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Messages - Gregory Sager

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A lot of that kinda thing going around; NPU alumni are up in arms over the Chicago-flag alternate unis that the Vikings have been wearing. It's been a few games since we've seen them, so perhaps they've been quietly shunted out of the uni rotation.

Carthage downed Augie in the QC, 86-82. Six Firebirds scored in double figures -- Antuan Nesbitt with 19, AJ Johnson with 17, Julian Campbell with 14 and 11, Colton Sigel with 14, Fillip Bulatovic with 12, and Tanner Lamb with 10 -- to account for all of Carthage's scoring and, if you add scoreless Anthony Bernero to that sextet, all but six of Carthage's minutes. Augustana, who was without Dan Carr tonight, was led by Chase Larsen's 20 and 7, Matt Hanushewsky's 15 and 8 (yes, the smallest starter in the CCIW led the Doggies in rebounds tonight), and Tyler Knuth's 14.

A day of big surprises in the CCIW:

* Elmhurst wins its first CCIW game in a calendar year, downing North Central by 13 in the hangar;

* With Carroll missing PG Kate Christian, Illinois Wesleyan takes full advantage by turning over the Pios 29 times en route to a surprisingly easy 78-55 win at Shirk;

* And, in the biggest shocker of the night, Wheaton totally dominates previously-undefeated Millikin at both ends of the floor and cruises to a 66-48 victory at King.

The only game that went according to form was Augie's 74-48 romp over Carthage at Carver.

It was nice to see Elmhurst come on strong at the end last night to get the win in Bloomington, avenging another loss from earlier in the season. IWU fans are understandably lamenting the late turnovers made by the Titans, though Elmhurst fans could have easily been saying the same, as Elmhurst had about 3/4 turnovers in a row after the 10 minute mark of the second half, which helped Wesleyan regain the lead at 57-54. From that point on, however, it was basically all Elmhurst, who scored the game's next 13 points. When a long inbounds pass from Elmhurst sailed out of bounds after a Wesleyan 3 made it 67-60, I feared Elmhurst was headed to another nightmare ending at Shirk, but the Jays held on.

Wes Hooker returned to the Elmhurst lineup and scored 10, while 4 other Elmhurst players scored in double figures, including Neshat Dalipi, who has been seeing more and more playing time as of late. Elmhurst fans have to like what theyve been seeing from him, a gutsy player that brings some physicality but can also hit the outside shot.

Elmhurst has now won 3 in a row and is at least looking more and more like a team that will be playing in the CCIW tournament.

Elmhurst is a better team than Illinois Wesleyan: better shooters from outside the paint, much more athletic, more versatile. The early double-digit loss by the 'jays to IWU at Faganel at the end of November is going to go down as one of the stranger outcomes in the CCIW this season. Then again, Elmhurst has had several strange outcomes this season, most of them negative. The Bluejays are a talented team, but they have shown a lot of inconsistency for such a veteran group. But I don't think that anybody really wants to face them at this stage of the season, because this is the time of year when big-game and/or postseason experience counts for something.

This is the first time that Illinois Wesleyan has lost four straight CCIW games since 2006-07, Ron Rose's first season at the helm in BloNo.

There's no guarantee that the Titans will avoid a fifth-straight loss, either, as Carroll is no gimme. Sometimes this late in the season you can start to see teams with only one or two CCIW wins, or none at all, start to phone it in if their opponent goes on a run. That's not happening this season. Last night the Pioneers had a dry spell of close to eight minutes in the second half in which their 56-54 lead was turned into a 65-56 North Central lead. Frequently, a 4-15, 1-9 team playing a February game will fold its tent right then and there ... but instead the Pioneers rallied and managed to send the game into OT with a buzzer-beating layup. The fact that the Cardinals ended up winning in the extra session doesn't negate the fact that the Pioneers have the moxie to keep their composure and their hustle when the other team makes a run (I wouldn't be surprised if Taylor Jannsen read them the riot act after their second-half debacle against NPU in Van Male last Saturday, and the Pios then took it to heart).

Given IWU's difficulty with putting the ball in the basket, I can definitely see the Pioneers hanging around in Shirk on Saturday and making a game of it.

Q's tweet on Pool C:

"Remember, every szn there are about 4 major upsets where assumed Pool As steal Pool Cs.  So if you are about #15 or lower on Drew's list, you aren't in good shape.

For example, NPU is now #16."

I prefer Drew's read to Bob's read.

Of course, none of this ultimately means anything. If the Vikings get back to winning, they will control their own destiny.

Despite the fact that many players do it on an almost constant basis, we rarely see "carrying" the ball called.

Here is a perfect example of the violation that officials appear to be unable to see, or just plain choose to ignore.

How do we know that that's mid-dribble, though? Williams could've been gathering the ball to pass it or shoot it. Taken in isolation, that photo really tells us nothing.

NPU was on the bubble (in) for a pool C and the loss last night likely moved them to bubble (out). Some work left to do for these teams.

