Sunday, February 19, 2017

One More To Go: A CCIW Update

I didn't get to watch any of it live, but I'm reveling in the upset pulled off by NCC against Illinois Wesleyan. I guess if you maybe want to get technical, both of them.

The regular season all comes down to Tuesday, and while most of the CCIW Tournament field is filled, the seedings are still very much up for grabs. And so as I like to do on an annual basis going into the final game, here are the scenarios for seedings in next weekend's CCIW Tournament.

I do want to express my thanks to the D3Boards community for working out all of the men's scenarios, which greatly helped my understanding of how Tuesday's stuff was going to work.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

North Central and the NCAA Regional Rankings: Week 2 Edition

It took until later on yesterday afternoon, but the NCAA finally dropped its second set of regional rankings. These preceded another round of CCIW games that took place last night, so these rankings are going to be subject to a little bit of change in the aftermath. But at the same time, we need to take a look at how these rankings impact North Central as well as the CCIW as a whole. You can view last week's post here.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Game Notes: (MBK) Elmhurst College @ North Central College (2/11/17)

Final Score
NCC 84, Elmhurst 60

Game Summary
This was another good game in the early going as the Cardinals (14-9, 8-6) traded baskets with the Blue Jays (6-17, 2-12) forcing five ties and five lead changes in the first ten minutes. Then the Cardinals went on a mini 7-0 run to break a 16-all tie, though Elmhurst hit some threes to keep it close, but the Cardinals were even more lethal from distance, hitting a barrage of them to take a 44-31 lead into the locker room. They picked up right where they left off to start the second half, bridging a pair of Blue Jay free throws with a pair of threes. North Central would push the lead as high as 31 before calling off the dogs.

Key Stats
  • NCC: 12-29 3PT (41-4%). This was easily the best night the Cardinals had from distance (and you know when the men hit more threes than the women, they're on fire). More on that below, but this was a key for giving North Central the edge. The fact that former Heat Check guy Jayme Moten had to watch from Elmhurst's bench... even better.
  • Alex Sorenson (NCC): 9-15 FG (4-6 3PT), 4-5 FT; 26 pts, 9 reb (2 off), 2 ast, 1 blk, 1 stl. Alex has struggled from deep this season, so it was nice to see him break out of his funk. He was able to establish himself in the post early as Elmhurst, despite the double teams, wasn't really able to stop him. Eventually he started to find himself open beyond the arc, and he made the Blue Jays pay. He checked in from a breather maybe midway through the second half and told me if he hit another to be louder with it. Unfortunately, I didn't get to oblige him, as he would foul out before hitting another.
  • Jagger Anderson (NCC): 6-11 FG (2-5 3PT), 2-4 FT; 16 pts, 4 reb, 9 ast, 2 stl. After earning Player of the Week honors for last week, Jagger had a good home finale. He had his obligatory one ridiculous full speed layup for an and-one, and I continue to be impressed by how his jump shooting has improved. The book on him coming into the year was to dare him to shoot, and he's good enough to make teams pay for doing so. The fact that he dished out nine assists only adds to the legend. A good Senior Night for the Cardinals' lone elder statesman.
CCIW Scoreboard Watch
  • @ Carroll 75 (12-10, 7-6), Augustana 70 (18-5, 11-3)
  • @ Wheaton 70 (11-11, 7-6), North Park 67 (15-7, 8-5)
  • Illinois Wesleyan 90 (16-6, 8-5), @ Carthage 78 (15-7, 8-5)
  • BYE: Millikin (3-19, 1-12)
Final Thoughts 
The Cardinals close their home schedule with a 7-5 record. Not awful, but certainly underwhelming. They took care of business at home early in the season with wins over teams like Aurora and Alma, but there are too many home losses that hurt. North Central should have beaten UW-Platteville, probably should have beaten Robert Morris, and also have home losses to Augustana, Carthage, and North Park... only three of the top four teams in the CCIW. They make sense, but for a team with incredibly high expectations, they still hurt.

North Central has two games left: at Carthage on Wednesday, and at Illinois Wesleyan to close out the regular season on Saturday. The Cardinals will then miss out on next Tuesday, when the rest of the conference closes out the regular season, so North Central will have no real control over its own destiny. But they sit just half a game out of a three way tie for second place in the CCIW, and if they finish 10-6 in conference they should make the CCIW Tournament, especially given their opponents this week.

Game Notes: (WBK) Elmhurst College @ North Central College (2/11/17)

Final Score
Elmhurst 85, NCC 65

Game Summary
This had the makings of a great game early on as the Cardinals (11-11, 5-8) were hitting from beyond the arc and led by as many as seven, but the Blue Jays (18-5, 10-4) were able to keep pace. The Cardinals had a few leads including one at 22-19 with about three minutes to go in the first quarter before the wheels fell off. Elmhurst scored the next 15 points bridging the first and second quarters and the Cardinals went almost six minutes between field goals, allowing the Blue Jays to build a 46-31 halftime lead. The second half started slow, though the Cardinals got the opening basket, but the Blue Jays went on a 13-2 run to blow the game open. It was 63-42 Elmhurst after three, and the Blue Jays would lead by as many as 28 before settling into that final margin, while the Cardinals were able to get curtain calls for all four seniors on Senior Night. With the victory, Elmhurst clinched a berth in the CCIW Tournament, while the Cardinals are eliminated.

