College Basketball: Southland players power North Central to No. 1 ranking in DIII
By Jeff Vorva For Sun-Times Media January 6, 2013 9:38PM
Former Lockport Township standout Landon Gamble chases down a ball for a steal against Wheaton Saturday night. Gamble is the leading scorer for North Central College, the No. 1 team in the country in Division III.
Updated: February 8, 2013 6:12AM
OK fellas, there is more hard work to be done.
The Jan. 1 DIIIhoops.com men’s basketball poll came out and North Central College was ranked No. 1 in the nation. It’s the first time in the 111-year history of the program that the Cardinals reached that level. Eight of the 16 players on the roster have south suburban or Joliet-area ties.
In their second game as the nation’s best, the Cardinals hosted bitter College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin rival and eighth-ranked Wheaton College on Saturday night in Naperville and promptly fell behind 28-25 at halftime. But the Cardinals rallied for a 44-point second half and won 69-55 in front of 2,050 fans.
Former Sandburg standout and Palos Hills native Vince Kmiec said that having that No. 1 ranking has some responsibility that goes with it.
“It makes our games that much more intense,” Kmiec said. “There are no off days. Every team is going to be doing everything it can to try to knock us off.”
On the other hand …
“Once you get that ranking, it’s really cool to have,” Kmiec added. “Once you get on the court, it’s just another game. But how many people can say they are ranked No. 1 in the nation? You have 400-some colleges but how many are No. 1?”
When the DIIIhoops.com site released the info on Tuesday, word spread quickly.
“I found out through word of mouth,” Lockport High School graduate Landon Gamble said. “Facebook people told me.”
“Some of us like to check the DIII hoops site,” Kmiec said. “We knew we were getting close to that No. 1 ranking. We were checking it a little bit.”
The rankings are voted on by 25 coaches, sports information directors or media members.
The team is 13-0, which is the best start to a season in school history. The Cardinals could tie their best winning streak ever of 14 games when they visit Carthage Wednesday.
The Cardinals are averaging 71.7 points per game and 36.3 rebounds yet no one is putting up monster numbers. No Cardinal averages 14 points or seven rebounds a game but four of the five starters average in double figures in scoring.
“We’re definitely an unselfish team,” Kmiec said. “It’s pretty impressive that we can come out and be as consistent as we have been.’’
Gamble, a 6-foot-6 Joliet native, is the leading scorer with 13.5 points per contest and pulls down 6.7 rebounds a game. The junior is productive for averaging just 22.2 minutes a game.
Plainfield native and former Neuqua Valley star Derek Raridon, the son of head coach Todd Raridon, is averaging 12.7 points, and the senior is second on the team with 36 assists.
Kmiec, a junior, averages 11.5 points per game and nailed a team-high 21 3-pointers and has a team-high 28 steals.
Former Bloom Township star Brandon Williams has 13 starts and doesn’t shoot much but the junior has 33 assists and 15 steals and pulls down 4.5 rebounds per game.
Providence Catholic’s Jack Burchett of Mokena is an inside presence off the bench as the 6-6 sophomore averages 5.1 points per game.
Other area members of the squad include Sam Mampe (Lincoln-Way Central), David Fuller (Thornwood) and Ben Heide (Minooka).
Last year, the Cardinals had a nice postseason run, making it to the Sweet 16 of the DIII tourney and reached No. 17 in the rankings. This year they opened the season at No. 6.
“Last year I don’t think we were ranked at all during the regular season,” Kmiec said. “Coming into the year we never thought we would be ranked very high but when the first rankings came out and we were sixth or seventh, it was surprising to us. When it came to No. 1 — why not?”
Gamble and Kmiec were rivals in the SouthWest Suburban Blue wars of the past.
“I love playing with these guys,” Gamble said. “I’ve been playing against Vince in high school. It’s good to be on the same side with him.”
“He’s lucky he gets to play with me,” Kmiec joked.
Life is fun around the Naperville campus. But where can the Cardinals go from here? After last year’s postseason, they want to advance a few more games in the playoffs.
“We have to continue to work hard,” Gamble said. “That’s what got us here. If we continue to do that, the sky’s the limit.”