RTC Conference Primers: #10 – Missouri Valley

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 27th, 2010

Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.

You only need one video clip to sum up the Missouri Valley Conference last season: Ali Farokhmanesh hitting the dagger three-pointer against #1 Kansas in the NCAA Tournament to advance to the Sweet 16.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Missouri State (24-6, 14-4)
  2. Wichita State (23-7, 13-5)
  3. Creighton (23-8, 13-5)
  4. Southern Illinois (21-9, 11-7)
  5. Northern Iowa (20-11, 10-8)
  6. Bradley (19-11, 10-8)
  7. Illinois State (16-16, 7-11)
  8. Drake (12-18, 4-14)
  9. Evansville (11-16, 4-14)
  10. Indiana State (9-21, 4-14)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Toure’ Murry, Wichita State (11.9 PPG, 5 RPG, 109 AST)
  • G:  Sam Maniscalco, Bradley (13.1 PPG, 107 AST)
  • G:  Kwadzo Ahelegbe, Northern Iowa (10.6 PPG, 97 AST)
  • F:  Kyle Weems, Missouri State (13.6 PPG 6.2, RPG 40.7% 3PT)
  • C:  Kenny Lawson Jr., Creighton (13.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 82% FT)

6th Man

Adam Leonard, Missouri State  (13 PPG,  39% 3PT)

Impact Newcomer

Greg Echenique, Creighton (Rutgers transfer)

Kyle Weems was nine years old when Missouri State last made the NCAA Tournament in 1999.

What You Need to Know

  • Multiple Bids: Last season, people will easily remember the Missouri Valley Conference with Ali Farokhmanesh hitting the gutsy three-pointer late in the game to lead Northern Iowa’s upset against #1 Kansas in the NCAA Tournament.  What you may not know is that for the third straight season, the MVC has only sent one representative to the Big Dance.  After several years of sending multiple teams in and hitting a peak of four teams in 2006, the past three seasons have seen the team that won both the conference regular season and conference tournament (Drake and UNI twice) as single-bid teams that went to the NCAA Tournament.  This season the schools in the conference have beefed up their schedules the best they can to hopefully return to a multiple bid league.
  • Coaching Changes: A number of linked events took place this summer regarding the coaches in the MVC. The Dean of the Valley Dana Altman left Creighton after 16 years to take the head coaching job at OregonIowa State head coach Greg McDermott was hired less than 48 hours later.  He had one stint in the MVC already as the head coach of Northern Iowa before Ben Jacobson.  Jacobson released McDermott’s son Doug from his letter of intent so that he could join his dad and play with the Bluejays.   About a month later, Indiana State head coach Kevin McKenna left to become an assistant once again under Altman.   Chris Lowery (Southern Illinois) and Jim Les (Bradley) are now the elder statesmen of the conference, but both of their seats are pretty warm right now as they try to take their teams back to the NCAA Tournament after each of their Sweet 16 runs seem like ages ago for those two schools.
  • Veteran Teams: Many of the MVC teams bring back a lot of veterans to lead their respective teams.  Creighton returns all-conference center Kenny Lawson and point guard Antoine Young.   Missouri State brings back a solid combination of Adam Leonard and Kyle Weems.   Wichita State has the talented JT Durley, Graham Hatch and Toure’ Murry while Bradley has Andrew Warren, Sam Maniscalco and Taylor Brown returning.   But you can’t leave out Northern Iowa with Kwadzo Ahelegbe and MVC sixth man of the year Lucas O’Rear. With such a large percentage of players retuning this season, a battle for The Valley title could be messy and any of these teams could emerge as the dust clears in March.

