Posted on: March 7, 2010 10:59 am

Missouri Valley Final is Coming


11:00 AM

I will be the first to admit..."Arch Madness" has been a disappointment.  With the exception of Drake's buzzer beater on the first night, one could have slept through the last five minutes of most of the games and awaken fully content in the fact that they have missed nothing of consequence.  But I have a good feeling about today.  I am of the belief that today's final between Northern Iowa and Wichita State will make up for the boredom of the last four days with a potential classic that will even wake up the drunk Creighton fans.

A lot is at stake today.  For Northern Iowa, entry into the NCAA Tournament is likely a given.  But what the Panthers need to start worrying about is seeding in the Big Dance.  If they can win the MVC and things play out in the major tournaments the way they hope, one could see a #6 or #7 seed in the cards and a real chance to make some noise.  Lose this game however and the seeding drops, potentially into the dreaded 8/9 game and dreams of the Sweet 16 become much tougher to turn into reality.

For Wichita State however, it is a chance to change history.  The Shockers are headed to the final of the conference tournament for the first time since 1987, and the history of underachievement in Arch Madness has weighed on the program.  This year the Shockers have been overshadowed in conference all year by their brethren from Cedar Falls and this is a chance to get the national attention that they have been lacking all year.  Add to all of that the fact that the Shockers can make it two teams from the MVC, and it is enough to even get their crazy mascot off his feet.

So there you have it...a battle at 2 pm on CBS (I am already a corporate shill) that could end up being the game of the day.  I have picked against Wichita State all tournament long and have actually been to a game this year in Cedar Falls...so I will take UNI, 68-62 in a battle.  Either way, expect Wichita State fans to make hand signals which will have college students everywhere laughing.

Posted on: March 6, 2010 11:33 pm

The Day Ahead: Sunday of Championship Week


11:45 PM

It was a day filled with college basketball, both large and small, a perfect example of what makes the sport great and how wonderful sports can be when you are playing for the name on the front...ah forget it, I cant do that with a straight face.  It was a highly entertaining day of hoops around the college game, although most of the big action occurred with the major powers.  Syracuse was beaten by Louisville for the second time this year, closing down Freedom Hall with chants of a player who going into the contest was averaging three points a game ("You got Kuriced!").  Kansas State kissed their hopes for a #1 seed goodbye with an embarassing loss at home to Iowa State that will force the bars in Manhattan to close extra late (11:00 pm) in order for people to drown their sorrows.  And Vanderbilt lost out on a chance at the SEC crown by losing at home to South Carolina and their coach with a 5th grader's haircut, Darrin Horn.  If you were a fan of the big boys, today was a good day.

But we are here to focus on Conference Tournaments, and in that realm...well I was a bit disappointed.  I had visions of tight matchups, crazy finishes and potential early-round upsets.  Instead, I got something quite different, and I am not just talking about Laphonso Ellis's announcer hair.  The usual suspects punched their tickets to the Big Dance and entertaining games were few and far between.  Lets look at what might qualify as the day's highlights:

1.  Three Tickets to the Big Dance Were Punched

---  We started with the biggest event in Conway, South Carolina since Ronnie Milsap came to town in 1982, as Winthrop defeated Coastal Carolina 64-53 to win the Big South Tournament,  I will admit that I watched the entire game but couldnt tell you one thing that happened during it, as it was played in the most boring manner possible in front of the smallest crowd that I have ever seen watch a game that was for an NCAA berth.  However that was exactly the scenario that Winthrop hoped to accomplish, attempting to slow the game down and believing that if it could hold Coastal Carolina under 60, it would win.  Well the Eagles did, and the Chantacleers ended the dream of an NCAA Tournament team based upon Geoffrey Chaucer.  For Winthrop, it is their 5th NCAA Tournament appearance in 6 years, and continues the trend of dominance over the league, even in years in which they didnt win the regular season title.  Winthrop moves on and someone who only knows basketball in March will see their likely 2-15 game and say "they could pull off a shocker."  I watched them today...they cant.  (John Wilkinson on the win and the fire on Winthrop's Campus)

