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.


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


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…


(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.

If Gambling Were Legal Part II

26 03 2010

Since I broke down the games yesterday, I’ll talk more about the players today

Tennessee vs Ohio State

Advantage – Evan Turner. Turner is the most important player to his team of anyone left in the tournament (maybe John Wall fits this category as well). Turner does everything for the Buckeys. He scores, passes, rebounds, and even averages almost two steals a game. Turner is a triple double waiting to happen, and as evidenced by the Buckeye’s second round matchup with Ga Tech, he can dominate the game. After ridding himself of tournament jitters in the first round, look for Turner to continue to impose his will on every facet of the game.

I like the Buckeyes.

Final: Tennessee 62 – OSU 74

Saint Mary’s vs Baylor

OMAR SAMHAN! This man has had the tournament of his life and I don’t see Baylor as the team to shut him down. Samhanis a skilled big man who guarantees double-double performance. Unless he’s in foul trouble look for him to have a field day against the Bears, showing an array of post moves and using his size to crash the offensive glass. An interesting note on Omar – we played against him in the second game of the season back in 2007-2008. Overshadowed by Patty Mills and Diamon Simpson at the time, Samhan was more ogre than basketball player, but still managed to produce 12 pts, 10 rebs, 6 blocks, 2 assts, and 2 steals en route to the Gael’s victory. He DOMINATED Brent Heemskerk who’s alter ego from then on out has been Omar (sorry Brent, it’s public now).

I like the Gael’s as my upset pick

Final: SMC 70 – Baylor 66

UNI vs Michigan State

How can I not say Ali? He’s been the top story of the tournament so far and has been as impressive as any player all year with his clutch shooting. The thing that makes his special is that it doesn’t matter what happened in the first 38 minutes, he is going to make shots in the last two. Gotta love a guy like that (very Klayton Korver-esque). However, I think the key to this game is Draymond Green (fellow Saginaw native). With Kalin Lucas out, Green will play thedistributor role for the Spartans, despite his 6″6″ 235-lb wide body frame. It will be interesting to see him and Lucas O’Rear battle.

MSU needs to pound the offensive glass to get easy buckets, but UNI is gonna make this a close one.

Final: UNI 58 – MSU 59

Purdue vs Duke

Well, now I have to break away from the individual focus and talk about both teams. Each team is balanced and I’m not sure one player alone can determine the outcome of this game. Duke has quietly crept to another very good year. But, Purdue’s defense could be the equalizer. Without Robbie Hummel the Boilers have to continue to find ways to score.

I haven’t been a Duke fan all year and think they got the easiest draw, but I can’t pick Purdue to win this one

Final: Purdue 56 – Duke 63