The State of the Valley

6 12 2011

8-7, not quite the Valley heyday, but a winning record against BCS-conference foes is a great step for a conference who expects an abundance of early-season success.

Once considered the hands-down top mid-major conference in the country, the MVC’s recent plight as a single-bid league in the NCAA tournament could finally end in 2011-2012.

Proving the conference’s worth has become the focus for MVC and league commissioner Doug Elgin (good interview in the Examiner from August)

“I think our people understand that they simply have to prove they are worthy of an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, and they cannot accomplish that without playing strong non-conference schedules.  Our teams have to be better than teams from higher-profile leagues, and the best way to make that point it is to schedule strategically… early-season tournaments provide the best opportunity to play NCAA Tournament-caliber teams at neutral sites.”

Solid wins (WSU over UNLV, Evansville over Butler, etc) and a combined 46-23 non-conference clip (through Dec.4), may just push the Missouri Valley conference back toward mid-2000 prominence.

Creighton and Wichita State are carrying the torch, but look who is making an appearance in the top-five of CBS’s early season RPI Report (Sorry Panther fans, but I’m not sure it’s quite deserved).

Irrespective of your feelings on early-season ranks (please see BCS issues), there’s little question that the powers-that-be in the national media are starting to take notice.

Heck, Valley-friendly media like Joseph Book are already throwing out Doug McDermott’s name for All-American contention (Joseph Book’s MVC ranking at the Examiner).

And it’s hard to argue. Not only is Dougie McD in the top-5 in scoring, but his leadership and clutch play have Creighton in the national rankings.

Where the final record falls as conference season draws closer remains to be seen.

Most likely, Evansville will not be able to put-away fourth-ranked North Carolina on the road.

(8-8).

But I do expect UNI to take care of business at home against the lowly Hawkeye (5-3 against a very weak schedule).

9-8.

Missouri State hosting an Oklahoma State team yet to garner a solid win deems this one a toss-up, slight edge going to MSU at home.

10-8. At worst. 9-9 (a vast improvement over last year’s 11-22 mark).

Give the commissioner and the league’s coaches some credit. This year’s MVC is playing at a higher level and certainly giving fans around the Midwest cause for excitement.

Now if only we can Jim Nantz on board…





Not another pig suey

26 04 2010

Recent news:

  • The Detroit Lions drafted Ndamukong Suh and appear to be on the right track for the first time in years. Yes, I am a Lions fan despite their perennial losing. And yes, I know people in Iowa don’t care about the Lions. But until you get a team of your own, I’m going to act like you do.
  • The Detroit Red Wings are approaching a game-seven battle with the Phoenix Coyotes (again, the lack of team for Iowa). The Wings haven’t had their greatest season, limping through countless injuries to barely sneak into the playoffs. Fortunately, I have confidence in this star-studded roster. Lets get to round-two Wingers.
  • Oklahoma City won their second-consecutive home game to even the Lakers series at 2-2. I’ve liked this team from the beginning, but really Kobe? Twelve points in a 20-point game 4 loss. Thats very un-Kobe-like.
  • The short-handed Utah Jazz have looked far superior to a talented Denver Nuggets team. Even with Kyrylo Fesenko (from Dnipropetrovsk, and no I didn’t spell that wrong) as their starting center. (More on him coming soon)

However, the big news comes straight from Omaha, Nebraska. Longtime coach and MVC godfather Dana Altman is headed to Oregon to become the Ducks’ head basketball coach. This time, it’s for real.

In 2007 we heard a similar story. The classic Pig Suey incident, when Dana left to become Arkansas’s head coach, only to return to Creighton within a day after seeing the state of SEC basketball. Altman sprinted back to Creighton with his tail in between his legs. He vowed to remain at the University for the rest of his career. Fortunately for him, Creighton opened him back with open arms.

