Did you know that St. Louis celebrates the second largest Mardi gras in the country behind New Orleans? I have never seen so many drunken youngsters before noon in my life…then the Shockers played.
I should have known that things were going to go badly when WUShock sprained his…er, it’s ankle-just as Indiana State started an 8-0 run in the first half. I’m not making this up. We hear that WU suffered a little root damage, but will survive to inspire a bumper crop in June.
It’s amazing how similar the Shockers have been in most of their eight losses. Indiana State provided a new twist Saturday going on a frustrating 18-1 run to take charge early in the second half. During that run WSU had no offensive flow, and no one to provide any. Of course, they made their inevitable late charge, but it came too late and now they’re NIT bound. Being in that locker room yesterday, I don’t see any way this team could be ready to play again. But youngsters are resilient and I’m sure that, with a little time, they’ll want to continue to play a little while longer.
I’m not as smart or as experienced as head coach Gregg Marshall, or anyone on his staff—so I could be wrong, but---I sure wish that Shocker big men would catch the ball a little deeper on the block. JT Durley is better than anyone in the Valley with his back to the basket, but he loves to play facing it. He’s a nice shooter, but the further he catches the ball from the basket—the worse he gets. As for Garrett Stutz—I think he has the mind of a guard in a seven-foot frame. He really wants to be a floater in the Shocker offense (and he’s got a good shooting touch), but It would be really nice to see him command the block. If he catches it deep, there’s not much you can do against him, especially when he uses both hands so well.
The Shockers strength next year appears to be on the perimeter, so this next concern will probably be revisited. Are the Shockers too dependent on the three ball? Gregg Marshall’s philosophy on shooters makes sense. He doesn’t want a guy to pass up a shot during the game that he would be asked to make at the end of the game. I get that, but against Indiana State it took them away from where their advantage was. The Sycamores actually outscored WSU 22-20 in the paint.
After the game yesterday, many Shocker fans asked me about why I thought Gregg stuck with Toure Murry as long as he did. People tend to look at things through offensive glasses and they see Murry scoring just two points in two games in St. Louis. But when Toure is out of the game, Wichita St. is not as good defensively. The same can be said of Aaron Ellis. The problem against ISU was that, outside of Durley, Shocker starters shot 2-19 from the floor.
By the way, Durley currently sits 20th on the Shocker all-time scoring list five points behind Gus Santos. Beyond that, he’s with 49 points of the next five players on the list. Reaching the top 15 would likely mean three decent games in the NIT. Murry, who’s coming off the worst scoring year of his career, is number 33 all-time. If you project his career averages through his senior year he’d end up just outside the top ten.
State high school tournaments and the Big 12 next week. Then the road to the final four the week after, you’ve got to love March.
There was a point in the second half when WSU’s bench was outscoring Bradley’s 34-1. This was a 30 point game wrapped in a 14 point win. It was exactly the kind of performance the Shockers needed—one in which they generally played well, and were able to impose their will. At the risk of sounding like a homer –the general consensus here seems to have the Shockers as the team to beat.
Not all is well in the Shocker camp where Toure Murry continues to struggle. The junior went 1-7 from the field and turned it over a couple of times early. It was bad enough that, at one point in the second half, Marshall grabbed Murry for an impromptu pep talk. In his last five games Toure is averaging just over 5 points and 3 rebounds a game, this after 15 points and 9 rebounds in his three previous starts. Murry has gone in fits and starts this season, but this is the longest funk that he’s had to endure. It will be interesting to see if Marshall starts him against Indiana State.
Nobody played more than 23 minutes against the Braves, which bodes well for the Shockers in their bid to win three games in as many days. It’s interesting that Indiana State, the Shockers next opponent, comes closest to matching WSU’s depth. The Sycamores had 10 players play at least 10 minutes in their 2 point win over Evansville late Friday night.
By the way: in case you’re wondering why Gabe Blair was called for a technical foul while ripping a rebound from a Bradley player in the second half—he supposedly used an expletive while doing it.
Semifinal Saturday-Missouri State vs. Creighton: The Bears beat the Jays twice during the season, but only by one most recently in Springfield. Like it or not, the Jays are the ‘x factor’ in this tournament. They have enough size and scorers to beat anyone in this tournament; I really like their chances against the Bears. Having said that, don’t expect MSU to shoot just 33 percent as they did against SIU. Creighton Coach Doug McDermott is trying to become the first coach to lead two schools to an MVC tourney title, he won it with Northern Iowa in 2004.
