No bubbles or bracketology for me

Judging be the e-mails and calls to local sports talk radio shows as well as tweets by fellow Missouri State fans, I’m a lot less interested in this whole bubble watch and bracketology thing. I’ve paid as little attention to it as possible. Spoiler Alert: The Bears are highly, highly unlikely to be included in the 2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship Tournament when the bracket is announced in a couple of hours.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t be, just that they won’t. The highly-trusted Joe Lunardi has said as much, so it’s likely a done deal, right? It’s not because Missouri State’s a bad team, or doesn’t have a pretty good resume. It’s because MSU is a mid-major, and the selection system seems to be pretty regularly manipulated to ensure the high majors fill the brackets.

At one time, 20 wins was the magic number as far as NCAA resumes go. But there’s MSU with 25 wins, on the outside looking in. USC has 19 wins and is assumed to be in. Then I learned that your RPI has to be low, or you won’t get in. MO State is sitting at 44. The last four in, according to Lunardi? St. Mary’s (46), Clemson (55), Virginia Tech (60) and USC (68). Missouri State owns three of the five best RPIs to be left out of the NCAA Tournament – including the No. 1 spot (21, back in 2006). We know the RPI is a hot steaming load.

Top 50 wins are important, supposedly. This, too, skews towards the big boys, who are often reluctant to schedule mid-majors in non-league play and certainly don’t want to play them on the road. The signature wins this season for Clemson and VA Tech? All of them are conference opponents. Clemson is 0-5 against the Top 50. VT is 2-4. The knock against MSU is that even though they don’t have any really bad losses, they don’t have any really good wins. The Bears lost a close one at Tennessee, a projected 10 seed, early in the year. That win may have helped boost the resume, but it’s no guarantee.

This season should sit as a learning moment for Missouri State. They’ve got 20+ wins and a good RPI. They showed an ability to win away from home. They don’t have any horrible losses. These are all good things. But there’s no marquee win. There’s no body of work against Top 50 RPI teams. The non-conference schedule strength is kinda weak – though no worse than some teams that are in. *coughMissouri’sIs297ButMissouriState’sIs195cough*

It’s time to schedule up. Pat Hill put Fresno State football on the map with an “Anyone, any time, any place” mentality. You’re going to take some lumps, but you’re also going to increase the chance of picking up a marquee win. Don’t always hold out for a home-and-home. Take some 2-for-1s. Take some neutral floor games. as Ric Flair says, “To BE the man, you’ve got to BEAT the man! Whoooo!” Go beat the man, Bears.

–QCFM

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Arch Madness Bracketology

It ranks as probably the best gem the legendary George Wilson dropped on me during my years covering his College of the Ozarks Lady ‘Cats:

“It’s hard to beat a team three times in one season…then again, sometimes it’s not.”

Let it sink in for a second, then note this: If Wichita State or Missouri State are going to cut down the nets at Scottrade Center March 6 and accept the Missouri Valley Conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, they’re going to have to beat as many as two teams for the third time this season. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Or is it?

Let’s take a look:

Adam Leonard - Missouri State

To the victor go the spoils, and for Missouri State that means a bracket that includes two of the three worst teams in the league, a No. 4 seed that is fading after the loss of a key player, and a No. 5 seed that hasn’t won a game away from home in two months.

But there are some that feel this is the harder of the two brackets, specifically because of that No. 5 seed, Creighton. The Jays went just 5-5 down the stretch (5-4 in Valley games), but they lost at Wichita on a buzzer beater and clipped UNI in the regular season finale. Greg McDermott is a quality head coach and his boy, Doug, is a legit weapon as a freshman. They also played Missouri State tough in Springfield, leading the whole way – by double digits at some points – before fading down the stretch and losing on a last-second layup by Valley Player of the Year Kyle Weems. Can a team that’s 3-10 on the road and 3-7 in games decided by 5 or fewer points really make a title run?

The bigger question, though, is can Missouri State beat them three times in one season?

Creighton might be better equipped than No. 4 Northern Iowa, who has suffered since losing 6-foot-9 brute and weird-beard aficionado Lucas O’Rear to a broken ankle back on Feb. 2. The Panthers are 1-6 since then, winning by 10 at Bradley Feb. 15. They had won 8 in a row – including at both MSU and WSU – before the injury. They, too, seem like a long-shot to pull an upset (but don’t tell that to ESPN).

