Outside of the six power conferences that exist in college basketball, there is a traditionally strong mid-major conference filled with much smaller schools that may actually be able to compete against the big boys.
Despite the West Coast Conference producing a No. 1 seeded Gonzaga team and also sending Saint Mary’s to the NCAA tournament, both teams had rather disappointing losses early on. The Atlantic 10 generated three teams in the tourney, but the Saint Louis Bilikins lost to a 12 seeded Oregon team, and the conference hasn’t had many teams who have had success in past NCAA tournaments.
The Missouri Valley conference is by no means a household name, but it is probably the best conference that most people have never heard of.
The reigning repeat MVC champion, Creighton, beat a higher seeded Cinnicinati team (a former member of the MVC). The Jays have been one the more consistent teams in college basketball all year. CU finished first in shooting percentage in the country as they shot over 50 percent on the year. The Jays also finished fifth in total assist per game and produced an All-American in Doug McDermott. Although Creighton was defeated soundly by the Duke Blue Devils, their season as a whole was impressive. I’m sure the rest of the Valley will miss what has become a flagship program once CU leaves for the newly formed American 12 conference.
As if having a program like Creighton isn’t enough, The MVC also houses a 2013 Final Four team in the Wichita State Shockers. Statistically, the Wheat Shockers weren’t very impressive. In the team’s biggest area of strength, rebounding, WSU was only the 25th best rebounding team. In points per game and shooting percentage, the Shockers ranked 117th and 115th respectively. It wasn’t the numbers that propelled WSU to success, but their unity as a team. Everyone on the team had a role to play and every one perfomed that role effectively under head coach Gregg Marshall. The Shockers amazing tourney run was highlighted by wins over No. 1 seeded Gonzaga and highly touted Ohio State before being defeated by Louisville after the WSU had led most of the game.
Despite Creighton leaving the conference and Wichita State loosing key seniors, the MVC looks strong moving forward. It’s small programs like Evansville and Northern Iowa are grabbing higher ranked and local recruits. The competition between the conference teams is getting better and WSU’s success in the tourney will draw much more attention to the small conference. Nationally, college basketball fans are noticing not to take these mid-major programs lightly.
Every generation has its share of great athletes and this will hold true until sporting competitions cease to exist. Most athletes in sports today have yet to dominate thier respective areas of play the way Michael Jordan, Jerry Rice and Wayne Gretzky have, but they are leaving their own legacies: great and not so great.
LeBron James is the most explosive athlete the game of basketball has ever seen. The 6-foot-8 forward moves more swiftly at 250 pounds than most lithe point guards can. At his size, he can do things spectators of the sport have never witnessed before; from highlight dunks to amazing no-look behind-the-back passes. The one knock on the Akron, OH., native is that he isn’t a clutch perfomer. After winning the 2012 NBA championship, LeBron now has three gold medals, nine All-Star game apperances, rookie of the year honors, three MVP titles, and an NBA scoring title. Not only has he quelled his would be detractors who believed he couldn’t win the big game, but he already has one of the most storied careers in NBA history.
While Bron Bron is the most proflific athlete in the game, Carmelo Anthony is probably one the best visual scorers the league has ever seen. Melo dazzles with his amazing ability to put the ball in the rim from almost anywhere on the court it. He is the player that the average fan wants to be because his style of play is so attractive. But it is also decieving.
Being a great scorer doesn’t make you a great basketball player, there are many other facets to the game that Melo appears not to really care about. There is no doubt he is talented but fans often consider him one of the top five players in the game when he usually affects the game in one area.
Melo’s defensive ability is pourous and mediocre at best, but not for a lack of ability. Carmelo could be a good defensive player as we have seen from time to time in his contest against LBJ, but he doesn’t put in a concerted effort on a nightly basis. Despite his 6-foot-8 frame, he has never averaged over 1.0 blocks per game and has never averaged over four apg in any of his NBA seasons. Not to mention he has only been out of the first round of the playoffs once.
Although racing is not considered a “true sport” to some, Jimmie Johnson is perhaps the greatest athlete mainstream America doesn’t really recognize. Johnson is one of the few modern athletes to utterly dominate his sport. He has won five consecutive Sprint Cup Championships and was voted the AP male athlete of the year in 2009. The AP award usually go to athletes in major sports because of the thier exposure in the media. The most amazing thing about Johnson is that it appears that his best years may still be ahead of him and he already has a legacy comparable to the greatest of NASCAR drivers.
The SIU men’s basketball team honored its seniors Wednesday night as the Salukis defeated Northern Iowa 63-57 in the last home game of the year. Although junior guard Desmar Jackson leads the team in scoring and freshman guard Anthony Beane is the team’s best free throw shooter—according to Coach Barry Hinson—it is the seniors who have meant the most to the Salukis’ attempts to protect their home court.
