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Loras vs. Nebraska Wesleyan, 1.5

Nebraska Wesleyan’s Cooper Cook (30) drives past Loras' Jordan Matthews (24) in the first half Jan. 5 at Snyder Arena.

If the top-ranked Nebraska Wesleyan men’s basketball team wants more postseason games at Snyder Arena, the Prairie Wolves probably need to win their next home game — the American Rivers Conference championship against No. 18 Loras at 7 p.m. Saturday.

NWU Athletic Director Ira Zeff said the school has put a bid in to host the first two rounds of the 64-team NCAA Division III national tournament, and an NWU victory securing the conference’s automatic bid would enhance its chances.

If the defending national champion Wolves win and repeat in winning the conference tournament, “I’m pretty sure we’re going to host, but I don’t know for sure,” Zeff said.

The first two rounds of the tournament are scheduled for next Friday and Saturday. The brackets will be released Monday.

While NWU (25-1) has been ranked No. 1 in the D3hoops.com Top 25 poll all but one week this season, Zeff said a different criteria is used to determine the regional ratings in which Wesleyan is second behind Whitman, which is No. 2 in the national poll.

The NWU athletic director said the selection committee puts more stock into the regional ratings than the national. After the top teams have been identified, four-team regionals are put together to limit plane flights by the participating schools, using a 500-mile rule as a guide.

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“They try to do it as objectively as they can,” Zeff said.

Loras, which handed Wesleyan an 84-76 road loss on Jan. 26, comes into Lincoln on the heels of a 93-78 win over Dubuque in Thursday’s semifinals. In that game, Josh Ruggles scored 23 points to lead five Duhawks in double figures.

Ruggles, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, had 27 points and seven of Loras’ 15 three-pointers in the win over Wesleyan last month. NWU won the first meeting this season 89-71 at Snyder Arena on Jan. 5, a game in which Ruggles was held to three points and the Prairie Wolves were without two starters — juniors Nate Schimonitz and Jack Hiller.

Schimonitz, a 6-4 junior All-American guard, did not play in NWU’s 85-80 semifinal win over Simpson on Thursday night because of a sinus infection. Hiller, the 6-6 junior, is beginning to hit his stride after missing nine games with a broken foot. He scored a team-high 19 points in the win over Simpson.

Loras (21-5) not only has a win over NWU, the Duhawks have also beaten No. 3 Augustana this season.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7437 or rpowell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @ronpowell_ljs.

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Sports reporter

Ron Powell is a longtime prep writer for the Journal Star. He covers high school football, boys basketball and track as well as state college football and Husker and professional tennis.

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