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RTC Live: Wichita State @ Utah State

Posted by rtmsf on February 20th, 2010

Grab a cup of coffee or a red bull, because we’ve got a great one for the nightcap of an RTC Live quadruple-header when Wichita State visits Utah State to end ESPN’s Bracketbuster weekend. The Shockers come into Logan on a bit of a slide, going just 1-4 in their last five road games (including a terrible loss at previously MVC-winless Evansville) but could get back into the bubble discussion with a win here. Wichita State will look to get it done with their fantastic defense (30th in the nation in points per possession at just .914) and a balanced offense led by guards Toure Murry and Clevin Hannah (averaging 12.4 and 12.3 points per game, respectively). Utah State comes into the game red-hot, winning their last 11 games and will counter the Shockers’ defense with the nation’s fifth most efficient offense, including the eleventh best FG% (48.6%) and nation’s best 3-point shooting (42.4%). Tai Wesley gets it done for the Aggies underneath leading the Aggies with 13.3 points per game and they will look to Pooh Williams, the WAC’s best perimeter defender, to slow down the Shocker guards. A win for the Aggies would add another much-needed quality win to the resume should they falter at the WAC Tournament in Reno next month. The loser of this game will likely have its odds of making it into the bracket as an at-large candidate busted. Can Wichita State turn it around? Or will Utah State continue its recent dominance? Make sure you have enough caffeine in you to stay up with us on RTC Live tonight and find out.

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Breaking Down the Bracketbusters…

Posted by rtmsf on February 2nd, 2010

Special to RushTheCourt.  Ryan Restivo of the MAAC-based SienaSaintsBlog is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. SienaSaintsBlog now features exclusive video!

The BracketBuster matchups are out, and as promised, RTC is here with some analysis of some of the top games!  Five Colonial Athletic Association teams lead the pack into these February weekend matchups. The Western Athletic Conference drew four bids and the Missouri Valley drew three.  One problem with the BracketBusters? Five of the television games will be on ESPNU, which of course means they’re not available on ESPN360.  However I’d say there are five games where you must, to quote another piece here, “quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live.”

Friday 2/19  (RPI)

Old Dominion (#46) @ Northern Iowa (#17)  – 7 pm on ESPN2/ESPN360

Get to Know Gerald Lee

The Monarchs will travel to Cedar Rapids to play where the Panthers have won every home game by an average of 14 points per game entering this week. 6’8 UNI senior Adam Koch is a tough-to-contain inside presence, scoring a team high 12.7 points per game. 6’10 ODU senior Gerald Lee will likely be assigned to the task of guarding Koch, an he has been a beast this year for the Monarchs, shooting 53% from the field and leading the team with 14.3 points per game. The matchup to watch in this game will be to see if Old Dominion can defend Koch on the inside while keeping their shooters, junior Kwadzo Ahelegbe (11.1 ppg) and Senior Ali Farokhmanesh (team high 42 3-pointers made), at bay. Both teams are first in their respective conferences in FG percentage defense at eerily similar numbers: Old Dominion’s 39.5% FG-defense is 21st while Northern Iowa’s 39.9% ranks 37th nationally. The Monarchs have had some defensive trouble lately, trying zones at Northeastern on Saturday when facing a team with similar size and offensive weapons as the Panthers, to give up a season high 59.5% field goal percentage. 

Saturday 2/20 (RPI)

Siena (#44) @ Butler (#19) – 11 am on ESPN2/ESPN360

The owner of the nation’s longest winning streak, Siena at thirteen straight, will go into an extremely tough environment at Butler in Saturday’s first Bracketbuster game. The Saints are led by 6’5 senior Edwin Ubiles and his 15.8 points per game as he makes his case for MAAC Player of the Year despite some lingering shoulder issues. Alex Franklin plays bigger than his 6’5 frame to lead the Saints down low with 16.1 points per game. On the other side, Butler’s Gordon Hayward has been a beast for the Bulldogs this year, scoring 16.1 points per game and tying a season-high 25 in Sunday’s comeback win over UW-Milwaukee. Hayward, a sophomore, is already attracting the attention of NBA scouts. Fellow sophomore Shelvin Mack has scored 15 points per game and Matt Howard, when not in foul trouble, scores 11 points per game. Howard has been tough to defend inside, going off for 23 points in Butler’s nine-point loss to Minnesota, but has had issues with foul trouble, getting disqualified in three of the Bulldogs’ four losses. It will be interesting to see how Siena defends Hayward and Howard and how this veteran Saints team led by seniors Ubiles, Franklin and Ronald Moore can contain this explosive offense on the road.

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Checking in on… the MVC

Posted by rtmsf on December 21st, 2009

Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.

