Pentagon switches from NSIC to NAIA in less than 12 hours

How crews moved from Tuesday night net-cutting to Wednesday morning tipoff

By: Charlie Schuknecht .

The Sanford Pentagon is hosting 46 games in 12 days in March 2019.
The Sanford Pentagon is hosting 46 games in 12 days in March 2019.
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The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference men’s and women’s basketball tournament came to an end Tuesday night, but the madness at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls is far from over.

The five-sided venue is less than halfway through its run of hosting 46 games in 12 days, spanning March 1-12.

Tuesday night marked a unique point in the journey. First, two champions were crowned. The Minnesota Duluth women topped Minnesota State Moorhead 52-48 to claim their first NSIC tournament title since 2004. Meanwhile, the Northern State men repeated as champs by topping Southwest Minnesota State 72-68 in the men’s final.

The Wolves finished cutting down the nets on Heritage Court around 9:30 p.m. That left less than 12 hours before the tipoff of the NAIA Division II men’s basketball national tournament on the very same parquet floor.

Converting the 3,250-seat facility from NSIC mode to full NAIA regalia was an all-hands-on-deck process. Roughly 20 people immediately went to work cleaning the stands, tearing down a television production unit, swapping out video graphics and taking down and putting up personalized signage. They represented the Pentagon, media members, signage companies and tournament organizing groups.

The collaborative crew flipped the venue faster than expected – and well in time for the 8:30 a.m. Wednesday tipoff between Spring Arbor and Indiana Tech.

It was a unique process befitting a unique event. The NAIA tournament is different from most college basketball tournaments in that it brings all 32 qualifying teams to a single location. Eight games are played on each of the first three days with scheduled start times ranging from 8:30 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. That leaves just 10 minutes between games. Understandably, the schedule rarely holds to form.

Teams from 18 states here

The Pentagon hosted the event for the first time last year – winning the NAIA championship venue of the year award in the process – and will host again in 2020.

Defending champion Indiana Wesleyan highlights this year’s 32-team bracket. All told, the field includes teams from 18 different states. Dakota Wesleyan serves as the lone South Dakota representative. There are more teams from Florida (three).

A total of 31 games will be played, culminating with the national championship at 6 p.m. Tuesday. That will air live on ESPN3.

It will mark the sixth college basketball national championship game held at the Pentagon since it opened in 2013.

Last year, the retro-styled venue hosted 59 games in 29 days, including three national title tilts.

“There aren’t many arenas in the nation that are willing to take on basketball marathons like this,” said Jesse Smith, the operations director and legal counsel for the Sanford Pentagon. “But we embrace it. This is when we do our best work.”

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