The eighth game of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin basketball season is a bit like the ninth hole on a golf course.
Afterward, it’s time to take a deep breath and evaluate your progress.
IWU heads to Waukesha, Wis., on Saturday to tangle with Carroll in a 4 p.m. CCIW game at Van Male Fieldhouse to complete the first half of the league schedule. To assure the Titans make the turn alone atop the conference leaderboard, they need a win over the Pioneers.
“After (Saturday) everybody will have played everybody once,” said Wesleyan coach Ron Rose. “There is a long way to go, but if you’re able to be on top halfway through it’s certainly a favorable spot.”
The No. 24-ranked Titans are 13-3 overall and 6-1 in the CCIW with Wheaton (6-2), Augustana (5-2) and North Central (5-2) nipping at their heels.
“Sitting at the top, we have a little bit of a target on our back right now. That’s a good thing to have and something we look forward to,” junior guard Colin Bonnett said. “We want to make sure we’re in charge of our destiny at the end of the season. We’re looking to get in that driver’s seat and stay there.”
Carroll returned to the CCIW last season after a 24-year absence. IWU’s first trip to Waukesha since 1992 resulted in a 67-63 loss that proved costly as the Titans failed to qualify for the CCIW Tournament.
“It’s a tough place to play. They are 1-6 in the league (5-11 overall) but seven of their 11 losses have been by five points or less,” said Rose. “It’s a game we’ve got to play well to win. The returning guys understand the task at hand.”
The Pioneers lost a starting guard averaging 10.0 points per game at the semester break when junior Ben Widdes transferred to Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Widdes burned the Titans for 18 points and 13 rebounds last season at Van Male.
Carroll still has balanced scoring with 6-foot-2 senior Joel Heesch at 10.8 points per game, 6-6 freshman Davis Braker (10.0), 6-3 senior Tanner Zaeske (9.9) and 6-0 junior Ray Pierce (9.8).
Charlie Soule, a 6-2 sophomore, scored 26 points in a 68-49 win over North Park on Wednesday.
“They are incredibly active on the offensive end. They set as many or more ball screens than anybody we’ll play,” Rose said. “They don’t have a ton of size, but they play really hard. For an undersized team, they rebound really well. Their guards are physical under the boards. You don’t see that a lot.”
Rose will continue to start Bonnett (12.6 points), Brady Rose (22.7), Alex O’Neill (7.9), Jaylen Beasley (6.7) and Jason Gregoire (5.8). Beasley has gone scoreless in three of the past four games with 10 points in the other.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Jaylen,” said Ron Rose. “All his shots haven’t gone in, but Jaylen’s contributions go well beyond just making shots. It’s how he defends and we need to be able to count on that rebounding number.”