---  The wackiest early Championship Week tournament concluded in the Atlantic Sun Conference with #5 seed East Tennessee State taking down Mercer 72-66 on Mercer's home court to make its second straight NCAA Tournament.  Again, it was another game that I watched from start to finish and struggled to find memorable moments.  ETSU is however coached by Gene Bartow's kid Murray, who isnt really a kid I guess since he has bigger bags under his eyes than Jeff Van Gundy, but who continues his dad's coaching legacy with another tournament bid.  ETSU is the early favorite to be the lowest ranked team in the field and could be headed for the play-in game in Dayton. However they are headed for the Big Dance, which is more than I can say for North Carolina, which just cut it to a 33 point second-half deficit against Duke.  If UNC were a horse, they would put a curtain around it and start setting up the flower memorials for children who need to weep.  (Thomas Beisner on why the NCAA Hates what the Atlantic Sun stands for)

---  The game of the night was supposed to be in the Ohio Valley Conference, as two heated rivals were going to produce a game that would justify me staying in on a Saturday night to watch OVC basketball.  Instead, we got a Murray State 62-51 snoozer of a victory over Morehead State that even left the players' families on both teams asking why they had been subjected to it.  The refereeing was atrocious, stopping the game of any real flow, and when Morehead's MVP, Kenneth Faried went down with an injury, well the game was more gone than Roy Williams' pride.  Murray's Isaiah Cannan led the way with not only his biblical name, but 16 points as well, setting Murray up as one of the truly dangerous teams in March.  If Murray ends up with a 13 or 14 seed, the team that draws them needs to be on major upset alert.  This Murray State team, like so many in year's past from the program, is built to make March noise and absent drawing Michigan State, I am picking them in the their first NCAA game.  (Here is CM Tomlin's take on the game)

2.  Butler and Siena Hang On

There are three teams playing in conference tournaments right now that could still be in line for NCAA berths even if they lose.  Northern Iowa and Butler are locks for the Big Dance and Siena still has dreams of making it, even if they lose the MAAC tournament.  Thus for major conference bubble teams, these three squads are their new darlings, because any loss by them means ones less team for the big boys.  Today Butler and Siena tried to make life interesting by falling down early in their tournament games.  Butler was in the most surprising trouble, actually trailing at halftime at home to UM-Milwaukee in the Horizon Conference Semifinals before coming back and winning 68-59.  In the MAAC, Siena had an even more difficult time, falling down ten late in the first half to Manhattan, before pouring it on late for a 78-61 win.  Butler now faces Wright State in the finals next week and Siena moves on to play Rider in the Semifinals.

3.  Form Held Everywhere

All across the land I awaited one upset that would leave me shaking in my boots and have my foundations crumbled.  All I got however was news that Keith Olbermann and Bill Simmons were fighting, likely for the title of "which formerly really fun sports guy has seen his sense of self-importance skyrocket the most in the last two years?"  Even though opening rounds and quarterfinals took place all across the land, no #1 or #2 were knocked off and the closest thing to an upset occurred with #2 seed Northeastern held off Hofstra in the MAAC Tournament.  March is still hopefully going to be mad, but it just wasnt today.


This Sunday is the proverbial "day of rest" before Championship Week hits a fevered pitch beginning on Monday.  But that doesnt mean that there arent storylines to follow and games to watch:

1.  Missouri Valley Conference Finals

The fifth ticket to the NCAA Tournament will be punched when Northern Iowa plays Wichita State for the MVC Tournament title on Sunday afternoon on CBS.  Stereotypically, "Arch Madness" provides us with the biggest games and at least one shocking upset every year, but this edition has been relatively tame.  Northern Iowa is playing not only for the championship, but seeding, as a win could put them in the 6-7 range when the brackets are finally announced.  Whereas Wichita State is playing for something much greater.  The Shockers have not been to the conference tournament final since 1987, a shocking tidbit considering the history of the program.  Their only chance to play in the NCAA is Sunday, and thus they will give the Panthers their best shot.  I have picked against Wichita State in every game and it has proved unsuccessful, so why not again.  Northern Iowa wins and the major conferences get another mediocre team in the Tournament.

