Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.
PRESEASON vs. ACTUAL RESULTS
As you can see from the preseason predictions I made on the Missouri Valley conference back in October versus how things ended up, the MVC turned out to be difficult to predict this year as none of the teams performed as expected other than Northern Iowa and Wichita State.
I originally was not sold on the Panthers, but as the season wore on, I could see the cohesiveness and all the little things this group of players do to win games. Even with the suspension of Jordan Eglseder in three of the final four games, they were able to rally for the most part and continue their dominance in the Valley. Wichita State may have surprised some, but the Shockers appear to be back in the Valley picture after a few year absence from relevance. The work Gregg Marshall has done to build this team back up from scratch has paid off. The question now is whether it is enough to get to an NCAA Tournament postseason.
HELLO SAINT LOUIS
The Missouri Valley Conference tournament will take place this coming week at the Scottrade Center in downtown Saint Louis. Rush the Court will be live in St. Louis this week to keep you updated on the things going on at Arch Madness. Here is how the bracket shapes up:
Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.
Current Records and my standings (Conference Standings) (Last Week)
Northern Iowa 24-3 (14-2) (1)
Wichita State 22-7 (11-5) (2)
Illinois State 20-8 (10-6) (3)
Creighton 14-14 (8-8) (4)
Bradley 14-13 (8-8) (5)
Indiana State 16-12 (8-8) (6)
Missouri State 18-10 (7-9) (7)
Drake 13-16 (7-9) (8)
Southern Illinois 15-12 (6-10) (9)
Evansville 7-20 (1-15) (10)
STORIES OF THE WEEK
Bracketbusters Dominance—The Missouri Valley Conference had a nice showing in Bracketbusters this past weekend, going 7-3 against the competition and 2-1 in televised games. Northern Iowa had all eyes watching them Friday night to kick off Bracketbusters as they dominated Old Dominion from the Colonial. On Saturday, Missouri State came from behind to knock off Nevada, however in the nightcap, Wichita State got down early and was not able to make up the difference in the loss to Utah State.
More Suspensions in Valley- First it was Nick Evans from Southern Illinois (who eventually left school), P’Allen Stinnett from Creighton, and Jordan Eglseder from Northern Iowa with suspensions. Now for the third time this season, Taylor Brown from Bradley is serving a suspension from the Braves. This time it is over some Tweets he made that did not fit into the standards required by head coach Jim Less with respect to social networking.
Last Week of Regular Season—This will be the last week of regular season games in the Valley. But surprisingly enough, there are still several seeding implications that could occur. There are enough scenarios that could put Indiana State as high as a #3 seed and Illinois State as low as a #6 seed. A resident Valley expert has all the likely scenarios laid out for this week.
SEEDING THINGS OUT
As we go into the final week of the MVC regular season, teams are still trying to seed themselves for the conference tourney in St. Louis the first week of March. Let’s see where everyone stands right now.
Northern Iowa (2-0 this week)—Northern Iowa still appears to be the class of the Valley this season. With their wins over Creighton and Old Dominion this week, they actually appeared to play better without the suspended Jordan Eglseder. Lucas O’Rear has taken over the starting spot during the suspension and his toughness has been enough to help carry the Panthers. Here is life as a Panther fan. They finish out the season this week against Evansville and Illinois State.
Wichita State (1-1 this week)—The Shockers are starting to falter down the stretch. After almost losing against Evansville for the second time in a week and some questionable columns by the local beat writers, Wichita State fell to Utah State on the road in Bracketbusters. Any chance of an at-large look is pretty much out the window for them with their non-conference schedule coming back to haunt them. They need to finish strong against Bradley and Southern Illinois to hold on to their second place position.
Illinois State (2-0 this week, won 6 of last 7)—Breathing down the neck of the Shockers is Illinois State. The Redbirds are on a roll this week after defeating Missouri State and Morehead State. Their current winning streak is at five and they are finding ways to win games. One interesting stat to note— Osiris Eldridge and Dinma Odiakosa are trying to become the first players from the same team to win the league’s scoring and rebounding titles since 1992. This could be a big week for Illinois State as they close out the regular season against conference champs Northern Iowa. It could be a preview of the MVC tournament finals.
Creighton (1-1 this week) – Between the game against Northern Iowa at the beginning of the week and against Loyola-Chicago in the Bracketbusters, the Bluejays looked like two totally different teams. They were torched in Cedar Falls against Northern Iowa before returning home to pull away from Loyola-Chicago. Center Kenny Lawson has now hit 2 of 3 three-point attempts in the last two games, his first three pointers in his career. Creighton tries to stay above .500 as they finish against rival Southern Illinois and have senior day against Bradley.
Bradley (1-1 this week)—The Braves started the week with a loss at Indiana State before defeating Drexel for their Bracketbuster matchup. Without Taylor Brown, the Braves went with a zone defense for the whole game. Again the Braves will not finish in the top three in the conference. The question is, will Jim Les ever take them to the top of the league much less take them back to the NCAA Tourney?