Three seasons later, Altman’s streak of 11 straight 20-win seasons was snapped. His BlueJay team looked over-matched, maybe even outcoached for the first time in years. Long gone are the days of Rodney Buford, Ryan Sears, Kyle Korver, and Anthony Tolliver. Instead, players like P’Allen Stinnett dominate the headlines with off-the-court issues. Dana Altman looked at the future of the Creighton program and decided it was time for a change (again).

Ultimately, the Valley has changed. Power has shifted. For almost an entire decade, Creighton and Southern Illinois were top-dogs. Often ranked in the top-25, both teams were perennial post-season contenders. Now, UNI dominates headlines. Illinois State moved from bottom-feeder to contended. And even Drake had one good year (come on, you knew I was throwing that in somewhere).

I can’t blame Altman for leaving. He’s done everything he could for Creighton. Sixteen seasons after arriving in a place without basketball heritage, Altman turned them into a team no one in Division-1 wanted to play. One season under 20-wins and the fans are grumbling. How is that fair?

Look at it this way – as a college coach, you are the focal point of the team. True. Accepted. So you are going to receive a disproportionate amount of credit either way. Ditto. But, fans expect loyalty to the school. They also expect perfection.

When Keno Davis left Drake a few years ago, some fans were upset. How? Would you really turn down someone quadrupling your salary? I wouldn’t say no. Especially if, like Dana’s case, people are always expecting more. He raised the fans level of expectations. One season with less than 20-wins and Creighton fans are grumbling about his ability to coach.

Believe me, I am not blaming the fans. Its just the nature of the business. Fans want their school to win. Coaches need to do whats best for themselves and their families. As much as we like to think college basketball is wholesome, it really is a cut-throat business.

Basically, I’m just trying to say congrats Dana. I wish you the best.

Looking to the future, it will be interesting to see how the BlueJays proceed. Greg McDermott looks to be a perfect fit. After planting the seeds to get UNI to their current level, McDermott’s struggles at Iowa State have been well documented. The Valley and the Big 12 represent different beasts. At Iowa State McDermott has to recruit a different type of player. And these players haven’t exactly fit to his system. Moving from the hot-seat at Iowa State to a storied Valley program in a conference he’s very familiar with seems like a good move. (Oh, and it helps that Creighton can offer more money than Iowa State. Remember, its a business.)

Succeeding in the Valley requires hard-work, tireless recruiting, and having an eye for the diamond in the rough. Coaches have to know how to recruit to this level. MVC teams are too good for average players. But outside of the power-six conference teams, it is extremely difficult to get top-100 caliber athletes. Finding the best of the rest is imperative for Valley success.

To win against the big boys, Valley teams have to play together. And coaches have to find the right mix of players. Kansas is going to be more athletic. But what does UNI do? They stick to their strengths: play great team defense, get Kansas out of their rhythm, and make timing baskets. What they lacked in athleticism, they made up for with size and hustle in the frontcourt, strength and shooting ability in the backcourt. Of course, an Ali Farokhmanesh doesn’t hurt.

It also helps to have mature teams. The last three MVC champs have been junior/senior laden groups. The 2007-2008 Drake Bulldogs had a fifth-year senior, two four-year seniors, and two four-year juniors in their rotation. UNI from 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 boasted a similar mix.

As more prime-time players become one-and-dones, the advantage often resides in experience. Valley coaches don’t recruit these players. They can’t. But they have a knack for picking the next best thing. No way Ali Farokhmanesh goes to Kansas or Kentucky. But with the right teammates, in the right system, the kid can shine.

This is what Greg McDermott struggled with at ISU. And this is why Greg McDermott is a great fit for Creighton. The Valley is a special place. But each school needs to have the right kind of coach.

Ultimately Altman leaving will be good for everyone. He needed a change. Creighton needs a change. And McDermott and Iowa State could definitely use a positive way to get out of that situation. This could be a win-win-win for all three programs. Stay posted.





(Back Home Again in) Indiana

3 04 2010

In October, 347 schools and some 3,500-plus division 1 basketball players begin a journey. Each vying to make a name for themselves, hoping to obtain the ultimate goal — the NCAA tournament. Five months later, the entire season boils down to three weekends. This year, the first round had 11 games decided by five points or less, two overtime games, one double overtime, and 10 seed upsets. Some analysts went as far as referring to the opening Thursday as the best day ever in the NCAA Tournament. With seven games decided by three points or less, three overtime contests, and seven seed upsets — it’s hard to argue with them.

