As Illinois Wesleyan basketball coach Ron Rose is quick to point out, there are “six really challenging games to go” in the regular season.
Yet the first of those six figures to play an instrumental role in defining the significance of the following five.
Two games clear of the field in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin standings, IWU hopes to take a gigantic stride toward a league title Wednesday in a 7 p.m. game against Augustana at Carver Center in Rock Island.
“There is way too much basketball to be played not to approach every game with urgency,” Rose said. “We know it’s a challenge to win at their place. We also recognize every win we can secure improves our position going forward.”
Ranked No. 14 nationally by d3hoops.com, Wesleyan (16-3 overall, 9-1 in the CCIW) has won eight straight games and could cap off a perfect January against the No. 9-ranked Vikings (15-4, 7-3).
“We’re all playing for a conference championship. That’s the end goal,” said Brady Rose, Ron’s son and the Titans’ leading scorer at 22.7 points per game. “We certainly have the motivation there.
"Every game counts the same, but certainly we would love to go to Augustana and hopefully pull out a win there.”
A win would give the Titans a three-game lead and the tiebreaker advantage over Augustana. North Central is tied with the Vikings for second in the CCIW at 7-3 with Carthage at 6-3.
“There is a long way to go certainly, but Wesleyan is in a great position having won some key road games,” Augustana coach Grey Giovanine said. “They are playing awfully well. They really score the ball great and have so much firepower offensively.”
IWU handled Augustana, 72-53, on Jan. 3 at Shirk Center but has dropped four straight games in Rock Island, two regular season and two CCIW Tournament games.
Yet this Titan team is 7-1 on the road and 5-0 in CCIW away games.
“It does not faze these guys to go on the road,” said Ron Rose. “Part of it is this group loves to compete. There is a great team chemistry and bond this group is developing. Wherever we tip it up, these guys have been ready to play.”
Brady Rose scored 26 points in the first Augustana game and needs 29 to become the 41st player in IWU history to reach 1,000 career points.
The Vikings received 19 points from 6-foot-11 sophomore Micah Martin in that contest, but Augustana hit just 2 of 18 3-point range and was outrebounded, 44-36.
“We’re probably allowing more points and giving up more rebounds than a number of really good teams we’ve had in the past,” Giovanine said. “We haven’t been as good in those areas as I would like to be.”
Giovanine called Brady Rose “the Player of the Year in the conference today. He’s the driving force on that team. He’s having an exceptional season.”
The Vikings, who lost forward Pierson Wofford to a knee injury early in the season, are led by 6-2 junior Chrishawn Orange (15.5), 6-1 junior Nolan Ebel (14.8) and 6-3 senior Dylan Sortillo (12.7).
“The first time I thought we did a really good job defending penetration, and we also rebounded pretty well,” said Brady Rose. “If we can do those things again, we put ourselves in a good position.”