Missouri State has some added incentive to beat UNI – the Panthers stole a 60-59 decision from the Bears on a late rebound foul…a play Weems and the Bears have not forgotten. MSU and UNI split their season series, but that was at full strength.

No. 8 Southern Illinois and No. 9 Bradley round up the northern half of the bracket. Missouri State swept both of those teams in the regular season, though it wasn’t always easy. The Bears fared better on the road both times.

David Kyles - Wichita State

Wichita State, meanwhile, will have to wrap up two sweeps and avoid getting swept if they want to win the Valley tournament for the first time since 1987. The second-seeded Shockers are 8-0 against their side of the bracket. They’ll open with either No. 7 Drake or No. 10 Bradley, a pair of teams I’m glad are on the other side of the bracket. Drake is a puzzler. The Bulldogs went 5-5 down the stretch, scaring the bejeesus out of MSU and beating both Creighton and Northern Iowa. But they also got housed by Bradley, 90-64, in the regular season finale. Which Drake team shows up is anyone’s guess. Bradley, meanwhile, features the league’s top scorer, in Andrew Warren. The Braves – like the Bulldogs – split their last 10, with Drake and CU being the only wins of note.

If the Shockers finish up a sweep of either of DU or BU, it’s on to a more challenging foe: No. 3 Indiana State or No. 6 Evansville. ISU figures to be a dangerous team. The Sycamores were red-hot to open league play, winning 7 of their first 8 Valley games, and are perhaps the pound-for-pound hardest working team in the league. But the Sycamores dropped a 93-83 triple overtime decision at Wichita State on Jan. 22, a loss that seemed to – pardon the expression – shake the Trees. Indiana State is just 5-5 since that loss. They dropped the rematch with WSU 70-54 and lost to Evansville 66-63, both on their home floor. ISU, it seems, is in the opposite position of WSU. The Sycamores were swept by both teams they’ll need to beat in order to advance to the finals.

Evansville is 2-0 against Indiana State this season, winning 64-59 at home. The Aces have been hard to figure this season, going 1-4 to open league play, then winning 7 of their next 9 – including a 77-65 triumph over Missouri State. But just when the Aces seemed to have it going on, they went 2-5 down the stretch, managing to beat only wounded Northern Iowa and ninth-place Illinois State.

If the good Aces show up, it’ll be hard for Wichita State to beat them three times in one season. But,then again, if the good Aces show up…

So let’s say both Missouri State and Wichita State survive and advance. Then we have another sweep/no-sweep scenario on our hands, and this is a case – unlike some in the earlier rounds – where it’s gonna be a whale of a lot harder to beat a team three times in one season. The Bears and Shockers have played a pair of classics this season, with Missouri State besting Wichita both times. Adam Leonard hit go-ahead 3-pointers in both games, one with 3:37 to play at Wichita and one with 49 seconds to play in Springfield. Wichita led or was tied with MSU in the final four minutes of both games, but never could find a way to bury the Bears.

Given a third look at them, odds are Wichita State will finally pull it off because it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season…but, then again, sometimes it’s not.

–QCFM

 

Reflections on Missouri State’s basketball championship

 

Missouri Valley Conference Champions - Missouri State Bears (Photo courtesy Springfield News-Leader)

The date was March 1, 1990. I’d been 12 years old for all of one month when the Southwest Missouri State Bears defeated Northern Iowa 94-86 in overtime at Hammons Student Center to wrap up another Mid-Continent Conference championship. The Bears went to the NCAA Tournament that year, falling to North Carolina – my other favorite team as a kid – 83-70 to wrap up another great year of basketball in Spoon’s Temple of Doom. SMS, under the direction of Charlie Spoonhour, won its fourth straight conference title and advanced to the postseason for the fifth straight season – not bad for a program that had been in Division I for less than a decade.

“This is awesome,” 12-year-old me thought. “It’s always gonna be just like this.”

I had no idea.

That win over UNI was the Bears’ last Mid-Con victory. SMS left for the Missouri Valley Conference the following season and fit right in. The Bears went 11-5 their first season, finishing second in the league, and advanced to the finals of the MVC tournament. They didn’t win, but their 22-12 mark was good enough to get them into the NIT Tournament.