Indiana State (1-1 this week)—The Sycamores have been up and down lately. They have no problems winning at home, but like the rest of the Valley, have a hard time winning on the road. But they are keeping their head afloat with eight active players on the roster and could get a good matchup in the MVC tourney if they can beat Illinois State and Missouri State this week.
Missouri State (1-1 this week)—Missouri State ran out of gas against Illinois State this week but then in front of a nationally televised audience came back from being five points down late to beat Nevada in Bracketbusters. Head Coach Cuonzo Martin doesn’t mind the WAC referee crew that came in for that game. Heck, they might be better than the referees that normally do Valley games in my mind. Drake and Indiana State are on the menu this week for the Bears and are both very winnable games. Really with how this team ended up doing this season, it is too bad Cuonzo Martin probably won’t win Valley Coach of the Year honors.
Drake (2-0 this week)—Mark Phelps is working to get the Bulldogs to finish strong. They win the time-zone award this week as they went out to Cal State-Northridge for their Bracketbusters game and walked away with a win. Missouri State and Evansville are on the slate this week. How they finish the season here could go a long way for next season.
Southern Illinois (1-1 this week)— The Salukis are about to end their season with a losing record for the second consecutive season. Many are wondering if there will be a any shakeups during the offseason and whether the recruiting class that was so hyped up two seasons ago is now a bust. Southern Illinois is a shell of its former self and I see that there needs to be some type of change during this offseason if Chris Lowery expects to get another pass. Or he may take off for another coaching opportunity. Firing Lowery probably won’t solve many problems. A lot of questions without many answers. They will try to feel a little better about themselves if they can get a win against Creighton this week before heading to Wichita State to finish the regular season.
Evansville (0-2 this week)—The Purple Aces are building themselves up to prepare for next season. They almost pulled off another stunning upset against Wichita State and just missed out on Illinois-Chicago. Games like this will probably prepare them for next season when they can start over. Speaking of starting over, Kaylon Williams, who transferred from Evansville after last season is now opening up the recruiting race as he finishes up junior college. After losing 17 of their last 18 games, Evansville has two more chances for another win this week against Northern Iowa and Drake.
WEEK AHEAD AND GAMES TO WATCH
Catch the Valley during the last week of the regular season as the top teams in the Valley get one more showcase to the nation.
2/23, Creighton @ Southern Illinois (Fox Sports Net)—Both with down seasons, but still rivals. SIU tries to avenge being destroyed at home a year ago by the Bluejays.
2/24, Wichita State @ Bradley (Local TV)—Bradley is trying to get a different seed. Wichita State tries to keep theirs.
2/27, Illinois State @ Northern Iowa (ESPN2)—This game was chosen as the “Wildcard” game by ESPN. Northern Iowa hopes they don’t meet the Redibirds in the MVC Tournament.
2/27, Wichita State @ Southern Illinois (Fox Sports Net)—A telling sign of the way the MVC has been gradually been flipped over. Wichita sitting in the top part of the league while the Salukis head for their second consecutive losing season.
2/28, Bradley @ Creighton (Local TV)—This is always an entertaining game. Two seasons ago Cavel Witter went off for 42 points in a crazy game. It is his Senior day, how does he finish his career at Creighton?
Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.
Current Records and my standings, (Conference Standings) (Last Week)
Northern Iowa 22-3 (13-2) (1)
Wichita State 21-6 (10-5) (2)
Illinois State 18-8 (9-6) (3)
Creighton 13-13 (8-7) (6)
Bradley 13-12 (8-7) (7)
Indiana State 15-11 (7-8) (4)
Missouri State 17-9 (7-8) (5)
Drake 11-16 (6-9) (8)
Southern Illinois 14-11 (6-9) (9)
Evansville 7-18 (1-14) (10)
STORIES OF THE WEEK
Northern Iowa clinches conference—UNI clinched a share of the MVC title on Wednesday night with their win against Drake. They will go into the MVC Tournament as the number one seed with everyone else in the conference gunning for them to give the Valley an opportunity to get more than one team into the NCAA Tournament. However, some pundits including Jerry Palm don’t believe that Northern Iowa is in yet, even as an at-large. The Mock NCAA exercise has the Panthers as a 13 seed. It will be up to the Panthers to hold up down the stretch as they struggled a year ago in this same position.
Eglseder Suspended for Three Games– Northern Iowa may have run into a problem though as their center Jordan Eglseder was arrested Saturday night for drunk driving. Eglseder was stopped in his vehicle by officers at about 3 a.m. Sunday. Officers observed Eglseder’s vehicle committing a traffic violation and followed the vehicle for a couple of blocks before stopping it. Eglseder was administered a field sobriety test at the scene and failed it. He is now suspended for three games at a minimum and could affect how UNI finishes the regular season and the big game against Old Dominion on Friday becomes even bigger.
