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Summit Preview

by - Published November 5, 2007 in Conference Notes



Summit League 2007-08 Preview

by Phil Kasiecki

The Mid-Continent Conference is no more. As of June 1, the conference that used to bear that name is now the Summit League, although the name change isn’t all that is different this season. It’s just the most notable one, for obvious reasons.

Valparaiso, a charter member of the conference, has left to join the Horizon League. Valpo was also the conference’s most visible member for many years thanks to its success, especially in the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, IPFW is now a full member and eligible for the conference tournament, and new Division I programs North Dakota State and South Dakota State join the league and are eligible for the tournament next season. The league wasted little time in making one of the new schools prominent in announcing that after this season’s league tournament in Tulsa, the next two will be held in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. North Dakota State arrives having already had some Division I success.

Last season, Oral Roberts won its second straight conference tournament as senior stars Caleb Green and Ken Tutt finished outstanding careers. That established the Golden Eagles as the dominant team in the league right now, and they won’t be going away anytime soon. However, a couple of teams that haven’t been in the league quite as long are poised to be contenders on a regular basis, as IUPUI and Oakland, the team Oral Roberts knocked off in the conference title game, have established themselves as solid programs. And with North Dakota State’s early Division I success, they should be in that mix on a regular basis before long as well.

Three teams have new head coaches this season, and it would not have been a surprise if there were two more as one coach was offered another job and another was rumored to be a candidate for a couple of openings. North Dakota State saw Tim Miles leave to become the head coach at Colorado State and replaced him with former assistant Saul Phillips. UMKC fired Rich Zvosec after six years at the helm, replacing him with former West Virginia assistant Matt Brown. Southern Utah welcomes Roger Reid, who has done plenty of winning in that state. He replaces Bill Evans, an alum who had been the head coach for 15 years.

Preseason Awards
Player of the Year:
George Hill, IUPUI
Top Newcomer: Robert Jarvis, Oral Roberts
Top Freshman: Ceola Clark, Western Illinois
Defensive Player of the Year: Shawn King, Oral Roberts
Best NBA Prospect: Shawn King, Oral Roberts

All-Summit Team
George Hill, Jr. G, IUPUI
Erik Kangas, Jr. G, Oakland
Shawn King, Sr. C, Oral Roberts
Austin Montgomery, Sr. G, IUPUI
Ben Woodside, Jr. G, North Dakota State

IUPUI Jaguars (15-15, 7-7 Summit)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G Austin Montgomery (13.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.0 apg)
Jr. G Gary Patterson (11.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.4 apg)
Jr. G George Hill (redshirt)
So. F Jon Avery (4.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
So. F Billy Pettiford (3.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.0 apg)
Schedule Highlights: The Jaguars have six home games in non-league play, highlighted by UMass coming to town on December 1 and a three-game home stretch later that month that is highlighted by a visit from MAC favorite Western Michigan. They open the season at Marquette and later play in the Top of the World Classic and at Saint Louis. The non-league schedule also features a home-and-home with former league member Chicago State. In league play, five of their first seven games (including one in December) are on the road, but after that are four straight home games.
Outlook: Head coach Ron Hunter was offered the Ball State job, but decided to stay and got a new contract. It should be a good move as he has a team well-positioned to contend not only this season, but next as well. Hill’s injury certainly didn’t help the team last season, but what they gained from playing without him will almost certainly help them with his return this time around. He joins an excellent perimeter trio that leads the way on a team that returns many of its key players from last season. Montgomery was the league’s top newcomer last season, and he and Patterson give them two dangerous shooters. The frontcourt similarly has solid depth without stars, and should be more than serviceable. If there’s a concern, it’s that there doesn’t appear to be a true point guard and the Jaguars had 59 more turnovers than assists last season. Newcomers such as freshman Adrian Moss or junior Kyle Savely may be able to help remedy that problem. With the Jaguars’ perimeter attack and overall depth, they could be the team to beat.

Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (23-11, 12-2 Summit)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G Adam Liberty (6.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.9 apg)
Sr. G-F Moses Ehambe (7.6 ppg, 1.7 rpg)
Jr. G-F Marchello Vealy (7.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.0 spg)
Sr. F Yemi Ogunoye (2.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.9 apg)
Sr. C Shawn King (7.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.4 bpg)
Schedule Highlights: The non-league slate is highlighted by an appearance in the NIT Season Tip-Off, where they play at Texas A&M and then against either UTEP or Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in College Station. The rest of the road slate is challenging, as they play at Southland contender Lamar, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma State (in the All-College Classic) and Utah State. They have four home games on tap, highlighted by Tulsa and a BracketBusters game. Although the bulk of Summit League play starts with three straight on the road in January, the Golden Eagles have a three-game home stand to begin February and two plus the BracketBusters game later in the month.
Outlook: The Golden Eagles may have lost the two best players in the program’s (and arguably the league’s) history, but don’t expect them to fall far if at all as everyone else is back. Last season’s team had plenty of talent besides Green and Tutt, and now we will get to see it on this senior-laden team. Liberty is a steady floor leader who still has good scoring options, especially Ehambe and Vealy on the wings as both can shoot the ball. Vealy is very athletic and mainly needs to shoot the ball more consistently, but he was suspended during the early weeks of practice. Ogunoye should get better with an expanded role, while King led the league in blocked shots and was quietly a key to last season’s success. The frontcourt has a good deal of size in a league that doesn’t have much, which gives them another advantage. As if that’s not enough, they add impact transfers like guard Curtis Allen and forward Marcus Lewis along with junior college transfer Robert Jarvis, who will be another perimeter scorer. Freshman forward Andre Hardy was a late addition who will add more frontcourt depth. Although there’s not the same star power as last year, there’s plenty of talent and winning experience on this team to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

North Dakota State Bison (20-8)
Projected Starters:

Jr. G Ben Woodside (16.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 5.1 apg, 1.5 spg)
So. G Austin Pennick (2.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.5 apg)
Jr. G Mike Nelson (15.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.9 apg)
Jr. F Brett Winkelman (16.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.4 spg)
Jr. C Lucas Moorman (4.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.8 bpg in 15 games)
Schedule Highlights: The Bison open a challenging non-league slate on the road in the Blue Ribbon Challenge, playing at Florida and Rutgers, then hosting North Carolina Central and playing at Tennessee Tech. The most noteworthy of their four home games is against Colorado State and former head coach Tim Miles on December 15. Other road games include Wisconsin-Green Bay, Minnesota and two games in the Golden Bear Classic against Bucknell and either host California or Long Beach State.
Outlook: Although they are ineligible for the league tournament this year, don’t be surprised if the Bison are a thorn in everyone’s side right away. They have most of their key players back from last season’s team that won 20 games and hired one of last season’s assistants to replace Tim Miles, ensuring continuity. Woodside immediately becomes one of the best guards in the league, while Nelson and Pennick complete a solid perimeter unit. Winkelman should immediately be one of the best post players in a league that is certainly not full of them, and Moorman might be the second-best center right away. There is also good depth, as guard Josh Vaughan and forward Sam Sussenguth got experience right away as freshmen last year and junior forward Lorenzo Riley was a key reserve as well. There isn’t a senior on the roster, so this season will give league fans and opposing teams a taste of what the Bison will be capable of once they are eligible for the tournament next season.

Oakland Grizzlies (19-14, 10-4 Summit)
Projected Starters:

So. G Johnathon Jones (9.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.1 spg)
Jr. G Erik Kangas (12.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.4 apg)
Sr. G Brandon Cassie (4.3 ppg)
Jr. F Derick Nelson (10.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.8 apg)
Sr. F Patrick McCloskey (3.6 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: Five home games are on tap in a challenging non-league slate, with an additional game at The Palace in Auburn Hills against Oregon in December. An early three-game home stand includes a matchup with Duquesne. They open the season at Wisconsin-Green Bay, then later head to Michigan State, Xavier, Michigan and Toledo. When Summit League play begins in earnest in January, they don’t get many favors as five of the first seven games are on the road and one of the home games is against Oral Roberts. On the plus side, they can gather some late momentum with three straight home games in February.
Outlook: Fresh off a tough loss in the league title game, the Grizzlies bring back a team that should be in contention once again this season despite a couple of key frontcourt losses. That’s because they return sharpshooter Kangas and constantly improving floor leader Jones, who will form one of the better backcourts in the league. Nelson will anchor the frontcourt despite being undersized, as he plays bigger and is solid defensively, while McCloskey will be asked to do more and 6’10″ Rutgers transfer Dan Waterstradt should also make an impact. It’s not an accident that Greg Kampe won Coach of the Year honors last season, and he has a team that will be right there in the running for the title again this season.

IPFW Mastodons (12-17)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G Chris Perkins (6.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.9 apg)
Sr. G Demetrius Johnson (6.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 3.9 apg)
Jr. G Jakari Johnson (6.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.5 spg)
Sr. F DeWitt Scott (11.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
Sr. F Jaraun Burrows (8.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Mastodons have four non-league home games, highlighted by the home opener against old Summit League foe Valparaiso. They open the season at Wisconsin, then later travel to Indiana State, Nebraska, Michigan State, Marquette and Kent State. In December, they have two early Summit League home games, then have a three-game home stretch in January and three straight on the road at one point in February.
Outlook: Although the Mastodons are a senior-laden team that finished last season by winning five of seven, they will be new to playing a full league slate this year and aren’t as talented as some others. Johnson will run the show alongside Perkins and Johnson, while Scott is the best all-around player as he is an excellent shooter. Don’t be surprised if freshman Ben Botts gets plenty of minutes in the backcourt right away, as well as Nick Luttrell in the frontcourt as the Mastodons were out-rebounded by almost four per game last season. Dane Fife is the youngest head coach in Division I, and his program will likely grow with him in due time.

Centenary Gents (10-21, 3-11 Summit)
Projected Starters:

So. G Chase Adams (5.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.8 spg)
Jr. G Tyrone Hamilton (15.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.1 spg)
Jr. G Nick Stallings (8.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.3 spg)
Jr. F Lance Hill (5.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
So. F Jerrald Bonham (2.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: Three home games are on tap in non-league play, highlighted by Texas Tech during a four-game home stretch that includes two early Summit League games. Northwestern State begins that four-game stretch. The Gents will open the season at the Iowa State Tournament, where they will play Lipscomb in the opener and could play the host in the second game. Other notable road games include SMU, Baylor, improved Louisiana Tech, Georgia Tech and Hawaii. Once Summit League play begins in earnest in January, it starts tough with contenders Oral Roberts (home) and Oakland (away), and later in the month they play three straight on the road.
Outlook: The Gents will be very young this season despite possibly starting three juniors, as ten of the 14 players on the roster are freshmen or sophomores. Hamilton is who they are built around, and he’s one of the better players in the league. That makes him a good starting point, and Adams could develop into a good player as well, while Stallings is the complement on the perimeter. Inside is where the trouble likely is, as the Gents very little in the way of proven players there but have some size with six players being 6’7″ or taller. Four of those players are freshmen, clearly brought in to address the need for size indicated in part by being out-rebounded by more than six per game last season. With Hamilton the only returning double-digit scorer, defense is the first area where improvement can mean wins, especially after they allowed over 75 points per game last season.

