The North Coast Athletic Conference might have the tightest race in all of college basketball.
Wittenberg finds itself in a four-way tie for first place with seven regular-season games to play. Two straight losses by the defending champion, fifth-ranked Wooster, have given hope to No. 17 Ohio Wesleyan, No. 18 Wittenberg and No. 23 DePauw. They’re all 9-2 in NCAC play.
“It’s just real interesting for sure,” Wittenberg coach Bill Brown said Friday. “I think all four teams have shown they’re good teams, too. I’m just a one game at a time guy. I can’t shut out the people around me talking. Ohio Wesleyan, they’re done with Wooster and have DePauw and Wittenberg coming to their place, so they have to feel good if they think that far in advance.”
Wittenberg, which hosts Denison (8-10, 4-7) at 3 p.m. today, has the toughest remaining schedule of the four teams. It plays at Ohio Wesleyan next Wednesday, hosts DePauw on Feb. 12 and plays at Wooster on Feb. 15.
Wooster is already finished with Ohio Wesleyan and DePauw, having split with both. DePauw plays at Wittenberg and at Ohio Wesleyan.
The Tigers (15-3 overall) have won three games in a row against Kenyon (66-54), Allegheny (61-43) and Wabash (70-50) since losing back-to-back games to DePauw (72-46) and Wooster (69-62).
“We’ve found ways to play very good basketball,” Brown said. “And that’s not even with all our front-line players playing good basketball. Zack Leahy has really struggled for eight games now. It’s good we can play good basketball without hitting on every single one of our cylinders.”
Leahy scored in double figures in six of the first nine games, but is averaging 6.0 points in the last eight games. He ranks third on the team in scoring with 9.6 points per game on the season. Scott Masin continues to lead the way with 15.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
Wittenberg is also getting valuable contributions from the bench. Justin McDowell had eights points in 17 minutes Wednesday against Wabash, and the Tigers got 30 points from the bench in all. Brock Kiesler had six of the bench’s 21 points in the previous game at Allegheny.
“Justin’s played great all year long,” Brown said. “There were stretches in the second half where we played him and Steven Newell together because Justin was playing so well. Really, everyone off the bench has had their moments of late.”