BLOOMINGTON — Illinois Wesleyan basketball coach Ron Rose gathered his team Monday to view the NCAA Division III Tournament pairings announcement knowing a major letdown was possible.
Yet the news was just what the Titans hoped for as IWU was selected among 21 at-large teams for the school's first NCAA berth since 2015.
Wesleyan (19-7) will face College of Wooster (21-5) on Friday in a four-team pod at John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. The hosts face Thomas More in the second game Friday in a matchup of 23-5 teams. Friday's winners meet Saturday with a sectional berth on the line.
"I rolled the dice and had the team together. I wanted the team together," Rose said. "We are thrilled with the opportunity. It's a relief. You never know how that's going to go when you're on the bubble."
The Titans had placed themselves in a precarious position by dropping their regular-season finale to North Central and losing again three days later to North Central in the semifinals of the CCIW Tournament.
"From the information I was told, I thought we had a really good chance. But you're not behind closed doors when the decisions are being made," said Rose.
"It really is amazing. A week ago Saturday we were on top of the world when we beat Carthage for a share of the (CCIW regular season) title. Then we had a bad week and didn't play our best. But this team is clearly an NCAA caliber basketball team."
IWU and Wooster will meet for the third time in NCAA Tournament play. The Fighting Scots prevailed in 2004, but Wesleyan evened the ledger in 2012 en route to a Final Four appearance.
Wooster has three key offensive players in 6-foot-2 senior Spencer Williams (16.8 points per game), 6-5 sophomore Danyon Hempy (14.6) and 6-2 junior Reece Dupler (14.0). The top rebounders are 6-7 senior Alex Baptiste (7.4) and 6-7 junior Eric Bulic (7.3).
The Scots have a rebounding margin of plus 7.2 and are shooting 44 percent from the field, 32.3 percent from 3-point range and 71.6 percent at the free throw line. Wooster scores 76.1 points per outing and gives up 70.8.
IWU is among three CCIW teams in the NCAA field. Augustana will host a pod and take on Greenville in a first-round game. North Central will oppose Wisconsin-Stevens Point at St. John's.
The Titans' trip to Ohio narrowly falls under the NCAA 500-mile limit for bus rides. The trek from Bloomington to University Heights is listed at 461 miles.