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March 5, 2010

SCS.comA sparse crowd watched the play-in rounds of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament last night, which saw Drake and Missouri State advance in close match-ups. Here’s what you missed:

Day One Recap

Drake 63, Southern Illinois 61: In the early game, Drake rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit to beat Southern Illinois 63-61. Star senior guard Josh Young’s contested fadeaway with less than two seconds remaining gave the Bulldogs the victory. Young struggled for most of the game before eventually finding his shot late in the second half. Ryan Wedel picked up the slack, making five three-pointers and keep Drake competitive early. After the game, SIU coach Chris Lowery expressed disappointment in his team’s 15-15 record and grew irritated when asked about players or coaches potentially leaving. Lowery’s job status is in question with the program’s recent slide, and he’s also been rumored with the DePaul job.

Missouri State 52, Evansville 46: The nightcap provided another thriller, with Missouri State holding off an eager Evansville team 52-46 in an offensively-challenged game. The Bears scored the final seven points of the game, including a three-pointer by Adam Leonard that gave MSU a decisive four-point lead in the final minute. The Aces dictated the tempo of the game with their grinding, slow-it-down pace. The officials seemed to call a tight game—believe me, I heard all about it from the vulgar Missouri State fans behind me—which didn’t help the flow one bit.

Play-in Round Rundown

Top performance: Josh Young, Drake—Young looked nothing like his school’s all-time leading scorer for most of Thursday’s game, but he emerged just in time to extend his career at Drake. His game-winner in the final seconds was the toughest shot of the night, shooting across his body over 6-5 John Freeman.

Most surprising performance: Ryan Wedel, Drake—Wedel tied a season-high with five three-pointers as he fueled the Bulldogs’ offense all game. He finished with 19 points and battled through pain after suffering a nose injury diving on the floor.

Most disappointing performance: Tony Freeman, Southern Illinois—the senior made just two shots and scored four points in what could be the final game of his career, depending on if SIU accepts a bid to the CIT or CBI. Freeman, a former Iowa Hawkeye, also experienced a drought near the end of MVC play.

Most dramatic moment: Josh Young’s game-winner— easy choice.

Most amusing moment: Crazy Missouri State fans— it sounded like I had English Premier League fans behind me last night. A grown woman dropped an f-bomb (among other profanities), prompting a five-year-old ball boy to turn around with a stunned look. Another diehard claimed corruption within MVC officials. With such pitiful offense in the MSU/Evansville game, the fans behind me provided an entertaining night.

Worst halftime performance: Evansville dance team— the Aces’ dancers might be the first squad in sports history to wear sweatpants during a performance. Moments earlier, the Missouri State Sugar Bears performed—and the team name itself should give you an idea of its entertainment value. Wholesome family fun, that’s for sure.


Game 1: (8) Drake vs. (1) Northern Iowa, 12:05 p.m.


Overall record: 14-18

MVC Record: 8-11

Leading scorer: Senior Josh Young, 14.6 ppg

Bottom line: Drake barely led against Southern Illinois, falling behind by double-digits in both the first and second half. The Bulldogs continued to battle, however, despite allowing SIU 14 offensive rebounds. With Wedel’s hot-hand and Young’s heroics, Drake survived to live one more day.


Overall record: 25-4

MVC Record: 15-3

Leading scorer: Senior Adam Koch, 12.4 ppg

Strengths: Northern Iowa starts four seniors, and all but one player from last year’s NCAA Tournament squad returned for this season. UNI plays ferocious defense and plays methodical but brilliantly effective on the offensive end. The Panthers have it all—a distributing point guard in Ali Farokhmanesh, a dominant center in Jordan Egleseder, a slasher in Kwadzo Ahelegbe, and the MVC Player of the Year in Adam Koch.

Weaknesses: In UNI’s losses, the Panthers have relied too heavily on the three-pointer. They shot 5-23 from three in a loss to Evansville and 6-30 in a loss to Bradley.

Bottom line: Northern Iowa won the MVC by three games during the regular season. Ben Jacobsen’s squad is headed to another NCAA Tournament, regardless of what happens this weekend.

Game Prediction: Drake played its in-state rival close in both meetings this year, and the Bulldogs have the ability to get hot from the outside. That’s why I’m taking the Bulldogs in an upset special: Drake 68, Northern Iowa 61. And if I’m wrong, who cares. Nobody reads this column anyway and my Dad’s a Drake alum, so I might as well please him with my prediction.

GAME 2: (4) Creighton vs. (5) Bradley, 2:35 p.m.


