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Mid-Continent Conference Preview

November 11, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Mid-Continent Conference Preview

by Cory J. Danner

After the absolutely thrilling end to the season in March, the Mid-Con has been shaping up to have another great run this season. Valparaiso returns a familiar coach in Homer Drew, after Scott Drew took off for Texas and the head coaching position at Baylor.

Valpo’s Joaquim Gomes has been selected to the Angolan Olympic Team, which will compete in the 2004 Athens Games. You can just hear the whole state of Indiana in 2004 can’t you, Go Angola! Angola fever, catch it.

Mid-Con champion IUPUI reloaded with a fresh crop of talent, but might not be able to pull of the miracle that was performed in the conference tournament. It may take a whole year to recover from the loss to Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, and the loss of Josh Murray.

Oakland looks to be the expected favorite with “Too good to play in the Mid-Con” forward Mike Helms. Oakland should cherish every moment they have with this one because this is his last year. Helms was the leading scorer in the Mid-Con last season with 26.9 ppg. This broke the conference record for single season point average, and earned him Player of the Year honors.

All-Mid-Continent Conference Team
Mike Helms – Oakland
Rawle Marshall – Oakland
Odell Bradley – IUPUI
Craig Franklin – Chicago State
Joaquim Gomes – Valparaiso

Coach on the Hot Seat:

Southern Utah Coach Bill Evans. Two years removed from a 25-6 season, one more losing season might mean it’s time for a change in Utah.

Newcomer of the Year

IUPUI’s Harvey Harrington. Coming in from a JuCo last season, Al Harrington’s little brother looks to show off some skills of his own.

Player of the Year

Oakland’s Mike Helms. How can you look at this kid and not think he will dominate this conference? If he plays well enough, you could see him as a late second round pick next year.

Oakland Golden Grizzlies (17-11, 10-4, 3rd)

Starting Five:
Mike Helms – Sr.
Rawle Marshall – Jr.
Cortney Scott – Jr.
Jordan Sabourin – Sr.
Kelly Williams – Sr.

This is the year of Mike Helms. Put the money in the pool and close all bets, because Oakland will be representing the Mid-Con in the NCAA tournament. The humiliation that Southern Utah put on the Grizzlies will be just the amount of motivation the team needs to pound everyone in its way to the top.

The Grizzlies lost no starters, that’s right, none. They tout a core group of Helms, Rawl Marshall and Cortney Scott. Helms and Marshall were on the conference championship first team, and Scott was on the second team.

Don’t expect any newcomers to be playing right away. Head Coach Greg Kampe has the luxury of not having to adapt a new system to his players. The players know the system because they have ran it for years.

This team is so good, and they only have one player from outside of Michigan. Seven of the players are from Detroit and three just from one high school.

The Grizzlies hook up with Cincinnati, Michigan, and Missouri in the non-conference schedule. I will almost guarantee at least one win out of that bunch. The team will wake up a lot of people not only in the conference, but in the nation about Mike Helms.

In his 20th season, Kampe has to believe his team has the skills and talent to take it all the way.

Valparaiso Crusaders (20-10, 12-12, 1st)

Starting Five
Joaquim Gomes – Sr.
Greg Tonagel – Sr.
Roberto Nieves – Sr.
Miguel Ali Berdiel – Jr.
Ron Howard – So.

Homer Drew takes over at Valparaiso after his son and Crusader Head Coach Scott Drew bolted to Baylor to take the fun and exciting job of head coach (media liaison) for the basketball program. Homer knows the program well, since he was the coach before Scott took over.

The Crusaders lose Raitis Grafs, a member of the all-tournament team. Greg Tonagel will step into the leadership role for the Crusaders this year and hopes to lead them back to the conference championship.

The Drew’s take a different approach to recruiting than Oakland does. The Crusaders dress only one player from Indiana, and have five players from foreign countries. The most prominent foreign player is Joaquim Gomes, who was just named to the Angolan Olympic team. Gomes is a talented forward who hits the boards hard with his 6-8 frame.

