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MVC Tournament

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Missouri Valley Basketball Tournament

by Adam Glatczak, March 10th, 2003

Winners arenít always the only stories in March

Sometimes, 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 expect

them to.

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 end.

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 half-hearted effort.

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 conference.

 

E-Mail the Author: Adam Glatczak

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