Men's College Basketball

Trail Blazers confident heading into Region 24 Tournament

John Wood's Mason Schlotzhauer (3) splits the North Central College defense for a layup during their game Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, at the JWCC Student Activity Center. | H-W Photo/Phil Carlson
Phil Carlson 1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 8, 2018 12:01 am Updated: Mar. 8, 2018 11:20 pm

QUINCY -- To get his players focused on the task ahead, John Wood Community College men's basketball coach Brad Hoyt decided to revisit the past.

That meant taking a road trip across town.

As part of Wednesday's scheduled shootaround, Hoyt and the Trail Blazers visited the old CYO Gym located at Seventh and Broadway. John Wood played its home games there prior to moving to an on-campus facility, and the building remains filled with memories.

It's where the path to national success started.

"I wanted to show these guys where we've been and where we want to be," Hoyt said.

That would be playing in the NJCAA Division II national tournament for the third time in the last five years. All it takes is two victories against a loaded field in the Region 24 Tournament taking place this weekend at Mary Miller Gym in Danville, Ill.

JWCC is the No. 1 seed, courtesy of winning the MidWest Athletic Conference regular-season championship, and receives a first-round bye. The Trail Blazers (20-10) will face either fourth-seeded Lincoln (22-6) or fifth-seeded Illinois Central (10-16) at 1 p.m. Saturday in the semifinals.

The championship game is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday.

"The No. 1 seed brings an expectation," Hoyt said. "I don't know if that brings pressure necessarily, but it does bring an expectation. We want to be playing on Sunday, and we expect to give an effort that can get us there."

Such a task won't be easy for anyone involved.

Four teams in the region tournament have been ranked in the NJCAA Division II national poll this season with Lincoln climbing as high as No. 2 and Parkland reaching as high as No. 3.

Parkland is No. 8 in the latest poll, while Danville is No. 14. John Wood and Lincoln are both receiving votes.

"It is a really deep field and I think we're all pretty similar," Hoyt said.

In fact, Parkland lost to Lincoln Land, seeded sixth in the region, by nine points at home in the regular-season finale.

"It will be one of those things where it will be a battle each day and each game," Hoyt said.

That might make having a first-round bye beneficial. Hoyt can't be sure.

"On Sunday, if you can figure out a way to get there, it's an advantage," Hoyt said. "But I don't know if there's an advantage going into Saturday. As coaches, we can overthink that stuff. At the end of the day, you have to play your best against the team across from you whether you've played the last two days, the last day or not at all.

"All I know is it makes a coach nervous when everybody else is doing one thing and you're doing something different."

If he can avoid overthinking things, Hoyt is confident his players can get the job done.

John Wood is 11-4 in the second half of the season and has won eight of its last 10 games. In that stretch, the Trail Blazers beat Parkland by a point, Danville by four points and Lincoln by five.

"You pull confidence from the things you've done," Hoyt said. "What this group has done is find ways to win games in a multitude of ways in the last month and a half. We've found a way to win and it hasn't always been pretty. At this time of year, when you get into a win-or-go-home, you want guys who are winners and find a way to win.

"It gives you some confidence, but it also makes you kind of nervous getting one- or two-possession games in a tough environment. But I have some confidence in our guys' ability to play in the final two minutes of a semifinal of a region tournament, tie game or one-possession game. We feel very comfortable in that situation."