Next season was more of the same. The high-flying Rodney Perry-led Bears went 23-8 overall, 13-5 in league play (good enough for third) and upset Tulsa 71-68 to win the league tourney and get back onto the Big Dance floor for the fifth time in six years.

It would only happen one more time in the next 17 seasons. In the meantime, the Bears would never win another regular season conference championship. During that drought the school went through a name change, hired four university presidents as well as four head coaches and moved into a brand new arena.

So you’ll have to forgive me if I shed a few tears last weekend, after Missouri State held off Wichita State 69-64 to win the Missouri Valley Conference championship, the first MVC regular season title in 21 seasons in The Valley. I stupidly didn’t check a calendar when I agreed to cover a shift for a co-worker that day, so I didn’t get to witness history in person (something I’ll always regret), but I stayed up until the wee small hours Sunday watching the replay on ESPN3, reading every account of the game I could find on the Web, and living vicariously through fan photos and YouTube videos. And shedding a few tears – especially when I watched Bill Rowe, Mr. Missouri State Athletics, wipe a tear from his eye during the post-game celebration.

My oldest daughter is just a bit younger now than I was the last time the Bears were conference champions. The last time the Bears were in the NCAA Tournament, I hadn’t even started dating her mother. This has been a long time coming, and I have savored it for five days now. I’m still partying like it’s 1999. Or 1990.

–QCFM

Mighty MO State Football Recruits, snOMG Class of 2011

Mighty MO StateThe Springfield News-Leader’s Lyndal Scranton reported the #snOMG-delayed Missouri State football recruiting class is 17 deep so far, with coach Terry Allen expecting to add a handful more, once schools are able to dig out and get back in session. Here’s what we know so far about the future Bears of Mighty MO State.

Note: This list will be updated when necessary. Missouri State has received LOIs from 21 recruits. They expect to sign a total of 24.

Offense

All-American left tackle David Arkin is gone to graduation, as are center Erik Dahl, right guard Bob Shapel and right tackle Jake Duron. It should come as no surprise, then, that Allen has inked six offensive linemen so far, including a pair of junior college transfers. There are also big shoes to fill at quarterback – though Trevor Wooden is the heir apparent to Cody Kirby – and tight end, though the Bears are set at wide receiver and running back. Offensive signees are:

Charleston Antwine, OL (6-foot 4, 290; Wake Village, Texas; Texas High): Be sure to watch this right tackle’s highlight video. He’s listed there at 6-foot-6, 300, and he can motor (claims of a 5.0 in the 40). Several times on the video you can see him finishing a block at the line of scrimmage, then moving to the next level in pursuit of a block. Antwine was a second team all-district selection in 2010 and led his team in pancake blocks.

Robert Booker, OL (6-foot-2, 290; Ozark, MO; Ozark High): A familiar name to local football fans, Booker was a key member of Ozarks’ line in their wing-T offense. Booker was named all-Central Ozark Conference-Large Second Team and Third Team All-State by the Missouri Football Coaches Association last fall. He also earned Academic All-State honors. How brains-and-brawn is he? The News-Leader reported last fall that nearly all Ivy League schools had inquired about his availability.

Richard Darden, TE (6-foot-4, 220; Memphis, Tenn.; Ridgeway High): There’s a lot to like about Darden, including a big frame and good hands. The first clip on his highlight video is a jaw-dropper, as he catches a pass, fights his way out of a quadruple-team tackle, then sprints 65 yards for a touchdown. Wow. He’s also a basketball player, so he’s clearly an athletic get for Allen and the Bears. Ridgeway went 10-0 in the regular season and finished 13-1 in Darden’s only year of varsity football. He was selected for the 2010 Liberty Bowl High School All-Star Game. Darden has a great pedigree, as both his father and grandfather have played FCS football and earned all-America honors, for Austin Peay and Tennessee State respectively.

Emerson DePeel, OL (6-foot-4, 300; Bentonville, Ark.; Bentonville High): DePeel is a Class 7A all-stater, who chose MSU over Pittsburg State and Southwest Baptist. His Bentonville teams were two-time state champions. DePeel also excels on the mat, earning all-state honors in wrestling.