Evansville being the spoiler—The other team in the Valley to even have a little consideration as to tourney talk was Wichita State. The Shockers have been trying to pad their resume a little more down the stretch. Unfortunately, they ran into Evansville who were on a 14-game losing streak. You expected that the Purple Aces would get a win at some point. They ended up getting it against Wichita State. This victory has opened up a chance for second place in the conference and the Shockers are back on their heels.
Bracketbuster week—This weekend is Bracketbuster weekend. Northern Iowa and Wichita State need wins in this event to give the Valley a little more credibility. The Panthers host Old Dominion on Friday night and the Shockers go out to Utah State in the final game of the day. Missouri State is also on the ESPN family of networks against Nevada which may not be of any real significance for either school. Some people have their own opinion about Bracketbusters.
THE AVERAGE VALLEY
Once again teams are beating up on each other this week without any consistency down the stretch. Let’s take a look at the Valley teams.
Illinois State (2-0 this week)— The Redbirds have been the most successful team this week, getting victories on the road at their rival Bradley and at Creighton on Saturday. Some of the Illinois State fans were not to excited about the shirts some of the Bradley fans wore to the game. The Redbirds have now won three games in a row by a total of seven points to take over sole possession of third place in the Valley. They host Missouri State in a conference seeding game and then Morehead State next weekend in Bracketbusters.
Northern Iowa (1-1 this week)—The Panthers got past their in-state rival Drake this week, but then after celebrating winning a share of the Valley regular season title, they were surprised by Bradley. They are being celebrated as Iowa’s team of the decade. That is quite an accomplishment since there are teams from the Big 10 and the Big 12 also in the state. The Panthers will get some love at home this week as they host Creighton and then kick off Bracketbusters Friday night against Old Dominion.
Bradley (1-1 this week)—Bradley was pretty fired up to take on Illinois State this week in the return game of their rivalry after getting smoked in Normal the week before. Unfortunately it was not enough as Bradley lost a two-point decision to the Redbirds. The black uniforms may not be the answer. In a turn of events, Northern Iowa came in and Bradley took it to them from the beginning and put themselves back into contention to avoid Thursday night in St. Louis. The win against Northern Iowa was the first victory for Bradley against a ranked team at the 27-year old Carver Arena. A conference game at Indiana State this week is on the slate before hosting Drexel in their Bracketbusters game Saturday night.
Wichita State (1-1 this week)—The Shockers are starting to get a little complacent as they head down the stretch. Losing two of their last three games going into the game against Missouri State, the Shockers are playing themselves out of consideration for an at-large much less a good seed in the conference tournament. They are looking like last season’s Creighton team that just missed getting into the NCAAs. They may be thinking their program is returning to prominence, but they need to slow down a bit. After surviving at home against Missouri State, where they are now 15-0, they need wins this week against Evansville and at Utah State in the Bracketbusters to keep them from a total collapse.
Missouri State (1-1 this week)—The Bears are full of confidence right now and are getting their momentum back at the right time. After starting the season 12-1, Missouri State has been up and down throughout the rest of the conference season. Missouri State had Wichita State on the ropes Sunday night, but could not pull out the victory. It will be a big game for the Bears at Illinois State on Wednesday before hosting Nevada in the Bracketbusters this weekend.
Creighton (1-1 this week) –Justin Carter swished a half-court shot in practice to end it early and to give the team a smile leading into the Bluejays’ golden opportunity to solidify their third place position by getting a win against Illinois State. However, they couldn’t get the win and the Redbirds are now 7-1 against the Bluejays over the past four seasons. It is very possible they will meet again in St. Louis. P’Allen Stinnett’s suspension is now permanent until the end of the season. It will be interesting to see if he returns to the Bluejays next year. The Bluejays hit the road against conference champs Northern Iowa before hosting Loyola (IL) in Bracketbusters this weekend.
Indiana State (1-1 this week)—The Sycamores are trying to stay afloat with their top three scorers already out for the season. They hung around but did not have enough against Creighton. However, it is always nice to play at home and they were able to get some confidence in a win against Drake while only committing three turnovers. Bradley comes to town this week before hitting the road against Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Bracketbusters.
Southern Illinois (1-1 this week)—The Salukis are not finishing the season strong and are again headed towards a disappointing season. They just hope they do not finish with a losing record again. Not finishing games has been their main problem this season. Nick Evans, who had not played since the Creighton game on January 13, has left the team due to personal reasons. SIU heads to Drake before hosting Western Michigan in this weekend’s Bracketbusters.
Evansville (1-1 this week)—At long last, Evansville got a conference win and it was against one of the better teams in the conference in Wichita State. In the process of beating the Shockers, Colt Ryan broke the school’s freshman scoring record. The Aces play the Shockers again this week, but on the road. Illinois-Chicago pulls the short straw and gets to go to Evansville for their Bracketbuster game.