Wichita State-Indiana State: The Shockers needed 3 overtimes and 93 points to beat the Sycamores at home, before playing really well in a 16-point blowout in Terre Haute. The Sycamores, who are in the semifinals here for the first time since 2001, really pounded the glass to stay in the game at Koch Arena. Ten days later the Shockers reversed that stat and won easily. Wichita State has a decided advantage inside in this matchup. Between them -Garrett Stutz, Gabe Blair and JT Durley are averaging over 39 points in the two wins over ISU.
One man’s best guess at next year’s pre-season picks:
1. Creighton-you didn’t really think that they would stay down long did you?
2. Indiana State-they really need a productive big man, but return virtually everybody.
3. WSU-have to find another front line guy, but easily the MVC’s most talented perimeter.
4. Missouri State-they lose a ton, but Cuonzo Martin can coach…this pick is contingent on him still coaching at MSU, I think he’ll get a lot of attention in the off season.
5. Evansville-Coach Marty Simmons does a lot with little, but he has to find a post player or three.
6. Bradley-All-MVC guard Sam Maniscalco is back, Braves have to get bigger though.
7. UNI-It’s hard to imagine them here, but the loss of Lucas O’Rear killed them at the end of this season, what does the loss of Ahelegbe do for next year?
8. Drake-I really like Rayvonte Rice, but what about the pieces around him?
9. SIU/Illinois St.-SIU has bad guards and you have to wonder whether the recent turmoil in the program is really over. The Redbirds are young and soft.
Enjoy the games today.
Friday Night Fun
You have to give it to Missouri State. They didn’t grab the lead against Southern Illinois today until Kyle Weems hit a running hook with 1.4 seconds left, but that’s the difference between staying in the running for the NCAA Tournament or going the NIT.
Creighton and Northern Iowa are next. I like the Bluejays in this one, which is real stretch considering that UNI has dropped six of their last seven. Over the last 15 years Creighton is the only team in the Missouri Valley Conference to avoid Thursday’s play-in round. During that stretch the Jays have won six tournaments.
Bradley has lost 6’9” Freshman Jordan Prosser to a knee injury. Expect the Braves to go with four guards tonight in their upset bid of the Shockers. Conversely, Wichita St. will have an even bigger size advantage in this matchup than they normally do. The Shockers won two games against the Braves by 16 and 20 points, but that was during BU’s 11-game losing streak to start the conference. Since then they’ve gone 6-3 and are playing with great confidence. A loose team, with nothing to lose—is generally dangerous.
Looking for matchups? In the two previous games with Bradley Ben Smith has been the Shockers leading scorer with 26 points. Gabe Blair has been the most balanced however with 21 points and 21 rebounds. Wichita State dominated both games with their defense holding Bradley to a collective 34 percent. Predictably, the Shockers own a commanding advantage on the boards against Bradley, but have only been to the line 20 times in two games against them. Odd.
Best lines of the day—so far (from a Shocker fan and his wife):
Husband : “You look a lot bigger on television…..”
Wife: ”….and younger too.”
Greetings from St. Louis.
I just got done watching Southern Illinois bring a merciful end to Illinois States season. The whole time I found myself wondering how in the world the Salukis could have beaten Wichita State. The final chapter of this season hasn’t been written, but to this point the Shockers failure at home would be a predominant theme. That’s a little too broad for me, the Southern Illinois loss cost WSU a share of the Valley title. I get Missouri State and even Northern Iowa, but after watching the Salukis again tonight I can’t imagine them beating a drum, let alone another team. None of which can make Illinois State feel too good about things.
The Redbirds are one of the great disappointments of the Valley. They’re spinning it as a ‘youth movement’ at ISU—and the ‘Birds have four starting underclassman. But one has to wonder how they didn’t cash in on 74 wins over the last three years. 74 wins, by the way, that didn’t garner a single NCAA tourney berth. Head Coach Tim Jankovich has made a habit of scheduling weakly and its hurt the Redbirds and the Valley. Illinois State’s non-conference schedule was amongst the weakest of the nation’s 342 division one programs.
