Conference Challenge Preview
Seven games are featured in this year’s CCAA-Heartland Conference Challenge. The Heartland has won every challenge since its inception with the exception of one season when the two conferences tied at 4 wins apiece. However, the CCAA looks to be in the driver’s seat with this year’s challenge, as they feature four ranked teams to the Heartland’s two. The Heartland has reigned supreme as the top conference in D-II for nearly 10 seasons. Can the CCAA upend them this year?
Rockhurst (4-2) at Stanislaus (5-1)
Luthien has officially turned Stanislaus in the right direction, having led them to the National Tournament last season for the first time in 20 seasons. They’ve won five straight heading into The Challenge. This senior –laden squad has balance – four players are in double figures, with SG Sean Caison leading the way with 16 ppg.
“We are building a nice program,” said head coach luthien. “Although we won last year’s game by 10, we aren’t thinking about last year. In this business, you look forward, not backward. Rockhurst will be a nice challenge for us as we prepare for conference play in the always-challenging CCAA.”
Rockhurst has won 4 of its past 5 games and, like Stanislaus, puts four players in double figures per game. They are led by senior SG Rynaldo Leon. The battle of senior shooting guards on each team should be a nice highlight for this one.
Aragon refused to talk to the media in the required pre-Challenge press conference. He was fined $500.
Incarnate Word (4-2) at Chico (3-3)
After a girlfriend-swapping scandal plagued both programs, canceling last year’s Challenge between these two fine squads, this nice matchup is back on. Ryrun has put together a challenging non-conference schedule, and his game against a very good Chico program is no exception. Ryrun’s program has made four straight NT appearances, advancing past the first round in every one of them. Look for the starters to get the bulk of the minutes in this one. Incarnate Word is led by senior PF Jeff Richter (13.5 ppg, 5 rpg).
“It continues to be an honor to participate in the annual Conference Challenge,” said ryrun, who leads the series with Chico, 4 games to 2. “Other conferences think they can challenge the Heartland, but the true rivalry lies with the CCAA.”
Jrnyfan’s youth movement enters year two, and his sophomore class looks to “take the next step” with a win over Incarnate Word. Sophomore PF Jason Rittenberry leads the way with 19 ppg on 51% FG shooting. This one should be a tight game!
“Our team has taken a vow of celibacy for the season – not only with their girlfriends but with Incarnate Words’ girlfriends too,” said jrnyfan. “We will never outlaw weed on our campus – shoot, I’m stoned right now and listening to “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” by Journey– but we can focus more on scoring on the floor instead of the bedroom.”
Drury (4-2) at #3 The Hills (6-0)
Alblack’s squad looks to avenge last year’s close loss to The Hills by making the trek out to Compton for the third time since the Challenge began. Drury leads the series, 3 games to 2, but simpleton is poised to even up this matchup with his veteran squad. Drury is in the midst of a stretch where it plays the top 3 ranked teams in three consecutive days. It’s almost as if alblack wants to break his team mentally. Or maybe he’s preparing them for the grueling Heartland schedule.
“I am trying to break our team mentally,” said alblack. “This press conference is over.”
Simpleton’s Hill’s squad is full of seniors looking to take the program to new heights. Turnovers have been a problem thus far, but a balanced scoring attack has kept this team undefeated on the young season. The Hills are lead by the big-man duo of Clyde Ditullio (11.2 ppg) and Edison Starkweather (11 ppg).
“It is always fun to play al’s fine team,” said simpleton. “We also enjoy seeing the looks their Midwestern faces when they drive up to our open-air Compton Arena.”
#10 UC-San Diego (6-0) at West Florida (3-3)
Coachvegas has turned the Triton program into a winner in no time! Last season, his first in San Diego, resulted in the program’s first postseason bid in 13 seasons. This team is poised for much bigger success. A talented junior and senior class leads the way, and David Mitchell (19.5 ppg) is the star. This team can score points in bunches, so expect a high-flying game with West Florida.
