At-large bids carry men’s, women’s basketball into NCAA tournament

Tufts fans cheer during the 77-71 win against Williams College in the men's basketball NESCAC Quarterfinals on Feb. 20. Sofie Hecht / The Tufts Daily Archive

This weekend marks the start of two momentous postseason journeys for Jumbos’ basketball. For the No. 20 Tufts men’s basketball team, it’s the first time in history they will host NCAA tournament games at Cousens Gym. For the No. 7 Tufts women’s basketball team, it’s the quest to reach the Final Four for the third consecutive year — and an opportunity to leave its hard-fought NESCAC championship loss behind.

The men’s team will stick around Medford for a 7:30 p.m. tip-off against Southern Vermont (24-3) on Friday night. If they advance, Tufts will take on the winner of Franklin & Marshall and Skidmore, who play at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, in the second round held on Saturday. This is the best regular season finish for Tufts since 2005-2006 when it finished 23-7 and earned an NCAA berth as well. The Jumbos are 3-3 all time in the NCAA tournament.

The men’s team will be led by recent All-NESCAC selections junior tri-captain Tom Palleschi and sophomore Vincent PacePalleschi was named to the first team for the first time in his career after being named to the second team last year and NESCAC Rookie of the Year his first year in the brown and blue. He averages 14.6 points per game, sits second in the NESCAC with 8.6 rebounds per game and leads the conference with 3.6 blocked shots per game. Pace is fourth in the conference scoring with an impressive 18.2 points per game and averages 6.3 boards per game.

Southern Vermont enters the NCAA tournament for just the second time in program history. The Mountaineers are riding a 16-game winning streak into the first-round matchup with Tufts, as they were recently crowned New England Collegiate Conference champions for the first time in program history. They are 1-1 all time in the NCAA tournament. This is also the first time that any teams from Southern Vermont and Tufts will face off in an athletic competition.

The women’s basketball team will hit the road to Biddeford, Maine at the University of New England (UNE) to start its journey to an NCAA championship. The Jumbos had the potential to host the first round but will not be doing so because the men’s team gets preference in an even year when both teams qualify. They will play Regis College (Mass.) in the opening round and, should they advance, will take on either Moravian College or UNE in the second round on Saturday.

This is Tufts’ fourth NCAA berth in a row and eighth overall under coach Carla Berube. The team boasts a 17-9 tournament record and has the potential to host the NCAA Sectionals if it advances past this weekend. The Jumbos will be led by recent NESCAC Co-Player of the Year, junior Michela North. It’s the first time North, who is averaging 14.1 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, has been selected to the first team. North, selected to the All-NESCAC second team last season, averaged a double-double over the course of the 10 NESCAC regular season games.

Regis enters the tournament having won its fourth consecutive New England Collegiate Conference Championship. The Jumbos and Regis Pride last faced off in the 2014-2015 season in a January contest that Tufts won 57-44 at home. The Jumbos hold a 14-2 series advantage.