ROCK ISLAND Through 85 minutes of intense competition over the past month, the basketball teams from Illinois Wesleyan and Augustana know each other quite well.
Augustana’s two victories a 57-54 win at Shirk Center and a 93-85 overtime triumph here just nine days ago are the difference between the Vikings’ College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin championship and IWU’s second-place tie.
That also means Augustana is playing host to the inaugural men’s CCIW Tournament today and Saturday at Carver Center as the top seed.
No. 2 seed North Central (20-5) and No. 3 Elmhurst (17-8) meet in the first semifinal at 6 p.m. IWU (19-5) and Augustana (21-4) follow at about 8 p.m.
Augustana is ranked ninth nationally with Wesleyan 12th and North Central 19th.
“Playing a team of that caliber again so soon is going to be awfully difficult,” Augustana coach Grey Giovanine said. “I looked at the pool of teams and there isn’t anyone I would be excited about playing.”
The winner of Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. title game earns the league’s automatic berth to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
IWU would bolster its NCAA resume considerably with a win today.
“I don’t think you can think that way,” Titans’ coach Scott Trost said. “The only thing we can control is to win. If we don’t win, we’re at the mercy of other teams losing or favorites winning (across the country).”
Augustana senior Rick Harrigan, the CCIW’s leading scorer at 22.9, will once again be a major focus for the Titans.
Harrigan scored 41 points in the two previous IWU games, but the defensive work of Jason Fisher and Matt Arnold helped hold Harrigan to 10 of 32 shooting.
“You have to try to block his cuts. Stay in his face the entire game wherever he is,” Fisher said. “He likes to come off screens a lot. He’s more of a deadly shooter, I think, than a dribble drive player.”
The Vikings also get 14.2 points per game from sturdy 6-3 senior Jay McAdams-Thornton and 8.5 from 6-9 sophomore Dain Swetalla.
IWU held second-half leads of 13 and nine points in the two Augustana losses. But the Titans shot 24 percent from the field in the second half at Shirk Center and 36 percent in the second half and overtime here.
“We couldn’t sustain it. We didn’t play 40 minutes,” Trost said. “Augustana is very good. Defensively, I think they’re the best team in the league. We can’t turn the ball over against their pressure, and we need to defend a little better.”
“We just need to play the last 20 minutes like the first 20,” said IWU point guard Adam Dauksas. “We can’t relax. We can’t let up. They are too good of a team to give them any breathing room and let them get some confidence.”
Dauksas averages 14.2 points and a CCIW-leading 6.7 assists. The Titans also get 18.7 points from Keelan Amelianovich and 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds from Zach Freeman.
Giovanine discounts the notion his team may have a mental edge from its two previous emotional victories over Wesleyan.
“I think people really overestimate history in games like these,” he said. “I don’t think the two games we played will have a great impact on this game. It’s a whole new set of circumstances.
“I think our depth might be a factor. Part of our system is pressure. Sometimes it’s more effective than others. We have played a lot of people. I hope our depth helps us as the game unfolds.”
IWU unveiled a full-court press that caused North Park problems in its regular-season finale.
“We may see it occasionally, but we’re not going to live and die by it,” Trost said. “It’s awful hard to press Augie. If you do that, you’re going to leave Harrigan or (Pat) Brusveen open.”
Augustana is the only team in the CCIW Tournament that appears to have an NCAA bid wrapped up regardless of what happens this weekend.
“That’s certainly the conclusion everyone is drawing,” Giovanine said.
Augustana is 11-0 at home this season, but the Vikings’ only win in its last four games is the overtime decision over IWU.
These teams split their regular season games with each winning by three on the road.
Elmhurst senior Chris Martin scored 52 points in the two North Central games, while freshman Brent Ruch added 31.
“Defensively, we need to play better than we have been playing,” said Cardinals’ coach Todd Raridon. “And we need to rebound better than we have been. We will have to play extremely well.”
North Central has a strong front line in 6-6 Anthony Simmons (18.8 points), 6-5 Dan Walton (16.8) and Adam Krumtinger (10.4.)
“I feel like it’s anybody’s tournament,” Elmhurst coach Mark Scherer said. “The team that wins the tournament is the team that can play aggressively and make some big shots.”