Jacobwalls took his squad to the elite eight last season, and his seniors are thirsty for more success. A very challenging early-season schedule has this team at .500, but don’t let the record fool you. This team has the talent to make another deep postseason run. Three seniors are in double figures each night, with PF Howard Hardin (15 ppg, 11 rpg) leading the way. Last year these two teams battled at San Diego, with West Florida coming away with a tight win. Expect this one to be close too.
North Alabama (3-3) at #19 CSU-Los Angeles (5-1)
Robinhood’s program has fallen on hard times recently, missing out on the past two postseasons. But back-to-back road games against ranked teams, starting with the Challenge at LA, would put this team on track for a bid. Junior PG Todd Everly has started strong for robinhood, averaging 15 points and 6 assists per game in the early going.
“We are excited about returning to the Challenge this year,” said robinhood. “Although dirty runs a, ahem, dirty program out in LA, we are willing to sacrifice our decent southern morals for the good of the Conference Challenge.”
After a couple of down years, the LA program is right back in the thick of the conference title hunt, and a resulting postseason bid. Dirty has his customary balanced attack in play, with sophomore SG John Spencer pacing the scoring at 12.8 ppg. Senior PF Riley Armes is the star though, and LA’s success often hinges on Armes’ play.
“We’ve only lost one Challenge game in program history,” said head coach dirty. “Our guys know the history, and they are honored to continue our standard of excellence.”
#24 Pomona (5-1) at #20 St. Edwards (5-1)
The only Challenge affair featuring two ranked squads looks to be the highlight of the Challenge. On his sabbatical from his post in Switzerland working on the Higgs Boson, xatomsmasher has devoted his full attention to coaching basketball, and his work as paid off handsomely. Since taking over only two years ago, Pomona has made a second round NT appearance and an Elite Eight last year. Can he take this team to the Final Four this year? Three players average 10 points per game.
“The Large Hadron Collider is really just a hobby of mine,” said xatom. “My passion lies with basketball. It’s truly the God Particle that I’ve always searched for.”
St. Edwards seems to be in the top 25 every year that the Challenge rolls around. In fact, St. Edwards has never lost a Challenge game since it started. This is a tough matchup for gopokes, though, and xatom might smash his perfect record. However, gopokes has made at least the Sweet 16 in three of the past four seasons, so he has what it takes to compete against the best. The big-man/small-man combo has worked well for St. Edwards this year – senior center David Delao averages 16 ppg and 7 rpg while senior point guard Sam Trice averages 15.5 ppg and 2.8 spg.
“The fact that we are 1-point underdogs is a travesty,” said gopokes. “We have a better ranking and we are at home. AND we’ve never lost in The Challenge. No wonder the WIS Sportsbook is out of business!!!”
Sonoma State (3-3) at #11 Oklahoma Panhandle St. (4-2)
Bbunch heads back to his old stompin’ grounds to take on Panhandle State, his fourth Heartland team in non-conference play thus far this season. Senior PG Gary Matthews, the illegitimate child of former Cubs outfielder Gary Matthews, leads the team in scoring at 15.5 ppg. Bbunch has two victories over ranked teams already this season, and he’s aiming for his third in Panhandle State.
“It is an honor and a privilege to compete against another Heartland team, especially one I can beat.” said bbunch, who is in his second season at Sonoma State, after leaving Vanderbilt.
OPSU features a nice mix of upperclassmen and underclassmen on its path to a number 11 ranking. Head coach therewas47 has taken this program from a C+ prestige in his first year all the way to an A- in just 5 short seasons. Now in his 7th season, he’s coming off his first-ever Sweet 16 bid. The excellent senior SG Jason Papstein leads Panhandle with 15.8 ppg, 3 rpg, and 1.7 spg.
“We are excited to welcome back old conference whipping boy, bbunch,” said therewas47. “Although our paths never crossed in the Heartland, I’ve heard stories from al that he wasn’t too good a coach. We’re expecting to play our backups for much of the 2nd half.”