Current Records and my standings (Last Week)

  1. Missouri State  (10-0) (1)
  2. Wichita State (10-1) (2)
  3. Northern Iowa  (8-1) (3)
  4. Southern Illinois (7-2) (5)
  5. Illinois State (8-2)  (4)
  6. Indiana State  (7-3) (7)
  7. Evansville (6-3) (8)
  8. Bradley  (5-5) (6)
  9. Drake  (5-6)  (9)
  10. Creighton  (4-6)  (10)


  • MVC-MWC Challenge winding down—The Valley continues to lead the challenge against the Mountain West Conference 4-3 heading into the final weekend of games.  Illinois State went on the road to defeat Utah and Creighton had a chance to close out the conference’s victory but lost a huge lead on New Mexico and left Albuquerque with a loss.  Now it is up to Drake and Northern Iowa this coming weekend to close out the first year of a several year agreement for each conference to play one another.  In the coming years all of the Challenge games will be played in a one-week time period instead of throughout the non-conference season.
  • Wichita State takes down ranked team—Wichita invited a ranked Texas Tech team into Koch Arena, the first non-conference ranked team to visit since Kansas in the 1991-92 season, and sent them home with a loss.  That must be why teams like that don’t come back or want to play Wichita at home. 
  • Missouri St.  heading to undefeated non-conference record—Missouri St. defeated St. Louis Saturday night and Rick Majerus is ready to anoint the Bears as the winners of the Valley for this season.  Well, they are still undefeated and could stay that way if they can steal a win in Arkansas Tuesday night.   Could this be Drake version 2.0?


  • Missouri St (1-0 this week)—As mentioned above, Missouri St. is one of a few undefeated teams in the nation right now.  It is due to their defense.  The Bears finish out the non-conference slate in Fayetteville with a “lucky they still have a team”  Arkansas squad.   About the only thing wrong with Missouri State is Will Creekmore’s jersey.
  •  Wichita St (1-0 this week)—Wichita continues to be on a roll.  Andy Katz asked whether Wichita would be undefeated if they had Clevin Hannah and he was able to play against Pitt at the CBE Classic.  Either way, the Shockers are the real deal this season.    They host North Dakota State this week to complete their non-conference slate.
  •  Northern Iowa  (1-0 this week)—Head Coach Ben Jacobson went back home to North Dakota this past week, but brought his UNI team in to take a victory.  Northern Iowa is at about the same point as Wichita right now.  Coach Jacobson is pretty happy with his team now, but he wasn’t at the beginning of the season.  They host Wyoming this week as a part of the MVC/MWC Challenge. 
  • Southern Illinois (2-0 this week) –You can tell the reputation of the Salukis has taken a hit when they went out to Vegas this week in an invitational but their games were overshadowed by the women’s matchups in the same tournament.   However in both games this weekend against San Diego and San Francisco, SIU pulled out one point wins to complete a solid non-conference slate until a late January game against Western Kentucky.  Southern Illinois is off for the holidays until conference play starts in a week and a half. 
  • Evansville (2-0 this week)—Evansville is continuing to build themselves back up with two wins this week.  They took a blow with Kavon Lacey, one of their emerging team leaders, going out for the season with knee surgery.  However, they are really spreading the scoring around and starting to come together.  A big road test at Austin Peay this week will see how far they have actually come. 
  • Indiana St. (1-0 this week)—The Sycamores escaped with a win in Toledo this week on a Jake Kelly basket with  six seconds left and they are now again without point guard Harry Marshall who has had a lot of discipline problems at Indiana State.  The Sycamores look like a solid team, but they don’t need these distractions.  A trip to IUPUI this week will test them.


