- By David Jablonski Staff Writer
Coach Matt Croci never envisioned a season like this for the Wittenberg Tigers. No one did.
North Coast Athletic Conference coaches voted the team third in the preseason poll. The Tigers didn’t enter the national rankings until Jan. 1. Since then, they’ve climbed from No. 17 to No. 10 to No. 5 to No. 3 in the most recent poll released by D3Hoops.com on Monday.
“We lost a lot,” Croci said. “We were young. A lot of new faces. We spent so much time talking about ourselves and fundamentals and really competing every day. That’s where the focus started. Then when we started to see some results, we made sure we didn’t change our approach, that it was, ‘Let’s get back to practice every day. Let’s focus on good preparation and a scouting report and playing together.’ We don’t talk about our record. We don’t talk about a streak of winning games because that’s not what’s important.”
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That streak has generated plenty of talk outside the Wittenberg locker room, however. The Tigers improved to 17-0 and 10-0 in the North Coast Athletic Conference with an 87-58 victory over Allegheny on Saturday in Meadville, Pa. They seek their 18th victory at 7 p.m. Wednesday against DePauw at Pam Evans Smith Arena.
Here are 10 fun facts about Wittenberg’s streak:
1. Few left: Two unbeaten teams lost last week, leaving Wittenberg as one of two remaining undefeated teams in NCAA Division III. No. 1 Whitman College (17-0) is the other. There are no unbeaten teams remaining in Division I. Division II has two unbeaten teams: West Liberty University (17-0) and Morehouse College (16-0).
2. Long streak: This is Wittenberg’s first double-digit win streak since 2013-14 when it won 11 games in a row. That team finished 21-8.
3. Few veterans: Wittenberg is winning with a starting lineup that includes one senior: post Chad Roy, who leads the team with 15.4 points per game. Two other seniors are on the roster: post Chris Sloneker has appeared in 10 games, and guard Logan Boyd has played in five games.
4. Rare company: This streak has eclipsed the best run by Wittenberg’s national runner-up team in 2006. That team won 13 straight and finished 30-4.
5. Major improvement: The streak is more than three times longer than the team’s longest winning streak last season (five games), which was Croci’s first season.
Wittenberg needs one win to match its overall win total and NCAC win total from last season when it finished 18-9 and finished in fourth place with an 11-7 league mark.
6. Freshman contributions: Forward James Johnson (9.2 points per game) and guard Landon Martin (7.4) and Rashaad Ali-Shakir (3.7) rank among the team’s top eight scorers.
7. Bigger goal: Wittenberg still has a chance to match the 1993-94 team for the longest winning streak in school and NCAC history by starting 26-0.
That was Bill Brown’s first season as head coach and Croci’s senior season. The Tigers finished 30-2 and placed third in the NCAA tournament.
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8. Eight more: No NCAC team has won all 18 conference games since the conference moved to an 18-game schedule in 2013-14. Wittenberg was the last team to go undefeated in conference play with a 16-0 mark in 2003-04.
9. Dominant performances: Wittenberg is not only winning, it’s winning big more often than not. The Tigers have won 13 games by double digits and eight in a row. They have won eight games by at least 20 points.
Wittenberg ranks 17th in the nation in scoring margin (plus 17.5). It beat three teams picked to finish in the top four of the preseason poll — Wooster, Ohio Wesleyan and Denison — by a combined 64 points
10. Strong shooters: Roy and sophomore forward Connor Seipel rank first and second in the NCAC in field-goal percentage (63.2 and 62.5, respectively). Sophomore guard Jake Bertemes (53.7) and Johnson (51.9) rank seventh and eighth.
Sophomore guard Jordan Pumroy (43.9) and junior point guard Mitchell Balser (43.0) rank among the top-10 3-point shooters.