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North Central men’s basketball rises to No. 1 in Division III rankings

Frank D. Muscarello CEO Markitx works 1871 tech center Merchandise Mart Chicago Ill. Wednesday January 2 2013. | Andrew A.

Frank D. Muscarello, CEO, of Markitx works at the 1871 tech center in the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, Ill., on Wednesday, January 2, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 2, 2014 6:01PM

A holiday trip to the Classic in Las Vegas gave the North Central men’s basketball team a chance to bond, away from campus and the pressures of classwork.

Playing two high-quality opponents enabled the Cardinals to test themselves against a couple of different approaches to the game.

And by beating Ramapo 67-57 and Wisconsin-La Crosse 80-72 on Dec. 28-29 at South Point Arena, North Central earned a nice bonus: the No. 1 ranking among Division III basketball teams in the poll.

The Cardinals (12-0, 1-0) sit atop the poll, which was released before they whipped host Elmhurst 71-51 in their College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin opener Wednesday for the first time in school history. North Central rose from No. 3 by meeting different challenges from No. 10 Ramapo (9-1) and La Crosse (9-3).

‘‘They each gave us different looks that we will see from different opponents within our conference,’’ coach Todd Raridon said. ‘‘With Ramapo, it was their quickness, defensive pressure and their strength. They didn’t have the size . . . but they had 6-4, 6-5 and were more athletic. Their length bothered us some, and their quickness bothered us some. They trapped some. That, we had not seen.

‘‘La Crosse brings bigger size. They’re more physical, the typical Wisconsin state-school kind of play.’’

North Central handed Ramapo its first loss behind 17 points and 12 rebounds by Landon Gamble and 15 points from Derek Raridon. Against La Crosse, Aaron Tiknis scored 20 points, Raridon 19 and Gamble 18.

The Cardinals focused on taking care of business at a venue filled with potential distractions. The teams stayed at South Point, a full-service casino/resort and a favorite of Las Vegas locals. Its 4,600-seat arena is used for shows and sporting events.

‘‘Your bed check is probably earlier than it would be anywhere else on the road, there’s no doubt about that,’’ Todd Raridon said. ‘‘With a mature group, an older group like we have, you just hope that they would take more advantage of knowing what it takes to win on the road and what they have to do.

‘‘We have good kids, and I trust our upperclassmen to make sure everyone takes care of each other.’’

Raridon said he expects the trip to make North Central a better team.

‘‘I like any of our holiday trips . . . just because it gets our kids away from campus and gets them where they’re not in the routine of being in class and all that. But they’re with each other, so I like it from a bonding standpoint as a team. Then you play two quality opponents on a neutral floor.’’

As for Las Vegas and South Point, he said: ‘‘It really was nice. The rooms were nice. The arena was nice. Would we go back? Yes, definitely.’’

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