Iowa Conference title at stake when BVU takes on Wartburg.
STORM LAKE - Way back in October when Buena Vista began preseason drills, its ultimate goal was to have a chance at getting back what they lost - the Iowa Conference championship.
Buena Vista won the crown in the 1999-2000 season, but Wartburg won it last year. The Beavers are poised to get it back from the Knights this season, but first they have to beat them.
The opportunity that was so coveted back in October comes tonight when Buena Vista plays host to Wartburg in a game that for all practical purposes will mean the conference title if the Beavers can win.
The men's game follows the women's game, which starts at 6 p.m.
Buena Vista has a one-game lead over Wartburg in the league standings. The Beavers are 12-1 in the conference after starting 11-0 and are 16-4 overall. The Knights are 11-2 in the league and 15-5 overall. They had won 10 straight conference games before last Friday's 80-55 loss to Coe. Wartburg rebounded with a win over Cornell on Saturday, the same Cornell team that beat Buena Vista the night before.
Buena Vista beat Wartburg 74-65 to open the conference season on Nov. 27 in Waverly. Since then, both teams have done nothing but win - until last Friday - when they both lost.
Tonight's game is more of a must-win for Wartburg than it is for Buena Vista. The Beavers can still share the crown even if they lose, but a Wartburg loss puts them in huge hole.
"It's certainly a game that's going to tell a lot about who the conference champ is going to be," Buena Vista coach Brian Van Haaften said. "This is the game that can get us a two-game lead in the league with four to go. That is what we're playing for. Before the season started, all we wanted was a chance to win the league. This is our chance for us to do what we set out to accomplish all year."
Wartburg starts Adam Sanchez and Dan Schuknecht at the guards, Mike Pipho and Jamie Norton at the forward positions, and Jake Olson at center. Pipho and Olson are the only two returning starters from last year's league title team. Pipho averages 14 points a game and Olson 12 a clip.
Several thoughts come to mind when Van Haaften assesses the Knights.
"The first thing I think of is they're a well-coached team," he said. "They're running their offense very well and they play excellent defense. Overall, fundamentally, they're very solid."
Wartburg leads the league in 3-point shots made, which is something the Beavers are going to have to try and contain.
"We need to make them earn their points offensively," Van Haaften said. "We can't give them easy baskets and free shots. I think they lead the league with 3s made, so I think we need to limit their wide-open looks on the arc."
Van Haaften just wants his own team to match their identity on offense.
"We want to play as we are," he said. "What we are is we're big and strong, and I think we want to play that kind of game - big, strong and physical. We also have to have balance on our team. We need to get production from all areas of the floor."