  • Drake (0-1 this week)—Drake lost to Iowa this week and they sort of have to feel bad that a key player for the Hawkeye team that beat them was then arrested later that evening for public intoxication.  However, Coach Phelps feels pretty good about the recent recruiting classes, but can they produce on the court?    San Diego State comes to town as the possible deciding game of the MVC/MWC Challenge.
  • Bradley (0-2 this week)—This team is on the verge of collapse.  Not only is Dodie Dunson out for the year with a broken arm, but they also lost Dyricus Simms-Edwards to a foot injury for 3-6 weeks.  Bradley lost this week to Loyola on a crazy off-balance half court shot and then got absolutely blown out by Iowa State Sunday.    The Braves now sit in limbo with a three-game losing streak for nine days until conference season starts at Drake.
  • Creighton (1-1 this week)—Many do not have a good read on this Creighton team this season.  They have been so close in so many games against tough competition, but lack the killer instinct to finish the games.  The latest collapse was in New Mexico this weekend.  Creighton was up 15 points at one point in the first half, shooting almost 75%, but then New Mexico finished the first half cutting into the lead and by the middle of the second half the Lobos made the adjustments needed and pulled out a come-from-behind win.   They get a snoozer in Houston Baptist this week with their only wins this season coming so far on their home court. 
  • Illinois State (1-1 this week)—Illinois State has had enough chinks in their armor exposed to lose on the road to Ohio, but then came back to get a big win at Utah as part of the MVC/MWC Challenge.   The Redbirds need another player to step up to help Osiris Eldridge and that player might be Austin Hill.  The Redbirds get a snoozer of their own with Grambling State this week.


A light week due to the holidays and very few key games except for the conclusion of the MVC/MWC Challenge, but also the last week of non-conference action for the MVC.  Conference play will start after the Christmas holiday.

  • 12/22, San Diego St. @ Drake—Drake is starting to turn things around, but this will be a tough game against the Aztecs that could decide the MVC/MWC Challenge. 
  • 12/22, Missouri St. @ Arkansas—Although Arkansas has so many problems, this could be a nice road win for the Bears and a great close to their amazing non-conference season. 
  • 12/23, Northern Iowa @ Wyoming—A key matchup in the MVC/MWC Challenge’s final games.  UNI is on a roll lately.
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ATB: Snow Problem, Plenty of Hoops…

Posted by rtmsf on December 20th, 2009

The Debacle in Hinkle#17 Butler 69, Xavier 68. The story over the weekend was the bizarre and (some say) unconscionable ending to the Butler-Xavier game on Saturday afternoon.  If you somehow missed it, check out our post on the subject from last night.  We pretty much agree that the referee crew followed the rules as they’re written, but that the rules as they’re written pretty much suck in a situation such as this.  RTC Live was there, and as our correspondent wrote at the time:

That would be one ballsy crew to take a full second OFF the clock against a visitor down by 1 point.  HUGE controversy WOW…. I have been doing bball for years and I cannot believe that they just did that?!?!?!?!?!”

Ballsy they were, but also correct by the letter of the law.  Unfortunately for Xavier and Chris Mack, the Musketeers were left holding the bag when a timing error led them to believe they’d have a final shot to win the game.  The NCAA needs to step up and immediately clarify this rule, including what kind of stopwatch can and cannot be used to estimate the time so that we’re not faced with an equally ridiculous ending on a much bigger stage later this year.

Jerry’s Joint#2 Texas 103, #10 UNC 90.  The featured game of the weekend at Jerry’s World known as the new-and-improved-to-a-ridiculous-degree Cowboys Stadium showed why many people are very high on Rick Barnes’ Texas team to cut down the nets in April.  UT put four players in the 20+ points column, including huge dub-dubs from seniors Damion James (25/15) and Dexter Pittman (23/15) to go along with Avery Bradley’s 20/4 assts/3 stls and J’Covan Brown’s 21/5/3 assts.  Showing the depth that Barnes now has at his disposal, much ballyhooed transfer Jai Lucas (recently eligible) only played six minutes and recorded zero points.  He’d start for most of the teams in the Top 25 from day one.  UNC’s Ed Davis was the only Carolina player who seemed comfortable with the waves of Texas players inside, as he blew up for 21/9/4 blks for one of his best performances of the year.  Texas will get another test on Tuesday of this week as Michigan State visits Austin, while UNC will head back home for a few easier games prior to the start of the ACC in early January.  We’re still worried about UNC’s point guard play, but we’d imagine that Texas is going to make a lot of pretty good teams look bad over the course of this season.  That team is loaded!

