Monday, June 4, 2012

Wabash and Ripon to fill out Elmhurst Tournament Field

The tournament pairings haven’t been announced yet, so we don’t know who exactly they’ll play, but some internet sleuthing (h/t: sac) has revealed that the Wabash Little Giants (NCAC / Indiana / Great Lakes Region) and the Ripon Red Hawks (MWC / Wisconsin / Midwest Region) will join Calvin at the Elmhurst tournament in late December.

Calvin and Ripon are listed as 361 miles apart (and they’re in different geographic and administrative regions), so this game would not be in-region for the Knights. Ripon finished 2012 with a 14-9 record (apparently playing just 23 games). Their season started out with a bang, winning eight of their first ten (including a 19 point win over a future Final Four team in Illinois Wesleyan), but they struggled in the heart of conference play, finishing just 6-7 and missing out on the Midwest Conference Tournament (they also just take the top four teams). Ripon had three seniors listed last year, two were in the team’s top three for points per game.

As I stated in the early look at Calvin’s schedule, host Elmhurst is almost definitely now out-of-region for Calvin (despite being Calvin’s seventh closest non-conference opponent). At one time, the NCAA’s official mileage calculator distanced the schools at 198 miles, but it’s now showing up a couple of miles on the other side of the dreadful 200-mile barrier. Calvin could potentially play five non-conference games versus the closest 16 options (Manchester, North Park, Elmhurst, Wheaton, Carthage, all within 255 miles), but only two of them would count as in-region games. There are precisely two non-conference Great Lakes Region teams inside of 255 miles (and none within 230 miles), but I’m trying not to make this another of my rants against the regional definition.

Elmhurst finished 2012 with a 13-14 record and a sixth place finish in the CCIW. They graduate just two seniors, but they happened to be the team’s top two scorers, and only players that averaged double figures.

Wabash is Calvin’s lone chance for an in-region game at the Elmhurst tournament. Wabash and Calvin are separated by 268 miles, but they’re a defined Great Lakes Region team (as are all NCAC schools), and Indiana is in the same administrative region as Michigan. I’d love to see Calvin and Wabash get paired together on the first day (Friday, December 28) to get the guaranteed regional game, but it’s not necessarily advantageous for Elmhurst to schedule it that way (at 163 miles, Wabash is in-region for them too).

The Little Giants are another team that started 2012 out hot. They won each of their first nine games (including quality double-digit wins over Wooster, at arch-rival DePauw, and at HCAC Pool A qualifier Rose-Hulman), but the NCAC was extremely tough, and they went just 9-8 to finish the year. The disappointing stretch was highlighted by a 1-6 record versus their fellow teams in the top half of the conference standings. Wabash peaked at #14 in the D3hoops poll in week six, but they ended up missing the NCAA Tournament altogether. 

Wabash, easily the best of these four teams last year, loses a lot of talent. Their four seniors from a year ago were all starters, and three of them topped the team in average scoring.

I would consider Calvin to be the nominal favorite in the tournament right now (don’t I always let my bias shine?), but we obviously don’t know much about how any of these teams will shape up come late December. Calvin has struggled in Holiday Tournaments in recent years, with the only exception being utter domination of an extremely overmatched field at Defiance in 2008-09 (a 26 point win over Geneva, and a 19 point win over Rockford). Perhaps the Arizona trip in 2009-10 was also successful (they got a win over in-region Ohio Northern), but the 17 point loss to Loras left a sour taste (perhaps I should forgive this as it was the third game in three days).

I really like this Elmhurst Tournament field. I think all three are teams that Calvin should beat, especially if they’re to be the 20+ win, league champion, NCAA Tournament team that I think they can be, but none of the three potential opponents look like pushovers. I would say they’re all teams that would compete favorably for spots in the top half of the MIAA.

So the schedule still contains 17 guaranteed regional games, with two more in possible tournament matchups with North Park and Wabash, and potentially two more in the MIAA Tournament.

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