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Mid-Continent Notebook

March 4, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments



Mid-Continent Conference Notebook

by Matt Amis

It’s tourney time in Mid-Con land – Valpo leads the way, but Oral Roberts, IUPUI, Oakland and, yes, even the Kangaroos have something to say about it.

In a final attempt to gain ground on Valpo, pesky IUPUI did all it could and beat down on Chicago State, 67-55. IUPUI (17-13, 10-4) trailed early against CSU (3-26, 0-14 Mid-Con), but forced 10 Cougar turnovers in 12 possessions at one ugly point in the first half and took the lead for good with a 13-2 run to close the first 20 minutes.

IUPUI built its lead to as many as 15 points in the second half, but the Cougars pulled to within five points on a Kelvin Smallwood bucket before letting the whippin’ resume.
Odell Bradley scored 22 points to lead IUPUI, while Matt Crenshaw added 18 points and eight steals. Chris Sanders and Josh Murray added 11 and 10 points, respectively. Steve Turner paced the Cougars with 18 points, while Smallwood posted a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

UMKC (darkhorse alert! darkhorse alert!) continued its recent strong play as it edged Western Illinois, 83-79. UMKC (8-19, 7-7 Mid-Con) trailed much of the game against visiting Western Illinois (7-20, 3-11 Mid-Con) but gave the home fans a treat in their finale.

A Tom Curtis lay-up gave UMKC a 69-68 lead, and after Western Illinois scored six straight points, Michael Watson and Brandon Lipsey hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give UMKC the lead again. Tip-ins by Ray Harris and Luis Rivas gave Western Illinois a 79-75 lead with two minutes left, but that was the last time the Leathernecks would score. Watson’s trey with 22 seconds left in the game proved to be the game-winner.

Watson, while he finished with 27 points, also got some help from his friends.

Lipsey (12), Marc Stricker (12), Javon Clark (11) and Carlton Aaron (10) all also scored in double figures for the Kangaroos. Western Illinois was led by Shawn Mason’s 23 points, while J.D. Summers (15), Will Lewis (14) and Rivas (12) also scored in double figures.

Oakland (17-10, 10-4 Mid-Con) got a huge performance from MVP candidate Mike Helms in its home finale, as the Golden Grizzlies prevailed over Southern Utah (10-16, 5-9 Mid-Con) by a count of 92-77. The two teams combined for a nail-biting 11 lead changes in the opening minutes, but Oakland took the lead for good late in the half and closed the first 20 minutes on an 8-2 run that gave the Golden Grizzlies a 41-34 advantage.

Oakland led by 13 points before Southern Utah cut the lead to four points (70-66). However, the Golden Grizzlies went on an 11-2 to secure the win. Helms scored 22 of his season-best 42 points in the first half, and connected on 15-of-27 shots (including all six of his 3-point tries).

Cortney Scott posted a double-double for Oakland with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Rawle Marshall added 14 points and five steals, which gave him an OU school season-record 77 thefts on the season. Jay Collins had 11 points to lead the Thunderbirds, while Donnie Jackson, Jordan Mulford and Kevin Henry all scored 10 points each.

In the most highly anticipated match-up of the year (not to mention a possible league championship game preview), Oral Roberts snapped Valparaiso’s seven-game win streak in the two teams’ regular-season finale on Saturday, as the Golden Eagles won for the 12th time in 13 games at home this season by a surprisingly lopsided 89-75 score.

Oral Roberts (18-9, 9-5 Mid-Con) took control of a close game in the middle of the first half, and did not trail after Jonathan Bluitt’s two free throws snapped a 27-27 tie. The host Golden Eagles won for the seventh straight time over Valparaiso in the Mabee Center.

Reggie Borges scored a game-high 25 points, and was one of five Golden Eagles who scored in double figures. Cameron Tragardh (14), Bluitt (12), Tyrone Tiggs (12) and Luke Spencer-Gardner (10) joined Borges in double-figure scoring.

The Golden Eagles shot a season-best 60.4% (29-48) for the game. Roberto Nieves led Valparaiso with 21 points and 10 rebounds for his first career double-double. Stalin Ortiz and Raitis Grafs joined him in double figures with 14 and 11 points, respectively.