The JumboTron Dwarfs the Court (AP/Tony Gutierrez)

Gonz-awfulness#7 Duke 76, #15 Gonzaga 41.  In a game all too reminiscent of other early-season blowouts that Duke has administered on overrated teams, the Devils completely overwhelmed the Zags defensively to, as Mark Few put it after the game, “woodshed” his team on Saturday afternoon at MSG.  Duke’s defense held Gonzaga to a mere fifteen FGs for the game, 28% shooting, a single three-pointer and a quarter-century team low of 41 points.  Despite all the hype for the Duke bigs coming into the season, it’s been the backcourt play of Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith, combining for 36 PPG, 7 RPG, and 10 APG that has truly driven this team to have the look as one of the best teams in America this year.  Scheyer’s ridiculous A:TO ratio of 5.8 to 1 actually went down after two TOs in this one, but his 20/5/8 assts more than made up for the miscue.  Smith added 24/3/3 assts, and we’re going to spare talking about the Gonzaga awfulness since not a single Zag got into double figures on the day.

Shot of the WeekendCornell 91, Davidson 88 (OT). Ryan Wittman’s 30-footer at the buzzer in overtime gave the Big Red its eighth win of the year and a shot at a Big East team (St. John’s) on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.  Lost in the heroics and glee of Wittman’s shot was the fact that it wouldn’t have even been possible had Louis Dale not hit a driving layup with 0.7 seconds remaining in regulation.  Cornell’s only two losses this year were against Big East teams (Seton Hall and Syracuse), so this will likely be the Ivy League favorite’s best chance to get a huge win this season (Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse is not realistic).  We haven’t been able to locate a video of this shot yet, but if you see one, let us know.

SEC Sucktitude. A week ago, we were ready to start believing that the SEC is much-improved this year.  Then the SEC East craps itself on Saturday and Sunday.  We’re reserving judgment for now, which of course means we really think this league is terrible and deserves only one bid (ok, not really).

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Checking in on… the MVC

Posted by rtmsf on November 23rd, 2009


Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.

MY STANDINGS (current records)

  1. Missouri State  (4-0)
  2. Wichita State (2-0)
  3. Illinois State (2-0)
  4. Indiana State (2-1)
  5. Southern Illinois (2-1)
  6. Creighton  (2-1)
  7. Bradley  (2-1)
  8. Northern Iowa  (2-1)
  9. Evansville (2-1)
  10. Drake  (1-4)


Injuries, Illness and Suspensions—The Valley has started out with several injuries, illnesses and suspensions this season, causing some teams to play without some veteran leaders including:

  • Bradley lost Dodie Dunson for the season with a broken arm suffered in their game against Idaho State while Taylor Brown is serving a suspension for  an offseason battery charge.  Brown was the team’s leading scorer during the Labor Day trip to Brazil. 
  • Creighton lost Justin Carter to an MCL tear for 2-4 weeks, Casey Harriman was hospitalized with swine flu that turned to tonsillitis that turned to strep throat that turned into mononucleosis, while Chad Millard has been out with a foot injury since September.
  • Drake was without Josh Young due to a hip pointer injury.
  • Wichita St. was without Clevin Hannah for the first three games (including the upcoming CBE Classic game against Pittsburgh) due to a “paperwork” error on his amateur status

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #10 – Missouri Valley Conference

Posted by rtmsf on October 28th, 2009


Patrick Marshall of White and Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Creighton (24-6, 14-4)
  2. Northern Iowa (23-6, 13-5)
  3. Wichita St. (23-8, 12-6)
  4. Southern Illinois (21-8, 12-6)
  5. Illinois St. (23-7, 11-7)
  6. Bradley (19-10, 10-8)
  7. Indiana St. (17-13, 8-10)
  8. Drake (13-18, 5-13)
  9. Evansville (10-19, 3-15)
  10. Missouri St. (9-21, 2-16) 

All-Conference Team.  This is a guard laden league which will populate the Missouri Valley All-Conference team this season.