UMKC Kangaroos (12-20, 6-8 Summit)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G-F Tim Blackwell (5.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
Jr. G-F Dane Brumagin (9.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
Sr. F Brent Stephens (9.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg)
Jr. F Brian Gettinger (4.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
Jr. C Alex Pledger (5.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.1 bpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Kangaroos open up the season with a real challenge, as they start off at Kansas in the Jayhawk Invitational, then two games later go to Northern Arizona and Arizona. After that, six of the next seven non-league games are at home, with Summit League games at Oakland and IPFW mixed in. They also play at Missouri in early January. Once league play starts in earnest in January, they have three straight home league games, then later have a three-game road stretch.
Outlook: The Kangaroos don’t lack talent, but with a new coach and their two best players from last season having finished their careers, they are likely to struggle some initially. Not helping is that there isn’t a holdover point guard, leaving a gaping hole at that crucial position. On the plus side, there are some capable shooters, which should help since new head coach Matt Brown is a John Beilein disciple, meaning he comes from a system that needs shooters. Blackwell, Brumagin, Stephens and Gettinger are all capable from long range, so they could use a four-out, one-in system with Pledger, the tallest player in the league, staying inside. Rebounding will be a concern since they were out-rebounded by almost five last season and aren’t really hurting for size.

Western Illinois Leathernecks (7-23, 3-11 Summit)
Projected Starters:

Fr. G James Washington (redshirt; 5.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.2 apg in six games)
Sr. G David Jackson (12.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.1 spg)
Jr. G David Dubois (junior college transfer)
Sr. F Jerryck Owens-Murrey (9.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.3 apg)
Sr. F Chris Gonzalez (4.0 ppg, 1.6 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The non-league slate features five home games, including consecutive games to close it out. Road games include Kansas State, Missouri and UCLA, and they have an in-season home-and-home with Texas-Pan American where the two games will be played five days apart. In league play, they get a four-game home stand about halfway through, then close the regular season with three straight on the road.
Outlook: Last season had its share of tough losses, as the Leathernecks lost eight games by four points or less. That means they weren’t very far away from being about .500 overall, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get there this season as they have eight new players. They have good perimeter building blocks in senior David Jackson, a good player hidden away on a struggling team, and Washington, who showed some potential before an injury forced him to redshirt last season. There are plenty of options to join them on the perimeter, with newcomers David Dubois and David Nurse each having Division I experience before going to a junior college. Owens-Murrey is a good complement to Jackson, while Gonzalez needs to get better for this team to have a chance inside unless some newcomers contribute right away. The Leathernecks allowed opponents to shoot better than 46 percent from the field last season, including nearly 40 percent on three-pointers, and allowed over 70 points per game, three statistics that indicate a need for defensive improvement.

Southern Utah Thunderbirds (16-14, 6-8 Summit)
Projected Starters:

Jr. G Nick Livi (junior college transfer)
So. G David Marek (2.8 ppg)
Sr. F Nurudeen Adepoju (9.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
Sr. F Orlando Griego (8.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.3 apg)
Jr. F Tate Sorenson (7.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: Five home games are on the non-league schedule, including three straight early on that includes Big West contender Cal Poly and Boise State, the former of which is part of one of two in-season home-and-home series (the other is with Cal State Fullerton). They open the season at Utah State and later travel to play New Mexico and Brigham Young. In league play, five of their last seven games are at home, but they won’t be easy: of the first four, three are against North Dakota State, Oral Roberts (one of the road games) and Oakland.
Outlook: Reid has done a lot of winning in the state of Utah, so the Thunderbirds seem to have made a statement in hiring him to lead the program. Reid was most recently the head coach at Snow College, and he has since brought a lot of attention and support to the program as two record donations have come in since his hire. For good measure, he also brought five players from Snow along with him, including junior college All-American Geoff Payne, who should get good minutes right away and may push one of the holdover forwards out of the starting lineup. The holdovers include several regulars from last year, all of whom should benefit from Reid’s tutelage but will have to get better to stay in the lineup. Seniors Adepoju and Griego look to be the best bets to remain regulars, while Sorenson may be able to move out of the middle if 6’10″ John Clifford, another player Reid brought along, is able to produce right away. With only six holdovers, this team won’t look much like last year’s, but with Reid at the helm and his career of success, the Thunderbirds will be in good shape even if this isn’t their year.

South Dakota State Jackrabbits (6-24)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G Mackenzie Casey (3.6 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 1.2 apg)
So. G Garrett Callahan (8.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.5 apg)
So. F Thomas Bassett (4.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
Sr. F Michael Loney (7.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
So. F Kai Williams (12.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.1 apg)
Schedule Highlights: The non-league slate features six home games, including the first two of the season with the second being against Big Sky favorite Montana. Northern Iowa and Horizon League contender Wisconsin-Green Bay are also coming to Sioux Falls, and they have a home-and-home with Idaho. The toughest road games look to be at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Minnesota. After league play begins in earnest, they play three straight on the road in late January, then end the regular season with three straight at home.
Outlook: Expect the Jackrabbits to have their struggles out of the gate, but they do have something to build with in the sophomore class. Williams and Callahan look like a nice duo and should only get better, and they should be the primary building blocks, while Loney looks like the senior leader to help the young guys develop. Six freshmen and five sophomores dot the roster, so this group will experience the growing pains of conference membership in Division I together.

Conference Outlook

There’s a new name and three new teams, but things might not change at the top just yet. While IUPUI looks like the favorite with who they return, they won’t be prohibitive favorites by a long shot. Oral Roberts isn’t about to fall off the map anytime soon with so many players back and a couple of excellent additions, in addition to Scott Sutton staying in Tulsa. Oakland is a dark horse if some help arrives in the frontcourt, as they are solid on the perimeter. And while North Dakota State isn’t eligible for the tournament yet, the Bison will be a factor this year as they could very easily play spoiler late in the season. The teams picked in the bottom half largely appear to be in transition in some way, either with a new coach or having a roster loaded with new players.

     

Oral Roberts Seniors Win Another Title

by - Published March 7, 2007 in Columns

TULSA, Okla. – Caleb Green was told a couple of weeks ago that his Senior Night was not on February 17, the night Oral Roberts held the formal ceremony. That may sound like something a diehard Oral Roberts fan would say in a state of delusion, knowing that it was a Senior Night many didn’t want to see come. After all, it was the final home game for two seniors who will leave a lasting mark on their program more than that cliché might ever suggest. But Green’s source wasn’t a fan.

“The coach told us it wasn’t our Senior Night – this was going to be our Senior Night, and the guys sent us out the right way,” Green said after he led Oral Roberts to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year by virtue of a 71-67 win over Oakland in the Mid-Continent Conference Championship game.

The game was played a short drive east of the 260-acre campus of Oral Roberts University, a school that has existed for over 43 years and whose founder is currently the school’s chancellor. The school has had Division I athletics since 1972-73, although they departed for two seasons before rejoining for good in the fall of 1991. At that time, they were an independent, which means there is basically no road to the NCAA Tournament and scheduling is not easy. Now, they are a regular contender in the Mid-Continent Conference, which they joined in July of 1997. The move came a year after a rising star in the coaching profession named Bill Self took them to the NIT with a 21-7 mark that included wins over Arkansas and Oklahoma State.

That means the program has had its share of success and didn’t exactly come out of nowhere in making back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament. Earlier this year, it was on the national stage with a win at Kansas in mid-November. But none of that can diminish the significance of Tuesday’s win, or what the two seniors on this team have meant to the program.

“To be able to take a team that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in (22) years and go back-to-back, people will be talking about these guys 30 years from now,” said head coach Scott Sutton of his seniors.

The seniors are Green and Ken Tutt, and their accomplishments are numerous and had two more on Tuesday. Green, who became the Mid-Continent’s all-time leading rebounder early this season, became the conference’s all-time leading scorer with his game-high 28 points, while Tutt surpassed 2,000 career points with his 20. For good measure, Green not only did his damage inside as he normally does, but he hit a career-high three three-pointers as well, all of them in the first half.

The accomplishments didn’t take long to roll in, as they came in as freshmen and became the first pair of freshmen to be named first-team all-conference in any NCAA Division I conference in 73 years, with Tutt being named the conference’s top newcomer. Three more such selections have followed for Green as he took home the conference Player of the Year award each time, while Tutt missed first-team honors last year only (missing 10 games due to injury didn’t help) and made up for it by being the tournament MVP. Green is one of just 15 Division I players to win three conference Player of the Year honors. During their careers, the team has won three straight regular season titles and is headed to the post-season for the third straight time, as they made the NIT as sophomores.

Green and Tutt have been joined at the hip since they met before their freshman year started. Tutt, who grew up in Texas, remembers being on campus and not knowing anyone when he met Green, a hometown kid. Green had just one other Division I scholarship offer (Texas State, known then as Southwest Texas State) and wanted to stay close to home, and he made Tutt feel at home right away. He not only invited him to his home, but he even cooked dinner for him as Tutt met his parents.

“They made me feel at home, they made me feel special,” said Tutt, who added that Green is a pretty good cook.

That wasn’t the only time the soft-spoken Green, who is constantly smiling and is a character (he had the media in stitches on several occasions at the tournament), was a gracious host along with his family. During Thanksgiving, they often had players who lived far away over for dinner, including Tutt. Green’s personality is infectious, and Tutt has seen the effect it has on teammates plenty of times.

“Some days, you’ll come into practice and not feel like practicing, and he’ll put a smile on your face,” he reflected.

Sutton says the two have always been special young men, and says that’s exactly why they were able to have the success they had as freshmen. The veterans on that team respected them all along because of their character, so there were no chemistry issues as the Golden Eagles went 17-11. That set the stage for the next three seasons and their success resulting in postseason play. After Tuesday night’s win, the team has an 86-41 record over the past four seasons.

There’s no question fans probably never wanted Senior Night for Green and Tutt to ever come. Considering it really came on the night the Golden Eagles made a second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, they’ll probably get over the disappointment quickly.

Mid-Continent Tournament Semifinal Notes

by - Published March 6, 2007 in Columns




Mid-Continent Conference Tournament Semifinal Notes

by Phil Kasiecki

TULSA, Okla. – The championship matchup is set at the Mid-Continent Tournament, and it may look a little familiar in more ways than one. The top two seeds, Oral Roberts and Oakland, will battle it out for the conference’s automatic bid. The two met in this game two years ago, with the Grizzlies coming out on top. In the afternoon, meanwhile, the same two schools will battle it out for the women’s title.

Semifinals Honor Roll
Caleb Green, Oral Roberts: 25 points
Shawn King, Oral Roberts: 14 points on 7-9 shooting, 8 rebounds
Ken Tutt, Oral Roberts: 11 points, 5 assists
David Barlow, IUPUI: 16 points, 6 rebounds
Derick Nelson, Oakland: 23 points on 9-13 shooting, 10 rebounds
Erik Kangas, Oakland: 19 points
Quinton Day, UMKC: 17 points, 7 assists
Dee Ayuba, UMKC: 16 points, 7 rebounds

Golden Eagles Defense Comes From Sense of Urgency

Oral Roberts rolled into the title game with their 21-point win over IUPUI, led by their defense. They held the Jaguars to 29 percent shooting as they missed their first 11 shots, and also forced 14 turnovers and dominated the boards by a 42-30 margin.

Indeed, their defense is the main reason they haven’t just held on to leads late in the game at the tournament, but have put teams away. Head coach Scott Sutton thinks their star seniors have something to do with that.

“I think our guys have a sense of urgency,” said Sutton. “I think Caleb and Ken understand this is their last go-round. We can’t allow a team, if you get them down, to come back.”

They did much the same thing with Centenary on Saturday, holding the Gents to 28 percent in the second half to blow open a six-point game at the half. In turn, they shot over 65 percent from the field in that frame.

There is still more work to do with tomorrow’s championship game. Sutton sees this team drawing from the experience of last year, and for seniors Green and Tutt, experience before then as well.

