In a mid-major conference like the Summit League, the opportunity to make the NCAA Tournament usually comes down to one run late in the season.
Despite the limitation in postseason potential, the door is seemingly always open for squads to emerge once conference play begins. Western Illinois is attempting to fit that role as the month of January hits its stride.
At 12-3 overall, the most impressive part of WIU’s hot start is that of their 5-0 conference record. Senior forward Terell Parks has emerged as a more-than-solid low post threat, averaging 13.1 points and 9.2 rebounds per game thru the team’s first 15 contests. On the perimeter, Ceola Clark IIIhas countered Parks’ efforts and production, giving the Leathernecks quite the one-two combination.
The Leathernecks’ overall resume is not one that will jump out at the NCAA Tournament committee come March, but its their production and potential that is cause for attention. There is no doubt that the race for supremacy within the Summit League could come down to a trio of teams and Western Illinois is one of them.
The tipping point for the Leathernecks however, will come down to their ability to produce and make some noise against the other two viable threats within the league. That of course being both North Dakota State and South Dakota State.
SDSU has formulated themselves as the favorite within the league thanks to a difficult non-conference slate and the production of Nate Wolters, while NDSU is the only other team aside from WIU to not have suffered a conference loss yet.
At 5-0 in the Summit League, WIU is currently positioned atop the conference, but it’s a brutal three-day, two-game stretch in mid-January that could create a domino effect. Western Illinois, with its increasing hype, will play host to both SDSU and NDSU in that order on both Jan. 17 and Jan. 19, respectively.
Should the Leathernecks make their move during that stretch, the impact on the league and its potential postseason berth could lie heavily in favor of WIU for the time being.
Long story short, it’s time to keep an eye on the emergence of Western Illinois and the potential threat that they can have within conference play. Should the stout defensive-minded squad have continued success, then we may be talking about a push for their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history.
Paul Seaver is the College Basketball Network Manager at Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter: @PaulSeaverRS