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Mid-Continent 2002-03 Season Recap

May 5, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Mid-Continent Conference 2002-03 Season Recap

by Matt Amis

The 2002-2003 campaign was a season of renewal in the Mid-Continent Conference. For just the third time in nine years, someone other than Valpo took home the Mid-Con title. In early March, hoops fans everywhere witnessed Matt Crenshaw’s last-second jumper and head coach Ron Hunter’s exaltation on the Kemper Arena floor as the Jaguars of IUPUI (10-4) celebrated their first ever trip to the Big Dance.

Of course, days later, the Jags drew heavily favored Kentucky and were trounced in the first round of the Tournament, but getting there was more than half the fun.

Keep in mind that, five years ago, IUPUI was in its first season at the NCAA Division I level.

Valpo (12-2) were the stunned runners-up in the conference championships, but was as dominating as ever during the regular season. Additionally, Oakland (10-4) was a force at times, led by run-away Mid-Con Player of the Year, Mike Helms.

Oral Roberts (9-5) looked for real at times, even garnering Top-25 votes in the national poll. But the Golden Eagles slipped down the stretch, dropping some crucial conference games. UMKC (7-7) was a darkhorse in the tournament, as it was led by one of the nation’s top scorers Michael Watson.

Southern Utah (5-9), Western Illinois (3-11), and Chicago State (0-14) brought up the rear.


First-team All Mid-Con:
Mike Helms, Oakland (27.6 ppg)
Reggie Borges, Oral Roberts (17.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg),
Raitis Grafs, Valparaiso (16.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.81 bpg)
Josh Murray, IUPUI (12.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg)
Michael Watson, UMKC(25.4 ppg, 3.7 apg)

Player of the Year:

Mike Helms, Oakland.
Not only did Helms break the league’s single-season scoring record, he led the entire nation in scoring for much of the season.

He completed the regular season with a league-best scoring average of 27.6 points per game and led the Mid-Con with 22 20-point games, and scored 30 points of better 14 times.

During the course of the season, Helms established Mid-Con season records for free throws made (196) and attempted (263), and made 39 percent (72-187) of his shots from long range.

Newcomer of the Year:

Helms’ teammate, Rawle Marshall, a transfer from Ball State proved to be one of the league’s best all-around ballplayers in 2002-03, as he led the conference in steals (2.85 spg) and also ranked among the league leaders in scoring (18.2 ppg), rebounding (6.6 rpg) and blocked shots (1.48 bpg). Marshall, who scored in double figures in each game during the regular season, was also tabbed as the league’s first-ever Defensive Player of the Year.

Coach of the Year:

Ron Hunter, as many TV-watchers met while he was on his knees after beating Valpo, guided IUPUI to its best season since moving to the NCAA Division I ranks. The Jaguars set a school Division I era record by posting 17 wins in the regular season (against 13 losses), and also set a school record with their 10-4 Mid-Con record.

Team Capsules:

Valparaiso (20-10, 12-2 Mid-Con)

To call the Crusaders’ season a disappointment would be unfair, but Valpo fans would likely agree. After breezing through the regular season schedule, the Crusaders were shocked in the conference championships by the upstart IUPUI squad. Valpo made an appearance in the NIT, but was bounced in the first round by Iowa, 62-60. Scott Drew, son of legendary Valpo coach Homer Drew had a successful first year at the helm, and likely restored fans’ confidence in the family name.

Leading Scorer: Raitis Grafs (16.5 ppg)
Leading Rebounder: Grafs (5.9 rpg)
Leading Assists: Ali Berdiel (4.5 apg)

Key returnees: Joaquim Gomes, Roberto Nieves, Berdiel, Greg Tonagel
Key players leaving: Grafs (graduating) Jason Hawkins (graduating) Stalin Ortiz (grad.), Antti Nikkila (grad.)

IUPUI (20-14, 10-4 Mid-Con)

The Jaguars experienced the kind of season people imaging when they think of the cliches “Cinderella season” or “March Madness.” In just its fifth year in D-1 basketball, IUPUI did the unthinkable and unseated Valpo. They did it all without one go-to guy, as depth and defense got them there. An inevitable loss to Kentucky is easily overlooked, when you consider the Jags’ season — an overwhelming success.

Leaving: Odell Bradley, Josh Murray, Josh Mullins, Chris Sanders, Antoine Lewis, Dannorris Harvey
Sticking around: Matt Crenshaw, Brandon Cole

Leading Scorer: Odell Bradley (14.7 ppg)
Leading Rebounder: Josh Murray (7.7 rpg)
Leading Assists: Matt Crenshaw (140 A)

Oakland (17-11, 10-4 Mid-Con)

The Golden Grizzlies seemed at one point destined for greatness. They had the best 1-2 punch in the conference, Helms and Marshall, and cruised to a favorable No. 3 tournament seeding. But, for the second year in a row, the Grizz were perplexingly ousted in the first round by Southern Utah. A game in which Helms scored just eight points. Nonetheless, Oakland has good reason to look forward to next season. That All-American Helms? He’s baa-aack. Same with Marshall. These two will look to reload, and run the table next year.