As fans, we were riding high, eagerly awaiting the round of 32 to see what happened next. While many expected a return to normalcy, underdogs like UNI had other ideas. The round of 32 did not disappoint. Ten games decided by less than 10 points and major upsets such as UNI over top-seeded Kansas, Cornell dominating Wisconsin, Washington trouncing New Mexico, and Saint Mary’s manhandling Villanova.

Enter the Sweet 16. Time for the bigger teams, the bigger conferences to win out. No more upsets. The Cornell’s and UNI’s could not compete at this level. Or could they? In the South, Duke and Baylor won handily. Same in the East with Kentucky and West Virginia. The Midwest and West, however, kept the upset trend going. Of the four games, the largest margin of victory was seven (and that was mostly because of free throws at the end). MSU scraped by UNI with a couple big offensive rebounds at the end. Tennessee halts Evan Turner and the OSU Buckeyes, preventing Turner from releasing a potential tying three as time expired. Kansas State vs Xavier was a double-overtime gem, with Jordan Crawford keeping the Musketeers in it with 30-ft bomb to force double-OT. And lastly, the story of the tournament, the Butler Bulldogs lead from start to finish, dismantling a much bigger and more talented Syracuse team.

Had enough yet? The tournament was far from over. In the Elite Eight, no game was decided by double digits. West Virginia reaches the Final Four by out-toughing Kentucky’s young and dynamic team. Duke, the lone remaining one-seed by this time, finishes off a fiesty Baylor club. Butler keeps chugging along, proving they deserved their top-ten preseason ranking, besting Kansas State by seven, but showing again that they can control the action from start to finish. Final Four mainstays Michigan State (I say that because any person who’s entered Tom Izzo’s program and stayed for four years has competed in the Final Four) used a last second free throw from Raymar Morgan after Tennessee missed their opportunity to take the lead from the line moments earlier.

It’s six months later after the season began. We’re now down to four teams with just over 50 athletes. What better place to host such a crazy tournament than back home in Indiana? Back to the homeland, basketball. After such a stunning season, you deserve it.

Believe me, I know basketball was invented in Massachusetts. But the extended history of the game lies in Indiana. Inventor James Naismith recognized this himself in 1936, “While it was invented in Massachusetts, basketball really had its beginning in Indiana, which remains today the center of the sport.”

Ok, fine that was 1936. A lot changes nearly four scores later, right? Not if you pay attention.

People love giving credit to NYC for pushing basketball to new boundaries. Madison Square Garden serves as the “mecca” of basketball because of the great Knicks teams, the city’s sheer size (media and talent pool), Michael Jordan demolition of Ewing, Starks and Spike, and the popularization of streetball.

All very valid points. But no one has history like Indiana. The who: Tony Hinkle (Hinkle Fieldhouse anyone?), John Wooden, Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, and Bob Knight. The where: Assembly Hall, Mackey Arena, the Wigwam, Hoosier gym, and the aforementioned Hinkle Fieldhouse. And look at the schools. Powerhouses like Indiana University, Notre Dame, Purdue, and now Butler remain in the national discussion. Historic teams such as Valporaiso and Indiana State will never be forgotten. When I see those names, I think Bob Knight patrolling the sidelines (and throwing chairs). Digger Phelps with his ugly ties and hard-working teams. Gene Keady’s hair (more specifically the combover) and his sideline-scowls. For Butler I think of Hinkle Fieldhouse, my favorite court to have ever played on, the movie Hoosiers, and all the history surrounding the hollowed building. Valporaiso and Indiana State will always bring to mind the heroics of Bryce Drew and Larry Bird, willing their underdog teams into NCAA Tournament lore.

