The Augustana Vikings have some work to do to ensure that Saturday's 65-58 loss to Carthage won't be their last turn at Carver PE Center this year.
Despite opening their season with a school record-matching 20 straight wins, the Vikings lead North Central by a game-and-a-half in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin race.
If they can hold their lead through the season's final four games, they will host the conference tournament Feb. 25-26.
But, due to a change that put Augustana's academic calendar in conflict with the rest of the CCIW in recent years, the Vikings will have to get the job done on the road.
"Four tough road games," coach Grey Giovanine said Monday of a run that starts with fourth-place Wheaton on Wednesday, then takes the team to Millikin on Saturday. After a weeklong break for trimester finals, the Vikings face second-place North Central and third-place Illinois Wesleyan on Feb. 19 and Feb. 22, respectively.
That's four straight on the road, three against the next three teams in the standings, crews with a combined record of 41-20.
"We originally were scheduled to play Illinois Wesleyan at home during our final exams," Giovanine said. "Last year, for the first time in our history, we played during final exams, and it really did a disservice to our kids.
"You interrupt the academic process, which is just wrong. It's against the Division III model."
When the Vikes proposed rescheduling the Wesleyan game to the Tuesday before the conference tourney, the Bloomington, Ill., school agreed only on the condition that it would host.
That's why the Vikings hosted the Titans as part of a three-game homestand in late January and now play the last three weeks of the season away from Carver.
"We have a bad academic calendar for men's basketball," Giovanine said. "It's just the way it is."
The Vikings definitely want to come home for the conference tourney, Giovanine said, even if students will be away on a break that week.
The tournament winner gets an automatic bid to the 61-team Division III tournament.
"We have had such great community support that playing on our homecourt certainly would give us a real advantage," Giovanine said.
The Vikings certainly don't want to let a special season slip away in the final month.
Giovanine said his club reacted well to the first loss of the season Saturday.
"I thought they had a good demeanor," he said. "They were certainly disappointed, as was I. But we also talked about setting our sights on what lies ahead and getting ready for that challenge. And that's what I expect us to do."