Leaving: Adrian Martin (grad.)
Sticking around: Helms, Marshall, Kyle Chapman, Cortney Scott, Pierre Dukes, DeMarcus Ishmeal (JuCo transfer)

Leading Scorer: Helms (26.9 ppg)
Leading Rebounder: Courtney Scott (8.7)
Leading Assists: Pierre Dukes (71)

Oral Roberts (18-10, 9-5 Mid-Con)

The Golden Eagles started the season like gangbusters. They finished it like…well…not gangbusters. ORU looked poised to go after its first Mid-Con Tournament Championship and first trip to the NCAA Tournament since the 1983-84 squad pulled off the feat. A white-hot start to the year garnered the Eagles national attention and even votes in the national Top-25 coaches poll. But conference play became somewhat of a rude awakening, and ORU slipped, losing four of its last six. No one seemed to notice when the Eagles were upset in the Mid-Con first round by upstart UMKC.

Leaving: Reggie Borges, Tyrone Tiggs, Kendrick Moore (all graduating)
Sticking around: Luke Spencer-Gardner, Josh Atkinson, Yemi Ogunoye

Leading Scorer: Borges (18 ppg)
Leading Rebounder: Moore (7.3 rpg)
Leading Assists: Spencer-Gardner (164)

UMKC (9-20, 7-7 Mid-Con)

If this were a Seinfeld episode, the Kangaroos would be the “bizarro-Oral Roberts.” From the looks of the season’s start, it appeared UMKC was in for another long season. Before conference play rolled around, the Kangaroos were a rip-roaring 2-11, including a 100-46 setback to Kansas. Ouch. But the Kangaroos had one thing the rest of Mid-Con wasn’t counting on — the explosive Michael Watson. One of the best pure scorers in the country, Watson led UMKC to a moderate 7-7 Mid-Con finish and a first-round upset over Oral Roberts. And uh oh Mike Helms…Mike Watson’s coming back too.

Leaving: Tom Curtis, Randall Atchison, Marc Stricker (all grad.)
Sticking around: Watson, Carlton Aaron, Javon Clark

Leading Scorer: Watson (25.5 ppg)
Leading Rebounder: Aaron (7.7 rpg)
Leading Assists: Marc Stricker (5.1 apg)

Southern Utah (11-17, 5-9 Mid-Con)

The Thunderbirds struggled with inconsistency basically all season. They had seven leading scorers from game to game. And while they looked great taking out Oakland in the tournament, they looked not-so-good the next day against IUPUI. On the bright side, the T-Birds are mighty proud of their recruiting class, which includes an impressive looking JuCo transfer Tim Gainey from Arizona’s Cochise College

Leaving: Jay Collins, Donnie Jackson, Kevin Henry, Aaron Miles (all graduating)
Sticking around: David Palmer, Al Williams, Robbie Warren

Leading Scorer: Palmer (11.7 ppg)
Leading Rebounder: Jackson (5.3 rpg)
Leading Assists: Collins (178 a)

Western Illinois (7-21, 3-11 Mid-Con)

Despite having arguably the coolest mascot in the league, the Leathernecks season was by in large a struggle. They started conference play a surprising 2-1, but alas, one just a single game the rest of the way out. On the bright side, the Leathernecks hired a new coach this off-season, former Mid-Con assistant coach with Southwest Missouri State, Derek Thomas. He’s known for his outstanding recruiting track record, so Western Illinois has something to look forward to.

Leaving: Nick Rodsater, Matt Robins, Luis Rivas
Sticking around: J.D. Summers, Will Lewis, Shaun Mason

Leading Scorer: Summers (12.6 ppg)
Leading Rebounder: Rivas (5.5 rpg)
Leading Assists: Robins (90 a)

Chicago State (3-27, 0-14 Mid-Con)

“I am excited about the opportunity and looking forward to next year. With the returning players coming back, new recruits and new coaching staff – we will get the Chicago State University program off the ground and competitive in the Mid-Continent Conference.” That’s the new coach of the Cougars Kevin Jones. The next thing he said: “It will take hard work.” And it will. ChiState suffered its second consecutive winless conference schedule capped by a 20-point loss to Valpo in the tournament. The plus? Cougars actually have a couple good players coming back next year. Stay tuned…

Leaving: Clark Bone, Jason Thurman, Kelvin Smallwood
Sticking around: Craig Franklin, Rubeen Perry

Leading Scorer: Franklin (13.4 ppg)
Leading Rebounder: Perry (4.9 rpg)
Leading Assists: Franklin (3.9)


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