Key Stats
  • Mikaela Eppard (ELM): 10-13 FG, 2-5 FT; 22 pts, 15 reb (2 off), 3 ast, 1 blk, 2 stl. Considering Eppard went off for 39 in the meeting at Elmhurst, a 22-15 line seems very quiet by comparison. But Eppard showed why she is the front runner for the CCIW's Most Outstanding Player this season, getting plenty of easy opportunities under the basket and did a great job on the boards. She's a fitting heir to Fiona McMahon, who won a Most Outstanding Player Award of her own a couple years ago for the Blue Jays.
  • Kaela Jones (ELM): 6-11 FG (1-2 3PT), 1-1 FT; 14 pts, 9 reb (1 off), 6 ast. I was pretty impressed with how Jones played on Saturday as well. Elmhurst did a great job moving the ball around to find the open woman against NCC's trapping defense, and often Jones either was the open player or found her. Her six assists paced the team, and the Blue Jays as a squad got assists on 31 of their 37 field goals. That's insane.
  • Paula Zerante (NCC): 4-8 FG (3-4 3PT), 3-4 FT; 14 pts, 1 reb, 1 stl. Of the four seniors in action, Paula probably had the best night, being the only Cardinal to score in double figures. It's a pretty good way to perform on Senior Night for one of the most energetic Cardinals I've seen.
North Central System Watch
  • Elmhurst Turnovers: 29. Overall, not a terrible number. North Central logged 17 steals, paced by four from Michaela Reedy and three from Siarra O'Neil.
  • NCC 3PT: 9-39 (23.1%). The Cardinals started okay, hitting a few first quarter threes to get a good start before cooling off a bit. The team was still at 31.3 percent by halftime with a 5-16 clip. The second half was not ideal though, as the Cardinals only went 4-23 for a 17.4 percent clip. You can't shoot that poorly against a team that good and expect to win.
  • NCC Charges Drawn: 2. Anita Sterling picked up one more on Senior Night, and Jessica Dahle also drew one in the third quarter. I don't know that she will necessarily take on Anita's mantle or if anyone will end up at the Sophie Newson/Anita Sterling School of Drawing Charges, but I hope so because this is a fun stat to keep and one that needs to be kept as an official stat.
CCIW Scoreboard Watch
  • Augustana 72 (16-7, 9-5), @ Carroll 51 (1-20, 1-12)
  • Illinois Wesleyan 80 (16-6, 11-2), @ Carthage 49 (12-10, 6-7)
    • Illinois Wesleyan clinches a CCIW Tournament berth.
  • @ Wheaton 90 (18-4, 11-2), North Park 58 (11-12, 4-10)
    • Wheaton clinches a CCIW Tournament berth.
  • BYE: Millikin (9-13, 3-10)
Final Thoughts
All in all, the night was kind of a bummer. Senior Night is an emotional night, and Elmhurst has become a big rival on the women's side, so to get swept, especially on Senior Night, and have the loss eliminate you from the tournament for the first time in three years, it's a tough one. I think I've accepted though that this team wasn't quite as good as I expected coming in, though the team was also battered by injuries and has had some struggles in other key areas. This is a young team overall though, and one that has room to improve. They'll be back in the mix.

Since it was Senior Night, I wanted to make sure I recorded the moment for posterity. You can view the Senior Night festivities, national anthem, and starting lineups below.
The Cardinals have three contests left, including one at home on Wednesday against Carroll that I won't be able to attend due to another commitment. I've already left instructions with Michelle Roof and a player or two to not break any records without me. After that, the Cardinals close the season on the road at Illinois Wesleyan and at Augustana. If the Cardinals can play a spoiler role in either of those games, it would be a nice note to end the year on, especially given the tough losses the Cardinals took at home against both teams.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Game Notes: (WBK) Millikin University @ North Central College (2/8/17)

Final Score
NCC 89, Millikin 73

Game Summary
The outcome of this game wasn't in a ton of doubt, as the Cardinals (11-10, 5-7) caught fire from beyond the arc early, hitting three straight threes to open up a seven point lead. But the Big Blue (9-13, 3-10) hung around a bit, narrowing the gap to four before the Cardinals caught fire again, leading by as many as 13 before finishing the quarter up 28-20. The Cardinals scored the first three points of the second quarter, but went on a little dry spell as Millikin pulled back within six before the Cardinals pushed the lead back to double digits. The Big Blue scored the final five points of the half to make it 47-39 going into the break. Millikin actually made it a one possession game at one point at 49-46 before going on an extended 17-4 run to break the game open. The Big Blue got the lead down to five early in the fourth quarter, but would get no closer as the Cardinals pulled away late.