The Pool C experts don't see it that way. They seem to think that the Vikings will be on the right side of the bubble as long as they don't lose another game before the end of the regular season. I'm going with them on this.

Well, Drew has NPU as the very bottom of Bubble "In" with very little separating the Vikings from "out". I hope he's right but it's clearly pretty close with little margin for error.

In Drew we trust!

Millikin has young talent for sure, but that was a bad loss in terms of post season aspirations.

File that under "Obvious Statement of the Day".

Millkin was 0-4 on the road in the CCIW before last night.

Any loss would've been a bad loss at this stage of the season for NPU. And Millikin's lack of success on the road in the CCIW is not indicative of where that team is at right now, as Kiko and I pointed out.

With regards to the outlook using the Q formula of +1 for a road win and -1 for a home loss, the status is as follows:

Wheaton +5 with 3 home games/4 road games left
NPU +2 with one home game/4 road games left
Elmhurst +1 with 3 home games/2 road games left
NCC +1 with 3 home games/1 road game left
Carthage 0 with 2 home games/3 road gams left
Augie -1 with 2 home games/2 road games left
IWU -1 with 2 home games/3 road games left
Millikin -3 with 1 home game/3 road games left
Carroll -4 with 3 home games/2 road games left

Wheaton is in the drivers seat to host the CCIW tourney with only a road trip to Elmhurst remaining among 3 home games. NPU has only 1 home game left vs IWU (away at Elm, Carth, Augie).

I've already mentally conceded the #1 seed to Wheaton, because I don't see NPU making up that one-game deficit by outplaying Wheaton given the four games each has left, and because in the event of a co-championship it would likely require Elmhurst to move ahead of Carthage by a game in the final standings for NPU to slide into the #1 seed, and that's yet another wrinkle that's out of the hands of the Park, because the Vikings have to beat both Carthage and Elmhurst.

NPU was on the bubble (in) for a pool C and the loss last night likely moved them to bubble (out). Some work left to do for these teams.

The Pool C experts don't see it that way. They seem to think that the Vikings will be on the right side of the bubble as long as they don't lose another game before the end of the regular season. I'm going with them on this.

Another thing I want to point out is how impressed I was with the game plan and the game management of MU head coach Kramer Soderberg. Everything he drew up before the game, from the midcourt ball screens by his bigs to disrupt NPU's disruption, to the constant diet of elbow upscreens and downscreens to free up JT Welch, to the two-up press falling back into a 1-2-2 in the halfcourt to slow up the Vikings when they started increasing the pace of the game in the late going, worked. Our commentator Aaron Coleman mentioned a few times on the air that Soderberg did a great job of game-planning. Soderberg also managed to squeeze every last useful ounce of playing time out of Nate Straughter before he fouled out (as talented as he is, like a lot of freshmen Straughter's prone to picking up unnecessary fouls), and Soderberg did a great job of subbing Welch and Jaden McClain in and out strategically.

Both Soderberg and Sean Smith basically sidelined their starting centers down the stretch and through OT, going with the backup big who was playing better (Adam Bulwa for NPU, Frazier Ott for MU) and having success with the decision.

The CCIW has had an unusual amount of head-coach turnover in the past few seasons, but make no mistake -- this is still a coach's league. Bosko Djurickovic, Grey Giovanine, and Todd Raridon may be gone, but the next generation of CCIW head coaches is more than capable of stepping into their shoes and carrying on the tradition.

Does NP have an actual offense? Or is it, let's get a steal and see what happens?

Yeah, right. NPU got to 16-4 this season without having an offense. ::)

Millikin outlasts NP in Chicago in OT

One thing the Millikin announcers mentioned on Saturday that had not been on my radar because of how one-sided the first Red-Blue meeting was this year is just how close the Big Blue have played just about everyone in the conference.  At the time this comment was made, Millikin was 2-8, but you would expect a few more empty-the-bench games than they've played:

Lost by 2 vs North Park, 64-62
Lost by 10 at Augustana, 68-58
Lost by 3 vs Carthage, 70-67
Won by 1 vs Carroll, 74-73
Lost by 11 vs Elmhurst, 70-59
Lost by 4 vs. Wheaton, 65-61
Lost by 5 at Illinois Wesleyan, 73-68
Lost by 24 at North Central, 72-48
Won by 6 vs. Augustana, 79-73
Lost by 2 at Elmhurst, 75-73
Won by 3 vs. North Central, 73-70
Won by 7 in OT at North Park, 86-79

Essentially 11 of the Big Blue's 14 CCIW games have been decided by one or two possessions, or in OT.

I mentioned in my recap that Millikin is a team loaded with underclassmen. The pattern of losing close games is a typical one for a talented team that simply lacks sufficient game experience.