“I think our guys have done a great job of understanding what we’re playing for,” said Sutton. “For Caleb and Ken, this is it. Last year, we were able to go, and I think those guys realize how special that opportunity is, and they want to get back.”

Jaguars’ Future is Bright

While their opposite number has two seniors that mean the world to them, IUPUI has a lot of youth that suggests this season just isn’t their time. Although starters David Barlow and Angelo Smith depart along with part-time starter Matt Burks, there are some riches among the Jaguars’ underclassmen.

Most notably, sophomore George Hill will redshirt this season due to an injury he suffered earlier in the year. Head coach Ron Hunter said Hill could have played in the tournament, but the decision had been made to hold him out for a redshirt. Hill was a first-team All-Mid-Continent selection last year. Three more starters, including one of the league’s top newcomers in Gary Patterson and second-team All-Mid-Continent selection Austin Montgomery, will also return.

Hunter thinks Patterson, who will need off-season surgery on his injured thumb that has bothered him even during games, and Montgomery also benefited from holding Hill out.

“I don’t know if they progress the way they progressed if we play (Hill),” said Hunter, who went on to note his optimism. “It’s hard for me to be disappointed because our future is extremely bright.”

Even with the injury to Hill, the Jaguars put forth a 15-15 season and finished fourth. With Oral Roberts losing their dynamic duo and Valparaiso leaving, the Jaguars figure to have a good chance to contend for the title next year with their holdovers.

Grizzlies Compete

Oakland won Monday’s game in large part because they kept competing. They trailed from the beginning of the game until about eight and a half minutes, ultimately taking their first lead with a run of eight unanswered points.

But the Kangaroos came right back with seven unanswered points of their own, and after the score was tied at 64, UMKC would go up by two each time before the Grizzlies would tie it. That pattern repeated until the game was tied at 74, when the Kangaroos would take the lead on two Dane Brumagin free throws and the Grizzlies would respond with the next seven, starting with Erik Kangas’ three-pointer with 1:17 left.

“I think you saw what’s made us a team all year,” said Oakland head coach Greg Kampe. “I think we compete, and I think we have so many different people who can make plays for us.”

Indeed, the Grizzlies had five players who scored in double figures and had a 38-26 rebounding edge. They also had a 42-24 edge in points in the paint. Derick Nelson (10 rebounds) and wide-bodied post player Shawn Hopes (13 points, 6 rebounds) helped lead the way inside, but they also got help all over from unsung hero Jonathon Jones. While the freshman guard had 10 points on just 2-7 shooting, he had five rebounds and three assists. Kampe doesn’t look there for his value, however.

“If Jonathan Jones hadn’t come to Oakland, we would have been in the 2-7 game on Saturday night, but we would have been wearing the dark uniform,” Kampe said. “That’s how much he’s meant to our team.”

Now the Grizzlies will get to compete again, this time for a championship. They knocked off Oral Roberts in the title game two years ago, and Kampe thinks his team is better now, but admits the Golden Eagles are also better. It all adds up to him having a high expectation for the game.

“I’m going to be disappointed if this game doesn’t come down to the last two minutes tomorrow night.”

Don’t Blame Dee

It would be easy for someone to focus on Dee Ayuba’s crucial late turnover when he took an inbound pass and then threw it to Quinton Day for a backcourt violation. But like any other game, one play didn’t make the difference, and although it’s a cliché, it really is true that the Kangaroos wouldn’t have been where they were without him.

Ayuba had a huge 31-point, nine-rebound night on Sunday to lift the Kangaroos into the semifinal. He showed his terrific touch from within 10 feet of the hoop, and at times did that on Monday although he was 6-17 from the field in the loss.

It was a tough conclusion to a season where it wasn’t a given he would even play. He tore his ACL in August, and around the start of the season the staff was 50-50 on whether he would be able to play in time for it to be practical to play him, or if redshirting him would be more practical. Head coach Rich Zvosec alluded to that possibility after the game when reflecting on the season.

“It would have been much more enjoyable as a coach if we would have had a healthy Dee Ayuba for the full year,” Zvosec said. “I think he showed down the stretch that he had the capabilities of being a first-team all-league player. The fact that he came back from surgery is a real credit to him and his work ethic.”

The Kangaroos finished below projections in the regular season, as many picked them in the top three of the conference and they finished sixth. They certainly had the tools to surprise everyone and run to the title game, and they almost did that behind Ayuba and classmate Day, who took over at one stretch in the second half right after Ayuba picked up his third foul. In recent years, they have had success in the regular season and an early exit from the tournament, but this year it was the opposite. With the players that are returning next year, they might get the right combination of regular season and tournament success in due time.

“As I say goodbye to Quinton and Dee and Blake (Crawford), I’m encourage by what we have coming back,” Zvosec said.

     

Mid-Continent Preview

by - Published November 13, 2006 in Conference Notes



Mid-Continent Conference 2006-07 Preview

by Kevin Hansen

As national exposure for mid-major conferences increases, Mid-Continent Conference coaches look forward to showing off their teams’ talent.

Oral Roberts, IUPUI and Missouri-Kansas City should battle atop the conference standings. With the explosive tandem of Caleb Green and Ken Tutt, Oral Roberts will arguably have the two best players in the conference on their team. However, the Golden Eagles lost every other starter and will have some empty slots to fill. IUPUI, on the other hand, is returning four of five players from last year’s squad, including standout George Hill. Like many teams in this conference, UMKC, is returning most of their players from a successful team. The Kangaroos are returning 11 players and a first team all-conference player in Quinton Day. When these three teams match up on the court, it will be a battle that is fun to watch.

The rest of the conference has young, athletic players who will be fun to watch. This conference will be competitive, and many good players are worthy of national recognition.

Preseason Awards

1st Team All-Mid-Continent
Quinton Day, Missouri-Kansas City
Ken Tutt, Oral Roberts
Caleb Green, Oral Roberts
George Hill, IUPUI
Vova Severovas, Oakland

Honorable Mention
David Jackson, Western Illinois
Steve Barnes, Southern Utah
Tyrone Hamilton, Centenary

Conference MVP: Caleb Green, Oral Roberts
Freshman of the Year: Samuel Haanpaa, Valparaiso

1. Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles (2005-06: 21-12, 13-3, First)
Projected Starting Lineup:
Junior center Shawn King
Senior forward Caleb Green
Junior forward Moses Ehambe
Junior guard Ken Tutt
Junior guard Adam Liberty

Schedule Highlights:
Nov. 18 at Kansas
Dec. 22 at Arkansas
Dec. 28-30 at BYU in the Holiday Classic

The Golden Eagles have good and bad news entering the 2006-07 season. The bad news is that they have lost three of their starters from last year’s team. The good news is that the two returning starters are All-American candidates Caleb Green and Ken Tutt. Green and Tutt are the highest scoring duo in school history. The tandem enters the season with a combined 3,273 points and has a chance to become the seventh set of teammates in NCAA history to reach 2,000 points apiece.

Green is coming into this season with many individual records in reach. He needs 684 points to become the Mid-Continent Conference’s all-time leading scorer. He also needs 37 rebounds to become the conference’s career leader. In addition, he is going for his third consecutive conference player of the year award.

Having lost five players from last season’s team, Oral Roberts and coach Scott Sutton will be looking for newcomers to fill in the blanks. Marchello Vealy and juniors Shawn King and Yemi Ogunoye will look to fill the defensive void left by last year’s conference defensive player of the year Larry Owens.

The non-conference schedule includes road games at Kansas and Arkansas. These games should be a good tune-up for the beginning of the conference schedule.

2. IUPUI Jaguars (2005-06: 19-10, 13-3, First)
Projected Starting Lineup:
Senior center Angelo Smith
Sophomore forward Fred Kounkorgo
Senior forward Matt Burks
Junior guard George Hill
Senior guard David Barlow

Schedule Highlights:
Nov. 10-12 at BCA Classic
Dec. 6 at Illinois
Feb. 2/22 vs. Oral Roberts

The Jaguars will be coming into the season still beaming with confidence after last year’s Mid-Continent Conference regular-season championship. The Jaguars are returning four starters from last year’s team, including first-team all-conference guard George Hill. In Hill’s sophomore season, he averaged 18.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. Joining Hill in the backcourt is senior point guard David Barlow, who averaged solid statistics in his first year as a starter: 10.2 points and 3.3 assists per game.

IUPUI will sorely miss forwards Brandon Cole and Maushae Byles, who were fearless underneath the basket and on the wing. Forwards Angelo Smith and Fred Kounkorgo will be looking to fill those spots. Smith and Kounkorgo are athletic and capable of playing above the rim, which is something this team has lacked in the past.

The beginning of the season will be a good test for an experienced Jaguars’ team. They will play Illinois and Indiana on the road and could face Ohio State in the BCA Classic.

With coach Ron Hunter at the helm, the Jaguars should be right in the thick of things at the end of the year, with a strong possibility of securing a NCAA Tournament birth.

3. Missouri-Kansas City Kangaroos (2005-06: 14-14, 11-5, Third)
Projected Starting Lineup:
Senior center Kyle Spears
Senior forward Dee Ayuba
Senior forward Blake Crawford
Senior guard Quinton Day
Junior guard Tim Blackwell

Schedule Highlights:
Nov. 22-25 at Great Alaska Shootout
Dec. 2 at Arkansas
Dec. 13 at Maryland

The Kangaroos will rely on senior leadership to propel them to the top of the conference standings in the 2006-07 season. The starting lineup will consist of four seniors and one junior.

The star player in the lineup is Quinton Day, who is a preseason first-team all-conference selection. Last season, Day averaged 20.3 points and 3.6 assists per game. It will be interesting to see if Day can continue to put up these numbers throughout this upcoming season.

Along with Day, the Kangaroos return three starters and a total of 11 players in 2006-07. The returning starters include seniors Dee Ayuba and Blake Crawford and junior Tim Blackwell. Ayuba and Blackwell were the Kangaroos’ second and third leading scorers respectively and are on the preseason all-conference second team, but the former could redshirt after tearing an ACL late in the summer.

With all the experience and talent that is returning to the court for the Kangaroos, look for Missouri-Kansas City to make some noise in the upcoming season.

4. Valparaiso Crusaders (2005-06: 17-12, 8-8, Fourth)
Projected Starting Lineup:
Junior center Calum Macleod
Senior forward Moussa Mbaye
Junior forward Shawn Huff
Freshman guard Samuel Haanpaa
Junior guard Jarryd Loyd

Schedule Highlights:
Nov. 21 at North Carolina State
Nov. 29 vs. Marquette
Dec. 2 at Ohio State

Going into his 18th season as the Crusaders’ coach, Homer Drew will only have one senior on his team, which should make for a challenging year. Moussa Mbaye, the lone senior, will need to provide leadership on a young team. Mbaya averaged 3.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last season and led the team in blocks. He had off-season surgery on his knees but should be ready to go at the start of the season.

With the team’s top three scorers – Dan Oppland, Ron Howard and Mohamed Kone – gone, the Crusaders will depend on the young players to produce on offense. One young player who has a lot of promise is freshman guard Samuel Haanpaa. He is not only a great three-point shooter with great size at 6-8 but also an excellent passer and a great team player. He should make an immediate impact.

With all of the inexperience and young players, Drew will be hard-pressed to get back to the NCAA Tournament, a place that has become familiar to Valparaiso in the past. The Crusaders have gone to the Big Dance eight of the last 12 seasons.