Drake (0-2 this week, 4-game losing streak, lost 5 of 6)—Drake has now gone on a big slide after earlier threatening to become a contender in the conference. Seth VanDeest will be quite the player to contend with over the next few seasons for Drake. A battle of the bottom with Southern Illinois on the slate before taking a trip out to California to take on Cal-State Northridge for their Bracketbuster game. How that matchup is good for both schools is beyond me and is one of the examples of the bad things that can happen because of the Bracketbuster format.
WEEK AHEAD AND GAMES TO WATCH
The few Valley teams on TV for Bracketbuster weekend hope to make some noise. At the same time, almost one Valley team on the tube all week long.
2/16, Creighton @ Northern Iowa(Fox Sports Net)—This game has a lot less significance than it did at the beginning of the season, but still should be a good one to watch.
2/17, Evansville @ Wichita State (No TV)—The Shockers hope to give a little payback after Evansville notched their first conference win of the season against them last week.
2/17, Missouri State @ Illinois state (Fox Sports Net)—A positioning game for the MVC Tournament
2/19, Old Dominion @ Northern Iowa (ESPN2)—A featured game of Bracketbusters with two of the top teams in the field. It is the Valley vs. the Colonial conferences.
2/20, Nevada @ Missouri State (ESPN2)—A middle of the road Bracketbuster game that may not mean anything at the end of the season as both teams probably need to win their conference tournaments to get into the Big Dance.
2/20, Wichita State @ Utah State (ESPN2)—The final game of Bracketbusters should be a key one for either team and many may stay awake for this one.
Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.
Current Records and My Standings (Conference Standings) (Last Week)
Northern Iowa 21-2 (12-1) (1)
Wichita State 20-5 (9-4) (2)
Illinois State 16-8 (7-6) (3)
Indiana State 14-10 (6-7) (7)
Missouri State 16-8 (6-7) (6)
Creighton 12-12 (7-6) (5)
Bradley 12-11 (7-6) (8)
Drake 11-14 (6-7) (4)
Southern Illinois 13-10 (5-8) (9)
Evansville 6-17 (0-13) (10)
STORIES OF THE WEEK
2010 Bracketbusters—The people in Bristol announced the 11 TV matchups for this season’s Bracketbusters for Friday and Saturday, February 20th and 21st, while the other conference commissioners matched up the rest of the games of the other 76 teams. Here are the matchups for the Valley teams and TV info for those selected to play on the ESPN family of networks:
Northern Iowa vs. Old Dominion, Friday, February 19th, 6PM, ESPN2
Wichita State @ Utah State, Saturday, February 20th, 11PM, ESPN2
Nevada @ Missouri State, Saturday, 2PM, ESPN2
Morehead State @ Ilinois State, Saturday, 4PM
Indiana State @ Green Bay, Saturday, 7PM
Loyola (Ill.) @ Creighton, Saturday, 8:35PM
Drexel @ Bradley, Saturday, 7PM
Drake @ Cal State-Northridge, Saturday, 9PM
Western Michigan @ Southern Illinois, Saturday, 2PM
Illinois-Chicago @ Evansville, Saturday, 7PM
Valley coaches in favor of expanded tournament—On the weekly Missouri Valley Conference teleconference, the question of expanding the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams was deemed pretty favorable by the coaches in the Missouri Valley Conference. With the Valley looking at a one bid for the third straight year, I guess you could understand why they would like it. However, I still think it takes away from the integrity of the hard work done throughout the season and the build-up would not be the same when teams are expecting to go to the NCAA Tourney by default every year.
Northern Iowa declared MVC champs—Ok, so mathematically several teams have a chance to catch up and tie or overtake Northern Iowa, but come on, with five conference games remaining, Northern Iowa has basically run away with the Valley regular season crown while all the other teams are just beating each other up. When the Panthers knocked off Wichita State last week, they staved off their final threat in the regular season.
Rivalry Week in Full Swing—The known rivalries in the Valley will all be in action this week. Creighton heads to Carbondale to take on Southern Illinois where the Salukis are looking to respond to the blowout the Bluejays handed to them last season on SIU’s home floor. The Battle of I-76 between Bradley and Illinois State will be played again with Bradley seeking revenge for getting run off the court a couple weeks ago at Redbird Arena. Drake and Northern Iowa hook up again as well in an in-state matchup.
Northern Iowa (2-0 this week, 20-1 in last 21 games, 5 game win streak)—The Panthers are getting every team’s best shot, but they are continuing to find ways to win. Against Wichita State on Wednesday, the Panthers survived a late rally by the Shockers to get the win. Saturday they came from behind to beat Southern Illinois and Adam Koch scored the team’s last 11 points. They hope to continue their domination against Drake and Bradley this week.
