BY CHAD DARE
No team has been hotter than the Danville Area Community College Jaguars heading into this weekend’s NJCAA Region 24 Tournament.
Danville Area Community College, rated No. 2 in the latest NJCAA Division II Poll, is riding a 15-game winning streak heading into today’s quarterfinal contest against the Lincoln Land Loggers.
“We’ve had a heck of a ride this season and it’s been, by far, my favorite group to be around — on and off the court,’’ DACC coach Mike Carpenter said. “They are a lot of fun, but they also work hard and they play together.
“We understand just because we had a good regular season, it doesn’t guarantee us postseason success.’’
If the Jaguars (27-3) want to make a second straight appearance in the NJCAA Division II National Tournament, they will need to win three games in three days.
“It’s go hard or go home, right now,’’ said DACC sophomore Evan Blackmon. “No team wants to lose and we know that every team is going to be giving it their all.’’
And what about making a return trip to the National Tournament to be held once again on DACC’s home court on March 19-23?
“That’s very important to us and the community,’’ Blackmon said. “Right now, it’s about going hard, giving it all we got and staying focused on the task at hand.
“Last year’s success was cool, but we want to go farther than that this year.’’
And the first step toward their goal is beating the team that DACC defeated in the Region championship game last year.
The Lincoln Land Loggers (15-15) who are coached by former DACC assistant Chad Jones.
And a year ago, Lincoln Land pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the Region tournament beating Lincoln, the two-time defending National Champions, in the semifinals.
“We’re not making any comparisons to last year, because that’s not fair to this group,’’ Carpenter said. “But, I’m sure the sophomore guys will remember what happened last year.
“We’ve focused all of our attention on beating Lincoln Land this week.’’
While DACC is rated No. 2 in the nation, the Jaguars enter their own Region 24 Tournament seeded No. 2 behind Rend Lake, which is 24-3 and ranked No. 12 in the NJCAA Division II Poll.
DACC even beat Rend Lake 66-62 on Feb. 6, but because of a quirk in the seeding process, the Warriors gained the higher seed basically because of their conference being most Division I schools while the Jaguars play in the Division II Mid-West Athletic Conference.
“I didn’t show these guys a bracket, I didn’t tell them who we would play if we won, and I didn’t tell them anyone seeds. I just said we play Lincoln Land. That’s been our approach all season,’’ said Carpenter, pointing out that it wasn’t a big deal for him or most of his players.
Eight of DACC’s 12 players on the roster played Indiana high school basketball where postseason tournaments are not seeded. The pairings are determined by a blind draw.
“I think that absolutely helps. They are used to that style and that format,’’ Carpenter said. “You just laced them up and played who they put you against, regardless of their size or their ranking.
“That’s kind of the approach that we’ve taken to this Region tournament — in our eyes it was a blind draw.’’
But, being the No. 2 ranked team in the Nation will bring plenty of attention to the Jaguars.
“Every team is going to give it their all,’’ said Blackmon. “They have nothing to lose. We have a big target on our backs. We are going to give it a fight.’’
Both the 15 consecutive wins and the 27 victories overall are new school records at DACC, which has been ranked in the top-20 all year.
“We’ve known we had a huge target on our backs all year,’’ Carpenter said. “These guys have stayed grounded, stayed humble and hungry.’’
Now, they have to do something never done before Region 24 Tournament history — win three games in three days to advance to Nationals.
“We scheduled two tournaments early in the season that had the same format,’’ Carpenter said. “We won the Triton Tournament, knocking off three top-20 teams in the process. So, we knew we had the depth to do it.
“Than we won the consolation championship at Lake Land, playing three straight games. Our guys understand what it’s going to take to get the job done.’’
And that means doing the same thing they have done all year — playing defense and rebounding.
“If we rebound like we can and play defense like we can — it will go good for us this weekend,’’ Blackmon said.
The Jaguars hold a slight rebounding advantage (39.0-37.1) over their opponents this year, and DACC is holding its opposition to just 40.5 percent shooting.
“There are teams in this Region that if we don’t keep off the glass, they can beat you,’’ Carpenter said. “We’re skilled enough and talented enough that we will score points.
“We don’t want to get into trading baskets with anyone, because if you do that for three days, someone will eventually score more than you.’’
Today’s quarterfinal contest will tip off at approximately 4 p.m. Friday’s action begins with Illinois Central playing Lincoln at 2 p.m. and it will conclude with John Wood facing Parkland College at 6 p.m.
Saturday’s semifinals are set for 1 and 3 p.m., while Sunday’s championship game will tip off at 2 p.m.