Gregg Marshall spent the evening scouting the Bradley-Drake game. He ran his club through a full practice at nearby St. Louis University this morning, before coming over to the Scotttrade Center for 50 very relaxed minutes of shooting. The top Shock finished third in voting for the Valley Coach of the Year behind Missouri State’s Cuonzo Martin and Greg Lansing of Indiana State. That’s how I would have voted if I’d had one. The Shockers are 8-0 against their half of the draw(SIU, Illinois St., Indiana St., Evansville) in St. Louis this season, they’re just 6-4 against the other half(MSU, UNI, Creighton, SIU, Illinois St.).
The Shockers handled Bradley twice this season, but I wouldn’t go to sleep on the Braves which have won 6 of their last 9. In Andrew Warren they have the most dynamic scorer in the Valley. They also have a couple of guys who can get to the basket, but history is squarely against BU. Since the tournament expanded to ten teams 14 years ago-Thursday winners are just 1-28 on Friday.
Tomorrow, Linwood Sexton will be inducted into the Missouri Valley Conference Hall of Fame. Imagine my surprise to find out that he wasn't already in. One of the classiest men I've ever known, Linwood was a multi-sport star at East High, before becoming a three-time All Valley running back at Wichita University in the mid-40's. He remains the program's all-time leading rusher and one of the finest ambassadors not only for Wichita State, but Wichita itself.
Headed to Arch Madness
And so it begins.
The madness of March always starts with a 400 mile jaunt to St. Louis for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. The trip is generally made in three stages: Wichita to Emporia—actually that’s Wichita to the Starbucks in Emporia. Believe me-when you start getting closer to I-70-you need all the caffeine you can get. I-70 used to be the most god-forsaken road in America, and then they repaved it. Now it’s all about jousting with 18-wheelers and avoiding ‘billboard stare’. Missouri loves its billboards, especially ones with XXX on them.
Kansas City to St. Louis is pretty straight shot. You know that you’re getting close to Columbia when you get to the Missouri River. It’s amazing how wide the river basin is compared to the size of the river itself. I love going over the Missouri and Mississippi on this trip, it makes me think about how America was built along these waterways. Their history is awesome.
St. Louis to St. Louis: Sounds stupid doesn’t it (c’mon folks consider the source), but anyone who’s made this trip knows what I’m talking about. You get to the outskirts of St. Louis about an hour before you get to the Arch. Now I know why everyone went west—because it takes so long to get east.
Still, the trip is well worth it. The Missouri Valley Conference simply puts on a tremendous tournament. In fact, over the last three years, the Valley has put on a better tournament than their rank and file deserve. For the fourth straight season it’s difficult to see the Valley getting more than one bid to the NCAA Tournament. This isn’t the way that it’s always been. In the 14 years from 1994 to 2007, the MVC sent multiple teams to the tourney 12 times. Only once during that stretch, in 2006, was Wichita State in the mix.
Watching The Shockers over the years in the MVC Tournament has been like watching Charlie Sheen lately…it’s just hard to make sense out of it. Consider that the Shockers last MVC tourney championship came in 1987 when the beat Tulsa in Tulsa. Since the tournament moved to St. Louis in 1991, Wichita State has only reached the finals once-last year. The Shockers are a woeful 9-19 all-time in St. Louis, and that’s with going 7-8 over the last eight seasons. Sure, Wichita St. has brought plenty of bad teams over here, but they’ve also been a little unlucky. , times really come to mind and both of them involve Creighton.
Everyone remembers the 1.9 second game against the Jays two years ago. When Booker Woodfox hit a shot at the buzzer (I still say a very late buzzer) to keep the Shocks from the final. But don’t forget the 2003 semi-finals when Randy Burns looked to have a last second shot half way through the net before it somehow rolled out in a one point loss. Which reminds me- did you know that until last year when Garrett Stutz and Clevin Hannah made it, that WSU has produced just one all tournament player through 20 years in St.Louis. Randy Burns in 2003.
Actually WSU isn’t the only team to have struggled in the Gateway City. Bradley and Evansville have never won a title here. Not that you would, but don’t expect Evansville to win this year either, that’s because the Aces are the sixth seed. The sixth seed in St. Louis is an almost inexplicable 2-20. That’s four games worse than ten seeds have done there over the years. In case you’re wondering -2 seeds have won the most titles in St.Louis, 7-6 over 1 seeds. However, in each of the last three years the regular season champion has gone on to win the tournament.
Just about to hit I-70-all my powers of concentration will be needed to negotiate it. More nuggets forth coming.