BUMPY HIGHWAY FOR 2nd-9th
Bradley (2-0 this week) – After going 0-2 last week, Bradley turned things around to go 2-0. This is just one example of how the rest of the Valley has played this season. A winning shot by Will Egolf gave Bradley a thrilling victory over Drake. It is a big week for the Braves this week as they get a shot at the top of the conference with Northern Iowa and Illinois State. The other good news for them is that both games are at home.
Wichita State (1-1 this week)—The Shockers just seem to be coasting through under the radar for the most part. After losing a heartbreaker against Northern Iowa for their chance to try and catch them, the Shockers had to rally from 15 down in the final nine minutes against a shorthanded Indiana State team to pull out a victory. It’s the little things that players like Aaron Ellis bring to the court for the Shockers that has helped them become so successful this season. Games against Evansville and Missouri State should give Wichita State the opportunity to lock down their second place standing in the Valley.
Illinois State (1-1 this week)— Win one, lose one….that is the mantra of the Valley over the past several weeks and the Redbirds have not been left out. The big troubles have been road games with last week’s loss coming at Indiana State. Illinois State is now 1-5 on the road. With Bradley and Creighton on tap this week, can they get a road victory? The other question—is Osiris Eldridgenot playing as well this season compared to last? Appears that way.
Missouri State (1-1 this week)— The Bears are the highest scoring team in the Valley as well as trying to be a great defensive team as well. In their win against Creighton this week, they displayed both as they went on 11-1 and 17-0 runs to take the Bluejays behind the woodshed, 70-52. Creighton only had 30 points with nine minutes to go. Southern Illinois and Wichita State give the Bears opportunities to move up this week.
Creighton (1-1 this week)—Creighton, like Illinois State, has big problems winning a road game. After getting crushed at Missouri State this week, the Bluejays are now 2-11 in road/neutral games this season and it looks like they may not get a road victory the rest of the year. Luckily they have two home games this week against Indiana State and Illinois State. It is so dire for Creighton fans now, that the focus is almost off the men’s basketball team as fans find the Creighton Dance Team more interesting.
Indiana State (1-1 this week)—The Sycamores took a big blow this week losing point guard Harry Marshall along with Dwayne Lathanto injuries suffered during the Illinois State game that will pretty much take them out until the end of the season. They had a valiant effort against Wichita State on the road, but didn’t have enough gas to keep the Shockers from stealing the victory down the stretch. Creighton and Drake are on the schedule this week.
Southern Illinois (1-1 this week)— The Salukis couldn’t upset the Panthers even though they hoped their depth would be key this week, so they continue to be an average team. Tony Freeman had weird feelings playing a game in the state of Iowa again. They got a victory against Missouri State, but cannot relish in it too much because they turn around and play them again this week along with doormat Evansville
Drake (0-2 this week)—Drake had a nice run, but they have now lost three of four games. The three losses have all come on the road. Josh Youngkeeps getting accolades before he is crowned the school’s all-time scoring leader. They host conference leaders Northern Iowa this week and travel to Indiana State.
BLEW A TIRE AND ENGINE BROKE DOWN
Evansville (0-2 this week, 14 game losing streak)— Colt Ryan averaged 24 points in his two games this week against Creighton and Bradley. Before the end of the season, Ryan will shatter the freshman scoring record for this school. Unfortunately, the Purple Aces continue to lose. With the City of Evansville building a new Arena and the Aces expected to play there, will there be enough people in the seats to make the switch? Wichita State and Southern Illinois the next ones to beat up on the Aces.
WEEK AHEAD AND GAMES TO WATCH
Pretty much every game is key in the Valley this week, but here are the best matchups and a couple most people should be able to watch on TV.
2/9—Illinois State @ Bradley (Local TV)—Yes, most won’t be able to watch this one, but Bradley has declared a “Blackout” as the Redbirds try to come in and sweep their home-home series this season.
2/10—Northern Iowa @ Drake (Local TV throughout Iowa) –This game has to get mentioned because of an in-state rivalry and the Panthers are ranked in the top 25 so every game is important for them.
2/13—Illinois State @ Creighton (Local TV in Omaha and Illinois)—This game will determine who will likely play on Thursday night in St. Louis in the MVC Tournament.
2/13—Northern Iowa @ Bradley (Fox Sports Net)—Either at home or on the road, the Panthers have been dominating the Valley. Can it continue in Peoria?
