Men’s basketball falls in Sweet 16, ends season 23-5 ranked No. 11

Graduate student forward Anthony Mazzeo closes out his career by setting an incredible program record for total points in a season.
Graduate student forward Anthony Mazzeo closes out his career by setting an incredible program record for total points in a season.
Courtesy of TIm Phillis/CWRU Athletics

The Case Western Reserve University men’s basketball team, despite a lopsided 75-95 loss to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in the Sweet 16, has firmly established itself as one of the premier programs in Division III. This was a team that had never made the NCAA Tournament in its history before the 2021-22 season. Now just two seasons later, the Spartans have made three NCAA Tournament appearances in a row, winning at least one postseason game in every one.

This year’s run has proved that their two appearances beforehand were not flukes. The Spartans had their best year in program history in the 2023-24 season, winning a program-record 23 games and achieving a historic No. 2 ranking in the Top-25 twice. Head Coach Todd McGuinness, through the power of player development and the transfer portal, has transformed the Spartans from a perennial UAA doormat to a national powerhouse that consistently features in the weekly DIII Top-25 rankings. Horsburgh Gymnasium has gone from an easy place for opponents to play to a house of horrors for the visiting team.

The Spartans went undefeated at home this season, winning all of their 13 home contests and becoming one of just a handful of teams at all levels of college basketball this year to achieve that distinction. This fact will certainly continue as the team hopes to move into a renovated Adelbert Gymnasium in the near future. Huge crowds packed the gym to the brim for the two NCAA Tournament games that the Spartans played in at Horsburgh, turning the usually quiet gym on game days into a marquee event in Cleveland on Friday and Saturday night. In the Round of 64 on March 1, CWRU bested Mary Baldwin University 66-51 and crushed Hope College 97-79 the following night in the Round of 32. The dream for the Spartans is to have that crowd at every home game, and despite the usual proclivity on campus to study on Friday nights, a trip to Horsburgh Gymnasium to watch some of the best that college basketball has to offer is certainly worth postponing that lab you have to work on.

While it remains to be seen what the roster will look like next year, the staff will certainly try to make use of the transfer portal in the last year of players having extra eligibility due to the 2020-21 DIII season that was affected (and largely canceled) due to the pandemic. Those players will be graduating this May and will be immediately eligible to play in the 2024-25 season. The ability to recruit graduate transfers has been key to the Spartan runs, and the program has been able to attract top talent from the DIII ranks as well as some DI talent due to its outstanding academics, namely the Weatherhead School of Management’s one-year Master of Finance program. The program is rare in that it can be completed in one year unlike many similar programs at top-ranked universities. The program has provided graduates with a fast-track to Wall Street while they can play some incredible basketball at the same time, making it perfect for those athletes with an extra year of eligibility from the “COVID-19 year” or those who graduate in three years from another institution.


On Mar. 8, graduate student guard Preston Maccoux added 4 points off the bench with a pair of free throws in the second half of a game against Wisconsin-Platteville. (Courtesy of Tim Phillis/CWRU Athletics)

While the program will certainly attract better first-years than ever due to its recent success—and has already with an outstanding Class of 2027 that is poised to lead the program as second-years—the presence of the transfer portal and CWRU’s top-ranked graduate programs are sure to continue to be nothing but advantages for the Spartans. The staff will start working the phones this spring as they look to replace the eight graduating players. The returning players and the new talent that will be brought in this fall will be left with a newfound tradition of success and will look to bring CWRU to new heights as the program continues to chase its ultimate goal: a national championship.

The grads did not leave without securing some hardware though. Fourth-year guard Luke Thorburn was named the Final UAA Men’s Basketball Athlete of the Week for this season for his well-rounded effort in the Sweet 16 matchup against UW-Platteville, his final collegiate game. Thorburn totaled 12 points, 8 rebounds, a career-best 3 steals and 1 block. He went 5-of-6 from the floor, earning his first UAA Athlete of the Week honor of his career in the last week of his career. Graduate student forward Colin Kahl earned a spot on the NABC All-District VII Second Team and the All-Region VII Third Team after averaging 15 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1 block a game while shooting a UAA-leading 55.2% from the floor. Kahl also appeared in the 2024 NABC-Reese’s Division III College All-Star Game during DIII Final Four weekend and led his team with 15 points and 9 rebounds. Graduate student guard Anthony Mazzeo became just the second player in program history to be named an All-American by—and the fourth Spartan to be named an All-American by any organization—when he was named to the fifth team while also earning All-Region VII First Team honors from both and the NABC. Mazzeo set a program record for total points in a season this year with 545 total points, finishing the season averaging 19.5 points per game. Mazzeo also added 4.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds while shooting 45.9% from the floor and 39.0% from three, a great way to close out an incredible career. Wrapping it all up, both players were also named to the All-UAA First Team.

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