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Missouri Valley Notebook

March 7, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments



Missouri Valley Notebook

by Alan Rubenstein

Surprise! Salukis Capture Valley Regular Season Title

Southern Illinois clinched a share of the regular season title and the top seed in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, also known as Arch Madness with a 70-62 victory over Creighton Saturday night in Carbondale. The win extended SIU’s homecourt winning streak to 27. The Salukis win coupled with Wichita State’s 71-65 win at Southwest Missouri State Saturday night, cemented the top four seeds in Arch Madness beginning Friday at the Kiel Center in St. Louis.

SIU was able to win by holding Creighton leading scorer Kyle Korver to 10 points, eight below his season average. The game was full of punches and counter punches. The Bluejays opened the game with a 7-0 lead. SIU fought back with a 19-4 run of its own to take a 19-11 lead and would take a 32-23 lead into the locker room.

The second half set up like a heavyweight fight. SIU and Creighton spent the entire second half trading runs before SIU was able to ice the game with a late 8-0 run in the last two minutes. Earlier in the week, Creighton earned the right to battle SIU for first with a hard fought 63-58 victory over Southwest Missouri State on the road.

Southern was led by their senior stars Kent Williams and Jermaine Dearman who scored 24 and 17 points, respectively. Sophomore guard Darren Brooks was the defensive star limiting All America candidate Korver to only two first half points and not allowing him to get a shot off in the game’s first eight minutes. The Salukis then wrapped up their second straight top seed in Arch Madness and their first outright Missouri Valley crown with a 78-62 win at intrastate rival Illinois State.

The third place showdown also took place Saturday night as Wichita State and Southwest Missouri State squared off in Springfield. Wichita State’s 71-65 victory earned them a season sweep of the Bears and the number three seed in the conference tournament. The win was WSU’s first at SMS since 1955.

Southwest Missouri State bolted out to an 8-2 lead before the Shockers fought back to surge in front 13-12. Wichita State would settle in for a 32-31 halftime lead after the teams had exchanged the lead six times throughout the first half. The game was marred by 46 fouls called and 46 free throw attempts.

Randy Burns led Wichita State with 20 and Jamar Howard added 17. Merrill Andrews and Tommy Johnson were the only Bears to finish in double figures with 13 and 11.

Arch Madness will commence Friday night at the Savvis Center in St. Louis with Illinois State facing Drake at 6:05 and Indiana State dueling Northern Iowa at approximately 8:35pm. The winner will advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals. Southern Illinois will face the Illinois State-Drake winner at 12:05 and Creighton takes on the Indiana State-UNI winner at 6:05. The other match-ups in Saturday’s semifinals are number four seed Southwest Missouri State facing Evansville at 2:35 and Bradley and Wichita State will conclude the quarterfinal festivities at 8:35 Saturday.

The Missouri Valley should be one of the most exciting and competitive of the conference tournaments. Although Creighton and SIU dominated the Valley this season with a combined 31-5 record, the tournament could still see some surprises this season. Creighton had road losses at Evansville and Wichita State and Southern lost at Bradley earlier in the year.

The Salukis and Bluejays are the prohibitive favorites to emerge with the trophy on Monday. Picking a team to watch other than the favorites in a ten team tournament is a difficult task. There was definitely a pecking order in the Valley this season. SIU and Creighton topped the league, followed by Southwest Missouri State and Wichita State who pushed the Salukis and Bluejays all year. The middle of the pack was comprised by Evansville, Bradley and Northern Iowa, Indiana State, Drake and Illinois State all had down seasons and do not appear to have what it takes to pull off an upset at Arch Madness.

The two teams that seem to be able to make surprising runs in St. Louis are Southwest Missouri State and Evansville. The Bears are a tough; grind it out, half court team. The Bears allowed a Valley low 57.1 points per game against. This was a full seven points a game better than second place Creighton. The Bears have been a different team since Barry Hilton inserted Tamarr Maclin and Kellen Easley on December 29. Since that point SMS has posted a 13-5 record. His Bears also led the Valley in rebounding and were in the top three in most of the Defensive categories. SMS gave Creighton and Southern Illinois fits this year.

Although the Bears were on the verge of winning against the teams above them in the Valley standings, they were unable to pull off the upset this season. They finished a combined 0-6 against, SIU, Creighton and Wichita State this year.

Evansville has what many consider the key ingredient to making a run in any postseason tournament, a player who can put a team on his back and will them to victory. Clint Cuffle has been outstanding all year for the Purple Aces and earned second team all Valley. Cuffle almost single handedly helped Evansville defeat Creighton earlier this season. Throw in that first year Purple Ace boss Steve Merfeld led Hampton to back to back tournament titles and Evansville might have what is takes to make an unexpected run.

Cuffle scorched Creighton for 25 points, including 21 in the second half and helped hold Korver to five points. The Aces quarterfinal match-up with SMS should be the best game on Saturday. Ian Hanavan finished right behind Cuffle for the team lead in scoring and also finished fourth in the conference in rebounding.

The Bradley-Wichita State game will conclude the four quarterfinals and should light up the scoreboard. The Shockers and Braves finished second and third in the Valley in three point attempts. Philip Gilbert of BU and Aaron Hogg of WSU were both among the league leaders in attemps. Hogg finished the season third in percentage at 46 percent, trailing only Valley stars Korver and Kent Williams of Southern Illinois. Hogg also finished the season as the MVC sixth man and newcomer of the year and was a big part of WSU rise.

Gilbert can really light it up and if he and running mate James Gillingham get hot they could make things difficult for the Shockers. Wichita State is a more balanced team. Jamar Howard and Randy Burns also had outstanding seasons and led WSU in scoring with 14.9 and 14.8 PPG.

Other Valley players to watch are Greg Danielson of Drake who led the Valley in rebounding and Vince Greene of Illinois State who finished first in assists.

The Valley celebrated a great season that was capped off by their four game sweep on Bracket Buster Saturday. By the time the ESPN cameras shine bright on the Valley Monday night, Southern Illinois and Creighton should be in the championship game for a winner take all showdown. With five combined losses on the season and two coming to each other, the Salukis and Bluejays dominated the Valley this season. The two games they played earlier in the season were won by the home teams. With this being neutral site, the game should come down to the team that is able to make the big shots at the end.

Southern Illinois features a more balanced attack with Williams, Jermaine Dearman, Darren Brooks and Stetson Hairston all averaging double figures on the season. Creighton finished with only Korver and Larry House turning in double figures on a nightly basis. Both teams have reason to be motivated. Creighton won last year’s MVC tournament title and Salukis finished as this season’s regular season Valley champ. With Korver playing in his last game in the Valley look for him to have a big night in front of the national television audience and walk away with the crown.

With an RPI of 38, SIU will likely receive an invitation to the NCAA tournament no matter how they do in St. Louis. Creighton’s RPI sits at 31, so they should be safe as well. Once in the tournament, look for both teams to make noise. The Bluejays shocked Florida in last season’s first round before being bounced by Illinois, while the Salukis upset Texas Tech and Georgia on their way to last season’s Sweet 16. It should be an interesting weekend in St. Louis for Arch Madness.

     

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