Wheaton hoping to break dry spell in competitive CCIW tourney
Wheaton College went to the Division 3 Final Four in 2019, but hasn't won a CCIW tournament title since 2014.
That's not uncommon, though. Last year, Elmhurst finished third in the standings and advanced all the way to the D3 title game.
"It's actually a sign of how good our league is," Wheaton coach Mike Schauer. "It's a pretty balanced league. I think it will be a very competitive weekend in which any of the four teams that are here will have a legitimate shot of winning."
As the top seed, Wheaton will host the CCIW semifinals and championship this weekend. The tournament starts Tuesday with a pair of games, North Central at Elmhurst and Illinois Wesleyan at Carthage.
The tournament winner gets an automatic berth in the Division 3 NCAA tourney.
Five different teams from the CCIW have gone to the Division 3 Final Four during the past nine years. Last season, three teams from the conference were invited to the 64-team NCAA Tournament.
The Thunder went 14-2 during the regular season behind conference player of the year Tyson Cruickshank, a 5-11 guard from Colorado. He averaged 19.6 points, 5 assists and shot 43% from 3-point range. Cruickshank and 6-7 forward T.J. Askew are both grad students.
"They're both very talented, but they're just older, so there's a maturity and a physicality and things like that those older players have," Schauer said. "That's an advantage. It's not unique to us, there's a lot of teams that have those players, but it's a little different than maybe teams looked like pre-COVID."
Askew transferred from Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in California, and helped Wheaton perfect its chemistry.
"We really do fit together and we need each other," Schauer said. "We have a great player in Tyson Cruickshank, so we've got a legitimate All-American star. But he needs Nick Schiavello to be the best perimeter defender on our team because Tyson is not very big. We're pretty versatile and athletic and can play a lot of different ways."
Wheaton's rotation players are from out of state, but plenty of local stars are thriving in the CCIW.
No. 5 seed North Central boasts the conference's leading scorer in 6-4 guard Ethan Helwig (Metea Valley), who is averaging 21.3 points. Teammate Mitch Lewis (Naperville North) ranks fifth in the league in scoring.
No. 3 Carthage also has two of the league's top scorers in 6-5 guard Filip Bulatovic (Maine South) and 6-3 sophomore A.J. Johnson (Oswego East).
No. 6 Illinois Wesleyan is led by a St. Charles connection -- 6-2 guard Lucas Heflin and 6-7 Cody Mitchell, who went to high school on opposite side of town. Huntley's Ryan Sroka is the team's third-leading scorer.
No. 4 Elmhurst is also led by local players. Junior guard John Ittounas (Stevenson), 6-3 guard Ocean Johnson (Leyden) and 6-2 Wesley Hooker (Downers Grove South) are the top three scorers.