Robert Fields, WR (6-foot-1, 189; Memphis, Tenn.; Memphis East High): The first two plays on Fields’ highlight reel show great elusiveness and speed, as he takes a bubble screen between the hashes for a long touchdown, then uses great speed -and a well-placed stiff-arm – for what appears to be at least a 98-yard TD catch-and-carry. Fields looks taller than 6-foot-1 on tape. He’s lanky and does a good job stretching to haul in some high passes on tape. Fields caught 40 passes for 705 yards and 11 TDs in his senior season. Scout lists him an inch taller and he apparently drew interest from some SEC schools (Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi) as well as Memphis. Interesting note: A Story in the Commercial Appeal claims he was part of a quarterback rotation at Memphis East.

Kierra Harris, QB (5-foot-11, 190; Texarkana, Ark.; Arkansas High): I would’ve loved to found some video on Harris, who lacks in size but could be a great athlete at the quarterback position (he also plays basketball at Arkansas High), as at least one report referred to him as a threat with his arm and his feet.  Harris earned the all-Southwest Arkansas Offensive Player of the Year award and was a two-time Arkansas Class 6A All-State selection. He threw for 2,238 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior and rushed for 959 yards and 12 scores. His career totals were 5,500 passing and 1,500 rushing yards.

Ryan Heaston, RB (5-foot-11, 175; Cordova, Ten..; Cordova High): This is an intriguing sign for MSU. Heaston logged time at running back and wide receiver, and was a return specialist for Cordova (Missouri State also considers him a potential defensive back). His on-the-field stats are great: 146 carries for 1,264 yards and 15 TDs; 11 catches for 237 yards and a TD; eight kickoff returns for 261 yards; six punt returns for 215 yards and a touchdown. Those stats earned him the Old Spice Red Zone Player of the Year award for the state of Tennessee. He was selected from over 2,000 players in the state for that award. Heaston was also selected for the Tennessee East-West All-Star Game, where he was a team captain. Heaston wows off the field, too, winning the Liberty Bowl/FCA John “Bull” Bramlett Award, given annually to the Memphis/Shelby County are football player who”exemplifies academic excellence, outstanding on-field performance, community service and Christian character and values on and off the field.” Heaston is a junior deacon at Oak Grove Baptist Church, usher and choir member. He’s also involved with FCA, Bridge Builders and Youth United Way and is a two-time state champion in three different track events. Wow. He’s also an all-state track performer in events including the 200- and 400-yard dashes.

Maddy Johnson, RB (5-foot-8, 165; Webb City, Mo.; Webb City High): Johnson is a player I had the privilege to see in person, and I can tell you that he impresses with his toughness as much as his speed (4.37 in the 40). Those qualities helped him gain 1,800 rushing yards and score 35 TDs as a senior. Johnson was the COC-Large Offensive Player of the Year and was named First Team All-State by the Missouri Sportscasters and Sportswriters as Webb City went 15-0 and won another state championship.

Jake Lasater, OT (6-foot-6, 300; St. Charles, Mo.; Francis Howell High): Another big-bodied lineman, highlight video shows Lasater lined up at right tackle. I loved watching this kid move his feet and run block on plays to his side. Lasater’s award sheet includes First Team all-Gateway Athletic Conference, First Team MSSA All-District and Second Team Class 6 All-State (Missouri Sportscasters & Sportswriters).

Patrick Morse, OL (6-foot-4, 275; Springdale, Ark.; Springdale High): Morse was part of a stellar group of linemen at Springdale. How good? Three of his linemates also signed Letters of Intent, to Arkansas, Arkansas-Monticello and Tulsa. Morse was named a 2011 Arkansas All-Star. Fitness shouldn’t be an issue for Morse. He played every snap for Springdale.

Randy Richards, OL (6-foot-5, 300; Royal Palm Beach, Fla.; Royal Palm Beach High; College of Sequoias): Richards comes to Missouri State from Royal Palm Beach (FL) High, by way of College of Sequoias…fitting for a man of Richards’ size. There’s an interesting trail on Richards, who apparently committed to Florida Atlantic (perhaps out of high school), but did not enroll there. He then committed to Marshall last February, but didn’t play there either. New  Mexico State also expressed interest in him. My best guess is he’d have two years of eligibility at MSU. Clearly has the size and talent to draw interest from I-A schools. Clearly he fills a need for MSU. Will he play here?

