Sometimes a team, if it has enough overall talent and a few breaks, can win a game in which its major flaws are exposed by an opponent. That’s exactly what happened in VCU’s thrilling double-overtime 93-87 win over an excellent Northern Iowa team on Saturday night in Richmond. Coming in, VCU’s detractors were wondering how the team dubbed Shaka Smart’s best since he took over the Rams program in 2009 could be a mere 5-3 and out of the national rankings already. The answer(s) to that question surfaced early and often against the Panthers; luckily the Rams’, buoyed by an always boisterous home crowd, overcame their nagging issues on the defensive end to win.
Shaka Smart’s Rams got a much-needed resume-builder, but defensive issues remain (vcuramnation.com)
VCU’s HAVOC defense is now a nationwide buzzword, and their pressing style can be utterly infuriating for opponents. But what has caused this Rams team to struggle in the non-conference schedule is the fact that once that press is broken or has been rendered impossible to set up, they’re a subpar half-court defensive team. Coming into the Northern Iowa matchup, the Rams were allowing opponents to shoot nearly 41% from three-point range. For a team that loves to chuck from long-range themselves, that can negate any good three-point shooting night they have. They’re not a whole lot better inside the arc, either, mostly because they take chances with their guard-heavy lineup and don’t have any true rim-protectors on the roster.
Tonight’s Lede.Styles Clashed, Tempo Prevails.The realization that Kentucky has not yet blossomed into the transcendent juggernaut it was last season creates an interesting situation atop the SEC title race, where the likes of Florida and Missouri are very well in line to seize the opportunity should the Wildcats falter in any significant way. Of the three likely contenders, the Gators can now lay claim to the most impressive non-conference win – which, if you throw in the forever expunged naval ship game with Georgetown, should be Florida’s potential second impressive non-conference win. In any case, this Wednesday night headliner gave us a nice glimpse of Billy Donovan’s charges against a Tournament-caliber foe, and a decent jumping off point from the blue-blood bonanza that took place last night in Atlanta. Plus, for you x’s and o’s savants, whenever a giddy-up offensive thoroughbred like Florida tangles with the ploddiest of plodders, Wisconsin, the clash of styles is awfully fun to observe. This game didn’t disappoint. Let’s dive into the Gators’ triumph, plus some of the other action on a rather blasé night of college hoops…
Your Watercooler Moment. ErikMurphy Eases Florida’s Frontcourt Concerns.
As frontcourt scoring options go, Murphy gives Florida an excellent complement to Young (Photo credit: AP Photo).
The logical stopping point on any even-keeled analysis of Florida’s offensive potential this season rests on two key developments: Kenny Boynton’s unrestrained three-point trigger and Patric Young’s development slowly, surely, eventually, into a viable scorer and rebounder on the low block. With nine three-point attempts through two games, Boynton’s already off to the running. Young has been efficient – 8-for-14 shooting and a combined 20 rebounds so far – but his progress feels like a backstory in light of senior forward Erik Murphy’s spotlight 10-for-10, 24-point, eight-rebound night against the Badgers. The star turn of one-and-done guard Bradley Beal during last season’s Elite Eight run, not to mention the Billy Donovan/Rick Pitino interplay, among other nuggets, conspired to de-emphasize Murphy’s importance to Florida’s offensive chemistry. Did you know the 6’8’’ senior forward hit double figures 19 times last season? You’ll certainty take notice after the hyper-efficient shooting display he threw down tonight. If Young can’t make the improvements everyone’s been expecting since he arrived on campus, if he can’t elevate his footwork, post awareness and interior scoring touch to match the physical tools befitting a lottery pick, Murphy’s interior scoring responsibilities could skyrocket. The question going forward is whether last night’s sterling effort was a blip or a sign of things to come. His teammates sure appreciated it (see video below)…
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
When McDermott Doesn’t Score…Any early-season national player of the year projections invariably include one name: Doug McDermott. For all his success last season, and Creighton’s likely Top 25 status this season, McDermott may never be recognized as the nation’s best player. What we do know is that McDermott is crucial to the Bluejays’ chances of reigning over the mid-major landscape, and last night’s home win over UAB offered a perfect example of his outsized role. Foul trouble kept McDermott on the bench for much of the first half, and he ultimately finished with just five points, the first time he’s failed to record double figures in his last 37 games. In case anyone was interested in a defensive antidote for Creighton’s high-powered offense, the Blazers found your solution: keep McDermott off the court. Simple enough. Read the rest of this entry »
Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference. You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.