Key Stats
  • Anita Sterling (NCC): 6-15 FG (5-11 3PT), 4-6 FT; 21 pts, 7 reb (1 off), 2 blk, 3 stl. On the night of a rare start, it looked early on like it was going to be a record breaking night for Anita, as she was absolutely unconscious from outside. She hit her first four looks from deep, missed one, then hit another late in the opening quarter. I looked up the school records in the second quarter to prepare to mention a record night in terms of made threes, but Anita struggled the rest of the night from deep. Fortunately, she did some damage driving and at the line, and was a force on defense and on the glass as well.
  • Jamie Cuny (NCC): 5-13 FG (3-10 3PT), 3-3 FT; 16 pts, 7 reb (4 off). Jamie wasn't able to block a shot last night, but she picked up Anita's slack when she got cold from deep. She struggled early on, but started to hit her shots as the game went on, and was a relatively steadying force at the free throw line, something this team has lacked much of the year.
  • Emily Schultz (MIL): 14-21 FG, 1-2 FT; 29 pts, 8 reb (3 off), 1 blk. Schultz pretty much singlehandedly kept the Big Blue in the game. She was able to consistently get good looks out of traps, and despite some contested shots, was constantly hitting 10-foot jumpers. I do think she started to tire a little as the game went on as she started to miss a little bit, and eventually fouled out with about a minute and a half to play.
North Central System Watch
  • Millikin Turnovers: 35. This was one of two keys that kept Millikin from being able to get over the hump. They struggled all night against the press, getting a bunch of unforced turnovers, but the Cardinals were able to log 16 steals, led by three apiece from Sterling and Selena Juarez, while Natali Dimitrova and Maddie McHugh each recorded two. Millikin also turned the ball over on a pair of five second calls and a ten second call (though they probably should have had more five second calls; one of the baseline officials was ridiculously slow in his five count). This number is also a little padded by a backcourt violation on the Big Blue that was an atrocious call, as the Millikin player stole the ball and successfully navigated the time line.
  • NCC 3PT: 16-52 (30.8%). Given the team's struggles for significant stretches this season, I'll take a 30 percent night. This was actually the other factor that ensured the Cardinals emerged victorious last night. With Anita Sterling shooting incredibly well early on, the Cardinals got out to that early advantage, and they were able to hit some timely threes as the game went on.
  • NCC Charges Drawn: 1. Guess who? Anita Sterling drew one in the second quarter that drew some ire from Millikin coach Lori Kerans, who wanted the same calls down at the other end of the floor, where North Central was able to get to the line a couple times on plays that could have possibly been called charges against the Cardinals.
CCIW Scoreboard Watch
  • @ Wheaton 67 (17-4, 10-2), Augustana 63 (15-7, 8-5)
  • @ Elmhurst 75 (17-5, 9-4), Carthage 58 (12-9, 6-6)
  • Illinois Wesleyan 89 (15-6, 10-2), @ North Park 62 (11-11, 4-9)
    • North Park is eliminated from the CCIW Tournament.
  • BYE: Carroll (1-19, 1-11)
  • MBK: @ Augustana 72 (18-4, 11-2), NCC 66 (13-9, 7-6) (OT)
    • Augustana clinches a berth in the CCIW Tournament.
Final Thoughts
This one wasn't my best performance on the microphone, nor was it necessarily the best effort by the Cardinals, but they did a great job in the two key areas they need to to win games: three point shooting and forcing turnovers. Millikin never led despite keeping the game close for much of the night, and despite a sizable rebounding advantage, was only able to score seven second chance points. Credit the Cardinals for being able to lock things down defensively when they needed to.

This was a big win, but time is running out for the Cardinals, and the schedule doesn't get easier from here. There's still a home date with Carroll on Wednesday, but otherwise it's matchups with three tournament teams, with two of them coming on the road. The Cardinals need to win out and get a ton of help if they want to steal a tournament berth; they can't catch Wheaton or Wesleyan, and can tie Elmhurst, but they could make that regular season finale with Augustana end up as a fourth place game if they can step up. It starts on Saturday as the huge rivalry with Elmhurst is renewed on Senior Night.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

North Central and the NCAA Regional Rankings: Week 1 Edition

We're well into February, which means it's time for the NCAA to start thinking about the basketball tournaments. This means it's regional ranking time, and it's a topic I'm delving into for the third straight year.

Every season, the NCAA releases three sets of regional rankings, and computes a fourth that they use for the NCAA Tournament selection process, but the first batch of rankings was just released this afternoon.

With these in mind, I want to look at teams' shots at the postseason.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Super Bowl LI Predictions and Prop Bets

It's become a true tradition unlike any other: Super Bowl weekend, and Adam and I are scratching gambling itches without spending any money... or at least I am.

I don't remember what last year's results on this were, but two years ago I won pretty much solely based on the Gatorade bath taken by Bill Belichick. Hopefully I won't need that this year to win. Like in prior years, we're going to make our picks for the game and enjoy a few prop bets; many are game-based, but we're also going to do some extra curricular ones because those are fun.

But first, here are our Super Bowl LI predictions.