Overall record: 16-14

MVC Record: 10-8

Leading scorer: Junior Kenny Lawson Jr., 13.0 ppg

Strengths: Lawson has finally blossomed in the frontcourt for coach Dana Altman after two inconsistent seasons in Omaha. He’s recorded a double-double in three of the past six games.

Weaknesses: P’Allen Stinnett entered the year as the face of Creighton basketball, but his junior season was a disaster. His emotional problems earned him an indefinite suspension back in January. Without him, the Bluejays have almost no scoring options in the backcourt.

Bottom line: With Stinnett’s suspension, it’s amazing Creighton even managed to finish fourth in the league with 10 wins. That’s another testament to Altman’s incredible consistency. The Bluejays also may be peaking at the right time, having won three straight games.


Overall record: 15-14

MVC Record: 9-9

Leading scorer: Junior Andrew Warren, 14.4 ppg

Strengths: Bradley has some of the best guards in the Valley, led by Warren and fellow junior Sam Maniscalco. If Dodie Dunson hadn’t broken his arm in November, this team would be well above .500.

Weaknesses: Jim Les hasn’t gotten his squad to defend all that well, which cost it several wins during MVC play.

Bottom line: The Braves can keep up with anyone in the conference offensively, and their guard play makes them a tough match-up.

Game Prediction: Creighton swept the season series and knocked off Bradley in the regular season finale last weekend. In what should be the most entertaining game of the day, I’ll take Creighton 74, Bradley 71

GAME 3: (7) Missouri State vs. (2) Wichita State, 6:05 p.m.


Overall record: 20-11

MVC Record: 9-10

Leading scorer: Sophomore Kyle Weems, 13.8 ppg

Bottom line: Missouri State avoided an upset against Evansville, but it’ll need a much better performance to knock off Wichita State. MSU needs more out of centers Caleb Patterson and Will Creekmore.


Overall record: 23-8

MVC Record: 12-6

Leading scorer: Senior Clevin Hannah, 12.2 ppg

Strengths: The Shockers have a balanced offense between Hannah, Toure Murry and J.T. Durley. Hannah provides the sparkplug with almost five assists per game. WSU also has quality depth, bringing 6 foot 11 big man Garrett Stutz off the bench.

Weaknesses: Wichita State finished undefeated at home but never figured out how to win on the road. The Shockers often looked like two different teams depending on the location of the game. Who knows how WSU will respond on a neutral site?

Bottom line: Wichita State appeared headed toward an at-large bid before stumbling in the middle of MVC play. Gregg Marshall has never had a better team at Wichita State, however, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the Shockers cut down the nets on Sunday.

Game Prediction: Wichita State won three road games during league competition, and one of those wins came at Missouri State. Thus, WSU swept the Bears, edging them by one possession each time. Having watched the Shockers play several times this year, I’m impressed by the tenacity of Marshall’s players. Wichita State 71, Missouri State 55

GAME 4: (3) Illinois State vs. (6) Indiana State 8:35 p.m.


Overall record: 21-9

MVC Record: 11-7

Leading scorer: Senior Osiris Eldridge, 15.9 ppg

Strengths: Adam Koch may have won MVC Player of the Year, but Eldridge is the league’s top NBA prospect. Easily the most exciting player in the Valley, the 6-3 athletic freak almost single-handedly led Illinois State to a MVC tourney title last year. Forward Dinma Odiakosa also leads the conference in rebounding.

Weaknesses: ISU is a poor shooting team. Eldrige takes a lot of threes, but he only makes around 35 percent of his attempts.

Bottom line: The Redbirds were the hottest team in the Valley in February, winning six straight games at one point. Illinois State has made the Valley title game the past two seasons, and Eldrige has been part of both of those teams.


Overall record: 17-13

MVC Record: 9-9

Leading scorer: Senior Harry Marshall, 14.0 ppg

Strengths: Indiana State gets to the free throw line a lot—and more importantly, it converts. Marshall, one of the top guards in the conference, makes 84.5 percent of his free throw attempts.

Weaknesses: Indiana State lacks size and even starts 6-5 Carl Richard at power forward. Center Josh Crawford is 6-11 but doesn’t have much meat on him.

Bottom line: If Ben Jacobsen’s Northern Iowa team didn’t win the league by three games, Kevin McKenna would be the Valley Coach of the Year without discussion. Iowa transfer Jake Kelly is out for the season with a knee injury, and both Marshall and Dwayne Lathan missed time throughout the year. Somehow, McKenna molded his group into a .500 team in conference play.

Game Prediction: Indiana State will have no answer for the Redbirds’ Idiakosa. Illinois State is far from perfect but should advance to play Wichita State in the semi-finals. That’s why I’m taking Illinois State 76, Indiana State 67.

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