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Mid-Con Notebook

November 25, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments



Mid-Continent Conference Notebook

by Cory J. Danner

A busy first week in the Mid-Con produced few surprises in the way of upsets, but showed the conference can be competitive with top tier teams. Teams like Minnesota, Oklahoma and Marquette all were tested by Mid-Con teams. It will take a week or maybe two before things start to take shape and teams start to separate at the top.

Western Illinois

The Leathernecks (0-3) have gotten off to a slow start with a close call with Southwest Missouri State, and trouncings by Illinois and Tennessee-Martin. The Leathernecks were turnover ridden throughout all three of the games, and hot shooting from the opponents was hard to overcome. UTM shot a blistering 54% and jumped out to a 33-15 lead. Rebounding has, and looks like it will be a major issue for WIU. The Leathernecks are a perimeter team that relies on its three-point accuracy. Consequently, inside points are a serious pitfall for WIU. If the team can’t find a way to speed up the games and use their speed, it will be a long season.

Valparaiso

The Crusaders (1-1) have come out looking like the best team in the Mid-Con. With Oakland off to a sluggish start, it’s hard not to love Valpo. They led #23 Marquette by four points on the road after racing out to an 11-0 lead. VU ended up losing by five, 75-70. Valpo shot 48% overall and a magnificent 52% behind the arc. The Crusaders also pounded the always-tricky Arkansas-Monticello.

Southern Utah

BYU took it hard to the Thunderbirds (0-1) in the team’s only game this season with an 88-54 drubbing at BYU. Even Coach Bill Evans was impressed with BYU, and said that SUU was out-coached and out-played. That’s the understatement of the year.

Oral Roberts

The Golden Eagles (1-1) had an impressive win in the first round of the Sooner Invitational, by getting a come-from-behind victory against South Carolina State. The team suffered a huge loss though, as senior guard Luke Spencer-Gardner hyper-extended his right knee and was not able to suit up against Oklahoma in the final. The Golden Eagles played No. 14 Oklahoma tough for 27 minutes, but just couldn’t hold their run. ORU had the lead cut to 51-43 in the second half before OU’s D’Angelo Alexander turned it up and put up 17 points and seven rebounds. The Golden Eagles missed Spencer-Gardner’s leadership as the home crowd of the Sooner nation rattled ORU.

Oakland

Oakland (2-2), my Mid-Con No. 1, has yet to play a home game, but has still managed a decent 2-2 record. Wins against San Diego and Illinois-Chicago to start the season made me start to feel pretty good about my selection. A ten-point loss to Xavier was understandable on the road, but the Golden Bears just looked awful against Michigan in Ann Arbor. Mike Helms still has my vote for Mid-Con player of the year after coming up with 21.8 ppg. Rawle Marshall is close behind with 19.8 ppg and Cortney Scott has contributed almost 10 rebounds per game.

UMKC

A competitive game from start to finish with Minnesota, but the Kangaroos (0-1) couldn’t pull off the upset. In the Preseason NIT, UMKC scrapped and clawed to stay close, but just couldn’t find anyone to rebound. The Kangaroos were out rebounded 24-13 in the second half. That is just too many opportunities to give a Golden Gophers contingent that has such a deep inside presence. Junior forward Mike English did all he could by throwing in 16 points and 12 rebounds. The Kangaroos get a huge break for Thanksgiving and come back Nov. 29 against Norfolk State.

IUPUI

In the Jaguars (1-0) first and only game so far this season against St. Francis, the team answered a lot of questions with a 99-75 win and made me rethink their finish in the conference. Coach Ron Hunter said this team was better than everyone thinks, and I passed it off as chatter you hear from every coach whose team stinks. It was an evenly distributed scoring performance by the Jaguars. Sophomore Brandon Cole surprised a lot of people with a breakout performance of 21 points. It doesn’t look like the team will have to put all the pressure on Odell Bradley and Matt Crenshaw. The big test will come against Wisconsin-Green Bay and their hot shooting guards.

Centenary

Boy, this is a fun group eh? I have gotten more nasty e-mail from Gents supporters than I can even count. If Centenary puts on a good show against Mississippi on Nov. 25, I will shut my mouth. For now though, the Gents (1-0) have only beaten Belhaven. The combo of Rickey Evans and Andrew Wisniewski, who finished with 28 and 27 points respectively, could be a dangerous duo as the season moves along. I see the team maybe finishing as high as fourth, but I can’t see the Gents beating Oakland, IUPUI, or Valpo.

Chicago State

Ah, Chicago State (0-2). The Cougars have become my dirty little obsession. After such an absolutely abysmal season last year, how can you not root for them a little. The three guard line-up, which is really more of a four guard line-up, will be their downfall. After being routed by Northern Iowa 83-59, the Cougars took on Big Ten red-headed stepchild Northwestern. Surprisingly, CSU kept it close for a while. They lost by 16 points, but it was one of those close 16-point losses. No, really.

OK, so what have we learned so far in the short week or so of preseason play? Not much. The preseason really means little to a conference like the Mid-Con anyway. If you win every game all year and lose in the conference final, odds are you are left out in the cold come selection Sunday. What matters is that you get hot in February and carry that into the tournament, much like IUPUI last season. The Jaguars were mediocre at best to start the season, but the time to play your best basketball is in the end. I don’t know if I see anyone defeating Oakland or Valpo for that spot in the NCAA’s, but one thing is for sure, it’s going to be a fun five months finding out.

     

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