The Week That Was:
Bracketbusters a Bust: Last weekend was the annual Bracketbusters event that the MVC has been involved in since its inception. In recent years, fans and even coaches haven’t been too fond of the Bracketbusters with the argument that being involved in this doesn’t help them. The fact remains that the Valley hasn’t really proved that they are past the Bracketbusters. In the five television games last weekend, the conference went 2-3 with league leaders Wichita State and Creighton the only ones to walk away with wins. As a whole, the league went 4-6. MissouriState and NorthernIowa were the big losers in this one in their losses to Old Dominion and Virginia Commonwealth. The CAA has dominated the MVC in this series.
Shockers and Bluejays NCAA-Bound: Wichita State and Creighton have solidified their status as at-large teams for the NCAA Tournament with their wins this past weekend. The Shockers are ranked now in both polls while Creighton is hanging around just outside of the top 25. The latest projections have the Shockers as high as a #4 seed and Creighton around a #6 seed. Unless there is a total collapse, both of these teams should be in even if they do not win the MVC Tournament. They both could make a run once they do get to the NCAA’s.
MVC Seeding Still in the Air: It’s the final week of the conference season and seeding for the middle six teams in the league is still to be decided with this week’s games. Illinois State, Missouri State, Evansville, Northern Iowa, Drake and IndianaState will all be fighting to stay out of the Thursday night play-in games in the MVC Tournament.
Power Rankings (last week’s ranking in parentheses)
Wichita State and Creighton are the clear top players in the Missouri Valley Conference this season. Any team in the middle of the league could emerge as a threat to get the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning the MVC Tournament.
Wichita State (24-4, 14-2) (1): Wichita State is on a roll and appear to be the best non-power six conference team in the nation. They are 12-1 since losing to Creighton on New Year’s Eve and do not look like they are letting up at all. Everything seems to be falling from the field, their defense has been solid and they have a big guy that can shoot the three. All great tools for a postseason run. Head coach Gregg Marshall hopes that Wichita State can now get the media coveragethey deserve.
Gregg Marshall hopes that Wichita State can now get the media coverage they deserve (AP)
Creighton (24-5, 13-4) (2): Creighton spent its week trying to survive — first with a come-from-behind win against Long Beach State with an Antoine Young buzzer-beater and then another comeback job, this one in overtime over Evansville Tuesday. Both games were at home. One thing about Creighton that has helped them this season has been the walk-ons. Read the rest of this entry »
Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference. You can find him on Twitter @wildjays.
Reader’s Take I
Back to Multiple Bids?: The Missouri Valley Conference is getting a little more attention entering this season than in the past, and rightfully so. Six of the top ten scorers in the league are back along with four of the top five rebounders. The league is looking to have the impact it had back in the 2005-06 season, when it sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament. Since then, only the automatic qualifier from the MVC Tournament has advanced to The Dance. With so many talented upperclassmen, there could be an opportunity for The Valley to get closer to that status of six years ago.
Kyle Weems or Doug McDermott?: There are a lot of people that have probably forgotten that Kyle Weems of Missouri State was the MVC Player of the Year last season with all the buzz that Creighton’s Doug McDermott received over the summer. Going into 2011-12, one hotly-debated topic is whether Weems can repeat or if McDermott will build upon his MVC Freshman of the Year performance. McDermott was only the second freshman in the 100-year-plus history of the MVC to get first team all-conference honors. Weems tried to lead Missouri State to the NCAA Tournament, but came up just short. Due to the personnel losses by the Bears, including their coach, and all of the returning players for the Bluejays, can Weems surprise the “experts” and have even better success to repeat?
Kyle Weems May Be The Best Player In A Resurgent MVC This Season. (MVC-Sports.com)
New Ford Center: Evansville will start the season in a new downtown arena, the Ford Center. They open it in style with in-state powers Butler and Indiana visiting to start the season. This building represents the continual facility improvements for the Missouri Valley Conference member schools. Creighton started the trend with the Qwest Center (recently renamed CenturyLink Center). Northern Iowa followed suit with its own basketball building in the McLeod Center. Missouri State opened JQH Arena a couple years later and in Wichita, a new arena was built to complement Koch Arena as a place where the Shockers can play a game or two a year. Southern Illinois spent almost $30 million to renovate SIU Arena. So if you are looking for a conference that keeps upgrading the basketball environment like a major conference, this is where you should go.
Scheduling Philosophies: In the past, the MVC member schools would hold back a game on their schedules to try to get a home-and-home series against a high-major school. Although this has worked out in the past, it sort of backfired this season. As a result, many of the final games scheduled for each team will come against a non-Division I school, and in other cases, a game was not even scheduled, leaving a gap between the end of the regular season slate and the conference tournament. Creighton and Illinois State chose to schedule one game fewer than the number of games they could have scheduled while the rest of the schools scheduled the likes of Loras College, Emporia State, Upper Iowa, Maryville and others as a regular season game on the schedule. With almost 350 teams in Division-I, that isn’t a good sign for a non-major, major conference.