5. Oakland Golden Grizzlies (2005-06: 11-18, 6-10, Sixth)
Projected Starting Lineup:
Senior center Shawn Hopes
Sophomore forward Derick Nelson
Senior forward Vova Severovas
Senior guard Rick Billings
Sophomore guard Keith MacKenzie

Schedule Highlights:
Nov. 17-19 at CAA Basketball Classic
Nov. 25 at Michigan State
Nov. 29 at Cincinnati
Dec. 2 vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Dec. 16 at UCLA

Returning four starters from last season’s team, the Grizzlies will be looking to improve from a seventh place finish in the Mid-Continent Conference. Returning all but two players from the 2005-06 team, Oakland is the most experienced team in the conference.

The loss of Calvin Wooten will be significant because he led the team with an average of 19.2 points per game. Wooten was also a sharp-shooter behind the arc. However, even with the loss of Wooten, the Grizzlies return 75 percent of their scoring, 93 percent of their rebounding and more than 80 percent of their assists and steals.

Senior forward Vova Severovas will be the player to watch this year. He led the team in rebounding and was second in scoring a year ago. His .594 field goal percentage led the conference.

The Grizzlies have arguably the hardest non-conference schedule in the conference. They face Michigan State, Cincinnati and UCLA, all on the road. Those tests will give fans an early idea how competitive their team will be.

6. Western Illinois Leathernecks (2005-06: 7-21, 3-13, Seventh)
Projected Starting Lineup:
Junior center Louis Johnson
Sophomore forward Lorenzo Taylor
Junior forward NaVonta Kentle
Senior guard Troy Okeson
Junior guard David Jackson

Schedule Highlights:
Dec. 6 at Indiana
Jan. 4 vs. Oral Roberts

The Leathernecks’ season of a year ago could have been much better. The team lost 10 games by 10 points or less. Coach Derek Thomas is hoping his experienced team has learned from its mistakes and will be able to correct them this season.

The Leathernecks return four of their top-five scorers from 2005-06. Junior guard David Jackson will lead the core of the six returning players. Jackson led his team in nine different statistical categories; most notable were his 14.5 points per game. Joining Jackson in the backcourt will be Troy Okeson, who still managed to make 33 three-pointers in just 15 games despite missing the last 13 games of the season because of injuries. Look for Jackson and Okeson to lead the team.

If the Leathenecks can improve in close-game situations, don’t be surprised if they compile a pretty successful season. They have the experience and the scorers necessary to win a decent amount of games.

7. Southern Utah Thunderbirds (2005-06: 10-20, 8-8, Seventh)
Projected Starting Lineup:
Junior center Brad Kanis
Junior forward Tate Sorenson
Senior forward Junior Abrahao
Senior guard Justin Allen
Senior guard Steve Barnes

Schedule Highlights:
Nov. 10 at Utah
Nov. 24 at Brigham Young
Dec. 4 at Washington

There will be a lot of uncertainty at the start of the 2006-07 season for the Thunderbirds because they are returning only five players and will have 10 new faces. However, one thing is certain – the team’s athletic ability has greatly increased.

Point guard Steve Barnes is the only returning starter. He averaged 8.4 points and 5.0 assists per game. He will be joined in the starting lineup by Justin Allen, who averaged 9.1 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. Allen was the team’s sixth man last year, but he should start this year.

The Thunderbirds have a fairly easy non-conference schedule. Their toughest match up is on the road against Washington. If the Thunderbirds can get some early wins, it could help them gain some momentum going into the conference season.

8. Centenary Gents (2005-06: 4-23, 2-14, Eighth)
Projected Starting Lineup:
Senior center Larry Logan
Senior forward Alexander Starr
Sophomore forward Lance Hill
Sophomore guard Bryan Baumann
Sophomore guard Tyrone Hamilton

Schedule Highlights:
Dec. 18 at Georgia Tech
Dec. 28 at Texas
Jan. 2 at Baylor

After a disappointing first year as the Gents’ coach, Rob Flaska will try to improve his team and continue to build the organization. Although the Gents had a 4-23 record, they lost 11 games by 10 points or less, including five contests by fewer than five points.

Alexander Starr and Larry Logan are returning starters who will provide leadership for the younger players. Starr averaged 9.5 points per game and also led the team in field goal percentage, steals and assists. Logan averaged 7.3 points per game and had a team-high average of 4.9 rebounds.

Tyrone Hamilton will return to the team after sitting out the 2005-06 season. He will be welcomed back graciously considering he was named to the Mid-Continent Conference All-Freshman Team. In his freshman year, he averaged 12.5 points per game and led the team in assists and three-pointers.

With the experience gained from previous years and the addition of Hamilton, this team should be more competitive in the Mid-Continent Conference this year.

Outlook

Initially looking at the make-up of these teams, it is obvious that the Mid-Continent Conference will be competitive, with three teams vying for the championship. There is more athletic ability this year in the Mid-Con Conference than in previous years. It will be a fun conference to follow because of the parity of the eight teams and also the exciting athletes scattered throughout the conference.

     

The Mid-Continent’s Next Step

by - Published May 19, 2006 in Columns




The Next Step for the Mid-Continent Conference

by Andrew Flynn

The Mid-Continent Conference is reeling, having just lost one of its more storied programs in founding-member Valparaiso to its geographic rival, the Horizon League. This news comes less than a month after another Mid-Con member institution, Chicago State, announced they were leaving the conference and would compete as a D-I Independent next season.

So why the change for Valpo, where they’ve been a power for the past 24 seasons? In a statement, Valparaiso president Dr. Alan F. Harre cited the geographic centralization of the Horizon League membership. “The transition to the Horizon League means less time will be needed by our student-athletes as they travel to and from competition, and it means they will miss fewer classes. Shorter travel also means less fatigue and increased concentration in the classroom.” In the Mid-Con, Valparaiso faced travel to Utah, Louisiana, and Oklahoma as part of its conference slate.

Geographically, the farthest point in the Horizon league from Valparaiso is Youngstown State, at 360 miles, but in the adjacent state of Ohio. In contrast, the distances were much farther in the Mid-Con, with UMKC 560 miles away, Oral Roberts 710 miles, Centenary 880 miles distant, and Southern Utah over 1600 miles away.

Valparaiso, 17-12 last season, will also play in a tougher basketball conference, with “mid-major” powers Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Butler. Things might not come so easily, as Valparaiso has made seven appearances in the NCAA Tournament since 1996, including a dramatic trip to the Sweet 16 in 1998.

So what of the Mid-Con? Now Western Illinois is the only original Mid-Con member school still in the conference. Valpo joins (belatedly) Cleveland State, UIC and Wisconsin-Green Bay in the Horizon League. Other members (Missouri State, Northern Iowa) joined the Missouri Valley, and Eastern Illinois sought representation with the Ohio Valley. The problems began in 1994, when six schools left the conference, to be replaced (seemingly at random) by a collection of geographically diverse institutions. 1994-95 saw the addition of Buffalo, Central Connecticut State, Chicago State, UMKC, Northeastern Illinois and Troy State, with all but UMKC jumping the Mid-Con ship at some point. Additional expansions included Oral Roberts and Southern Utah in 1997-98, IUPUI and Oakland in 1998-99, and most recently Centenary in 2003-04.

Mid-Con Commissioner Tom Douple said in a statement, “The conference will immediately explore all of the options available for the future. We will make decisions based on what is best for our current membership and the long term viability of the Mid-Continent Conference.” No foolin’, Tom – you’ll only have seven teams and lose your automatic bid otherwise!

For the past decade, it seems as though schools have been treating the Mid-Con as sort of an introductory course to D-I, before they move on to greener pastures. There is no exclusivity. There is no cachet. There is (seemingly) no plan. To that end, I have three possible directions that Mr. Douple and the fine folks at Mid-Con headquarters in Elmhurst, Illinois should consider.

Plan A – Status Quo

This plan is simple, and should be the most familiar to everyone involved – keep the status quo, and keep the geographic center of the conference a moving target. Since the news of Valpo’s departure broke, Indiana-Purdue Ft. Wayne has claimed that they’re on the short list for being admitted into the Mid-Con (even though they were passed over two years ago). According to the Ft. Wayne News-Sentinel, IPFW, as well as North Dakota State and South Dakota State have been asked by the Mid-Con to submit information about the school and its athletic programs.

That measure would indeed make for a ten-team conference, which would help the Mid-Con keep its automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but I’m not so sure both North and South Dakota State should jump, when other maneuvering might lead them towards an all-sport membership, perhaps in a future expanded Big Sky, which would also offer football. Perhaps the Mid-Con should throw in the towel.

Plan B – Disband

At this point, the seven unclaimed Mid-Con schools should have no trouble attracting other conference affiliations, especially if formerly strained relations are left as mere bygones. Some possibilities:

Centenary moves to the Sun Belt. I’m sure the Sun Belt would be happy to have Centenary as a member, especially since there are several non-football schools already in the conference. The Gents, with the Chief, Robert Parrish as a notable alumus, and a school overall record 7 games over .500 would be a fine addition. Less likely would be a return to the Atlantic Sun, based purely on geography, as well as any leftover grudges following the school’s departure.

Oakland and IUPUI join the Horizon. In this scenario, the Horizon League gains two more Midwestern metropolitan universities as they move up to 12 teams overall. An extra benefit would be the creation of key home-and-home rivalry matchups: IUPUI and Butler (both in Indianapolis) and Oakland and Detroit (both in metropolitan Detroit). Additionally, we would have UW-Milwaukee vs. UW-Green Bay, UIC vs Loyola-Chicago, Cleveland State vs. Youngstown State, and Wright State versus… well, Valparaiso. It almost works out.

Western Illinois, UMKC and Oral Roberts join the Missouri Valley. Well, it makes sense geographically, as Oral Roberts pairs up nicely with Wichita State as a “not really in the Missouri Valley” squad. UMKC is as Missouri Valley as you can get, although the campus is several miles south of the actual river, Both Kansas City and Tulsa would be key metropolitan acquisitions in what would be considered Big 12 country. And Western Illinois wouldn’t be a bad geographic fit, either, though it would lead to an odd number of teams. A possible solution would be to go to 14 teams in two divisions by adding the former Mid-Con member Chicago State, thus adding yet another major metropolitan area to the MVC market.

Southern Utah to the Big Sky. This makes all kinds of sense. Along with new Big Sky member Northern Colorado, Southern Utah would create a southern tier of Big Sky schools, teaming up with existing member Northern Arizona. Southern Utah could leave the I-AA Great West football conference and jump to I-A in the Big Sky. The result would be ten teams in an attractive geographical array. Other D-I Independents, Utah Valley State (no football), and North and South Dakota State(s) would be possible expansion schools. [Ed. note: The Big Sky is a I-AA football conference, so the move wouldn't necessitate moving up a level.]

What hasn’t been mentioned is the most appealing aspect of the dissolution of the Mid-Continent Conference – a true field of 64 teams in the NCAA Tournament. Traditionally (since 1985), the tournament has always had 34 at-large bids. Trouble began with the introduction of the Mountain West Conference, following their split from the WAC. 31 conferences plus 34 at-large bids equals 65 teams. Get rid of the Mid-Con, and get back to 64 teams.

Plan C – The “D” League

The NBA has the development league to matriculate post-collegiate players to possible professional contracts in the CBA, Europe, and possibly the NBA. The Mid-Continent Conference should become the D-League of Division I. Think about it – the trend over the past decade has been for various institutions to start the five-year exploratory period towards becoming a Division-I program. Many of these schools have latched on to the Mid-Con until they have found a better suitor. The Mid-Con hasn’t generated any loyalty – Valpo was their example, and now the Crusaders are in bed with the Horizon League.

