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Missouri Valley Notebook

March 4, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Missouri Valley Conference Notebook

by Neal Heston

Salukis fall one short

Southern Illinois traveled to Northern Iowa on Monday with a chance to make Missouri Valley Conference history.

Unfortunately for the Salukis, they faced the challenge of playing the Panthers on Senior Night while Northern Iowa was also still playing for a high seed in this weekend’s conference tournament.

After jumping out to 17-0 in league play – the best start in conference history since Bradley finished the 1985-86 season 16-0, SIU ventured into the UNI-Dome with a chance to join the 1927-28 Oklahoma Sooners as the only MVC teams to finish the regular season 18-0.

The seniors took charge for Northern Iowa on their special night though, and the Panthers knocked down their third nationally ranked opponent this season, 68-52. Senior teammates Matt Schneiderman and David Gruber each fought for 16 points apiece in their final home game for Northern Iowa.

Southern Illinois head coach Matt Painter isn’t panicking after one defeat. He is happy that his players will be allowed to see the mistakes that led to the defeat.

“Before, we were making mistakes. We were making a lot of mistakes, but it wasn’t leading to a defeat,” he said.

Prior to Monday’s defeat, the Salukis had pulled out several close victories, including a 61-60 triumph at Creighton last month and a 72-71 squeaker over Bradley last Saturday. An MVC team finally took a bite out of them before the regular season ended.

The record would have been nice, but Painter is proud of his squad and what they have accomplished up until now.

“We are not a dominating basketball team,” he said. “We have an unbelievable record, but this is not a high-powered offense. We have won all season by doing the little things.”

The Salukis will try and regroup as they head into the MVC Tournament that begins on Friday. Despite going into the last two tournaments as the No. 1 seed, Southern Illinois has yet to capture a conference tournament title.

“What’s important is the quality of play in the next week, not an having an unbelievable record,” Painter said.

At 12:05 p.m. Saturday, the Salukis play the winner of Friday’s Indiana State-Evansville game.

Seeding for MVC Tournament

1. Southern Illinois
2. Northern Iowa
3. Wichita State
4. Creighton
5. Southwest Missouri State
6. Drake
7. Bradley
8. Indiana State
9. Evansville
10. Illinois State

Player of the Week

Matt Schneiderman, Northern Iowa

A career-high 28 points and six treys at Drake last Wednesday, 16 points in the upset over Southern Illinois Monday, an 18.3 point average in his last three games – how could this senior not be Player of the Week? His play was a huge factor in three consecutive wins last week that clinched the No. 2 seed for the Panthers in this weekend’s MVC Tournament.

Newcomer of the Week

Marcellus Sommerville, Bradley

The conference has become accustomed to seeing this name on the list at least every other week or so. Sommerville captured Newcomer of the Week honors for the sixth time this season. The Brave’s sophomore averaged just over 14 points in three games, which nearly included an upset at Southern Illinois.

On the way to St. Louis…

Bradley (15-15 / 7-11)

A midseason slump where the Braves dropped eight consecutive games was too much to overcome, and now Bradley will have to compete in the play-in round of the MVC Tournament on Friday. If there is one team that is capable of winning four days in a row though, it is the Braves. This team has really rebounded since the return of Phillip Gilbert, going 7-3 and nearly pulling an upset over Southern Illinois in Carbondale on Saturday. Though the Braves have several deep weapons, it is obvious that Gilbert will be the key if Bradley is to make a run this weekend.

As for the last week of the regular season, it is hard to pick out a team playing better. Bradley first scratched their way to a one-point win at Indiana State last Wednesday and then dropped a 72-71 heartbreaker at Southern Illinois on Saturday. The season ended with a 79-72 victory over Southwest Missouri State.

Bradley takes on Illinois State at approximately 2:35 on Friday. The winner of that game will face Northern Iowa Saturday.

Creighton (20-7 / 12-6)

Creighton has won the last two conference tournaments on their way to NCAA Tournament berths and are 13-1 in its last five tournaments. Anything short of a conference tournament title will likely keep the Bluejays from dancing for the first time since 1998.