2/14—Missouri State @ Wichita State (ESPNU)—The Shockers hope to lock in second place in the Valley with this game
Standings & Records (Conference Standings) (Last Week)
Northern Iowa 17-2 (8-1) (1)
Wichita State 15-4 (6-3) (2)
Illinois State 14-6 (5-4) (3)
Drake 10-11 (5-4) (8)
Bradley 10-9 (5-4) (6)
Creighton 10-10 (5-4) (4)
Missouri State 14-6 (4-5) (5)
Southern Illinois 11-7 (4-5) (9)
Indiana State 11-9 (3-6) (7)
Evansville 6-12 (0-9) (10)
STORIES OF THE WEEK
Wichita State/Northern Iowa game was as expected—The matchup of the top two teams in the conference was quite the game this week. Getting the TV exposure is needed for the MVC. Wichita State came out fast against the Panthers to take a dominant lead in front of a raucous home crowd to halftime. Maybe it was the extra attention that Northern Iowa was getting by being ranked the day before or the fact that the Shockers hosted another ranked team at home in the same season for the first time in almost 15-20 years. But the Panthers erased the deficit early in the second half and seemed as though they were going to pull out the victory the same way they have all season, but did not have enough as the Shockers upset the Panthers and once again put the Valley race back in play for several other teams.
Opportunities lost, others gained—With Northern Iowa losing this week, Wichita State, Creighton and Illinois State could have taken advantage of the situation in the MVC standings. However, Creighton lost to Illinois State, Illinois State lost to Southern Illinois and Wichita State turned around and lost to Drake. Bradley and Drake, who have been struggling this season, have taken advantage of those losses to move up the Valley standings. It is now anyone’s game, but it is extremely important that either Wichita State or Northern Iowa decide to take over the league and somebody else win the Valley tournament if they expect to get more than one team into the NCAA Tournament this season.
Saint Louis wants to be part of the Valley?—Saint Louis head coach Rick Majerus made it quite clear that they would rather be a part of the Missouri Valley Conference instead of the A10. The question is, could that really happen? And if so, would they drop a team or add another to make the conference twelve? Butler? Western Kentucky? Apparently there are no plans for any MVC expansion, but does make an interesting discussion.
Drake (2-0 this week, 5 game winning streak) — Drake has been on fire, now on a five-game winning streak including a dominating win against Wichita State on Saturday. Players are stepping up while Craig Stanley is out with an injury. The Bulldogs will be squarely in the conference race with wins against Northern Iowa and Creighton this week. What a turnaround this might be after having a horrible non-conference season and losing to teams like SIU-Edwardsville at home.
Bradley (2-0 this week, 3 game winning streak) – Bradley all of a sudden is making a turnaround with a three-game winning streak with wins this past week against Southern Illinois and Evansville. Defense has been the key to their resurgence. Bradley could move up into the top three of the conference with wins over Creighton and Illinois State this week.
Northern Iowa (1-1 this week) — The Panthers ranking and Sports Illustrated article were probably a little too much to handle this week heading into their game against Wichita State while opening the door to the rest of the conference to say they are beatable. Northern Iowa is in no way guaranteed the NCAA tournament as their Athletic Director can attest after his participation in a mock NCAA selection committee exercise. Jordan Eglsederlooks like a different player this season and appears to be a dominant inside threat in the Valley. The hottest team in the conference, Drake, is coming to town before a trip to Missouri State is on the schedule this week.
Wichita State (1-1 this week) — Wichita gave Northern Iowa their best shot and sent a message to the Panthers that they are contenders for the league, but then must have had a hangover in getting drilled by Drake. You would have thought Wichita was completely out of the race after this loss. They hope to get back on track against Illinois State and Southern Illinois
Illinois State (1-1 this week) — The Redbirds came from behind Wednesday night against Creighton by dominating the inside with Dinma Okiakosasetting the standard, but then suffered an overtime defeat to Southern Illinois. This will be a key week for them with games against Wichita State and Bradley.
Missouri State (1-1 this week) — Missouri State blew a 24-point second half lead against Indiana State before surviving in overtime. They then lost a see-saw battle against Creighton. A key to the Bears’ continued success is the health of Adam Leonard. He has been experiencing back spasms that may keep him out of games down the line. They will need him for the games against Evansville and Northern Iowa this week.
Creighton (1-1 this week) — Creighton let another halftime lead slip away, this time at Illinois State. They were on the verge of collapsing but hit an amazing 15-15 from the free throw line in the second half to get a win against Missouri State. Are the Bluejays playing scared? Some are starting to think that including the players. Road trips to Bradley and Drake won’t make things any easier this week.
Southern Illinois (1-1 this week)—Just when you thought the Salukis were about to pack it in for the second consecutive season (with a loss to Bradley at home), screams for Chris Lowery’s exit out of town grows louder and louder, and academic problems with Gene Teague, they survived against Illinois State in overtime. A road trip to Indiana State before hosting Wichita State are on the slate this week.
PACKING IT IN
Indiana State (0-2 this week) — Indiana State took 30 minutes to wake up against Missouri State and almost came back to defeat them, but came up short. Although they were in range of Northern Iowa, they could not steal a win from there. The loss of Dwayne Lathan has really hurt this team. They have few opportunities left to make a conference run, but could have some success hosting Southern Illinois before heading to Evansville this week.
