ROCK ISLAND — The homecourt has not been particularly beneficial in the Illinois Wesleyan-North Central basketball rivalry this season.
So, the Titans and Cardinals will take to a neutral floor Friday to break the 1-1 tie and determine a finalist in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin Tournament.
No. 2 seed IWU and No. 3 North Central meet at Augustana’s Carver Center in the 5 p.m. opening semifinal. Top-seed Augustana faces No. 4 Wheaton at 7 p.m.
The championship game is Saturday at 7 p.m. with an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament on the line.
The Cardinals (18-7) prevented the No. 15-ranked Titans (19-6) from taking the outright regular-season title Tuesday at Shirk Center with an 83-74 road win. IWU had earlier prevailed, 68-66, on Dec. 9 in Naperville.
“At this stage, when you have two good teams it comes down to execution and making plays,” Wesleyan coach Ron Rose said. “Tuesday they did a better job of both of those than we did.”
“I thought we did some good things offensively execution wise and did some good things defensively,” said Cardinals coach Todd Raridon of his most recent win. “I was pleased with our kids. Wesleyan is a good basketball team, very good.”
North Central has handled IWU on the boards both times this season, earning rebounding edges of 44-36 in December and 40-25 on Tuesday.
“Usually rebounding is effort, it’s the first guy to react and a willingness to be physical,” said Rose. “There have been games that’s been a real strength of ours, and games it’s been a real weakness. If we want to have a chance, it needs to be a strength.”
The Titans also have struggled with the Cardinals' pair of first-team CCIW all-stars, 6-foot-8 senior Alex Sorenson and 6-6 sophomore Connor Raridon.
Sorenson has 37 points and 22 rebounds this season against IWU and is averaging 22.3 points and 9.5 rebounds the past two years. The son of the North Central coach has hit the Titans with 38 points and 19 rebounds the past two games.
“He’s a load on the block,” Rose said of Sorenson. “I think he caught it too often too deep (Tuesday). If he catches it deep, it’s over. We need to do a better job of making his catches a little tougher.”
IWU junior Colin Bonnett said Tuesday’s loss is “pretty fresh in our minds. We’ve been watching the film, and we know where we went wrong. Things like losing the battle on the boards, that’s an effort thing. I expect it to be a pretty competitive game. Obviously, we’re pretty hyped for it.”
Sorenson is averaging 18.9 points on the season. IWU’s Brady Rose is at 21.4 but has struggled shooting against North Central (9 of 29).
Both teams desperately need a win to enhance their record for possible at-large berth consideration by the NCAA selection committee.
“Our resume as of today (Thursday) puts us as a bubble team,” said Coach Rose. “We have a chance. But the only way to know for sure is to win the tournament. The reality is we’ve got our hands full Friday. We’re not even talking tournament championship.”
The Titans have never won the CCIW Tournament in 10 previous appearances. Augustana own five tourney crowns, North Central four and Wheaton two.