Let’s just formalize things and make the new “Mid-Con” the administrative and logistic support conference newly-minted D-I exploratory schools cling to until they get their feet wet. This new Mid-Con Development Conference would allow all of the D-1 Independents, the new transitional schools, and even schools “in-between” conferences to have a home, a place where they are fed and cared for – an orphanage, if you will. A central office for officiating, and heck, even a “tournament” which, thanks to the NCAA’s acquisition of the NIT, would guarantee the winner at least a postseason NIT bid, or even ensure that the winner gets to play in the Play-In game if Dayton demands that their 15 minutes are kept annually. The NCAA could even use the conference as a test-bed for new rules, whether it be the new banning of mid-air timeouts or the moving of the three-point line – they could be tried out under a controlled and regulated environment.

And each time an established conference was looking for a new addition to their family, they could come to the Mid-Con, browse the available schools, and select an NCAA-approved member institution to fulfill their round-robin scheduling dreams. Let’s take a look at the teams that would form this Mid-Con D League as of the end of the 2006-07 season:

East Division West Division

Florida Gulf Coast
Longwood
New Jersey IT
North Carolina Central
Presbyterian College
Savannah State
South Carolina Upstate
Winston-Salem State


Cal-State Bakersfield
Central Arkansas
Chicago State
IPFW
North Dakota State
Northern Kentucky
South Dakota State
Texas Pan-American
Utah Valley State

Now some of these schools already have deals with conferences as associate members until they have full D-I status. Central Arkansas, North Carolina Central, and Presbyterian College all have deals in place with the Southland, MEAC, and Big South, respectively. Cal State Bakersfield and Winston-Salem State have “handshake” agreements with the Big West and MEAC, respectively. And this would be a boon to those non-affiliated teams to have a standardized schedule where standings and RPI figures could be generated for evaluation. It’s a radical suggestion, but it would help clean up all of the remnants of the conference shuffling that’s been going on for the past few offseasons, as well as provide a nurturing environment to these new D-I schools that are cropping up each year.

The Mid-Con is expected to vote on new members at its annual league meetings starting June 27th in Chicago. Commissioner Tom Douple has some thinking to do, with a few options to consider, and possible radical changes ahead for all of college basketball. That, or IPFW gets added.

     

Comments on this Article:

1. From Steven Rackley:

Enjoyed the article. Just an FYI – The Big Sky Conference is a IAA conference, which should even be more attractive to SUU.

2. From Rick Granger:

I’m going to mess us your East division of the Mid-Con. Florida Gulf Coast has already been accepted into the Atlantic Sun in 07-08…..

3. From Kevin Wilstrom:

Main problem with dissolving the Mid Con is that NCAA automatic bids are such a valuable commodity; regardless of how odd the 65 number seems for the tournament, you can bet that UMKC, Oral Roberts etc will cling by their fingernails to the Mid Con banner for that bid…why should they join much tougher conferences like the Missouri Valley, where the bid would be much tougher to get? Its far from certain that increased attendence would be enough in that league to offset the diminished NCAA odds.

A very plausible plan for the Mid Con is to push the Dakotas angle. Not sexy on a national level, but the 4 Dakota schools have bigger athletic budgets than most of the current Mid Con programs, and it would provide a good base for the league. Of course, this would require the Mid Con convincing North Dakota and South Dakota to jump to D1, but both schools are apparently under a lot of pressure to do so anyway because of alumni who cant stand being “beneath” NDS & SDS (so I have read).

Long term, Mid Con would probably consist of the 4 Dakota schools, UMKC, Oral Roberts, Western Illinois, possibly also Pan American and IPFW. Southern Utah will inevitably leave due to the travel issue, so there isnt much sense in having Utah Valley come aboard. I agree with you that Oakland and IUPUI will probably follow Valpo eventually, meaning that the Mid Con center of activity could move westward. By the way, I have never been to the Dakotas (am from Michigan) but that just seems like a logical path of survival for this league.

I do not agree that the Mid Con should be disbanded just so the NCAA can again have 64 teams; besides, you will likely see an increase in the number of play-in games one of these years anyways, it would be easy to envision one play in game per region, thus a tournament of (at least) 68 teams.

Mid-Continent Preview

by - Published November 28, 2005 in Conference Notes



Mid-Continent Conference 2005-06 Preview

by James V. Dowd

The upcoming Mid-Continent Conference season has coaches from top to bottom excited about the prospects of a league that is as deep as it has ever been. While Oral Roberts is heavily-favored to repeat as regular-season champions, recent years have shown that you can’t award the conference tournament championship and automatic NCAA Tournament berth until the clock runs out.

Juniors Ken Tutt and Caleb Green look to separate Oral Roberts from the pack, but will receive chase from Valparaiso, led by Preseason All-Conference picks Dan Oppland and Mohamed Kone, and IUPUI, led by honorable mentions Brandon Cole and George Hill.

Defending conference tournament champion Oakland looks to improve on its fifth-place finish from last season with help from a strong recruiting class – influenced strongly by their surprise ticket to the Big Dance. Along with a strong freshman class, coach Greg Kampe will have access to junior Calvin Wooten, a Rutgers transfer who returned to the Detroit area after suffering a torn ACL during his sophomore season.

Moving through the conference, Chicago State coach Kevin Jones is optimistic that his team can improve on last year’s performance despite losing his top three scorers, citing newfound chemistry on a squad chock full of new transfers.

Knowing that their league has become increasingly visible on a national level with the Cinderella stories like last year’s Oakland team and Bryce Drew’s Valparaiso team, Mid-Continent Conference coaches look forward to showing the nation that they are a force to be reckoned with.

Preseason All-Conference Team
G Quinton Day, Jr., UMKC
G Ken Tutt, Jr., Oral Roberts
F Caleb Green, Jr., Oral Roberts
F Dan Oppland, Sr., Valparaiso
C Mohamed Kone, Sr., Valparaiso
Honorable Mention: Brandon Cole, F, Sr., IUPUI; George Hill, G, So., IUPUI; David Jackson, G, Western Illinois

Conference MVP: Caleb Green, Oral Roberts
Freshman of the Year: Derick Nelson, Oakland
Newcomer of the Year: Calvin Wooten, Oakland
Coach on the Hot Seat: Kevin Jones, Chicago State

1. Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles
2004-05 Record: 25-8, 13-3 Mid-Con (1st)
Projected Starting Lineup:
C Mickey Michalec, Sr.
F Caleb Green, Jr.
F Larry Owens, Sr.
G Ken Tutt, Jr.
G Jonathon Bluitt, Sr.
Schedule Highlights:
11/23-26 @ Great Alaska Shootout
11/23 vs. USC
11/25 vs. Eastern Washington or Marquette
12/28 @ Oklahoma
12/31 @ Minnesota
2/18 @ ESPN Bracket Buster Game

After losing just two of their top ten scorers from last year’s regular-season conference championship team, the Golden Eagles are the clear favorites to repeat this season. But this time around, they’re aiming to complete the job in the Mid-Continent Conference tournament and earn an NCAA tournament berth.

The Golden Eagles’ most significant loss was guard Luke Spencer-Gardner, who averaged 9.1 ppg last year and provided a serious deep threat, sinking 46.4-percent of his three-point attempts. Lucky for head coach Scott Sutton, his top two scorers return in the form of juniors Ken Tutt and Caleb Green, the latter of whom is the Hoopville and Mid-Continent Conference preseason player of the year.

Green was named last season’s conference player of the year after finishing second in the league’s overall scoring and rebounding categories. Should Green and Tutt continue to contribute 15 to 20 points per game, the Golden Eagles should have no problem leading the league in scoring for the second straight season.

Another key to a successful title defense will be the play of senior center Mickey Michalec, a former Texas Tech transfer. The 6-11 big man will be counted on to provide an inside scoring threat, open up the driving lanes and outside shots for Green and Tutt, and to secure rebounds that Green cannot.

Having lost five total players from last season’s roster, freshmen forwards Daren Johnson, Sylvester Spicer and Marchello Vealy will add depth to the Golden Eagles’ bench along with junior college product Eric Fowlkes, a 6-4 athlete who can fill in at guard or forward.

Once the Golden Eagles reach their Mid-Continent Conference schedule, they will likely be battle tested and ready to go, especially on the road. From December 11th until Jan 4th they play 7 straight road games, including their first two conference tilts at Chicago State and Southern Utah.

2. Valparaiso Crusaders
2004-05 Record: 15-16, 10-6 Mid-Con (3rd)
Projected Starting Lineup:
C Mohamed Kone, Sr.
F Dan Oppland, Sr.
F Ron Howard, Sr.
G Seth Colclasure, Sr.
G Jimmie Miles, Jr.
Schedule Highlights:
12/7 at Marquette
12/18 at Duke
2/18 ESPN Bracket Buster Game

After losing Kenny Harris, one of their top-three scorers and conference sixth man of the year, to injury when he collapsed during a workout in April, the Crusaders look to take on his no-quit attitude while trying to spoil Oral Roberts’ chance at cruising to a second straight conference title.

While Valpo will be without his 9 ppg, Harris has inspired his Crusader teammates with his recovery after spending several weeks in a coma. Fortunately, coach Homer Drew has eight of his top nine scorers from a year ago returning, Harris being the exception.

The Crusaders will look to senior forward Dan Oppland to lead this year’s charge. Oppland provides a physical force in the front court, owning the third-best scoring average in the league and leading the squad by example off the court as a third-team Academic All-American. In the front court, Oppland will be joined by center Mohamed Kone, a 6-11 transfer from the College of South Idaho.

Senior Ron Howard provides Valparaiso’s premiere deep threat, knocking down 37 from downtown last season. Howard’s versatility will also be an asset for Drew, who can slot him at guard or forward. Drew also hopes to count on senior Ali Berdiel, who sat out the majority of last season with a foot injury.

There should be an early indication of what this year’s team is made of when they face Marquette and Duke just 11 days apart, both on the road.

3. IUPUI Jaguars
2004-05 Record: 16-13, 9-7 Mid-Con (4th)
Projected Starting Lineup:
C Michal Vavrek, Sr.
F Brandon Cole, Sr.
F Maushae Byles, Sr.
G George Hill, So.
G Blair Crawford, Sr.
Schedule Highlights:
12/20 at Vanderbilt

Head Coach Ron Hunter is one of the most colorful characters in all of NCAA basketball, and despite losing three key players – Akeem Clark, Johnny Miller and James Booyer – to graduation, the Jaguars should contend for the conference title. Hunter has a history of bringing in freshmen and transfers that keep IUPUI near the top of the league.

Senior forward Brandon Cole will be forced to play a key role if the Jaguars hope to return to the NCAA tournament where they lost in the first round to Kentucky two years ago. Cole was among the league’s top ten scorers and rebounders last year and will be joined by seniors Maushae Byles and Michal Vavrek, both of whom improved vastly throughout the course of last season, in the frontcourt.

The Jaguars’ backcourt will be led by sophomore George Hill, who knocked down over 50 percent of his shots last year. Hill has shown great maturity handling the ball and feeding it in to Cole and the now-departed Booyer, and will likely continue to improve by leaps and bounds under Hunter’s tutelage.

Early on, the Jaguars don’t play a weaker non-conference schedule than many of its counterparts, but must take advantage of settling in on the road. If the Jaguars have any hopes of a league title, they must be ready to finish off their conference schedule with three road games at Centenary, Chicago State and Southern Utah.

4. Western Illinois Leathernecks
2004-05 Record: 11-17, 7-9 Mid-Con (t-5th)
Projected Starting Lineup:
C Eze Samuel, So.
F Fred Oguns, Sr.
F Eliz Cepeda, Sr.
G Troy Okeson, Jr.
G David Jackson, So.
Schedule Highlights:
11/26 vs. Indiana
12/3 at Kansas
1/1 at Arkansas

One year removed from a 3-25 mark in coach Derek Thomas’ rookie year, the Leathernecks are poised to break the .500 mark in his third season. The team finished with 11 wins last year and will be raring to go for the conference schedule after hosting Indiana and playing at Kansas.