Evansville (0-2 this week, 10 game losing streak) — It doesn’t really matter who Evansville is playing anymore, they just don’t have enough to win games. Rebuilding is hard, especially at Evansville. Missouri State and Indiana State are on the slate this week and could be a spoiler for those teams.
WEEK AHEAD AND GAMES TO WATCH
The Wild and Wacky Valley. You have to see it:
1/25, Western Kentucky @ Southern Illinois (Fox College Sports)—A very odd out of conference matchup for the Salukis and Hilltoppers during conference season that looked more attractive at the beginning of the season. Not so much now, but still likely a good game.
1/27, Creighton @ Bradley (Local TV)—Great matchup for both teams that are looking to position themselves for St. Louis.
1/27, Drake @ Northern Iowa (Local TV)—Drake wants respect. Best way to get it is against conference leader UNI.
1/27, Illinois State @ Wichita State (Fox Sports Net)—Koch Arena is a great college basketball environment. See it in action on TV.
1/30, Bradley @ Illinois State (Fox Sports Net)—I think the loser of this game will end up playing on Thursday in the play-in games in the MVC tournament.
1/30, Creighton @ Drake (Local TV)—Even though Drake didn’t get the win in Omaha a couple weeks ago, the effort jumpstarted them into their current streak. A great I-80 matchup.
1/30, Northern Iowa @ Missouri State—This game isn’t going to be on TV, but it will be a battle in Springfield by these two teams.
1/31, Wichita State @ Southern Illinois (ESPNU)—The Shockers want to separate themselves from the rest of the Valley contenders, but the Saluki’s may not let them at home.
Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.
Current Records and my standings (Last Week)
Missouri State (10-0) (1)
Wichita State (10-1) (2)
Northern Iowa (8-1) (3)
Southern Illinois (7-2) (5)
Illinois State (8-2) (4)
Indiana State (7-3) (7)
Evansville (6-3) (8)
Bradley (5-5) (6)
Drake (5-6) (9)
Creighton (4-6) (10)
STORIES OF THE WEEK
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?
TEAMS DOING WELL
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.
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.
WEEK AHEAD AND GAMES TO WATCH
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
RTC asked its legion of correspondents, charlatans, sycophants, toadies and other hangers-on to send us their very favorite March Madness memory, something that had a visceral effect on who they are as a person and college basketball fan today. Not surprisingly, many of the submissions were excellent and if you’re not fired up reading them, then you need to head back over to PerezHilton for the rest of this month. We’ve chosen the sixteen best, and we’ll be counting them down over the next two weeks as we approach the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
The Hunter S. Thompson of College Basketball (submitted by Ray Floriani of College Chalktalk)
SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – The NCAA tournament in 1979 turned out to be truly memorable. And not simply because of Magic vs. Bird. First, a little background. I was writing and doing some photographic work for Eastern Basketball magazine. EB was produced in the Long Island home of founders Ralph and Rita Pollio and enjoyed a good following. The three of us plus Rita’s brother Ray took a twelve-hour drive to Raleigh for the first two rounds. On Friday evening Penn stopped Iona (coached by the late Jim Valvano) and St. John’s upset a good Temple team. On Sunday it was the day still known in ACC country as “Black Sunday.” Penn upset top ranked North Carolina and St. John’s, who upset Duke in December’s Holiday Festival consolation, made it two straight over the Devils with another upset victory.
The following weekend it was off to Greensboro for the regionals. I traveled with EB writer Happy Fine. An extremely knowledgeable basketball analyst and excellent writer, Happy knew a good number of people and was well connected. We flew to Greensboro, had regular hotel rooms, credentials and ate at good restaurants and covered some memorable games. Greensboro Coliseum was half (or more empty) with no ACC representatives. Even the local papers billed the regionals as the “frost belt four.” For the record, Penn upset Syracuse and St.John’s did the same to Rutgers in the semis. Then Penn edged St. John’s in a thrilling regional final. As the sign Penn fans held in post game celebrations read, “weese going to Utah.”
Now in 1979 there was no Big East. Penn naturally was in the Ivy, but schools like St. John’s were part of ECAC regional affiliations while Rutgers was in the Eastern Eight (now Atlantic Ten). We did not cover the ACC at EB – only the “traditional East.” We had an agreement with the NCAA that if we got a team in we could get a Final Four credential (as in… one credential). As much as Rita tried, we could not secure a second for yours truly. Happy and I would drive to Philadelphia (about 2 hours) and fly on the Penn fan charter – the bad news was that I did not have a ticket nor did we have hotel rooms in Salt Lake City. Talk about “survive and advance.”
