CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Buoyed by another winning streak, the University of Charleston has hurdled one barrier and is closing in on another.
UC (17-7, 14-6) has won the last four, clinching a first-round bye in the inaugural Mountain East Conference tournament. The top four teams in the 12-team league advance straight to the quarterfinals, beginning March 7 at the Charleston Civic Center.
Speaking of four, that's were UC sits in the Atlantic Region rankings. With two regular-season games and the MEC tournament left, that's not bad position to finish among the top eight in the region and land in the NCAA Division II tournament.
Still, games such as tonight's 7:30 home finale against Concord are very important. But the Golden Eagles aren't worried about the regional rankings.
"That's one of the things I love about our team," said UC coach Dwaine Osborne. "I have not had one player in our program say one thing about that ranking. I don't have to tell then to get refocused. That makes it a lot of fun. We focus on the next game and do the best we can."
After suffering its second three-game losing streak of the season, the third-place Eagles have reeled off four wins in a row, last beating Notre Dame College 100-93 in overtime Saturday. Among the leaders were seniors Xavier Humphrey (33 points) and Fred Simpson (14 points, nine rebounds, five assists), who will be among those honored tonight in their final game at Eddie King Gym.
On Humphrey, Osborne said, "He's meant a lot to our team with his play. He also means a lot to our program in establishing a culture we want our team to have. He's a lot of fun to be around, and on top of that he can play a little bit."
On Simpson: "He's been huge for us this semester. We would not be where we are without him. Great, great kid. He's kind of a 'jack of all trades,' does a little bit of anything, intangibles."
The new Atlantic Region rankings are due out today, and two MEC teams have reason to be nervous.
Glenville State (seventh) and Fairmont State (eighth) sit perilously at the end of the pecking order, and both lost games last week. Glenville may not be penalized for losing to region No. 1 West Liberty but Fairmont stands to take a hit from losing to Virginia-Wise.
No. 5 Shepherd won its games last week, so the Rams and UC likely will stay put. Shepherd is tied with UC for third in the MEC.
These rankings carry added importance, as the MEC will not have an automatic tournament bid this season and next, as per Division II bylaw. So a miracle run in the tournament by Urbana would go unrequited.