The Leathernecks lost their leading scorer and rebounder in Eulis Baez and are hoping that sophomore guard David Jackson and senior forward Fred Oguns can increase their production in his absence.

Running with Jackson in the backcourt is junior Troy Okeson, who provides the Leathernecks’ three-point threat. Okeson hit almost 40-percent of his three-pointers last season, tying for the team lead with 51 total. In the middle, the Leathernecks look to junior college transfer Eze Samuel to provide an inside scoring and rebounding threat.

The key to the Leathernecks is a team-oriented game, as they will rely on players with little experience to come off the bench. If team leaders like Jackson and Oguns can mesh well with their lesser experienced teammates, the Leathernecks have a chance to be the dark horse in the Mid-Continent Conference race.

5. Oakland Golden Grizzlies
2004-05 Record: 13-19, 7-9 Mid-Con (t-5th)
Projected Starting Lineup:
C Shawn Hopes, Jr.
F Patrick McCloskey,So.
F Derick Nelson, Fr.
G Brandon Cassise, So.
G Calvin Wooten, Jr.
Schedule Highlights:v
11/30 at Bowling Green
12/19 at Marquette
12/30 at Missouri

The Golden Grizzlies shocked the basketball world last spring by upsetting No. 1-seeded Oral Roberts in the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament championship game and earning a place in the NCAA Tournament. After defeating Alabama A&M in the play-in game, Oakland earned national notoriety.

But looking back on Oakland’s regular season, they left much to be desired. And without the team’s top three scorers from a year ago, led by current Dallas Maverick Rawle Marshall, coach Greg Kampe leans on three untested players and the remaining two starters from last season.

Sophomore Patrick McCloskey proved himself as one of the league’s top freshmen last year and will be called on for an increased role this season. The Golden Grizzlies will rely on McCloskey to pick up the bulk of the rebounds lost when leading rebounder Cortney Scott graduated.

Kampe will also rely heavily on sophomore Brandon Cassise, who came up big for the Golden Grizzlies in the conference tournament and post-season play. Cassise is Oakland’s leading returning scorer. He will be joined in the backcourt by newcomer Calvin Wooten, a junior who transferred from Rutgers conveniently closer to his home in Detroit.

Freshman Derick Nelson looks to be the conference’s top freshman, as he will be relied on to pick up the bulk of the loss of scoring that came with Marshall’s departure.

The Golden Grizzlies might not be ready to compete for the regular-season title, but count on Kampe to have them primed for another ticket to the Dance come conference tournament time.

6. Chicago State Cougars
2004-05 Record: 9-19, 7-9 Mid-Con (t-5th)
Projected Starting Lineup:
C Marin Mulic, Sr.
F Nate Carter, Sr.
F Kourtney Calvin, Jr.
G Royce Parran, Jr.
G Kevin Jones, Jr., Jr.
Schedule Highlights:
11/20 at Ohio State
12/6 at Purdue
12/13 at Louisville
12/31 at Michigan

Chicago State coach Kevin Jones has one of the conference’s toughest projects at his hands as he tries to rebuild a program that lost its top three players from last year. But Jones is confident that he can do the job. While the talent level might not be on par with that of last year’s team, but he believes that the team is more compatible and will have better chemistry on and off the court.

The Cougars will be led by Royce Parran, who scored 10 ppg and led the team in steals and assists. Parran’s backcourt mate will be Kevin Jones, Jr., who added just under 6 ppg. If the Cougars are able to develop a newfound chemistry with their new roster, it will begin with Parran’s ball-handling.

But beyond Parran and Jones, who played regular roles in the Cougar offense last season, the pressure also lies on center Marin Mulic as he aims to fill in for seven-footer Deji Akindele, who left Chicago State for the NBA draft.

It may be a while before the validity of Jones’s claims comes to fruition, but the team will be well-prepared for its conference battles after playing 12 consecutive road games at the beginning of the year, including stops at Ohio State, Purdue, Louisville and Michigan. By the time the team makes it through these grueling non-conference meetings, the Cougars will be prepared to run with the deepest league the Mid-Continent Conference has offered in recent years.

7. UMKC Kangaroos
2004-05 Record: 16-12, 12-4 Mid-Con (2nd)
Projected Starting Lineup:
C Blake Crawford, Jr.
F Dee Ayuba, Jr.
F Brian Gettinger, Fr.
G Quinton Day, Jr.
G Tim Blackwell, So.
Schedule Highlights:
11/26 vs. Central Michigan
11/29 at Missouri
12/7 at Penn State

With their top three scorers gone, things don’t look good on paper for the Kangaroos. But one year ago it was tough to fathom how UMKC would deal with the loss of record-breaking guard Michael Watson, and coach Rich Zvosek came up with answer and the Kangaroos jumped into second place in the final league standings last season.

Junior Quinton Day will be counted on to be the onus of replacing three 14+ ppg scorers. Day was named to the All-Newcomer team after scoring 13.1 ppg and leading the league in steals. Day will be paired in the backcourt with sophomore Tim Blackwell, who provided a boost to the Kangaroos in the second half of last year after they struggled greatly in the first half.

The front court is where many of the questions regarding UMKC reside. Blake Crawford, Dee Ayuba and freshman Brian Gettinger will try to open up the outside shots for Day and Blackwell. The trio will likely receive help from the four 6-8 or taller freshman that Zvosec added.

If the Kangaroos can perform better in the non-conference schedule, look for them to jump from the lower echelons of the conference and into the race. But with so many new faces, a non-conference collapse reminiscent of last year may deplete the psyche of this Kangaroo team.

8. Southern Utah Thunderbirds
2004-05 Record: 13-15, 6-10 Mid-Con (8th)
Projected Starting Lineup:
C Lubor Olsovsky, Sr.
F Junior Abrahao, Jr.
F Nate Janes, Sr.
G Rand Janes, Sr.
G Steve Barnes, Jr.
Schedule Highlights:
11/18 vs. Mississippi
11/23 at Arizona State
12/10 at Utah
12/31 at UNLV

The Thunderbirds found themselves near the bottom of the Mid-Continent Conference pile last year and after losing more than a third of its scoring offense, it will be tough for Southern Utah to move up the standings this season.

With top-two scorers Tim Gainey and DeAngelo Newsom gone, the Thunderbirds hope that seniors Rand Janes and Lubor Olsovsky can increase their scoring load. The pair averaged just over half the offense that Gainey and Newsom brought.

On the perimeter, junior guard Steve Barnes made more than half of his three-point attempts last year and will be the team’s third option this season.

Despite the fact that the Thunderbirds have one of the oldest lineups in the league, it will be tough for them to begin any kind of climb with the talent levels of higher teams. Coach Bill Evans can use this season as a chance to develop his four freshman recruits, the cornerstone of any rebuilding effort.

9. Centenary Gents
2004-05 Record: 3-24, 1-15 Mid-Con (9th)
Projected Starting Lineup:
C Jason Underwood,Jr.
F Ian Maxwell, Sr.
F Chris Watson, Jr.
G Tyrone Hamilton, So.
G Clarke Jackson, So.
Schedule Highlights:
11/26, at Mississippi
1/10, vs. Georgia Tech

Not only do the Gents have the toughest climb after being mired in the basement of the Mid-Continent Conference last year, they play with heavy hearts after leading scorer and rebounder Chad Maclies died suddenly on May 3rd. Maclies was the heart and soul of the Centenary team, and it will be difficult for anyone to replace his contributions.

The Gents boast a new face behind the bench in former Arkansas assistant Rob Flaska. Flaska’s greatest challenge is to try to bring the Gents out of the basement with only three returning players.

Sophomore Tyrone Hamilton is the leading returning scorer after being named to the league’s all newcomer team. As one of the team’s only experienced players, the Gents will count on Hamilton to work the ball to senior forward Ian Maxwell and his counterparts.

Maxwell is the only senior on the team, but doesn’t provide the same experience that Hamilton did as he started just 5 games last season. The Gents will rely on Maxwell improving his one point per game average to provide them with some semblance of an inside game. In the middle of the front court is junior Jason Underwood, a junior college transfer who the Gents hope can spark the team’s lackadaisical offense. The only other returning player is guard Clark Jackson, who averaged 4.4 ppg in eighteen contests last season.

With Flaska in place at the helm, the Gents have taken a step in the right direction, but with such little experience and heavy hearts, it will be tough for them to climb out of the Mid-Continent Conference cellar this season.

Outlook

With a high-percentage of experienced players and post-season tested coaches, the Mid-Continent conference battle is shaping up to be one of its best. While Oral Roberts appears to be a head above the rest, Valparaiso and IUPUI could give them a run for their money, and middle-of-the-pack teams Western Illinois, Oakland and UMKC are one “if” away from jumping into the thick of the race.

But if there is one thing to be learned by Oakland’s cinderella story last year and IUPUI’s win over Valparaiso the year before, it’s that you never quite know what to expect come tournament time. Perhaps even a then-gelled Chicago State team could vault itself into the Big Dance. With three talented teams at the top of the conference, if one of them can hold on in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the league will receive the attention it is long due.

     

Mid-Con Tournament Recaps

by - Published March 9, 2005 in Conference Notes




Mid-Continent Conference Tournament Recap

by Michael Ermitage

First Round

No. 1 Oral Roberts 82, No. 8 Southern Utah 59

The top-seeded Golden Eagles took care of business in its first round matchup with Southern Utah. Oral Roberts jumped out to a 10-point halftime lead en route to a dominating victory. They were led by sophomore Ken Tutt’s 18 points, which included four three-pointers. Southern Utah struggled mightily on offense, turning the ball over 20 times and shooting just 40% for the contest. They were led by two bench players, Lubor Olsovsky and Jason Baker, who each contributed 13 points.

No. 7 Oakland 67, No. 2 UKMC 63

Every Cinderalla run starts somewhere, and for seventh-seeded Oakland it started with the defeat of UKMC. Led by sophomore Rawle Marshall’s 25 points, the Grizzlies earned just their 10th win of the season. The Golden Grizzlies were able to outlast the Kangaroos with solid defense and superior ball handling. The Kangaroos were held to just 39% shooting and committed 13 turnovers, compared to just seven for the Golden Grizzlies. UMKC finished the season 16-12.

No. 4 IUPUI 70, No. 5 Western Illinois 62

The four vs. five seed lived up to the close matchup it was billed to be. Both teams played well, but IUPUI was able to outlast Western Illinois behind excellent guard play. Junior Brandon Cole and senior Akeem Clark combined for 41 points in the victory. Western Illinois did all it could to keep pace, dropping 11 three-pointers on the Jaguars. The Leathernecks were led by T.J. Gray, who hit five three-pointers and finished with 15 points.

No. 6 Chicago St. 72, No. 3 Valparaiso 67

The second upset of the first round was a big one as Chicago State, who had just eight wins all season, stunned defending champ Valpo with a deadly inside-outside combination. Sophomore Royce Parran manned the outside game, scoring a game-high 23 points while connecting on 5 of 8 shots and an amazing 10 free throws. Freshman Jeleel Akindele, who measures 7-foot-1, scored 19 points in the post. The combo enabled Chicago State to overcome a nine-point halftime deficit. Valpo was led by junior forward Dan Oppland, who scored 20 points in the loss.

