BELLEVILLE — With his Southwestern Illinois College basketball team in the throws of a late-season slump, Blue Storm coach Jay Harrington made a pledge to himself two weeks ago.
That pledge was to simply work harder.
"Mentally I just made a vow to myself that I would work harder than anyone in my program. I would watch more film than anyone. I would work harder in practice then anyone and I would do anything which fit the plan of making this team better so that no matter what happens I know that I did everything I could," Harrington said. "I did this with the hope that it would carry over to my players and so that when the season ends that I will be mentally stable."
Coming off an impressive 77-59 win in its regular-season finale against Kaskaskia College, SWIC enters its first round Region 24 game on Wednesday with a 20-10 record and as the No. 2 seed.
But with SWIC just 4-6 in its last 10 games, Harrington isn't making any bold postseason predictions.
"I don't know what's going to happen. I've said all year that this basketball team can beat any team in this region or it could lose to any team,'' Harrington said. "But I still believe that if this team plays the way its capable, that yes, we can go to the national tournament.''
SWIC's national tournament bid begins at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at Rend Lake College in Ina when it will take on either Southeastern Illinois College or Lincoln Trail
The game between No. 10 seed Southeastern Illinois and No. 7 seed Lincoln Trail was played on Monday.
Perennial national power Vincennes University (28-2) is the top seed, followed by SWIC, third seed John A. Logan (18-11) and No. 4 seed Wabash Valley (17-13).
Semifinals are set for 6 and 8 p.m. on Thursday with the Region 24 title game set for 7 p.m. on Friday. The Region 24 champion advances to the NJCAA National Tournament, March 13-18 at Hutchinson, Ks.
SWIC will face a tough first-round game no matter which team it plays. After winning against both Southeastern Illinois and Lincoln Trail College earlier in the season, SWIC lost at Lincoln Trail (75-64) and Southeastern Illinois (89-83) during its recent slump.
"Actually I like our first round matchup,'' Harrington said. "I'm still a little upset that we lost to either team and I would hope the kids feel the same way. Hopefully, it gives us a little extra motivation.''
University of Missouri recruit Keanu Post leads the SWIC offense. The 7-foot sophomore averages 12.5 points and 10 rebounds a game. Sophomore Tre Anderson also averages right around 12 points, while former Alton standout Tony Bradley is right about 10 points per game,
Anderson, a 6-4 guard, could be out of the lineup after suffering a severely sprained ankle late in the Blue Storm's win over Kaskaskia College.
"It would be a big loss for us if Tre can't go. He's been hobbling on it all day and if it's not better we're taking him to see Dr. (Rick) Lehman in St. Louis on Tuesday,'' Harrington said."But injuries are part of the game. That's why they call it a team game. If Tre can't play, one of his teammates will have to pick him up.''
Harrington also said that freshman point guard Luke Norman is done for the season and is expected to have back surgery in a few weeks.
While the loss of Norman and perhaps Anderson, are crucial, Harrington said once again that anyone of the eight teams could win the title.
"Vincennes is very good, but they're not unbeatable. They've lost twice in the region and we lost to them twice by a combined seven points," Harrington said. "But right now, we're not even looking at Vincennes. It's cliche, but we're just looking at each game as it comes.''
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or firstname.lastname@example.org