The regular season ended on the plus side as Creighton bounced back from a 24-point loss at Southwest Missouri State to take down Wichita State in Omaha Monday. It was a much-needed win after three consecutive losses – all on the road. A rematch is set with the Bears in the quarterfinals on Saturday. Tip off is set for 2:35 p.m.

Drake (12-15 / 7-11)

This young team wasn’t expected to do much this year, but Tom Davis has the Bulldogs out of the play-in round and into the quarterfinals on Saturday. Though the Bulldogs are heading into the conference tournament after a loss, they will not be an easy team to get past. Their last two losses have been by five points each.

Drake and Wichita State will tip off in the late game on Saturday around 9:05 p.m.

Evansville (6-21 / 5-13)

Friday is unfamiliar territory for the Purple Aces, but that is exactly where Evansville will be this year after seeding ninth. Evansville has competed in the play-in round just one other time since joining the MVC. That was two years ago in a 78-75 loss to Northern Iowa.

After playing strongly during a majority of January, Evansville has hit another slump, dropping five of six contests. The regular season ended Monday with a 71-56 loss to Indiana State – the Purple Aces’ opponent on Friday. Tip off is slated for 12:05 p.m.

Illinois State (9-18 / 4-14)

Off of their home court, Illinois State has just one win. That will need to change if the Redbirds are to win against Bradley Friday and advance to the quarterfinals. The regular season ended with a 73-68 win over Drake, but it wasn’t enough as ISU finished at the bottom of the pack. The Redbirds and Braves will tip off around 2:35 p.m. with the winner moving on to face Northern Iowa in the quarterfinals.

Indiana State (9-18 / 5-13)

After two strong efforts came up short, Indiana State finally came through to put a halt to an 11-game skid. The Sycamores lost two heartbreakers last week by a combined two points before taking down Evansville Monday to wrap up the eighth seed in the conference tournament. Evansville will be the opponent again in the opening game of the MVC Tournament Friday. Tip off is slated for 12:05 p.m.

Northern Iowa (18-9 / 12-6)

The Panthers are rolling at just the right time of the year, having won seven of their last eight contests. A stunning win over MVC champion Southern Illinois coupled with a Wichita State loss on Monday earned UNI its highest seeding ever in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Revenge will be on the mind as Northern Iowa prepares for its quarterfinal matchup. No matter who the Panthers face, it will be against a team that has recently beaten them. Illinois State got its only road win of the season at Northern Iowa on Jan. 28 and Bradley is the only team to beat the Panthers in eight games.

Southern Illinois (24-3 / 17-1)

Sixteen consecutive wins overall and 17 in the MVC came to a screeching halt at Northern Iowa on Monday. The Salukis missed an opportunity to become the second team ever to go 18-0 in the conference. Everything is still in place though as the top seed was clinched several weeks ago. Even a loss in the conference tournament shouldn’t keep Southern Illinois out of the NCAA, but that doesn’t matter to the Salukis. They have gone in as the top seed the last two years and have come out empty.

Southern Illinois will start quarterfinal play on Saturday as the Salukis will take on the Indiana State-Evansville winner at 12:35 p.m.

Southwest Missouri State (17-13 / 9-9)

Don’t be fooled by the average conference mark. Several of the Bears losses have been to higher seeded teams by single digit values, and this team is very capable of pulling a few upsets in Savvis Center this weekend.

Creighton fell victim to a SMS thrashing last Wednesday as the Bears ran away with the game in the second half for a 70-46 win. The Bears defense was excellent, holding the Bluejays to 29 percent shooting on the night. That game should be on the minds of both teams as they face off again in the quarterfinals at 2:35 p.m. on Saturday.

Wichita State (20-9 / 12-6)

Wichita State’s chance of locking up second place in the conference was spoiled by Creighton Monday. After winning eight of their last nine, the Qwest Center didn’t welcome the Shockers as Creighton rebounded from a previous loss to Southwest Missouri State.

A win over Drake on Saturday would give the Shockers their most victories in a season since the 1986-87 team posted a 22-11 record on the way to a NCAA appearance. Tip off against the Bulldogs is set for 9:05 p.m. Saturday.


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