Missouri Valley: IIlinois State 62, Southwest Missouri State 61(story) - I apologize in advance if this site goes through January and February stretches where it seems like the All-Valley Blog, but this league is going to be red-hot. Illinois State (8-3, 1-1 MVC) is rising Phoenix-like from a disastrous two-year stretch, and the Barry Hinson's Bears are a lunch-pail gang that's a joy to watch. Redbird go-to guy Trey Guidry nailed two free throws with four seconds left to make the Illinois State lead bulletproof, and they withstood a valiant buzzer effort by rapidly rising SMS star big guard Tyler Chaney. Juco transfer Lorenzo Gordon, a widebody who can shoot, led the Redbirds with 17.
Missouri Valley: Drake 74, Indiana State 69 (OT)(story) - The Sycamores burst out of the gate early behind former MMBOW David Moss. But now he's getting a lot of extra defensive attention, and the others aren't able to pick up the requisite slack. A five-game losing streak includes a Worst Hawaiian Vacation Ever, in which they lost all three of their Rainbow Classic games and managed 37 points against a dismal Long Beach State squad. Eric Gray, who always kills Drake, stepped up and poured in 29 - but there was no denying the Bulldogs this night, who scorched the nets with 69% shooting. Moss went 2-for-17 for eight points.
Missouri 63, UMPFN 61(story) - Just a couple of days ago, I expressed disgust at the mainstream media's fawning over Gonzaga's recent run and detailed how they could be better; this prompted some to express their disgust with me. Two long-time readers e-mailed in to call me on my apparent flip-flopping, and a board post suggested that my treating Gonzaga like a major program was tantamount to hypocrisy. So here is my decision on all of this: in the future, I will only cover this team if they get beat by one of their cuddly WCC opponents, and I will also begin referring to them simply as Unnamed Major Program From the Northwest (UMPFN, or "umphin").
At The Arena Formerly Known As Paige, Missouri avenged last year's Battle In Seattle by scratching past their highly-regarded guests in a see-saw matchup full of double digit-to-single digit runs. UMPFN's Ronny Turiaf was hampered by double-coverage and his bad ankle (see Washington State game), went 2-for-15 and missed two free throws that would have tied the game. UMPFN is now 10-2 heading into WCC play.
Because I spent so much time building it up, I thought I should mention that the Winnipeg Wesmen won their Wesmen Classic for the first time in a decade by downing Saskatchewan 83-78 on a three with 27 seconds to go. Of special note is that the winner of the slam dunk contest won $100, which would have led to an eligibility-stripping and three-year NCAA investigation down here in the 'States.
And so, as the year draws to a close, there will be no looking back - in anger or otherwise. No, sir, we are looking straight ahead at the horizon (and Horizon League), which promises exciting conference matchups. And I'll now take the opportunity to present my picks for those cherished automatic Tournament berths. Even though I have the benefit of six weeks of non-league games, you'll likely still be able to laugh at me come March. Here we go...
America East: Vermont They're properly toughened up by their non-conference schedule, and should beat out Maine and BU Atlantic 10: George Washington This should be a walkover with no March Surprise like last year Atlantic Sun: Gardner-Webb This league is topsy-turvy this year, but the Bulldogs look poised to win a fierce scrap
Big Sky: Montana Weber and EWU look a bit lost, title should fall to Grizzlies Big South: Winthrop This conference will be the Eagles' romper room Big West: Pacific Should be close again with Utah State, but Tigers are a smidge better
Smart, skilled and swarming - but look out for Fairleigh-Dickinson Ohio Valley: Murray State Eastern Kentucky is the only other school that's even close Patriot League: Bucknell The dynasty begins Southern: College Of Charleston
With ETSU falling like a rock, they should prevail nicely Southland: Lamar If you do one random thing in '05, listen to a Cardinal game on the Web - crazy offense Southwestern Athletic: Southern I'll admit my SWAC pick is a SWAG Sun Belt: Middle Tennessee State
A fine array of offensive weaponry, and a lockdown D to boot West Coast: UMPFN As Hova once mused, what more can I say? Western Athletic: Rice Will win a mad scramble with LaTech and UTEP
I predict that the 65-vs.-64 play-in game will feature the winners of the SWAC and Horizon League.
The Mid-Majority will have a light posting schedule this weekend as The Official Wife™ and I visit family and roam the countryside looking for exotic conference games. Recaps of Saturday action will likely surface on Monday, and recaps will trickle in forthwith from there. Happy new year!