Guard Jeff Early has been the backbone, heart and soul of the team this season. The senior guard, who is the eldest player in Missouri Valley basketball, leads the team in rebounding with an average of 7.4 boards per game. Early is also the second leading scorer for SIU with 12.6 points per game. At 6-foot-1, he has grabbed 71 offensive rebounds this season, the most on the team by more than 20 rebounds. Coach Barry Hinson crafted a new position for Early in the Saluki’s formation called the hybrid. A position that functions as part guard and part forward. Early has thrived in his new role and has developed into a prolific rebounder for his size. He has eight double-doubles on the season and scored a career high 31 points against Miami of Ohio University Saturday. When the Salukis need a high energy, it is usually Early who delivers. He hit the game tying 3-point shot to send Saturday’s game into overtime, despite making just six shots from beyond the arc all season.
Early’s roommate and fellow Monroe College transfer, guard T.J. Lindsay has also contributed to SIU’s success in home games. In the last three games in the SIU Arena, Lindsay has connected on at least one 3-point field goal. Despite recivieng less than starter minutes (19 minutes per game), he has been consistent and is one of three Salukis to play in every game this season. Lindsay also leads the team in 3-point field goal percentage at 37 percent. In the second matchup against Wichita State on Feb. 5, Lindsay poured in 14 points off the bench in 19 minutes and connected on four 3-point bombs— including a crucial 3-ball at the end of the first half to spark a Saluki comeback. Although he hasn’t been great from 3-point land all year, his shooting touch is starting to connect at the most opportune time of the Salukis’ season—just before the MVC tournament.
Fellow senior guard Kendall Brown-Surles has been SIU’s most used perimeter weapon and has drained a team high 36 3-pointers on the year. Brown-Surles is the only senior to have played his entire collegiate basketball career as a Saluki. The Evansville native also leads the team in assists and minutes played per game as the team’s floor general. Every year Brown-Surles has played at SIU, he has seen an increase his playing time. He went from averaging less than 19 minutes per game his freshman year to 30.5 in his senior campaign. After this season concludes, Brown-Surles said he would like to re-join the team as an assistant.
The seniors who were honored have earned their celebration with their play on and off the court. The Trio is among the last to leave the gym, according to teammates, and they are the ones most looked to in pressure situations. They will have a chance to end their Saluki athletic careers in dramatic fashion if they can upset a team or two in the MVC tournament on Thursday.
MVP: San Antonio Spurs G Tony Parker– Your eyes do not deceive you. Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, nor Kevin Durant is the front-runner for MVP half way through the season. The Frenchman is having the best season of his storied career, even with Spur’s F Tim Duncan sidelined due to injury. Parker is averaging career-highs in assists, free throw average and 3-point field goal percentage. The Spurs have the best record in the NBA, and TP is by far the best player on the team. Over the last three games, the star guard has scored totals of 29, 31 and 31. Although he isn’t in an attractive, sexy market, Parker is worthy of the award.
Defensive Player of the Mid-season: Chicago Bulls C Joakim Noah– With Derrick Rose still recovering from an injury he sustained last season, Noah has become the team’s best and most valuable player. The Bulls big man is averaging 12 points and 11 rebounds at the break. I expect Noah to elevate his play with Rose’s return, as the Bulls look to make a push for the No. 1 spot in the east.
Most Improved: Orlando Magic C Nikola Vucevic– Saying the Magic haven’t been a great team this season would be a serious understatement. Devoid of any legitimate scoring threats, Vucevic has become a reliable source on both ends of the floor. The second year center has raised his scoring average from five points per game in his rookie campaign to 12.5 this season.
Sixth Man of the Year: Los Angeles Clipper s G/F Jamaal Crawford– It’s Jamaal Crawford people… need I say more?
Rookie of the Year: Portland Trailblazers G Damian Lillard- The young floor general has provided the Trailblazers with youth and explosiveness. Lillard’s patience and pacing in the game rivals his more experienced counter-parts. It is Portland’s thin bench that is holding them back from being contenders because Lillard, F Nicolas Batum, and F/C LaMarcus Aldridge make a formidable group.
Rising Star Award: Indiana Pacer G Paul George, Golden State Warriors G Stephan Curry– The Pacer’s talented wingman has filled a scoring void for the Pacers —left by Danny Granger. He has also been stellar on the defensive end and active on the glass (7.8 rpg). Curry is also putting together an impressive first half. The fourth year pro is averaging a career best 20.9 points per game. Curry is the most essential part of a well balanced Warriors team.
The University of Illinois basketball team (17-8, 4-7) has had an interesting season thus far, to say the least. After losing four of five games, which started with a loss against Northwestern at home, the Illini were looking like they had lost their identity and confidence.
UI head coach John Groce must have had one amazing pep talk to deliver to the team after being defeated by Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin, because his troops rallied to beat the No. 1 ranked Indiana Hoosiers. Normally, teams who lose in-conference games against opponents they are considered to be more talented than usually fold under the pressure of a big game like that.
The Illini remained calm and collected to upset IU in Assembly hall, and then they beat a ranked Minnesota team in the next contest. Perhaps U of I is really as good as they have been tabbed, or maybe they are as bad as they looked against Northwestern. Whatever the case, the rest of the season should be very entertaining for the orange and blue.