SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Tonight I'll be making my first visit to Missouri State's brand new JQH Arena
, which was just christened within the month. I've been really excited about this for a couple weeks now, for a few reasons. I like shiny new things as much as any American, but most of all I'm curious about them when it comes to college basketball at this level.
I'm wondering if there's any nostalgia for the old place
still present, or if it's been discarded in fans' memories the same way the directional indicator "Southwest" was. I have some pleasant recollections of the Hammons Center. It is, after all, where Jackie Stiles
became the female Larry Bird as well as one of my trio fake women's basketball girlfriends (I'll spare you that particular three-part essay in the interest of not creeping you out). It's where former coach Barry Hinson personally introduced me to the student section and advised them to treat an outsider from the Four-Letter with kindness. I was always treated well there, even if the SID never remembered to put me on the pass list.
It was also a place where the walkways were three feet wide, where the media interview area shared a thin wall with the locker room (there were no secrets after a Missouri State loss) and where the press room was in such an unexpected place (on the concourse next to the concession stand) that folks would stumble in looking for a toilet. It had the faded crackle of an old Missouri Valley arena, the kind you can still find at Indiana State, Illinois State or Southern Illinois.
But the Valley is on a conference-wide facility upgrade mission, spearheaded by commissioner Doug Elgin
(who is both more competent and dashing than that other facility-happy commish, Bud Selig). It's an experiment that will help answer the question: does a new facility mean success, better recruits, more NCAA bids?
There are many examples around the country of mid-major schools installing new arenas, then muddling through like they always did. But there's no doubt that a sparkling fresh place to play is part of a winning formula -- for example, Gonzaga layered a new arena on top of several NCAA runs, and it's resulted in continued excellence and national prominence beyond the school's modest finances.
But do they go hand in hand, and in necessarily that same order? Hinson was let go when he couldn't take the Bears from the Hammons Center to the Big Dance, so Missouri State doesn't have that invisible foundation to build its real one on. As the school moves forward, it'll take a few years to see if the JQH, on its own, has that kind of impact. For now, I'm just honored to attend the second-ever men's basketball game at the new place.Red Line Upsets
Our highest winning percentage in years, which is now 13.4 percent against the top eight leagues, is slipping a bit after a fruitful weekend. But we're at 49 total instances of small-conference victories over the six bigs and the two money leagues, helped along by a trio of wins last night. First of all, Western Kentucky continued its run of great play -- add old friend Dennis Felton and Georgia to the list of victims in the past week that began with Southern Illinois and Louisville. Led by A.J. Slaughter's 20, the Hilltoppers fended off the Bulldogs 67-63
. It was WKU's third win in the current four-game-old series.
Nevada, uneven in the early going, pulled out an 82-76 win at Colorado State
, paced by Armon Johnson's
23 points on 10-for-17 shooting. Another win for the WAC against the Mountain West. Another good result was South Alabama's overtime win over Southern Miss
. South In Your Mouth shot 58 percent from the floor, held C-USA's Golden Eagles to 34 percent and overcame 21 turnovers (they're young) to win by three.U'useless Stat of the DaySouth Carolina-Upstate
(6) and UC Irvine
(8) both made all the free throws afforded to them last night, and still lost. The two are just the 16th and 17th Division I teams all season to go perfect from the line, out of 1,776 team performances so far. Rarer than perfection is complete and utter futility, and SEC team Georgia shot just 2-for-11 from the line in their Nov. 18 win
over Presbyterian. But our Blue Hose hosed themselves, shooting just 38 percent from the field, and lost by eight. Moral of the story: free throws are overrated. (OK, not really.)
And keep those Ultimate Project entries
coming. They've been fantastic so far, so make yours extra-good.
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