American honors from d3hoops.com.
Dane Borchers averaged 12.9 points per game and a team-high 7.6 rebounds per game. After the season, he was named second-team All-NCAC for a second consecutive year. He also earned third-team all-region honors from d3hoops.com. Also of note, Borchers was named NCAC Tournament MVP and claimed most valuable honors in Wittenberg's holiday basketball tournament for a second straight season. In addition, Kenny Brady was named NCAC honorable mention after averaging 10.7 points per game to go with his 4.5 rebounds and Head Coach Bill Brown garnered Great Lakes District Coach of the Year honors from the NABC. It was the second Great Lakes Coach of the Year honor of his illustrious career.
Life After Wittenberg:
Dan Russ finished his Wittenberg career by etching his name into the Wittenberg and NCAC record books as one of the most best all-around players in school or league history. Professional scouts noticed this as well.
Russ, who finished his career ranked ninth on the schools all-time scoring list with 1,472 career points, signed with Woon!Aris, a professional basketball team based in Leeuwarden, Netherlands. Following graduation in May 2006, Russ and Kenny Brady traveled around Mexico with a small college all-star team in June. Russ also participated in invitation-only professional tryout camps in California, Florida and Germany in June and July, and played in summer leagues in Springfield and Columbus before signing with Woon!Aris in August.
Head Coach Bill Brown (Wittenberg '73) completed his 12th season at the helm of his alma mater's basketball program. Brown's teams at Wittenberg have compiled an overall record of 305-70 for an .805 winning percentage. This season's 30-4 overall mark continues one of the most amazing winning season streaks in all of college sports. Wittenberg has not had a losing season since 1953-54 and has averaged more than 22 wins per season during that time and more than 23 per year since Brown took the reins in 1993-94.
The Tigers have won six outright NCAC regular season championships and three NCAC Tournament titles, and they have advanced to nine NCAA Division III national tournaments in Brown's 13 seasons. His teams have an 16-9 record in NCAA competition with Final Four appearances in 1994 and 2006, an Elite Eight appearance in 1996, and a Sweet 16 in 2001. Brown's career record is 365-169, including one season at Wooster and four at Kenyon in the 1980s.
Brown ended the season tied with Larry Hunter for the most wins in school history (305).