Moussa Mbaye, out of Senegal, is going to be competing for significant playing time this season in the frontcourt. At 6-9 and 215, he can blow past defenders on the outside and can still compete on the inside.

The Crusaders play an easy non-conference schedule and could end the season with another 20 win season. The Crusaders will be better than last year, but in the end, they will be crushed by Oakland.

IUPUI Jaguars (20-13, 10-4, 2nd)

Starting Five
Dannorris Harvey – Sr.
Matt Crenshaw – Sr.
Odell Bradley – Sr.
Jason Miller – Sr.
Harvey Harrington – Jr.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the IUPUI Jaguars put on quite a performance in the Mid-Con Conference Tournament. Powered by the offensive firepower of Josh Murray, the Jaguars stunned Valparaiso.

The Jaguars lost not only Murray, but five other seniors for the upcoming season. Odell Bradley is no Murray, but he will try and distribute the weight between himself and Matt Crenshaw.

Harvey Harrington will come into the rotation hopefully around mid-season. He will prove to be a valued addition to the squad.Ron Hunter will try and work some more magic this season, after signing a huge contract extension.

The Jaguars play a schedule of powerhouses and creampuffs, just like last season. I see the Jaguars pulling about the same record overall and in conference play, but as for the tournament, there is no magic this year.

Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (18-10, 9-5, 4th)

Starting Five
Luke Spencer-Gardner – Sr.
Josh Atkinson – Sr.
Jonathan Bluitt – So.
Ralph Charles – Sr.
Matt Gastel – Jr.

The Golden Eagles lost starters Reggie Borges, Tyrone Tiggs, and Kendrick Moore. For this, and the fact they didn’t reload, it will be tough for ORU to compete in the tournament.

Luke Spencer-Gardner and Josh Atkinson remain, but there might not be anyone else to help the situation. Those two and senior Ralph Charles will help the Golden Eagles stay off the bottom of the barrel, but no better than IUPUI, Oakland and Valparaiso.

In his fifth year as head coach, Scott Sutton will, as always, do a great job guiding less talent than everyone else. By the end of the season though, he will have sucked everything out of his players that he can.

The Eagles will probably pound out a 20-win season behind a soft non-conference schedule and nine or 10 conference wins.

UMKC Kangaroos (9-20, 7-7, 5th)

Starting Five
Brandon Lipsey – So.
Carlton Aaron – So.
Michael Watson – Sr.
Javon Clark – Sr.
Dan Leadbetter – Jr.

The Kangaroos look to make a huge leap, forgive the horrid pun, in the conference this season. No huge losses for UMKC, but Mark Sticker did add a certain amount of composure to this team. The point guard handled the ball well, but little else. Javon Clark will step in nicely at this role and the Kangaroos won’t miss a beat. Michael Watson has gotten better every year, and averaged 25.5 ppg.

Three JuCo transfers will add depth to an already talented bench. Mark Huppe transferred from Truman State, and will show off his 3-point ability to the conference. Blake Crawford will back up Carlton Aaron at the center position, and will probably see a lot of playing time.

Coach Rich Zvosec will lead the Kangaroos into his third season at the reigns. The team will probably hit 10 wins in the conference, and might make a huge push for the title. If the team doesn’t do it this year, the future looks bleak without Watson next season.

Southern Utah Thunderbirds (11-17, 5-9, 6th)

Starting Five
Robbie Warren – Sr.
Tim Gainey – Jr.
Jason Baker – Jr.
David Palmer – Sr.
Khalil Sikander – Sr.

The T’Birds lost their leading scorer and rebounder in Dan Beus, and might not have anyone to fill the shoes. Jay Collins will do his best to lead the Thunderbirds in a critical season for Head Coach Bill Evans.

Evans led the Thunderbirds to an NCAA birth and 25-6 record in 2001, but the past two seasons have been nothing but disappointment. Glimmers of hope have arisen though.

