North Central top seed at CCIW tourney
By Rob Wollenzien For Sun-Times Media February 24, 2011 9:24PM
Friday — Augustana vs. Wheaton, 5 p.m.; North Central vs. Illinois Wesleyan, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday — Winners of Friday games in title game, 7:30 p.m. at NCC’s Gregory Arena.
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
The 2010-11 basketball season did not start off particularly well for the North Central College men.
The Cardinals (15-10, 11-3 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin) lost their first four games and owned a 4-7 record through the end of 2010. Things changed in the aftermath of a 72-67 overtime loss at Illinois Wesleyan University on Jan. 5.
“It was our first conference game, and it just gave us some confidence, it seemed like,” North Central coach Todd Raridon said after Thursday’s practice. “We had a chance to win, we didn’t win the game, but it just seemed like our kids grew up on the road and had some confidence in one another. I felt like after that game they really grew up and had that chemistry that might make it conducive to make a run in the CCIW.”
Since that game, the team has progressed considerably, culminating in the Cardinals’ first CCIW title since 1989-90. They share the regular season conference championship with Augustana College, which finished the season 22-3 overall and 11-3 in the CCIW.
The Vikings fell on the road to Illinois Wesleyan Tuesday, 70-68, enabling the Cardinals to tie for the conference title. Ironically, the same team that helped North Central clinch a share of the top spot in the CCIW stands in its way in the CCIW Tournament tonight.
In some ways, the Titans’ win over the Vikings was bittersweet for the Cardinals.
“When it happened, we all were celebrating,” sophomore Derek Raridon recalled, “and then realizing that the team that just won, we’ve now got to go face. And they just beat Augustana, who we just beat (50-46 on Feb. 19), so they’re just as good as us, even though they finished fourth.”
He said the semifinal will be challenging but the Cardinals have a good idea of what Illinois Wesleyan likes to do, having faced their opponent twice already this year.
“They’ve got a great inside scorer in Doug Sexauer and their outside guys can shoot it,” Coach Raridon said. “So (the key is) just playing really good team defense and getting the 3-point line covered so when they give the ball inside, they can’t kick it out to wide open guys. You’ve also got to shut (their post players) down, and hopefully Landon (Gamble) and Jack (Burchett) can do that when they touch the ball inside.
“Defensively, if we can get a stop we can get out and run,” he said.
As they’ve improved, the Cardinals have used defensive rebounding to trigger their transition offense. That and team defense will play big roles in the outcome of the semifinal game.
The Cardinals earned the right to host the tournament in a tiebreaker, since their 6-1 record in their final seven contests bested the mark posted by Augustana.
North Central, seeded No. 1, plays Illinois Wesleyan Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the later of two semifinals. Augustana tips off against Wheaton College at 5 p.m. in the first game.
The winners will face off Saturday night at 7:30 for the tournament championship in North Central’s Gregory Arena.
Wheaton and Illinois Wesleyan both finished the regular season 18-7 overall with 9-5 CCIW marks.
Increased conference notoriety for individuals is one byproduct of posting the best record in the CCIW. Raridon was recognized, along with Augustana coach Grey Giovanine, as the CCIW Co-Coach of the Year. Cardinals freshman Landon Gamble won first-team all-conference recognition, Derek Raridon made the second team and senior Brian Evans was voted to the third team.
“My team is a big part of me getting first-team all-conference,” Gamble said. “I couldn’t have done it without them, because they push me every day in practice to make me better in games. They’re the ones that pick me up and help me out there in the games, so I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Raridon, who graduated from Neuqua Valley, said he’d enjoy seeing some of the guys he played with there — and coach Todd Sutton — pack Gregory Arena for the tournament games.
He and Gamble both said they believe the homecourt advantage will loom large for the Cardinals.
CCIW coaches picked North Central to finish sixth in the conference, according to a press release by North Central sports information director Clark Teuscher.