BLOOMINGTON — In order to stay home for the weekend, the Illinois Wesleyan basketball team needs to earn it Tuesday.
The 15th-ranked Titans meet North Central in a 7 p.m. College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin game at Shirk Center with an outright conference championship and hosting rights to the CCIW Tournament the rewards if they emerge victorious.
“It’s really significant. We would love to host,” IWU coach Ron Rose said. “We put ourselves in this position. It’s up to us. We control that opportunity.”
The Titans (19-5 overall, 12-3 in the CCIW) need either a win over North Central or a home loss by Augustana (11-4) against Elmhurst. An IWU loss and an Augustana victory would send the CCIW Tournament to Rock Island beginning Friday.
The tournament field is set but seeds have yet to be finalized. IWU and Augustana are locked into the No. 1-2 seeds, while Wheaton and North Central will be either third or fourth.
“It’s a really big thing for the team,” said Titan senior forward Jaylen Beasley. “We don’t want to share it with Augustana, one of our biggest rivals.”
IWU has earned a share of its 30th CCIW title overall, its first since 2014 and its third in the 11 seasons under Rose.
Also, a 20th Wesleyan win would likely be sufficient for an NCAA Division III Tournament at-large berth if the Titans do not win the conference tournament and the automatic NCAA bid that goes to the champion.
“Toward the end of the season we’re really putting all the pieces together that make our team really special,” Beasley said.
One of those pieces is sophomore center Alex O’Neill. Named CCIW Player of the Week on Monday, O’Neill has 56 points and 24 rebounds over the past four games.
“Alex is playing like I knew he was capable of,” said Rose. “He’s really developed over the last three months. He’s so much more patient and controlled in his decision making once he gets the basketball. His aggressiveness has improved as well.”
The Titans defeated North Central 68-66 on Dec. 9 in Naperville on a driving layup from Colin Bonnett in the final seconds. The Cardinals are 17-7 overall and 10-5 in the CCIW.
North Central lost its second leading scorer, senior guard Erwin Henry, in late January to a broken foot. Henry was averaging 13.8 points and shooting 51 percent from 3-point range.
“They’ve made adjustments,” Rose said. “Clearly by the result of beating Wheaton the way they did (72-55) Saturday at Wheaton, they have figured out how this group needs to play to be successful.”
The Cardinals still have two of the CCIW’s elite players in 6-8 senior Alex Sorenson and 6-6 sophomore Connor Raridon, the son of North Central head coach Todd Raridon.
Sorenson leads the league in rebounding (9.0) and is fourth in scoring (18.8). The younger Raridon is first in assists (6.8), sixth in rebounding (6.4) and scores at a 12.3 clip.
“Sorenson has really had a terrific senior year. He’s been even more of a focal point since Henry’s been out,” said Rose. “Connor Raridon is one the most versatile players in the league.”
IWU junior Brady Rose is second in CCIW scoring at 21.6 with Bonnett next at 12.5.
Two players who came off the bench for the Cardinals in the first IWU game, University High product Kane Wildermuth and Jaquan Phipps, are no longer on the roster.