  • Kevin Dillard (G), So., Southern Illinois ( 12.2 pts., 4.2 ast.)—The bright spot for Southern Illinois last season is a tenacious ball handler and defender.
  • Clevin Hannah (G), Sr., Wichita St. (11.2 pts. 4.3 ast.)—Hannah comes in as the leader for the Shockers which will make some noise this season.
  • Osiris Eldridge (G), Sr., Illinois St. (14 pts, 6 reb.)–Last season he had Champ Oguchi as a security blanket and kept him from trying to take over the game himself.  His all around game development will probably garner him Conference Player of the Year honors.    
  • Justin Carter (G), Sr., Creighton  (8.1 pts, 5.5 reb.)—Over the summer, Carter has emerged as the leader of the Bluejays.
  • Adam Koch (F), Sr., Northern Iowa (12.1 pts., 5.1 reb.)—Koch was a solid player last season to help lead the Panthers to the conference championship and will get the opportunity again as the team returns pretty much everyone.

6th Man.  Jake Kelly (G), Jr., Indiana St. (Transfer from Iowa)—Jake got a surprise this fall as the NCAA allowed him to be an active player on the Sycamore team instead of having to sit out a year like transfers usually must.  Due to the death of his mother, Kelly returned home to Indiana last season and announced he was transferring to Indiana St.  Getting immediate eligibility will solidify the backcourt for the Sycamores.

Impact Newcomer.  Wayne Runnels (F), Jr., Creighton—Wayne was an all around sports star in high school and could have probably played any sport he wanted to.  He decided on basketball.  The JC transfer will make an immediate impact for the Bluejays. 


What You Need to Know.  For several years, the Missouri Valley Conference was a multiple bid conference for the NCAA Tournament, but the runs by Wichita St. and Bradley to the Sweet 16 in 2006 seem like a distant memory.  The past two seasons, the MVC has only managed to get their one automatic bid into The Dance.  Drake went in 2008 and Northern Iowa went last season.  Both teams won the regular season title and conference tournament.   Although Creighton shared the regular season championship with the Panthers last season, the Bluejays were on the outside looking in for the 2nd straight year while Southern Illinois had their first losing season in 10 years.  Considering the unexpected the last two seasons, things may be returning back to the norm this winter.  Casual fans of the conference may see familiar names at the top this season as Creighton, Southern Illinois and Wichita St. will be in the mix, while last season’s champion  Northern Iowa returns almost everyone to a team that surprised everyone by the time conference play rolled around.   Illinois State has risen toward the top the past couple of seasons and although they again have Player of the Year candidate Osiris Eldridge in the lineup, the supporting cast may not be enough this season to keep them there. 

Predicted Champion.  Creighton Bluejays (NCAA Seed:  #9)—There are so many teams that believe they will be the best this season, but Creighton will slip to the top.  Creighton worked it’s way back up to the top of the league down the stretch last season winning 11 of the last 12 regular season games before getting embarrassed by Illinois St. in the MVC Conference Tournament semifinals.   Yes, Creighton lost MVC POY Booker Woodfox.  Yes, Creighton lost four year starting PG Josh Dotzler.  Yes, emerging big man Kenton Walker transferred.  Those are definitely big holes to fill.  But the returning core includes senior Justin Carter who was a JUCO transfer a year ago and by the second half of the season became comfortable and dominated the boards.  He has appeared to take a leadership role over the summer.  P’Allen Stinnett is fun to watch and it will be important to see if he has matured enough to also be a leader.   Antoine Young emerged as the guy to lead the point for the Bluejays, but watch out for Andrew Bock to settle in as the Dotzler type of point guard Coach Dana Altman is used to and  to utilize Young’s skills in his ability to drive to the basket at the off guard spot.  The question mark is the inside game where Kenny Lawson is the only real veteran returning to the post position.  Chad Millard is a little out of position in the post, but is the next  tallest player on the team.  Wayne Runnels comes in from the JUCO ranks and is expected to make an impact right away to help a team that ranked last in the Valley last season in rebound margin.  A couple other players on the roster are expected to step up on a team that likes to rotate players constantly leaving the opening for others to make plays.  Creighton also has the potential to have the best non-conference schedule in the league which will give them a little more wiggle room whether they win the conference or not.

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RTC 2009-10 Impact Players: Lower Midwest Region

Posted by zhayes9 on October 13th, 2009


Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South, Deep South and Mid-South) are located here.