That is Indiana basketball. Its history. Its passion. It is everything that’s good about the game. Truly, there could be no better setting for a tournament filled with as much intrigue, as many upsets, and all the underdog stories we witnessed during this year’s tournament.

Come home, basketball. After such a stunning season, you deserve it.





Mailbag!

3 04 2010

Alan Crawford (18:54:14)

“Ace, I was thoroughly impressed with your analysis. I was working all day then I was at a bar with a few friends while the MSU and Duke games were on so I wasn’t really able to pay attention to the games the way I would have liked, but your breakdown filled all the gaps for me. Appreciate it. Hope all is well. Also just a prediction…..Final Four: Kansas State v. MSU, Baylor v. …..(I really have no idea….W. Virgina and Kentucky is too close to call)”

Crawf its great to hear from you! Crawf and I grew up and went to high school together. He’s always been a good friend and we’ve kept in touch periodically. Thanks for coming on and thanks for reading. Hope things are going well!

Kevin (15:37:09)

“Just found this blog and im glad i did, I’ll never forget THE magical season you led drake to. Its good to hear you’re doing well! man were you right about uni taking down a powerhouse. Hopefully they can continue to represent the valley well and continue to shock the nation. I have yet to go to a mvc tournament in stl but it sounds like its an awesome time. i wish you luck on getting one of those cardinals tickets and will continue to visit this website.”

Thanks Kevin. That year was unforgettable. Reminiscing with my former teammates is one of our favorites things to do. What made that year so fun was how much we genuinely liked being around each other. Especially on the basketball floor.

As for UNI, they showed everyone this year the type of teams that come out of the Valley. They were balanced, poised, and mature enough to make a run. Congrats again to the Panthers!

For any other fans out there yet to attend the MVC Tournament in St. Louis, be sure to mark the date on your calenders for next year. The atmosphere is amazing. So many schools/fan bases come to the tournament expecting to win. But, everyone wants to see good basketball. The Valley and the city of St. Louis never disappoints. It makes for a great weekend.





Mailbag!

30 03 2010

Lyonel Trandor (19:18:31) :

How do you feel about Ali being said to comparatively be the next You? What does being the next Adam Emmenecker entail? Is it possible? How can one get a sandwich named after them

Lyonel, thanks for the comment. To be honest, I’m pretty flattered that people are discussing similarities between Ali and myself. I think we play drastically different styles, but the thing I’ve been most impressed with is his ability to make plays late in games. No matter the situation or how well/poorly he played through the first 38 minutes, he is going to help his team win in the last two. You have to respect that. People across the country now saw what anyone who watched UNI over the last two year’s already knew: Ali Farokhmanesh (yes I put a link to his name to make sure I spelled it right) is one of the best late game players in the country. Period.

As far as being the next Adam Emmenecker… I think thats the furthest thing from Ali’s mind. Playing in the Sweet Sixteen is something I never accomplished. Two NCAA tourney appearances, likewise. Shoot, even starting for two years gives him a leg up on me. The only thing making my situation special (yes this is referring to the sandwich) is having the support of the Drake community. Since our success was so well documented for a variety of different reasons (down year for basketball in the state, it’d been awhile since Drake played in the postseason, etc), it opened up a lot of doors. I’m not sure anyone will put a Farokhmanesh on a menu, but if it happens, just like the Emmenecker, I bet it will be a mouthful.





If Gambling Were Legal Part IV

28 03 2010

MSU vs Tennessee

Even without Kalin Lucas, I like MSU’s size and rebounding over Tennessee’s 3-pt shooting and pressure defense. To win, the Volunteers have to keep the Spartans out of the flow – stop their fast break, make Korie Lucious handle the ball, and not give up offensive rebounds. For the Spartans, the best way to score is on the offensive glass, maintain the ball movement that helped them beat UNI and make it a team effort. This one’s gonna be a good one.

Prediction: MSU 67 – Tennessee 64

Baylor vs Duke

For the second game in a row, actually, for the entire tournament now, I want Duke to lose. But this Blue Devil team keeps taking advantage of good matchups and today will be no different. Duke plays great team basketball and will be tough to beat. Though I was impressed with Baylor’s end-to-end dominance of St. Mary’s and omar samhan (remember, Brent’s fault), I don’t think they have enough to drop the Blue Devils.

