Central Christian College men’s basketball coach Tony Romero didn’t really know what to expect prior to the season since he had to replace his entire talented starting five off a team that compiled a 19-win season.
The Tigers, though, have winged away to a 14-2 start, the only losses coming to McPherson College and No. 1-ranked Embry-Riddle of Florida. Among their wins is a four-point decision over Bethany College, which is a serious contender for the KCAC championship.
“I am proud of our guys’ nonconference performance,” said Romero, who has averaged 20 wins a year during his CCC tenure. “Coming into the year, a lot of people were not giving us much of a chance because of so many new faces and our inexperience, but this group is special — the way they care for each other and their eagerness to improve.”
The Tigers have been led by Aaron Miller, the steely point guard who has tried to shepherd his younger teammates. He is a scoring point guard, dropping in 21.8 points a game to rank second in the MCAC and tops the conference in assists with 5.5 a game.
This is also a deep Tiger team, as the bench sometimes scores as many points as the starters. Nathan Fort, Michael Gholston, Kris Quant and Sam Clayborn have had some big games in relief of the starters.
But now it’s time to play for keeps. The Tigers begin play in the rugged Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference here this weekend, hosting Waldorf College on Friday, then 14th-ranked Bellevue is here Saturday.
“Not many people remember your nonconference record, what matters now is how will we perform in our conference?” Romero said. “As in other years, the MCAC will be brutal.”
Romero realizes the Tigers will have to take their game to the next level if they hope to qualify for the NAIA National Tournament, where MCAC teams have excelled in the past.
“It will be important we start defending a little better than we have the last five games,” Romero said. “There definitely will be no guarantee wins in conference play. Every night will be a tough game. We need to start off on the right foot. It is critical you protect your home court if you are going to have a chance.”
Waldorf already has fired the first MCAC salvo by starting the conference season knocking off Bellevue in a shocker, 83-73. The Warriors bring a 7-5 overall record into Friday’s game while it dropped the Bruins to 13-4 and caused them to tumble five spots Tuesday in the NAIA poll. Waldorf earlier this season played then-No. 1 Cardinal Stritch within 10 points, 66-56.
• LADY TIGERS SEEK .500 MARK — When the Central women host Waldorf Friday, they'll be trying to get back to the .500 mark overall.
Waldorf might be the best possible opponent the Lady Tigers could open MCAC play with. The Warriors have struggled mightily with a 2-10 record, though they are fresh off a 79-51 victory over Crown College.
Central is coming off an 85-84 victory over Hillsdale Baptist, a game in which Quamisha Spence scored 32 points and cleaned the glass for 20 rebounds. For that game as well as her performance against Manhattan Christian College, she was named the MCAC Player of the Week.
CCC has no bargain on Saturday when it hosts College of St. Mary. The Flames are 10-4 and ranked No. 12 in the country.
Game times Friday are 5:30 (women) and 7:30 (men), while Saturday's games are at 3 p.m. (women) and 5 p.m. (men).