We flew out Thursday morning , two days before the semis. Happy secured us a ‘room’ in the suite of SI’s Curry Kirkpatrick. A heavy hitter on SI’s team, I met Curry through Happy in Greensboro and felt him humble and passionate about the game. An hour into the flight, Happy had already secured tickets for me to the semis and finals with the whole cost setting me back only about $30. No complaints, at least I was in. The charter was mostly Penn students and we had a great time discussing basketball with them on the flight out. That night I went to the NABC (National Association of Basketball Coaches) all-star game at the old Salt Palace, where the Jazz played. Pleased to see James Bailey of Rutgers star in the contest which had a number of solid players.
The Final Four was held at the Arena on the University of Utah campus. On Friday at open practice I met with Al McGuire. There was no ESPN back then. NBC televised the tournament and some national games. Eastern teams like Syracuse got maybe a date or two or national TV. McGuire wanted to know more about Penn so Rita arranged for me to meet with him. She prepared a sizable portfolio on the Quakers. After meeting McGuire, quite a thrill since I idolized him and his coaching style since high school, he put the packet aside. In his unique style he jotted down key points about Penn. Their marquee players Tony Price and Bobby Willis. The multi-talented center Matt White. The coaching philosophy of Bob Weinauer. The streamers thrown after the first basket. Even the watering hole, Smokey Joe’s, which had cheap tap brews and great cheesesteaks. We met for about a half hour then McGuire gave me his card. Safe to say, from my vantage point, the McGuire meeting was a highlight of that Final Four (an example of his peculiar eloquence is below).
Got back to the hotel and Happy asked if I wouldn’t mind going to another hotel. No problem, even though I quietly arose at 7 a.m. that morning to go running. Seems Curry had ‘overbooked’ his guests. We arranged for me to stay with Mike Madden of the Boston Globe. I met Mike covering some BC games. We got along well and had no problems with the situation.
Saturday. Game day. Rode the NABC shuttle to the arena and one coach had a remark that could be etched in stone when he said, “there is no better day in basketball than today.” He’s right because as special as the finals are, the semifinal Saturday gives you four teams all with national championship hopes and dreams. Penn-Michigan State was the first game. The Quakers got inside Michigan State’s patented 2-3 matchup zone, but could not hit a thing, picking the most inopportune time to play their worst game. The margin was in the thirties in the first half as MSU cruised. The second game came down to the final minutes as Indiana State edged DePaul. Thought it was a special story that the same Ray Meyer who coached DePaul to prominence with George Mikan three decades prior was back in the limelight.
Through post game receptions with the NABC and media on Saturday night and into Sunday the talk was over Michigan State dismantling Penn and now Magic vs. Bird on Monday night. They told us Salt Lake City was dry. With the commerce dollars coming in that weekend, the city’s ‘good fathers’ probably looked the other way as the beer flowed like an amber cascade. Made some phone reports to Ralph but his phone was disconnected so we called the neighbor who would run across the street to get him.
Met Basketball Times publisher Larry Donald on Sunday. It’s ironic that about a decade later I would be working for him. Snapped some shots around the picturesque Utah campus and chatted with students. Arkansas coach Eddie Sutton stopped by a media reception on Sunday evening. Sutton’s Arkansas team dropped a heart breaker to Indiana State in a regional final but the coach was cordial and an interesting personality to discuss the game with. Happy and Bob Ryan told Sutton about this young high school player doing some work in Boston, Patrick Ewing.
On Monday I went to a few NABC clinics. As a basketball fanatic I’m always looking for information on the game. Ohio State’s Don Devoe gave a great talk. Really impressed with a coach who would fall afoul to recruiting violations a few years later; New Mexico’s Norm Ellenberger also spoke about the fast break. Back in those days they had a consolation game and Penn was thrilled to go out and prove they belonged. I ‘borrowed’ Happy’s press pass to get some photos on the floor. Penn played well and lost a tough one to DePaul. The Quakers gained back some respect, but unfortunately the game was not televised.
The final saw Magic Johnson’s Michigan State vs. Larry Bird’s Indiana State. A great game. Greg Kelser was an inside factor for the Spartans and, though there was no three point shot, Jud Heathcote had a few good outside shooters that kept the defense honest. Michigan State held about a nine point lead through the second half. That nine felt like eighteen as they were in command throughout. Got on the floor for the post game awards. Snapped some shots then caught some of the post game press conference in a huge area to accommodate several hundred media. Shortly after, Happy and I went to the airport to catch our charter. It was a redeye and as we boarded, a Penn student brought a PENN sign from a side scoreboard at the arena. Why not ?
We flew cross-country in the middle of the night. Penn students slept. At times I stayed awake thinking about it all, wondering will Indiana State stay a major player or was this their “fifteen minutes of fame?” Penn will be a major Ivy player, but was this like Princeton’s ’65 final Four run where everything came together? Magic’s greatest attribute is his ability to raise his teammates’ games, and what a great story the DePaul resurgence was.
As years passed the ’79 final went down as a classic. In truth, for me, the whole weekend was.