2.  Six Sets of Semifinals Are on Tap

Its Semifinal day across the Tournament landscape, as conferences get ready to set their final matchups for early next week.  Most are relatively boring and can be skipped for your preparation for The Oscars, but two are worth watching:


#2 Western Carolina vs #1 Wofford

#2 College of Charleston vs #1 Appalachian State


#1 Old Dominion vs #4 VCU

#2 Northeastern vs #3 William and Mary

Both of these conferences have been setting up for monster battles for the title all year long, but each team needs one more victory to get to the much-anticipated game.  In the Southern Conference, the possibility of Wofford vs Bobby Cremins and his white hair at College of Charleston has been the goal all year, and the two teams from the same division face stiff challenges in order to make it happen.  As for the Colonial (which Mike Rutherford broke down extensively here), Northeastern and Old Dominon both at one time had visions of potential at-large bids to the Tournament, but now both need to win the title to go dancing.  If they can take care of business on Sunday, their title matchup might be the best of all the smaller conference games during Championship Week.

3.  The MAC Tournament Starts

Well ok that isnt all that exciting, especially since it is only the opening round, but I needed three things and couldnt think of anything else.  But The Oscars are coming, so that counts for something right?  I have "Hurt Locker" as my best picture ("Up in the Air" is second, "Inglorious Basterds" is third), Jeff Bridges as Best Actor (He is great in "Crazy Heart") and I guess Sandra Bullock in "The Blind Side", although she was never as good as her performance in Speed 2.  And if movies arent your thing, talk to your family...you wont get to much over this next month.

Posted on: March 6, 2010 12:26 am

Missouri Valley Holds Predictable Form on Day Two


12:00 AM

Did you ever watch old episodes of "Leave it to Beaver" when you were a kid?  If you did, you noticed that each episode had a general set playbook.  Beaver or Wally would get into some shenanigan and it would look as if something bad would happen.  Usually the issue might involve mischief at the hands of Eddie Haskell or Lumpy, but in the end, Ward and June Cleaver would help find a way to make everything right and we would all learn a lesson in the end.  The episodes took 25 minutes or so, but they easily could have been condensed into 45 seconds of action/cuteness by Jerry Mathers, thus preventing you from wasting your half hour.  Nothing was new in any episode, yet I always watched, perfectly comfortable in the predictable results and unbelievable lack of humor.

I thought of these old "Beaver" episodes today as I watched a rather ho-hum set of Quarterfinals in the Missouri Valley Conference.  On this very blog, I had hyped the day of "Arch Madness" as one of the better basketball viewing days of the year, full of great basketball, fan revelry and general March mayhem.  Instead the biggest highlight was the lack of points scored by Drake, the drunkedness of the Creighton fans and playing "which of these guys would Larry Bird have punched in the face?" with the Indiana State roster.  The games were rather predictable, and the favorites all held serve, setting up for what would seem to be a "must-watch" day in the Semifinals (although I am not falling for the MVC's sultry tricks again, so I wont make you stay home and watch).

Each game had one highlight:

Drake Couldnt Score:  Yes we dealt with this earlier, but it bears repeating.  Drake went 21 game minutes of action without scoring a field goal, and producing only three points in total in the 55-40 loss.  That is over a half of game action without one basket going through the hoop.  I have spent the day trying to wrap my head around this (and the fact that Keno Davis is apparently no longer the Drake coach...I didn't get that memo) and all I can decide is this.  If you are going to be out of town for a weekend and you need someone to come and hang out with your wife, invite Drake, because they have shown they can't score.  HEY-O!!!!!

Friday is Sam Maniscalco Day:  I expected the game between Creighton and Bradley to be a battle and to come down to the end, as two evenly matched teams squared off and threw body blows for forty minutes.  Instead, I got a free throw shooting marathon, in which Bradley outlasted Creighton 81-62, while shooting 27-28 from the free throw line.  The king of the charity stripe was Maniscalco, who scored a career-high 31 points on 18 of 19 free throw shooting in the victory.  Maniscalco (whose name emasculates all who speak it) had a previous high of 21 points on the season and in a game against Creighton last week, he scored only 3 points in 40 minutes of action.  But that game wasn't on Friday, proving that nothing pumps Sam up like the thought of finishing a game and getting home to see what Urkel, Balki and Uncle Joey are going to be up to on ABC.

