Every player on Warren Wilson College men's basketball team has known since October where he planned to be when the regular season came to an end.
To get to the United States Collegiate Athletic Association Men's Division II National Championship Tournament in Uniontown, Pennsylvania later this month, the Owls will need to play better defense.
With six games remaining in the regular season, Warren Wilson was ranked number 7 in the USCAA Men's D-II Basketball Coaches Poll released on Jan. 24. The postseason tournament, hosted by Penn State Fayette, is made up of 10 teams.
A number 7 ranking isn't as great as it seems, Owls head coach Anthony Barringer believes. "We're in a decent place, but we're still not safe by any means," he said. "As long as we win, we're good."
Wins haven't been automatic for Warren Wilson this season so far. The Owls dropped back-to-back home contests against Bob Jones University and Piedmont International University on Jan. 30 and Feb. 3, respectively.
The team's 11-11 record would be different if the Owls were focused on playing defense consistently, Barringer said.
"I'd like to believe I'm the only coach in the country with the issue of players who don't want to guard," he said. "But I'm not. It's not like my guys aren't capable of guarding, it's just hard. Our style of play makes it even harder."
The Owls have put up more than 140 points in a game twice this season, scoring 144 points against Crown College in November and 148 at home against Georgia Northwestern Technical College in December.
"When we show up we're amazing," Barringer said of his team.
The home loss against Bob Jones, which handed Warren Wilson a loss back on Jan. 13 as well, demonstrated the duality of the Owls.
The Bruins jumped out to an 11-0 lead and didn't let up through the first half, when they outscored Barringer's squad 61-35. The Owls managed cut the lead to single digits in the second half, holding Bob Jones to 38 points, but fell just short of the comeback.
"In the second half they played to the standard of Warren Wilson basketball," Barringer said of the loss. "If they played to that standard each half, every night, then we're not talking about climbing back from a 20-something-point deficit, we're talking about winning by 25 or 35, easily."
Barringer is asking his players for maximum effort on the defensive end of the floor to finish out the regular season. The Owls will have to finish strong if they want to be selected to play in the postseason.
"We can't afford to lose anymore games," he said. "We're number 7 right now, but three conferences get an automatic bid to the tournament, and the host school gets an automatic bid."
With four spots in the championship bracket accounted for, bids are also given to teams that win their conference tournaments. The Owls, who do not play in a conference, could easily find themselves on the outside of the postseason looking in, as they did a season ago, Barringer said.
"Six is the most comfortable place to be, but seven can be the first team out if the other three conferences have teams who win their tournaments but aren't in the top 10," he said. "We have to focus on winning each day."
Doing that will require effort from everyone, Barringer said.
"I don't like to lose," he said. "I'm going to give it everything I've got to get those wins. I'm asking my guys to sacrifice whatever they need to in order to do the same."