Clay Spruill, OL (6-foot-5, 300; Mt. Pleasant, Texas; Mt. Pleasant High; Tyler Junior College): Another 6-foot-5, 300-pounder, he comes from Mt. Pleasant, Texas, by way of Tyler Junior College. Spruill was named 1st Team All-Southwest Junior College Football Conference this past season. He has played right tackle – another area of need – in the past. I wasn’t able to get confirmation on what position he played in 2010.

Defense

This was a senior-laden group for Missouri State in 2010, with seven seniors starting in the regular-season finale. The Bears must replace a pair of defensive ends, three linebackers, and both safeties. There are lots of holes to fill, meaning lots of opportunities. There’s just one JuCo on this side of the ball, and he should have a chance to play immediately.

Dondelaro Crosby, LB (5-foot-11, 200; Leesburg, Fla.; Leesburg High): Small in size for a linebacker, though not a lot smaller than Nick Canavan, who made quite an impact as a freshman for MSU in 2010. Crosby was another player I couldn’t find much on, though the former sprinter recorded 120 tackles, three interceptions, nine tackles and four forced fumbles. He could play inside or outside for the Bears.

Nate Davis, LB (6-foot-2, 215; Liberal, Kan.; Liberal High; Garden City CC): Another fun highlight video to watch. Davis appears to have good speed and the ability to shed blocks and get to the ballcarrier. I’m particularly fond of the play that starts at about the 2:38 mark, where he submarines a blocker and – with the blocker on top of him – makes a tackle. Davis, a KJCCC Honorable Mention selection, picked Missouri State over Southern Illinois, thanks in part to his future position coach, Wayne Chambers. “He played at Oklahoma for four years, he’s coached a few years and that to me showed that he knew what he was doing and would bring a lot to the table,” Davis told The Garden City Telegram.

Corey Feagin, DE (6-foot-3, 230; Cedar Hill, Texas; Cedar Hill High): I couldn’t find much on Feagin, other than he was Honorable Mention in District 5-5A and drew some interest from FBS schools Syracuse, TCU and Texas Tech.

Josh Hampton, DL (6-foot-4, 265; Benton, Ark.; Bryant High): One thing my research on Hampton showed me was that this cat won’t smile for a picture – and he got a lot of them taken after a great senior year. He was a finalist for the State Farm Award for defense in Class 6A/7A after he was the leading tackler for Bryant High. He also played some offensive line, fullback and tight end, leading the WarHawk Report to name him a “Natural State Player to Watch” at tight end. Another page credited his athleticism as a reason he projects to a couple of different positions. Hampton finished last season with 104 tackles, 12 for loss, five sacks and seven pass break-ups. He has 4.7 speed.

Christian Hoffman, LB (6-foot-1, 210, Webb City, Mo.; Webb City High): MSU also lands the COC-Large Defensive Player of the Year, in Hoffman – also an all-state selection for the state-champion Cardinals. Hoffman recorded 125 tackles, including a pair of sacks, last season, while forcing three fumbles.

Rufus Sullivan, OLB/DE (6-foot-3, 215; Lebanon, Mo.; Lebanon High): Another local signee for Allen and I’m intrigued to see where he ends up playing. He’s got good height, but 215 seems a bit light for a defensive end. Sullivan was all-everything last season, as he averaged 8 tackles and 1 sack per game.

Bernard Thomas, DB (5-foot-11, 172; Blue Springs, Mo.; Blue Springs High): This is an interesting get for the Bears. Thomas’ play apparently earned him an offer from Kansas. Thomas, ,who runs a 4.4 40 and has a 35-inch vertical, visited Missouri, went to Arkansas on junior day, and took unofficial visits to Colorado and Oklahoma. His Rivals page claims offers from Arkansas, Kansas State, and Tulsa. Hopefully his time at MSU lives up to the high-level attention he got. Thomas was named First Team Suburban All-Big 6 and First Team AP All-State.

Jordan White, DL (6-foot-6, 280; Alma, Ark.; Alma High): Boasting 4.9 speed, White earned Class 5A all-conference and all-state honors for the Airedales of Alma. White is also an all-stater in track

Combo

Eric Christophel, WR/DB (5-foot-10, 170; Nixa, Mo.; Nixa High): Full disclosure: I’m a Christophel fan. I covered him as a high school junior and senior at Nixa and love the kid. His father, Rob, is the Bears’ offensive coordinator. In my biased opinion, Christo has a great motor and fiery competitive drive that will give him a chance to contribute at MSU…somewhere. A second-team all-COC selection as a wide receiver, Christophel is really a utility player – you can plug him in on offense, defense, or special teams. He caught 14 passes for 330 yards and five TDs for the Eagles last fall, while totaling 700 return yards and picking off three passes.