It’s time for the sixth installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of rust belt and farming states that we like to call the Lower Midwest.   Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season.  Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five  in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation.  Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man.  We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off.  The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?

Lower Midwest Region (OH, IN, IL, IA, NE, KS)


Ed. Note: for the purposes of our analysis in this region, Butler was considered a high-major program.

  • Cole Aldrich – Jr, C – Kansas. Much like North Carolina one October ago, Kansas appears to be the unanimous selection to begin the season atop every poll and ranking. One of the main reasons for such accolades is the continued improvement of Cole Aldrich, the Kansas double-double machine in the post. Remember the national semifinals against UNC in 2008 when Aldrich burst onto the scene recording eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks in a then career-high 17 minutes? That was the night college hoops fans first saw what Aldrich can provide for Bill Self and his Jayhawks. In a full season of play, Aldrich and guard Sherron Collins were the anchors behind Kansas’ surprising run to a #3 seed and a Sweet 16 berth in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Cole Aldrich and a pretty good player named Blake Griffin were the only players in the Big 12 to average a double-double in 2008-09. Speaking of stats, Aldrich’s triple-double in the second round against Dayton – 13/20/10 blks- was the first recorded triple double in KU’s illustrious basketball history. Aldrich led the conference in blocks with at 2.7 BPG, finished second in rebounding at 12.4 RPG, second in FG% at 60% and tenth in FT% at an impressive 79% for a 6’11 center.  Aldrich possesses great length, a high motor and displays the fundamentals under the basket that Self loves. The insane talent around Aldrich this season will only put less of a load on his shoulders as the big man can rely on Collins for the clutch outside shot, Xavier Henry on the wings, Thomas Robinson on the block or Tyrel Reed to knock down the long-range three. But the pressure will be on Aldrich to provide a post presence that simply cannot be matched in the Big 12 (sorry Dexter Pittman).  If he achieves his potential, a national POY award isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Kansas’ prized junior center.
  • Craig Brackins – Jr, F – Iowa St. Craig Brackins won’t get half the airtime this season as any of the other high-major names on this list, but he could end up becoming the best player of the group when it’s all said and done.  It’s not as if Brackins came out of nowhere – he was a five-star recruit out of Brewster (NH) Academy in 2007, and he turned down offers from Indiana and Pitt, among others – but, when you play in the Big 12 and your team is generally an afterthought (4-12 in 2008-09), it’s tough to get noticed.  But noticed he got on Jan. 24th in a nationally-televised home game against the defending champion Kansas Jayhawks.  Brackins sliced and diced the vaunted Jayhawk defense for 42/14 in a losing effort that had Bill Self afterwards stating that the lanky center could be the “best player in the country today.”  That single game may have put the Iowa State star on the casual fan’s radar screen, but it’s not like Brackins wasn’t tearing it up against everyone else too:  32/16 against N. Iowa; 28/17 against Jacksonville St.; 38/14 against Houston; 25/13 against Nebraska.  The all-Big 12 first teamer nearly averaged a double-double for the season (20.2 PPG and 9.5 RPG) despite seeing hard and fast double-teams every time he touched the ball.  It was widely presumed that Brackins would jump into the NBA Draft last summer after such a spectacular season; after all, projections for him of the lottery and mid-first round were prevalent.  However, Brackins said that he had some unfinished business to attend to at ISU (meaning, getting the Cyclones to an NCAA Tournament), and he returned to what should be an improved squad with 6’7 juco transfer Marquis Gilstrap’s arrival on the blocks and a solid returning backcourt of Diante Garrett and Lucca Staiger.  The only true weakness he has exhibited so far in his career is his 28% from beyond the arc, but with more firepower on the team this year he may be less inclined to feel like he has to do it all (Brackins attempted 37% of ISU’s shots last year).  Regardless of how the team’s season plays out in 2009-10, there should be no doubt that Brackins is on the short list of best post men in America.  With another year of seasoning under his belt at the collegiate level, however, we could be looking at a top five pick next June.  Don’t flip the channel so quickly if you see that Iowa St. is playing on the tube this year – it may be one of your few chances to see one of the best big men in the country.
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