Winners arenít always the only stories in March
the true fun and spirit of March basketball isnít so much shown best
in the winners as in the losers.
Itís not always the winning teams that make this
month what it is for basketball. Itís also the teams who have had bad
(or worse) seasons, and then come into their playoffs or conference
tournament and play well above the level that anyone could reasonably
Sometimes, they even do better than just play
well and actually pull off that shocker no one expected. Other times,
they come up just short after incredibly valiant efforts.
Indiana State and Illinois State, among others,
showed Saturday just another big part of why March is such a special
month for college basketball. The Sycamores and Redbirds gave
tremendously gutty efforts before coming up just short against the top
seeds in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
Number nine seed Illinois State had a tough
enough challenge Saturday morning after it beat #8 seed Drake the
night before by a point. They had to face top seed Southern Illinois
on about 16 hours rest, and just five days after getting whipped by
the Salukis in their regular season finale.
Then, ISU senior starter Andy Strandmark
suffered a severe ankle sprain in warm-ups. Talk about a sad
way to see a career end, at the time of year when every game could be
the last, a senior suffers an injury while going through layups.
The injury was pretty much a microcosm of a
season gone bad for the Redbirds, who came into the year with high
hopes only to finish tied for eighth in the MVC and 7-20 in the
regular season overall. Still, the Redbirds gave maximum effort to the
The Redbirds refused to rollover, and actually
led SIU in the second half before the Salukis finally pulled away at
the end for a 75-61 win. Forget the seeds and throw out the regular
season, conference tournaments give every team a chance to redeem
itself, and the Redbirds werenít going to just fritter it away with a
Neither was Indiana State. The Sycamores had an
even worse season than Illinois State. How does 2-16 in conference
play, 6-23 overall in the regular season strike you?
It had to strike Creighton as being about the
equal of 23-6 Saturday night. The Bluejays had all sorts of problems
with the Sycamores and trailed most of the way before eeking out a
57-56 win against the #10 seed Sycamores.
With all respect to the Bluejays, Indiana State
clearly deserved to win this one. The Sycamores showed the kind of
offense they rarely showed all year, but only did it for 30 minutes.
That doesnít quite cut it against team with 26 wins, but you still had
to feel for ISU coach Royce Waltman, who has had his share of ugly
losses to watch since beating Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament in 2001.
The two teams who defeated the ISUs are still
alive in the MVC Tournament, but just barely. Southern Illinois
trailed again in the second half yesterday before stifling SW Missouri
State late for a 64-55 win. Meanwhile, Creighton escaped again,
defeating Wichita State, 70-69. Once again, the Bluejays very well may
have deserved to lose but came back just in time to edge the Shockers.
Dana Altmanís team really needs to be careful,
because it will not be able to get away with its sloppy play in the
NCAA tourney. The Jays are spending too much time trying to break
teams down one-on-one, and CU doesnít have the athletes to do that.
Also, the frenetic, chaotic defense the Jays play when at their best
is nowhere to be found at this point. This is a team that really needs
to get its act together, and fast, because right now Creighton is
playing nowhere near a top 25 level.
Even besides the efforts by its two lowest
seeds, though, the MVC tourney has been one of the best out there this
year. Prior to tonightís Creighton-Southern Illinois final, four of
eight Arch Madness games have been decided by a point. And the league
may be primed to leave its mark on the postseason, too. Both Wichita
State and SW Missouri State have at least decent NIT chances. The
Shockers should be a lock, and SMS has the fan support to get a long
look, even with a modest 17-12 record.
Monday nightís championship should be a blast.
The MVC gets as good of fan support as all but the top few
conferences, and the conference tournament is rarely an exception.
Expect a big-time crowd and atmosphere Monday night, one that should
help some to dispel the myth that the Valley is a ďmid-majorĒ
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