–QCFM

Who were those Bears?

Guh!

This photo, courtesy of the Evansville Courier-Press, pretty much somes it up, right?

I’ve mellowed a bit in my 30s. I don’t get as worked up about my favorite teams as I used to (though I still really don’t like Wichita State). That said, I’m incredibly bummed about Mighty MO State’s 77-65 loss at Evansville Feb. 2.

This was the bad loss that the Bears had to avoid. All the good Karma they built up during the regular season is likely gone. Yeah, they snapped UNI’s homecourt winning streak, then went into the Roundhouse and knocked off the Shockers. Good things. But how could any Bears fan win a “What has MSU done to deserve an at-large bid?” argument with this loss at UE. I don’t care that the Purple Aces have now won four in a row. This is a game that Valley-championship, NCAA-caliber teams need to win.

But what’s really frustrating about the loss is that I didn’t recognize these Bears. Maybe that was because I had to watch it out of the corner of my eye while attending to a sick toddler, but a couple of things popped out at me as out of character:

1. Turnovers. Taking care of the ball has been a crucial part of Missouri State’s success. They coughed it up an above-average 15 times to UE, including some unforced errors (one was a traveling call in the lane that wiped off a bucket). The Aces made good use of those miscues, scoring 22 points off turnovers.

2. Weems Drought. Yes, the Valley Player of the Year in waiting finished with 16 points and 10 boards. That’s to be expected. The unexpected was his silence over the game’s final 16 minutes. He is Mr. Clutch for the Bears. They need him.

3. O-for-Leonard. For the first time in 38 games Adam Leonard failed to make a 3-pointer. Okay, whatever. That happens. People have off nights. What hurts is he was 0-for-3 from inside the arc and failed to get to the foul line. Leonard is a good ballplayer and a key offensive cog. When it’s not happening from the perimeter, he’s got to find a way to contribute somehow, and the foul line is a good place for him to do that. Oh, and he also fouled out.

4. Defense? The 77 points UE scored is the second-highest total allowed by MSU all season, second only to the 84 Oklahoma State posted in early December. What’s more troubling, though, is how they got them. The Aces scored 30 points in the paint in the first half alone. There are only 20 minutes in a half, so they scored more than a point in the paint per minute in the first half. The finished the night with 42, more than half of their offensive output. While the Bears were heaving up well-contested looks in the second half, the Aces were consistently getting good looks at the rim. Unacceptable for a team that prides itself on defense.

It’s even more unacceptable when you realize the Aces’ own Dunking Dutchman, Pieter van Tongeren, is the only player on the UE roster listed above 6-foot-9. MO State has three of them, in Will Creekmore (6-foot-9), Isaiah Rhine (6-foot-10) and Caleb Patterson (6-foot-11). There’s no way the Bears should get outscored 42-20 in the paint.

Missouri State is now up against it if they want to win the regular season Missouri Valley Conference championship – something Bears’ play-by-play legend Art Haines feels will be enough to get an at-large bid. The Bears must win out now, including a win over Wichita State on the final night of the regular season.

If the Bears can do that, they will either be tied with the Shockers or Northern Iowa for the regular season title (WSU and UNI square off in Frostbite Falls Feb. 12). Mighty MO State, with the sweep, would hold the hammer against the Shockers. If UNI is even with the Bears, then it goes to a comparison of non-conference schedule strength as calculated by The RPI Report. That may not end up well for the Bears.

But that’s getting ahead of things a bit. Missouri State needs to get its swagger back. They need to rediscover the identity that had them sitting pretty in first place just days ago. Of course, MSU coach Cuonzo Martin is way ahead of me, telling Haines on his post-game radio show that the Bears need to “get back to the basics.”

“It’s that simple,” said Martin. “Just doing what we need to do to be successful. It’s not so much getting caught up in ‘let’s win a Valley championship,’ but just playing the way we’re capable of playing, and then the championships will come.”

