ROCK ISLAND — It has been an interesting few days for the Augustana men's basketball team.
On the good side, coach Grey Giovanine and the Vikings got what the veteran coach called tremendous news when the Vikings earned a No. 3 ranking in the initial NCAA Division III Central Region rankings. There are a number of positives that come from that, he said, including being in great position to earn a spot in the upcoming NCAA Division III National Tournament with or without the CCIW's automatic bid.
However, the Vikings, up four spots to No. 10 in this week's d3hoops national poll, also learned that the stretch run is going to be a lot more difficult. Sophomore center Micah Martin was diagnosed this week with a torn meniscus and will be sidelined for at least two weeks, according to the coach, before being re-evaluated.
“He's been playing great the last couple of games, so this is a significant setback,” said Giovanine, whose club finishes the regular season with home games Saturday (vs. North Park) and Tuesday (vs. Elmhurst) ahead of next weekend's CCIW Tournament. “He may require surgery and he may not. We're going to have to wait and see how his body responds with rest and rehab.
“Our doctors will make a decision that's in his best interest at the end of that time. Long-term health is the most important issue.”
That is a huge blow to the 18-5, 10-4 Vikings who are just a game behind league-leading Illinois Wesleyan (18-5, 11-3) and tied for second with Wheaton (17-6).
The Vikings have played nearly the entire season without top front-liner Pierson Wofford (out after MCL surgery). Freshman Carson Frakes is also questionable. The former Rockridge prep missed last Saturday's win at Millikin, where Martin was hurt in the second half, after spraining his ankle in Friday's practice and has not practiced this week.
That just continues the game of “big guy roulette” Giovanine has played all year looking for the right guys to step up at the right time. Eight guys have made contributions from the 4 and 5 spots.
“It's a significant setback, but we'll ask more of Donovan (Ferguson). We'll ask more of Roman Youngblut, who has done a real nice job the last couple of games," said Giovanine, who had also seen Moline sophomore Andy McLaughlin and senior A.J. Dollmeyer make significant contributions at times. “We just have to have all hands on deck. Everybody is going to have to do a little bit more on the front line. … We'll just have to keep moving the parts around and see how we can do.”
The region ranking helped ease the pain of Martin's injury.
“We're really pleased to be ranked that high in the region,” said Giovanine. “I think it's a great spot to be in going into the home stretch here. Obviously, our strength of schedule is second-best in the entire region (behind nationally 19th-ranked 16-7 UW-Stevens Point). We've got great wins against ranked teams – Wash-U., Stevens Point, Illinois Wesleyan, Wheaton. We're in a great position in terms of NCAA play.”
The Vikings are ranked regionally behind Washington University (20-2, ranked No. 2 in the latest D3hoops poll) and UW-Platteville (20-3, 6th-ranked nationally). Conference foes Wesleyan and Wheaton are ranked regionally behind the Vikings, based on strength of schedule.
There are two regional rankings left that will help determine NCAA Tournament logistics – this coming Tuesday and then again Feb. 25, the day after the CCIW Tournament and ahead of NCAA tournament bids.