Semifinals

No. 1 Oral Roberts 80, No. 4 IUPUI 69

The Golden Eagles tallied their 25th win of the season in surprisingly easy fashion over IUPUI in the semifinals. Oral Roberts jumped out to a 17-point halftime lead and were never truly threatened in the contest. Three players logged double digits in points for the Golden Eagles, led by sophomore Caleb Green’s 22. Green added 7 rebounds in the win. Freshman George Hill led the Jaguars’ scoring attack with 15 off the bench. IUPUI finished the season 16-13.

No. 7 Oakland 56, No. 6 Chicago St. 53

In a battle of first-round upset winners, Oakland prevailed in a tight game. Going just seven deep, the Golden Grizzlies were able to squeak by the Cougars primarily behind some solid free throw shooting. Oakland was able to get to the line 11 more times than the Cougars and made 7 more attempts. Rawle Marshall again led the charge for the Golden Grizzlies with 17 points, including 7 of 8 from the line. The Cougars were led by Tony Weeden with 18 points. The inside-outside duo of Parran and Akindele were completely shut down, combining for just 19 points. Akindele was a miserable 1 for 8 from the free throw line.

Championship

No. 7 Oakland 61, No. 1 Oral Roberts 60

The Oakland Golden Grizzlies ended an improbable tournament run with an improbable shot. Pierre Dukes buried a three from the left corner with just over a second left in Oakland’s Mid-Continent Conference title win that secured a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the 12-18 squad. It was Dukes’ only shot of the second half as he finished with 7 points for the game.

The seventh-seeded Golden Grizzlies are in the tournament for the first time since becoming a Division I program eight seasons ago. It’s the fourth straight season a team with a losing record has made the NCAA Tournament. Oakland (Mich.) took possession after Jonathan Bluitt hit one of two free throws to make it 60-58. Rawle Marshall passed it to Dukes on the left side, and his shot splashed through the net.

The Golden Grizzlies started the season 0-7 against a murderous schedule that included Illinois, Xavier and Missouri. But they finished the season with five straight wins, three in the conference tournament.

Oral Roberts was led by Caleb Green’s 13 points. The 25-7 Golden Eagles don’t figure to get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

     

Mid-Con Offseason News

by - Published November 10, 2004 in Conference Notes



Mid-Continent Conference Offseason News Update

by Paul Oren

“Everything changes, but everything stays the same.”

A quote which applied to the Mid-Continent Conference last season. Once the dust settled from three schools bringing in new head coaches and a new school joining the conference, Valparaiso continued to sit atop the Mid-Con mountain, winning the regular season championship and defeating IUPUI in the Mid-Con Tournament final to advance to the NCAA Tournament. The Crusaders have long been the dominant force in the Mid-Con, but have missed out on the NCAA Tournament in 2 of the last 4 seasons despite winning the regular season title. Is Valpo slipping? Or is the competition gap getting narrower? The 2004-2005 Mid-Con season should provide the answers.

For the first time since 1995-96, all of the head coaches return. Homer Drew (Valpo) has the most wins at 523 while Derek Thomas (Western Illinois) has the least with 3. Greg Kampe has coached at Oakland for 20 straight seasons as he is one of 7 Mid-Con coaches who have only had 1 head coaching job. Drew and UMKC’s Rich Zvosec are the only two coaches in the conference who have coached at another college, and it is perhaps Zvosec who has the toughest coaching job of all this season.

UMKC must replace All-Time Mid-Con Scorer Michael Watson and Oakland must do the same with 2nd All-time Mid-Con Scorer Mike Helms. Watson played with the Boston Celtics during the NBA summer leagues. Watson and Helms were only two of the top scorers in the Mid-Con last season. 4 of the nation’s Top 12 in scoring came from the Mid-Con (IUPUI’s Odell Bradley and Centenary’s Andrew Wisniewski were the other two), however all have graduated. Only Chicago State, Oral Roberts, and Valpo return their leading scorers from a year ago.

The off-season brought the addition of several players to teams and the return of a big one to Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles, who figure to be Valpo’s top competition, return senior point guard Luke Spencer-Gardner from a deep bone bruise in his knee. ORU also adds JUCO All-American Larry Owens who was one of the nation’s top scorers and rebounders at Yavapai (AZ) CC. Western Illinois adds the largest class with 8 newcomers including Troy Okeson, whose brother Todd grabbed national headlines last season for guiding Nevada to the Sweet 16. Valpo added some much needed depth with 6’9 forward Aris Williams and they hit the Chicago pipeline by landing Jarryd Loyd and Vincent Humphrey. Loyd was known as one of the quickest players in the Windy City and is close friends with current Crusader point guard Jimmie Miles.

Along with the graduation of some of the Mid-Con’s best players, came transfers, injuries, and suspensions. ORU lost Schulyer Thomas to a torn Achilles in a summer pickup game. Thomas was projected to have a big impact in the paint for the Golden Eagles. Valpo has health concerns with their big man, Kenny Harris, who went from 400 pounds last season to 310. Doctors discovered a herniated disc and Harris is going through rigorous rehabilitation, red-shirting is not out of the question. It would be a big hit to the Crusaders depth which was damaged when starting guard/forward Oumar Sylla transferred to Richmond. Sylla was thought of as the Crusaders best defender. Oakland may open the season with uncertainty following a pick up fight in which Rawle Marshall, the team leader, punched newcomer Kris Krzyminski and broke his nose. Marshall has been suspended indefinitely, a blow to a team that was in turmoil for all of last season. Oakland also lost contributor Shawn Hopes to a transfer.

The Mid-Continent Conference has been and will continue to be a one-bid NCAA Tournament conference and the only way to get that bid is to win the Mid-Con Tournament. This season the task gets easier for ORU as the tournament is being moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. The past two seasons, the tournament has been held in Kansas City at the Municipal Auditorium, a “home court” advantage that never amounted to success for UMKC. However this season, the two favorites are ORU and Valpo, and Valpo has never won a game against ORU in Tulsa.

Mid Con coaches spent a lot of their off-season being very ambitious in their scheduling. UMKC opens their season with 6 of the first 7 games being against teams which made post-season tournaments last season. Overall the Mid-Con has 26 teams on their schedule that played in the NCAA or NIT tournaments last season. Some of the bigger regular season games include both Valpo and Oakland taking on Cincinnati and Illinois. Duke travels to the United Center in Chicago to play Valpo in what will be considered a home game for the Crusaders. UMKC plays at Mississippi State and Centenary plays at both Texas and Texas Tech.

The season figures to be exciting and with all of the scheduling done, the recruiting in the books, the off-season conditioning complete, it is time to put the ball in the air and get the season underway. Will Valpo hold on? Does ORU have enough to get over the hump? Will UMKC or IUPUI have enough firepower to reload their losses and move to the upper echelon?

     

Mid-Continent Conference 2003-04 Recap

by - Published August 3, 2004 in Conference Notes



Mid-Continent Conference 2003-04 Season Recap

by Matthew Moll

Parity ruled the regular season of the Mid-Con. Every game of the regular season mattered, with Valparaiso becoming the outright regular season champs and the number-one seed of the Mid-Con tournament thanks to a win against Chicago State on the last day of the season. Had Valparaiso lost a six-way tie (with 10-6 records) would have ensued record in conference tilts.

Instead when teams in the Mid-Con look up they see Valpo. For the ninth time in 10 years the Crusaders and Homer Drew are the best team in the conference. IUPUI would have owned the coveted tiebreaker and the regular season title had Valparaiso collapsed on the last day of competition. As it was there was a three way tie for second between IUPUI, UMKC, and Centenary.

Milestones and surprises also enter into regular season play. IUPUI won a school record 21 games at the Division I level. Chicago State won more games in conference play since joining the Mid-Con and finished above .500 for the first time as a member of the conference. Oral Roberts turned heads with a freshman tandem that would not have came to be had an injury to a starting guard never occurred. Centenary’s first year in the conference brought them a 13 game home winning streak (18 dating to last season) and a 10-6 conference showing. Oakland’s potential remained untapped finishing second last in the conference.

Throughout the regular season it looked as if the league belonged to anyone giving rise to each team believing that they could win an NCAA bid. But at the end of the regular season a more familiar rather than foreign result materialized.

Conference Tournament

The first round saw some firsts in the Mid-Con tournament. Chicago State won their first ever post season game defeating Centenary 70-54, handing Centenary its first Mid-Con tournament loss.

Valpo, IUPUI, and UMKC also advanced to the second round. The semifinal round saw more of the same. Top seeded Valparaiso advanced to its 10th consecutive Mid-Con Tournament title game defeating fifth-seeded UMKC 90-78, coming back from a five point deficient. IUPUI advanced to its third straight title game defeating Chicago State 68-47. Valpo vs. IUPUI round three would be the last game of the season for the Mid-Con. For the second time in three years Valpo would advance past IUPUI overcoming a double-digit deficit and move on to the NCAA. The Battle of I-65 has an advantage and it belongs to Valpo.

Post-Season

Valparaiso received the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament after winning the Mid-Con tournament, becoming the only representative for the 10 Indiana’s DI schools.

Valpo received the 15-seed and faced the number-two-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs. Valpo managed an early 4-0 lead that they held onto until the score was 17-14, but that is where the upset hopes ended. The Crusaders were defeated 76-49 in the first round of the St. Louis Regional at Key Arena in Seattle, Washington.

Player of the Year

Odell Bradley, IUPUI, averaged 24.4 points per game and 8.5 boards per contest. Good for second and third in the Mid-Con respectively. Bradley scored in double digits in all but one game this year and managed 17 games of 20 or more points including two 41-point performances over Oral Roberts. Bradley also added 11 double-doubles to his stat sheet. In just two seasons Bradley joined IUPUI’s 1000 point club.

Freshman/Newcomer of the Year

Ken Tutt and Caleb Green, Oral Roberts

No freshman duo in the nation scored more points than the Tutt-Green tandem. Tutt was a scoring machine rattling off eight straight games of 25 or more points. Green lead the league in double-doubles and field goal percentage.

Coach of the Year

Kevin Jones, Chicago State

Jones lead State to a 9-7 mark which is the best the Cougars have put up since joining the conference in 1994. The 11 wins the team posted is more wins than they have seen in the previous three seasons combined.

Defensive Player of the Year

Matt Crenshaw, IUPUI

Crenshaw lead his team in steals and is regarded as the best on the ball defender in the league.

First Team
Odell Bradley, IUPUI
Caleb Green, Oral Roberts
Mike Helms, Oakland
Ken Tutt, Oral Roberts
Michael Watson, UMKC
Andrew Wisnieski, Centenary

Valparaiso Crusaders

Record: 18-13, 11-5

For the eighth time in 10 years Valpo went to the NCAA tournament after defeating IUPUI for the second time in three years. At the end of the regular season Valpo stood alone as regular season champs and were the best team in the conference tournament. Valpo trailed late in the last two games of the tournament, but would not be denied a chance at going back to the dance with Homer Drew returning to the sidelines after a year hiatus. The win over IUPUI gave them a 25-2 record in the Mid-Con tournament.

No magic of 1998 could be rekindled for the 15-seeded Crusaders in the NCAA tournament. Second-seeded Gonzaga did not let the Crusaders have a sniff of an upset come the second half as they pounded Valpo 76-49.

Team MVP: Dan Oppland, So., six double-doubles, lead team in scoring

Top Scorer: Oppland, 15.7 ppg
Top Rebounder: Joaquim Gomes, 8.8 rpg
Top assists: Ali Berdeil, 6.0 apg

Starters leaving:
Gomes (graduating)
Roberto Nieves (graduating)

Key players returning:
The Oppland Brothers
Ron Howard (6-5 junior)

Coach Drew will need to find a replacement for Gomes’ 13 double-doubles, but with the return of Dan Oppland and the possible emergence of his brother Mike Drew should have his Crusaders back atop the Mid-Con again.