Wichita State is Due:  I upset the Shocker masses (a sentence I rarely get to say) by picking against the boys from Wichita in their battle against Missouri State and for most of the game, I looked like I could be a wise sage.  The game was tight throughout and until a key Garrett Stutz three late, the #2 seeded Shocker team looked to be in trouble in its "closer than the score indicates" 73-63 victory.  However once again big shots and (repeat after me) clutch free throw shooting helped the Shockers move on and ruin the dreams of Missouri State fans everywhere.  Wichita State is now looking to make the conference tournament finals for the first time since 1987.  Can you believe that?  In 1987, Ronald Reagan was still President, and the Shockers havent even been to a title game since then?  If there was ever time to end a lingering 23 year jinx, Saturday is that day.

Illinois State is Hot:  I dont necessarily mean the state of Illinois, although it could be hot as well, but the ISU basketball team, which has now won 7 of its last 8.  Illinois State overcame the fact that it, like many in the crowd, was unaware that there were two "ISUs" in the conference and were thus able to focus and beat the kids from Terre Haute, 69-65 behind 17 points from Austin "One Tree" Hill.  The Redbirds now move on to play Wichita State and as I incorrectly predicted last night, Wichita State is due for a beating.  They havent made the finals since 1987 and if I have learned anything in life, it is that 23 years of consistency begats a 24th.  Take all your finances, mortgage your house, move the kids to military school and BET IT ALL ON INDIANA STATE.  Its happening this round, I know it....Wichita State is going down.

So there you go, a rather tame day of "Arch Madness."  However Saturday's semifinals pit the four best teams in the conference against each other and both matchups are repeats of good games from the regular season.  So if you get the MVC channel and can move the drunk Creighton fan out from in front of the television, catch the games tomorrow.  They will be stellar.

Posted on: March 5, 2010 4:30 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2010 5:43 pm

Drake Does the 21 Minute Walk of Shame


4:30 PM

Northern Iowa beat Drake 55-40 in the Missouri Valley Conference Quarterfinals.  That much is not surprising and really not all that interesting.  The UNI Panthers were led by Alex Koch and Lucas O'Rear (they make great names in Cedar Falls), who helped bully past Drake with a 29-2 run that took an 11 point deficit and turned it into a 16 point lead.  UNI now moves on to play the winner of Creighton and Bradley, which is being played now in front of an arena full of drunk Creighton fans who are just glad to be out of Omaha and partying in St Louis.

However what is interesting about the Drake defeat is that Mark Phelps' club went 21 minutes without scoring a field goal.  Yes you read that correctly, from the 8 minute mark in the first half to the 7 minute mark in the second half, Drake could not manage to make A SINGLE SHOT.  Not one.  Yes Northern Iowa is statistically the #2 defensive team in America and yes, they were at their best playing a tired Drake team on Friday afternoon.  But still...21 minutes of clock time without a basket?  For real?  21 minutes is a really long time and for comparison sake, here are some things that have occurred during a similar 21 minute time period:

1.  Stephen A. Smith recieved, and then had cancelled, two ESPN talk shows.

2.  Duke players slapped the floor 143 times

3.  Kansas Assistant Coaches invited four porn stars to sit courtside for the Big 12 Tournament

4.  Gregg Doyel received 58 pieces of hate mail and was able to understand 6 of them.

5.  Tom Crean was mistaken for Dwight Schrute four times.

6.  Dick Vitale's voice caused my dad to mute four television sets.

7.  Northern Iowa's Senior guard Ali Farokhmanesh had his name mispronounced by five announcers...and that is even before Verne Lundquist shows up for Sunday's game.

8.  Dick Cheney had three heart attacks.

9.  Rick Reilly phoned in two columns in which he told the heartwarming tale of one kid wiith a (insert disability/tragedy/eating disorder/sleep apnea) who has overcome his demons to show the "true meaning of sport.".

10.  Eight elderly people actually read a hard copy of a newspaper!

So as you can see, a lot can happen in 21 minutes, but for Drake, none of those happenings were actually putting points on the board against Northern Iowa.  I actually watched the vast majority of this game and I feel a better man for it.  But I am also certain that next year when I see "Drake" listed on any potential parlays, I will be taking the under.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com