No matter what angle one decides to look at Wednesday’s game, it’s a big one. Whether it’s from the rivalry standpoint, or the fact that both teams boast a top-20 ranking or the impact it will likely have in determining the Region IX North Divisional race, Sheridan College’s matchup with Casper College carries quite a bit of weight.
The challenge for SC head coach Matt Hammer is not so much diminishing the importance of Wednesday’s game but rather having his team hone in on each step necessary to put itself in the best position to win the impactful contest.
“We want our guys to not worry about rankings, to not worry about bids, to not worry about hosting anything,” Hammer said. “We want our guys to focus on dominating the possession that they’re currently playing, whether that’s against Western Wyoming or Casper or whoever it may be. That’s how we approach it.”
Both Casper and Sheridan own a top-20 ranking in the latest National Junior College Athletic Association poll.
The Thunderbirds checked in at No. 10, while the Generals laid claim to the No. 18 spot — the most recent poll was released Tuesday afternoon after press time.
Even though it’s a couple months away, Wednesday’s contest could serve as a significant game when it comes to selecting and seeding teams for the national tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas. One of the areas of criteria the selection committee is in charge of looking at is strength of schedule and quality wins and Wednesday’s tilt will certainly encompass that.
“I think it’s huge, to be honest,” SC’s Adham Eleeda said. “We beat them and we are in a good place in terms going to Hutch. So it’s a good game. Coach is going to prep us right and then we just have to focus on the game plan.”
Sheridan and Casper can avoid the tensions of needing an at-large bid by simply claiming Region IX’s automatic bid, which is awarded to the winner of the conference tournament. And that’s another reason Wednesday is so important. The Region IX North Division champion — which SC claimed last season — will host the conference tournament this year.
The Generals and Thunderbirds enter the game against one another with similar resumes. Both started Region IX play off with two victories — SC edged Eastern Wyoming College and dominated Western Wyoming Community College, while Casper downed Central Wyoming College and Laramie County Community College.
Sheridan and Casper have just one loss on the season and both occurred against ranked foes. The Generals fell to No. 23 Western Nebraska Community College where the Thunderbirds lost to No. 13 College of Southern Idaho.
SC averages 101 points per game and is led by Adham Eleeda who pours in 15.5 points per contest, and he receives plenty of help. Cam Reece adds 12.6 points per contest, while AJ Bramah and bench player Javari Christmas chip in 12.6 and 12.5 points per game.
Casper averages 107 points per game, and is paced by Isaac Bonton who tallies 21.3 points per contest. Five other Thunderbirds average double figures, as well.
“They’re super talented,” Hammer said. “They are super athletic, they’re deep and they can hurt in a ton of different ways. They can go inside, they can go outside, they can penetrate and they got guys that can knock down 3s. And the biggest thing with them is they play hard on defense.”
The two teams split last season’s pair of matchups — an occurrence that has happened three of the last four years. The Thunderbirds carry a 14-game win streak, while the Generals have won their last five.
One streak will continue and one will come to an end in Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. top-20 tilt.