Millikin's best players tonight were:

Jaden McClain (Fr): Great ballhandler with nice quickness and the icewater in his veins you love to see in a young PG.
JT Welch (So): Hit the dagger trey in OT tonight. A 38% shooter from downtown with nice three-level touch who can drive a little, too. Played in every game for MU as a frosh last season, so he's already a vet.
Frazier Ott (So): Not a dominating 6'8 big, but a smart, sure-handed 6'8 big, for real. Smart bigs like Ott can take you a long way.
Nate Straughter (Fr): Scored 19, 19, and 22 in his last three games coming into tonight. This kid's got "future star" written all over him.
Demarcus Bond (Jr): Proven do-everything player who had a double-double tonight and made a bunch of really big midrange shots and eight-foot floaters.
Trent Champagne (Jr): D2 transfer who really sparked MU off of the bench tonight.
Noah Livingston (So): Tough workhorse who went in and grabbed just about every big weak-side rebound from his guard position late in regulation and throughout OT.
Drake Stevenson (So): MU's best rebounder and a key ingredient in the win over NPU.

They looked tonight like they're figuring out how to win close games in this league. They could be pretty scary in 2023-24.

OT final from the crackerbox:

Millikin 86
North Park 79

Kolden Vanlandingham: 28 pts
Shamar Pumphrey: 18 pts, 6:1 a:to
Adam Bulwa: 14 pts
Quillin Dixon: 3 stls

JT Welch: 18 pts (4-5 trey)
Trent Champagne: 13 pts
Demarcus Bond: 12 pts, 10 rebs
Jaden McClain: 11 pts, 7 rebs
Frazier Ott: 10 pts
Noah Livingston: 8 rebs

Nothing but praise from me for the way Millikin played tonight. Every time that NPU went on a run and looked like it was going to find that extra gear that we've seen from the Vikes so often, the Big Blue came up with a run of its own to hold off the Park. North Park came back from 16 down to tie the game ... Millikin answered. North Park went on a 10-0 run in the latter stages of the second half to turn a 60-54 deficit into a 64-60 lead ... Millikin answered. North Park jumped out to a 79-74 lead in overtime ... Millikin answered by scoring the last 12 points of the game.

A lot of things I could point to for the NPU end -- lousy FT shooting (17-30, .567), far too much reliance on the trey when they were successfully getting to the rim (10-38 from downtown for .263), but really the bottom line is that Millikin, a team loaded with underclassmen, played like a bunch of seniors tonight and deserved to win the game.

Disappointing, and made even more disappointing by Wheaton's close win at Augie tonight.

I don't know if having Drew Pasteur and Matt Snyder around to mathematically chronicle everybody's path to a possible Pool C berth is making me more nervous or less nervous.

Dude, I know!  Does Juwan Henry ever come to campus for a game.  That guy was so good.

Saw Juwan with the rest of the '17 guys last year after they scrimmaged the then-current Vikings varsity in the preseason. I haven't seen him at any games this season, although his former teammates Colin Lake and T.J. Cobbs have been to one or two.

Looks like your team and mine each have shots at adding on a few games once we get to the end. :)

I am trying not to get ahead of myself on this.  If the Bears can go 1-1 against Rochester and Emory this weekend and move to 6-2 overall, I think the rest will work out.

As much as I am gratefully appreciative of their ability to translate my anxiety into numbers ;), I don't know if having Drew Pasteur and Matt Snyder around to mathematically chronicle everybody's path to a possible Pool C berth is making me more nervous or less nervous. It's been a long time since I've been used to February butterflies, because in the one really solid season that NPU's had over the past three decades (the 2016-17 CCIW co-champions) it was obvious after Juwan Henry missed four CCIW games and most of a fifth due to a knee sprain that the Vikings had to win the Pool A bid to get in ... so there was no point in biting my nails over Pool C projections.

Thanks Greg!  I said possibly, but I was pretty sure the prior year data was a problem weeks ago when Massey had the WIAC ahead of the CCIW in the conference rankings at a time when that was surely not the case.

Very interesting.

Also, where in the heck is the season going?  Hard to believe how close we are to the end.

Looks like your team and mine each have shots at adding on a few games once we get to the end. :)

You should email Ken Massey and point this out. I bet he'd be interested.

Maybe I'll do that. Couldn't hurt, right? And if he does have an explanation, I'd sure love to hear it.

Yes, but it's the fourth that is at the root of my animus towards Massey: the inexplicable, doggedly determined manner in which Ken's algorithm has refused to acknowledge that the 2022-23 North Park men's basketball team is anything beyond minimally competent.

I get it.  I like using them both.  I only mention that because as you said, North Park is being penalized for the UW-Milwaukee loss and possibly prior season data.

Yeah, I was musing here the other day about the possibility that NPU is being penalized for the UW-Milwaukee loss, but I'm not even convinced that that's the problem. As I said, the Vikings were still being projected as a 5-20 team by Massey when they were 4-1, which was prior to the UWM exhibition. And, because the Panthers are doing so well at the D1 level this season, a 29-point loss in Brewtown to the Panthers shouldn't be hurting North Park that much, if at all.

It's almost as if Massey is prioritizing 2021-22 data rather than the current season as far as North Park is concerned. It's truly bizarre, and I can't remember any other program having this sort of thing happen to it on Massey before.

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