CHICAGO - Winners of 61 of its last 62 regular-season conference games and nine straight league playoff matchups, three-time Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Division II Tournament champion and defending NAIA national champion Cardinal Stritch University is again the favorite to four-peat when the 10-team conference tournament opens up Monday night. The league office announced the pairings early Sunday evening. Cardinal Stritch's last post-season defeat in the CCAC Tournament came in the 2010 championship game at the hands of Judson University, 70-65, on Feb. 27. As for the Wolves' only regular-season loss in that three-plus-year span, Saint Xavier University provided that one blip with a 66-62 win on January 19, 2013.
That and a perfect 19-0 conference mark this year as well as a 27-3 overall record leading to the No. 1 ranking nationally is what puts head coach Drew Diener's club as the favorite again this time around. Nonetheless, the Wolves' current 16-game winning streak has been tested throughout with overtime victories against both University of St. Francis (Jan. 15) and Trinity Christian College (Feb. 15), not to mention Olivet Nazarene University and Robert Morris University playing Cardinal Stritch to six points or less in the past two weeks.
Robert Morris, which is ranked No. 22 in the latest NAIA Coaches' Poll, also dropped a one-point decision (76-75) to the Wolves back on Dec. 7. That leaves the Eagles (22-8, 13-6 CCAC) as a legitimate shot to dethrone the three-time defending champions.
There is also Saint Xavier University (26-4, 16-3) to contend with as the Cougars' only league setbacks have come twice to Cardinal Stritch and once against Robert Morris. SXU, which met Cardinal Stritch in last year's tournament championship game, is ranked No. 7 in this week's national poll and placed second in the CCAC North Division.
Cardinal Stritch, Saint Xavier and Robert Morris make up a formidable threesome in the CCAC North Division, but one cannot forget Olivet Nazarene University, which won nine of its last 10 regular-season games in rallying to claim the CCAC South Division crown. The Tigers enter the tournament at 16-12 overall after finishing 14-5 in league play.
Others in the mix include Roosevelt University (14-15, 6-13) out of the North Division and Holy Cross College (20-10, 13-6), St. Francis (15-14, 12-7) and Purdue University Calumet (19-10, 11-8) out of the South Division. The two wildcard teams both come from the South in Indiana University South Bend (12-17, 8-11) and Calumet College of St. Joseph (14-15, 6-13).
The week-long tournament begins with a pair of play-in games on Monday. Calumet St. Joseph goes just down the road to face Purdue Calumet with Indiana South Bend traveling to meet Roosevelt. The winners of those two contests get the opportunity to knock off the top seeds from each division on Wednesday. The Indiana South Bend-Roosevelt winner heads to Bourbonnais to meet Olivet Nazarene, while the Calumet St. Joseph-Purdue Calumet winner gets Cardinal Stritch.
Also on Wednesday, Saint Xavier hosts St. Francis and Robert Morris travels to Holy Cross.
The highest remaining seed after Wednesday's quarterfinal-round contests hosts both the semifinal games as well as the championship match on Friday and Saturday, respectively, with game times for those contests to be determined.
The winner of the CCAC Tournament punches its ticket to the NAIA National Championship March 12-18 in Point Lookout, Mo., along with top-seeded Cardinal Stritch, which gained the conference's other automatic bid by winning the regular season for the sixth consecutive year. Should the Wolves also with the conference tournament, the second automatic bid would go to the tournament runner-up.
The complete tournament schedule is listed below:
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 24
Game #1: WC Indiana South Bend (12-17) at ND #4 Roosevelt (14-15) --- 7 pm CT
Game #2: WC Calumet St. Joseph (14-15) at SD #4 Purdue Calumet (19-10) --- 7 pm CT
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 26
Game #3: Winner-Game #1 at SD #1 Olivet Nazarene (16-12) --- 7:30 pm CT
Game #4: SD #3 St. Francis (15-14) at ND #2 Saint Xavier (26-4) --- 7 pm CT
Game #5: Winner-Game #2 at ND #1 Cardinal Stritch (27-3) --- 7:30 pm CT
Game #6: ND #3 Robert Morris (22-8) at SD #2 Holy Cross (20-10) --- 6 pm CT
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 28
(All games at site of highest remaining seed among the four teams)
Game #7: Winner-Game #3 vs. Winner-Game #4 --- TBA
Game #8: Winner-Game #5 vs. Winner-Game #6 --- TBA
SATURDAY, MARCH 1 (at site of Friday's highest seed)
Game #9: Winner-Game #7 vs. Winner-Game #8 --- TBA
For a tournament bracket, go to: www.ccacsports.com/d/MBKB_Tournament_Bracket_2014.pdf