Mighty MO State is back home Saturday, Feb. 5, to host Indiana State. Tipoff is 2:05 p.m.

–QCFM

Required Reading

Loss to Evansville drops Bears into second place in MVC (Springfield News-Leader)

Aces hit their stride, stun Missouri State 77-65 (Evansville Courier-Press)

Is close the new normal for Missouri State?

Will Creekmore

It's going to take heroics like those shown by senior post Will Creekmore for Missouri State to wrap up a conference championship. There are no cakewalks in the Valley.

It’s been a couple of days now, but I wanted to share some thoughts on Missouri State’s close shave at Drake. The Bears – tell me if this sounds familiar – struggled, and actually trailed a good portion of the game, before rallying to win. The final score was 73-70.

Not the result a lot of people expected considering Drake entered the game 3-6 in Missouri Valley Conference play. But the Bulldogs were scrappy, fed their hot hands and found ways to stay in the game.

Get used to it, Bears fans. This is the new normal.

Conference play is By Any Means Necessary time, and the Valley is no different. In fact, the Valley is even tougher, considering its conference tournament is one of the first played each year. That means the teams pack 18 league games into just a couple of months. Missouri State will play its slate in just 60 days, averaging a league game every 3.3 days. The Bears have four days off between the win at Drake and a home game with defending Valley champ Northern Iowa, their biggest break since they had six days off between games with Arkansas State and UNI in December.

It’s a grind, and everyone is subjected to the same schedule. Winning down the stretch is just as much about grit and determination as it is talent. The Bears are now 4-1 in Valley games decided by 3 points or less, a testament to their grit.

There’s also the bulls-eye factor. Missouri State is in first place. They’re getting Top 25 votes. They’re being mentioned as a potential at-large team. They are the team to beat. Nobody in the Valley will hit the floor in awe of the Bears and they will all step it up a notch to try and beat the league leaders.

One more thing that will play a role down the stretch is something I haven’t heard much in the local media: There are no secrets at this point in the season. This is what happens in conference play: I know what you’re gonna do, you know what I’m gonna do, so let’s go see who does it better. There are no surprises right now. Opponents have a scouting report on every Bear – even the freshman – by now and know how they like to shoot, catch, dribble, defend, etc. Like Chuck D of Public Enemy said, “It’s not a matter of skills, but a battle of wills.”

The win is the thing from now on for Missouri State. Be it three points or 30, they just need the W.

The Homestretch

Mighty MO State is closing in on its first-ever Valley regular season title, still leading second place Wichita State by one game with eight to play. Indiana State has faltered recently, losing at WSU in multiple OTs before letting a big lead slip away in a home loss to Evansville. The Trees are now two games back, as is always-dangerous Northern Iowa. Here’s a look at the contenders and what they have left.

1. Missouri State (9-1): The Bears still have schedule on their side. MO State plays five of its last eight league games at home, with trips to Evansville (5-5), Illinois State (2-8) and Southern Illinois (4-6) remaining. That’s not a UNI-WSU-CU swing by any stretch of the imagination, but there are also no nights off. MSU is in the enviable position of controlling its own destiny. All they need to do is win.

2. Wichita State (8-2): It’s been pointed out that the Shockers, the preseason Valley favorite, may have lost some of their edge at home. WSU is perfect on the road in league play, but lost to both MO State and UNI in The Roundhouse and needed triple overtime to stop Indiana State. WSU has four home games and four road games left, including trips to UNI, Indiana State, and Missouri State. In other words, the Shockers can help themselves on the court.

3. Indiana State (7-3): Is the magic starting to fade for the Sycamores? They gave the Shockers all they wanted before finally succumbing, but followed that up with a puzzling home loss to Evansville. The Sycamores need a win – fast – or their momentum might be gone. Easier said then done. The Sycs have five road games left to play, visiting Creighton, Illinois State, Missouri State, Southern Illinois and UNI. They also have a visit from Wichita State so they, like the Shockers, can help themselves in the race for first place.

4. Northern Iowa (7-3): The Panthers worry me as much as any of these other teams (and I would throw Southern Illinois into that group). The Panthers have toiled quietly in the shadow of Indiana State’s hot start and, after a 1-3 start, have won six straight league games. True, four of those games were at home, but they got a great road win at Wichita State. The Panthers are well coached and talented, and their game this Sunday, Jan. 30, at Missouri State could be epic. A win for Mighty MO State puts them on step closer to wrapping up the title. A loss? Then it’s Katy Bar the Door.