Prediction: Baylor 61 – Duke 70





My adventure to the land of Bill Simmons and Dunkin Donuts

22 03 2010

Congrats UNI! What a win against Kansas. Great to see a Valley team showing the rest of the country the quality of basketball in the MVC.
I’ve spent the last week with Lindsay in Providence, Rhode Island visiting my sister and her fiance (Stephen). It’d been almost two years now since the WebMaster and I ventured that way — and Linds and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit this time.

Leaving out of Omaha, we left Friday (12th), drove two hours to Nebraska, and were on our way. Naturally, the weather here in Iowa was nice. What happens when we leave? Well, the weather here improves, but apparently it was monsoon season in Providence. (There isn’t really a monsoon season in Providence. I think the average rainfall in March is only about 2 in. Same in April. But the 7.5″ of rain in our four days there made it seem like monsoon season) We arrive to rain. The next day, it rains. The next day, it rains. The next day, it rains. And when I say rain, I don’t mean sprinkle. It rained hard. The whole time. (Like I said over seven inches)

Battling through the elements we made the most of our trip. Focusing on mostly indoor activities, Sara showed us around Providence, Newport, and Bristol. We toured the Breakers mansion and took mostly driving tours. We shopped in Providence Place, the Wrentham Outlets, and Trader Joe’s.

As a former Providence Preservation Society employee, Sara is a great tour guide. She knows the area really well and offers insight about various locations. Its amazing how many different facts she can spout off about the historical significance of each location. Traveling was so much more fun for Linds and I because we basically had a personal tour guide.

By Monday evening, the storm past. Linds, Sara, Stephen, and I went to a great steak, seafood, and sushi restaurant in Providence called Ten. The food was great. Even though I’ve never been a huge sushi fan, I would recommend the Surf & Turf roll to anyone not thrilled about the idea of sushi. The real event of the night, however, was drinks after dinner. We walked down the street to a place called DownCity, which has a reputation for a great drink selection. Apparently, Monday night is also Drag Queen Karaoke. Led by a 6’2″ Sabrina, we were entertained by a variety of different songs. It was an enjoyable, very interesting, but still enjoyable experience.

The next morning, Stephen drove Linds and I to the train station and we took the train to Boston. Staying in Back Bay, we dropped our things off at the hotel and went off into the city. Surprisingly, the weather was finally beautiful. No snow, green grass, and 50 degree temperatures felt amazing as we walked through cobblestone streets and buildings from the 18th century. Though I could never compare to Sara, I did my best to guide Linds and offer any information I could about our surroundings.

First on our agenda was to head to my favorite pizza place – Pizzeria Regina. As always the pizza was amazing [Webmaster Confirmed Fact]. Afterward we went to the Institute of Contemporary Art, walked the the Commons and Public Garden, perused the shops on Newbury Street and went back to our hotel before heading back to the North End for Dinner. The next two days were spend doing much the same – a lot of walking and sightseeing. Sara and Stephen met us the next afternoon and we experienced St. Patrick’s Day in the city.

Before we knew it, it was Thursday. Time to go back to Providence before ultimately *gulp* heading back to Des Moines. We packed Thursday night, had one last great meal, and were on our way to the airport at 5:15 AM Friday morning.

Arriving in Omaha we were tired from our trip and met by a very disturbing site when we touched down – snow. We couldn’t believe it. After having to deal with rain for four days before finally enjoying some sunshine, we leave to come back to snow? How is that fair? Then, we get back to Des Moines, unpack, fall asleep, wake up the next morning, and WHAT? Two inches of snow on the ground? Unbelievable.
Thankfully, the sun appears to want to come out this week and we can expect temperatures to improve. Regardless, seeing snow welcoming us back from a great trip hardly offers incentive to come back. Thanks Iowa weather. Thanks a lot.








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