IUPUI Jaguars

Record: 21-11, 10-6

After representing the Mid-Con in the NCAA tournament in 2003, the Jag’s looked poised to make a run at the tourney again. The Jag’s finished the season with 21 wins, the most the school has recorded since moving up to DI and took their high win total into the Mid-Con tournament.

For the third straight season coach Ron Hunter and IUPUI met Valpo in the Mid-Con tournament final and for the second time in three years they watched the Crusaders cut down the nets. Senior Odell Bradley dominated the last three games of his career averaging 22.0 ppg. In the tournament and cleaning 9.0 boards per contest while earning the tournament’s Most Valuable Player Award.

Team MVP: Bradley, Sr., 1000 point club, named Mid-Con Player of the Year and conference tourney’s MVP.

Top Scorer: Bradley, 23.1 ppg
Top Rebounder: Bradley, 8.5 rpg
Top assists: Matt Crenshaw, 5.6 apg

Starters leaving:
Bradley (graduating)
Matt Crenshaw (graduating)

Key players returning:
Akeem Clark (15.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg.)

Bradley was drafted by Cedar Rapids River Raiders of the United States Basketball League. Bradley was the 42nd player chosen in the USBL draft.

IUPUI and coach Hunter will need to retool after the loss of Bradley if they intend to continue their newly acquired dominance of the Mid-Con.

Centenary Gents

Record: 16-12, 10-6

Thirteen home games equaled 13 wins for Golden Dome defending Gents. Andrew Wisniewski hit his final shot in the Golden Dome to defeat Oral Roberts and preserve the home winning streak, extending it to 18 games dating back to the 2002-2003 season.

That would prove to be the last time The Wizard of Shreveport saw a victory as they dropped their regular season finale and were sent home by Chicago State in the Mid-Con tourney. This past season was the first in the Mid-Con for the Gents finishing in a tie for first in the regular season.

Team MVP: Wisniewski, Sr., 18 20-plus point games, six 30-plus point games.

Top Scorer: Wisniewski, 21.9 ppg
Top Rebounder: Maclies, 6.3 rpg
Top assists: Wisniewski, 4.3 apg

Starters leaving:
The Wizard (graduating)

Key players returning:
Michael Gale (9.1 ppg)

Louisiana Sports Writers association named The Wizard Louisiana Player of the Year. Wisniewski also participated in the Portsmouth Invitational which is a chance for college seniors to showcase their talents to 200 NBA scouts.

No Wizard means less wins and no more Gold Dome dominance.

Oral Roberts Golden Eagles

Record: 17-11, 10-6

Oral Roberts was apart of the possible six-way tie for first largely because of the contributions of freshmen Caleb Green and Ken Tutt. Tutt and Green combined to be the highest scoring freshman duo in the nation at the DI level. Tutt was the nation’s second best scoring freshman while Green dominated the Mid-Con leading everyone in shooting percentage (59.8 percent).

The pair also made league history by being the first pair of freshman from the same team to be named to the Mid-Con’s first team. Inexperience contributed to ORU’s in ability to capitalize on their momentum going into the Mid-Con tournament.

Team MVP: Tutt, Fr., eight straight 26-plus point efforts (longest in the nation), 20.7 ppg.

Top Scorer: Tutt, 20.7 ppg
Top Rebounder: Green, 9.9 rpg
Top assists: Jonathan Bluitt, 6.1 apg

Starters leaving:
Josh Atkinson (graduating)

Key players returning:
Bluitt (assist man)
Green (led Mid-Con in double-doubles)
Tutt (the King will return)

Tutt was awarded the Edward S. Steitz Award as the best NCAA DI three-point field goal shooter as well as Mid-major freshman of the year by College Hoops Insider. Former Northeastern Oklahoma A&M guard Chris Riouse transferred to Oral Roberts.

Chris Sutton’s team will have high expectations after the breakout season by the “Baby Eagles.” Dealing with the Mid-Con hype and using their weapons effectively will decide their season.

UMKC Kangaroos

Record: 15-14, 9-7

For the second time in three years Rich Zvosec lead his Kangaroos to a winning season. UMKC managed to at least split every season series with Mid-Con opponents in route to a fifth place tie in the conference and a chance to play in the Mid-Con semifinals for the third straight year.

Michael Watson became the conference’s and the schools scoring, field goals made, and three-point field goals made and attempted.

Team MVP: Watson, Sr., lead conference in scoring, 3.6 apg.

Top Scorer: Watson, 23.4 ppg
Top Rebounder: Mike English 7.3 rpg
Top assists: Brandon Temple 3.9 apg

Starters leaving:
Watson (graduating)

Key players returning:
Everyone but Watson

Watson competed in the Portsmouth Invitational. Watson was among the nations top seniors competing on teams of other seniors in hopes of gaining attention of NBA teams.

Without Watson more shots will be available. Look for Mike English to supply the scoring spark.

Chicago State Cougars

Record: 12-20, 9-7

Chicago State’s season was historic as far as team history. Their 12 overall wins and nine conference wins were both records for the school since joining the Division I ranks in 1984-85. Kevin Jones’s earned Mid-Con coach of the year honors leading the Cougars to their first season above .500 since joining the conference.

State was the surprise team of the year in the Mid-Con and also won their first DI postseason victory with a win over Centenary in the first round of the Mid-Con tournament.

Team MVP: Craig Franklin, Jr., 14.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg., 2.7 apg.

Top Scorer: Franklin 14.3 ppg
Top Rebounder: Rubeen Perry 5.9 rpg
Top assists: Franklin 2.7 apg

Starters leaving:
Perry (5 double-doubles)

Key players returning:
Eight players returning; most notably: leading scorers Franklin and Weeden. Red-shirt freshman Terren Wilson will also offer his services to the cougar cause.

Next season’s schedule will put the Cougars against seven teams that qualified for either the NCAA or the NIT.

Jones has a basketball program that believes and put up a schedule that shows it. The loss of Perry as a leader may prove crucial down the stretch if others are not more vocal.

Southern Utah Thunderbirds

Record: 10-18, 6-10

A team shooting percentage and wins over IUPUI and Valpo highlighted the otherwise uneventful season. The T’birds were not expected to turn many heads in the conference and they followed suit. Compliments of the lowly Leathernecks of Western Illinois, Southern qualified for the Mid-Con tournament where they were sent home by IUPUI for the second straight year.

Team MVP: Palmer, Sr., 15.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.3 apg

Top Scorer: Palmer, 15.4 ppg
Top Rebounder: DeAngelo Newsom 6.9 rpg
Top assists: Rensch 2.9 apg

Starters leaving:
Palmer (graduating)

Key players returning:
Newsom (10.4 ppg., 6.9 rpg, 1.4 apg.)
Jason Baker (6 20-plus games, 2.5 apg.)

Jason Baker will need to become a more reliable offensive force and take control of the Thunderbirds if they want to become competitive. Coach Bill Evans may not have the designation much longer.

Oakland Golden Grizzlies

Record: 13-17, 6-10

Touted as the best team in the Mid-Con prior to the tip-off of the 2003-2004 season, Oakland stumbled early and never recovered. After the early 2-5 start the Grizz began to streak with several losses in a row followed by several wins in a row for a consistent, inconsistent season result. Oakland’s last chance at being the Mid-Con NCAA representative would have required an upheaval of the rulers of the conference, but alas the chance was dismissed by Valpo and inconsistent play.

Senior Mike Helms ended his career as the Mid-Con’s second leading scorer as well as the Oakland’s second highest career scorer.

Team MVP: Helms, Sr., 23.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.4apg.

Top Scorer: Helms, 23.2 ppg.
Top Rebounder: Cortney Scott, 7.8 rpg
Top Assists: DeMarcus Ishmeal, 2.9 apg.

Starters leaving:
Mike Helms (graduating)

Key Players returning
Marshall (17 ppg, 7.8 rpg)
Ishmeal (2.9 apg, 1 spg)

There will be an obvious hole in the Golden Grizz’s offense next season with almost 24 ppg missing. Returning All-Conference representative Marshall will carry the inside load for the Grizz. Ishmeal could emerge as the Mid-Con’s premier point guard with a larger burden on his shoulder. Regardless Oakland will not have the target on their backs that came with the pressure of being preseason favorites.

Western Illinois Leathernecks

Record: 3-25, 1-15

Finishing last in the Mid-Con may more had to do with the fickle feelings of fate rather than the validity of this team as a conference contender. Eight times the ‘Necks lost conference games by single digits including an 81-79 loss to Mid-Con NCAA tournament representative Valparaiso, different bounces, different year. But as it was the Leathernecks did not qualify for the Mid-Con tournament and had to label this year as transitional and rebuilding under new head coach Derek Thomas. Freshman 5-9er T.J. Gray was the lone bright spot in a season with few highlights.

MVP: T. J. Gray 10.0 ppg, 3.1 ast, 1.2 stls.

Top Scorer: J. D. Summers, 12.7 ppg
Top Rebounder: Summers, 4.8 rpg
Top Assists: Gray, 3.1 apg

Starters leaving:
J.D. Summers (graduating)
Bobby Carter (graduating)

Key Players returning
T.J. Gray (freshman, 3.1 apg)

Bobby Carter finished fifth in the Mountain Dew College Slam Dunk Contest in San Antonio during the week of the Final Four.

Derek Thomas will be entering his second season as the ‘Necks head coach. Thomas’ experience as a recruiter under UNLV’s Charlie Spoonhour should improve the talent coming through Macomb, but the team will need to suffer through another losing season before they will be ready to compete in the Mid-Con. Little big man Gray will be the team’s floor leader along with three returning starters.

     

Mid-Continent Quarterfinals Preview

by - Published March 11, 2004 in Conference Notes




Mid-Continent Conference Quarterfinals Preview

Preview by Matthew Moll

(1) Valparaiso vs (8) Oakland
Valparaiso defeated Oakland in both contests this season. Valparaiso is currently on a 12 game not losing ever streak to Oakland who has been unable to beat the Mid-Con champs in every try. Valpo is looking for their eight Mid-Con tournament championship. The X factor? Oakland was supposed to be number-one, now they have the chance to beat number-one. Oakland’s Mike Helm is their leader and will be the difference in the game. Mike Helms and Co. will have to hope that 13 is their lucky number.

(2) IUPUI vs (7) Southern Utah
The two split regular season battles each winning on the other’s home floor. If Southern Utah wants the upset they will have to use hold Bradley in check and hope the Jags struggle to shoot as they did in the Jan. 17 win. Southern Utah will have to depend on their range and quickness, but cannot compete with IUPUI ‘s athleticism.

(3) Centenary vs (6) Chicago State
Team Feel-Good-Story-of-the-Year split the season series with the Gents. Centenary lost to the Cougars in their last regular season game. The key for Kevin Jones’ men is to force the Gentlemen to not mind their elders (the Wiz) and force other people to score. The Wiz is the only player on the team to average double-digits. Expect the trio of Franklin, Weeden ,and Perry to get theirs, but if State wants to win this game and games after 7’1″ baby baller Jeleel Ankindele will need to swat more shots. Last time these two teams played Ankindele welcomed the Gentlemen to his block party sending back five shots.

(4) Oral Roberts vs (5) UMKC
The two split regular season match-ups, each winning on the other’s home floor. UMKC is the host school and should have the crowd on their side, but Michael Watson will need to try to match the scoring power of the Infant Eagles. Johnathon Bluit leads the Mid-Con in assists and will be looking to hand dimes out to his young buddies. Nation meet King Tutt.

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