–QCFM

When is a foul not a foul?

Foul?

<sarcasm> Oh, thank goodness they stopped this mugging. I'm sure he has marks on his arm after that. </sarcasm>

Much has been said, on Twitter and across the internet, about the and-1 Jake Kelly got to help lift Indiana State past Missouri State 70-69 Wednesday night in Terre Haute. I honestly don’t have anything new or interesting to say about it, but the whole situation has reminded me of a conversation I had many times during my days as a sports editor. The conversation centered around the questions “Is a foul always a foul?” and “Should referees swallow their whistles a bit during crucial junctures of a game?”

Usually this conversation was had with the great Scott McCaulley, the voice of sports in Taney and Stone counties. He’s called more games than he can probably count and has the added perspective of being the son of Nolan McCaulley, a refereeing institution in southwest Missouri. Scott took the basic argument that a foul is a foul is a foul, and should always be called that way whether it’s the first or last minute of a ballgame. That case was often made with one big “But…” No official wants to determine the outcome of a game.

I took the other side of this coin. Fouls are not like human beings. They are not all created equal. Sometimes an official can, and will, allow certain things to go at Point A in a game, but call it at Point B. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If a referee is going to send a player to the free throw line, or wipe a basket off the board, and that’s possibly going to be a major deciding factor in a game, he’d better make darn sure it’s a blatant violation.

Here’s my case:

Exhibit A: “A game should be called consistently for all 40 minutes,” said John Clougherty, a former college basketball official and supervisor of officials for the Atlantic Coast Conference, in an SI.com column by Seth Davis. “But I would add that if you are going to call a foul in the final second and put a guy at the line, then that foul has to be an obvious foul that everybody can see. There should be no question.”

Clougherty is uniquely qualified to offer an opinion. He called Seton Hall’s Gerald Greene for fouling Michigan’s Rumeal Robinson in the final seconds of overtime in the 1989 NCAA title game. Robinson hit both free throws and Michigan went on to win. Need a refresher? Go here and start paying attention around the 1:53 mark. If you see the foul, let me know.

“Now that we’re (21) years removed from that play, I would like to have had a clearer foul than the one we had,” Clougherty told Davis. “Instinctively, I thought there was a foul and I blew the whistle.”

Not that he thinks it’s the wrong call, but in hindsight it’s not as clear-cut. Certainly sounds like he’d consider swallowing the whistle in a similar situation.

Exhibit B: Watch this video. On the back, or no on the back?

My guess is that, at some point in the game, that gets whistled and the basket is negated. But, it’s the final seconds and there’s some question if he was on the back or just rebounding from behind – which is legal. Do you really think the officials let that go for all 40 minutes of the game? Doubtful.

Exhibit C: It’s hard to draw many conclusions from the number of fouls called in the final minutes of a basketball game, because there is sometimes a need to commit fouls in the final seconds – a need unique to the sport. But what about in other sports? Is there some whistle-swallowing going on? One blogger analyzed penalties called in NHL games and found a significant drop in the number of penalties called in the third period. From his analysis:

In the 2009-2010 season, there were 12328 penalties called, which works out to about 10 per game (as there are 1230 games in each regular season).

The breakdown by period is:

First period: 4062
Second period: 4420
Third period: 3745
Overtime: 101

The interesting thing to note here is that there’s a drastic difference in Hooking and Interference between the first two periods and the third period. In fact, those two penalties decrease 27% between the second and the third periods. All other calls (not including Fighting) decrease just 8%.

So are players better defensively in the final period of a game? Not likely, especially as their legs get tired and their positioning gets worse. Just like in basketball, hockey players are more likely to commit a foul when they’re tired and unable to get in good defensive position.

Conclusion: Officiating did not cost Missouri State this game. I cannot emphasize this enough. But that does not change the fact it was a poor foul call. Nobody likes to see a game end that way, not even the winning coach.

“Jake definitely got fouled. He’s got marks on his arm. It’s a gutsy call for an official to make. You hate for the game to end like that, but it was a good call,” Jake Lansing said.

Not gonna agree with everything you say there, coach, but we can all agree on this: You hate for a game to end like that.

–QCFM

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