The T’Birds pulled off the huge upset of Oakland last season at the Mid-Con Tournament, but faltered severely against UMKC. The T’Birds beat Valpo by 16 in the regular season, and IUPUI by 12. Valpo was the conference champion, and IUPUI the tournament champion.

An early test against in-state rival Utah will be a good test to gauge where the team is. Other than Utah though, the T’Birds will have to wait for the conference season to really find some competition.

No matter what Evans does though, he will have the Joe Paterno free pass. Graduating and coaching at SUU, Evans will be able to go as long as he likes.

Centenary Gents (14-14, 0-0, New to Mid-Con)

Starting Five
Andrew Wisniewski – Sr.
Micharl Gale – Sr.
Chad Maclies – Jr.
DeMario Hooper – Sr.
Josh Thibodeaux – Jr.

The Gents are a solid team from top to bottom, but just lack that one standout player that most other team’s have. A lot can be said for team ball though. If there is a true leader on this team, it is Michael Gale. A shooting guard that has excellent ball handling and if you leave him open behind the arc can hurt you bad.

The Gents are another team with no significant losses from last season, but looks to have another average year. The Gents will have real trouble competing with the likes of Oakland and Valpo.

As is the growing trend in the Mid-Con, size will matter in a few years. The Gents recruited a 6-11 freshman named Stanley Turner. The days of shoot-outs in the Mid-Con are soon going to come to a halt. The big men are going to take over and you are going to see a 7-footer on a regular basis.

The Louisiana team will play some in southern foes that could tear the Gents heads off. LSU, Mississippi, and Texas all will be making a date with the Gents.

Kevin Johnson opens his seventh campaign up with Centenary in a new conference. The Mid-Con recruited Centenary two years ago and the team finally enters conference play this season.

Western Illinois Leathernecks (7-21, 3-11, 7th)

Starting Five
J.D. Summers – Sr.
Bobby Carter – Sr.
Andre Charles – Sr.
Will Lewis – Jr.
Anthony Lenoir – Jr.

Michael Covington will be a huge loss to the Leatherneck team that was a team full of close losses last season. Covington propelled the Leathernecks to a 7-21 record, but many of those games weren’t decided until the final minutes. Bobby Carter is going to have to really play a key role this season if the team is to improve.

Redshirt freshman David Genslinger will be the big 6-9 man inside and will probably win the starting role by mid-season. First year coach, a huge trend in the Mid-Con, Kevin Thomas will probably up the win total by three or four games.

The Leathernecks take it easy in the non-conference side of the season, bucking the conference trend. The only sure pummeling’s will be against Illinois and Minnesota.

WIU should stay out of the cellar for another year, but don’t look for a drastic improvement for a while. Thomas will do little to rejuvenate the struggling Leathernecks. He is a solid coach, as are so many in the Mid-Con, but the talent is just far greater at other schools.

Chicago State Cougars (3-27, 0-14, 8th)

Starting Five
Craig Franklin – Jr.
Rubeen Perry – Sr.
Geoff Richard – Sr.
Antoine Hansbro – Sr.
Nathan Carter – So.

The big banging body of Center Clark Bone will be sorely missed by the Cougars. Stepping up will be sophomore Nathan Carter. He saw some action last season and should fill the role nicely.

Holy Crap! Is that a 7-footer in the Mid-Con? Jeleel Akindele will step in the paint with Carter and try to take the inside presence of the Cougars to a whole new level. That level being decent since the team was abysmal last season and failed to win even one, ONE!, conference game.

New Head Coach Kevin Jones isn’t really all that new. He has been around the system for a while and even stepped in for the final 12 games of last season. This team could use some fresh blood.

The Cougars will make the rounds in December, not playing a single home game. Hopefully they will return home with their heads on, because they play some powerhouses. Purdue, Florida St. and Pittsburgh just to name a few.

The theory of playing better teams makes you better is something the Cougars will hear a whole lot of from Coach Jones this season. Primarily because every team will be better.

Hopefully Chicago State can do something to turn around their program in the next couple years. Bringing in a slew of freshmen might help in the long-term, but Cougar fans better be prepared to wait.


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