Conference Tournament Preview

With the conclusion of the regular season, seeds have been set for the aptly-named (as this one ought to have plenty of gas) Conoco Mid-Continent Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament, March 9-11 at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo.

Valpo, which won its eighth league regular-season title in nine seasons, will once again take its place as the No. 1 seed in the event. And of course, all eight teams are vying for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Valparaiso (18-9, 12-2 Mid-Con) finished atop the Mid-Con Conference for the eighth time in nine seasons, meaning the Crusaders will meet up with its ugly stepsister of sorts, No. 8 seed Chicago State (3-26, 0-14 Mid-Con). How bad have the Cougars been? CSU has failed to win a single conference game for the second straight season. The two teams will face off in the first quarterfinal game at 12 p.m. on March 9. Naturally, Valparaiso won both meetings during the regular season.

No. 4 seed Oral Roberts (18-9, 9-5 Mid-Con) will square off against No. 5 seed UMKC (8-19, 7-7 Mid-Con) in the second quarterfinal game. In what, in all likelihood, will be a closely contested game, it’s key to remember each team won on the other’s home court this season. Oral Roberts has never lost a Mid-Con Tournament quarterfinal game. So on neutral ground? Hmmm.

The second quarterfinal session will begin with No. 2 seed IUPUI (17-13, 10-4 Mid-Con) pitted against No. 7 seed Western Illinois (7-20, 3-11 Mid-Con). IUPUI finished in a second-place tie with Oakland in the league standings, and the league’s tiebreaker procedures, oddly enough, didn’t resolve the tie. The Jaguars won a coin flip for the right to the second seed. IUPUI and Western Illinois will meet at 6 p.m. IUPUI swept the season series.

In the, er, final quarterfinal game, No. 3 seed Oakland (17-10, 10-4 Mid-Con) faces off against No. 6 seed Southern Utah (10-16, 5-9 Mid-Con) in a rematch of the teams’ final regular-season games. Oakland won both games of the series this season.

The winners of the first two games will meet in the first semifinal game at 6 p.m. on March 10, while the winners of the second session will meet at 8:30 p.m. The championship game is scheduled for an 8 p.m. start on March 11, and will be televised on (woo hoo!) ESPN2.

Picks – Round 1

No. 1 Valpo over No. 8 Chicago State: This one really shouldn’t even be played, there’s a reason the Cougars didn’t win a single conference game this year. They’d be better suited challenging the Crusaders to a game of Madden 2003.

No. 5 UMKC over No. 4 Oral Roberts: The Golden Eagles of ORU have been mighty inconsistent, really since the conference schedule began. On the other side of the court, there’s Michael Watson, the Mid-Con’s version of Allen Iverson. He can beat a team by himself, and if he gets a hot hand, it could be trouble for ORU.

No. 2 IUPUI over No. 7 Western Illinois: The Jags basically came out of nowhere during conference play and snatched the No. 2 spot right under everybody’s noses. IUPUI sports a very mature roster with seven seniors, and shouldn’t let this easy win slip away.

No. 3 Oakland over No. 6 Southern Utah: OK – deja vu, anyone? These guys just played each other and Mike Helms dumped 42 on the Thunderbirds. Helms should be the league’s Most Valuable Player, and now he has a partner in crime in sophomore Rawle Marshall. The Golden Grizzlies win this one.

Semifinals

No. 1 Valpo over No. 5 UMKC: Too much depth for the one-dimensional Kangaroos. The Crusaders take one step closer to another championship.

No. 3 Oakland over No. 2 IUPUI: A coin flip won’t help the Jaguars here. Mike Helms is on a mission.

Championship

No. 1 Valpo over No. 3 Oakland: I hate to go with conventional wisdom, but Valpo has shown they’re the class of this conference. The folks over at ESPN.com have noticed also, and are regularly alerting everyone with they’re assessment of the Crusaders’ status as a “Cinderella” team. They’ve done it before, and by golly, they’ll do it again.

     

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