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2007 Missouri Valley Tournament Preview

by Andrew Force | February 28th, 2007

GAME 1—6:05 PM CST, March 1, 2007

#8 Evansville Aces (14-16, 6-12 Valley) vs. #9 Drake Bulldogs (16-14, 6-12 Valley)

Snapshot

Evansville and Drake are better this year than last year. Both teams improved and managed to draw nearer to the pack. Unfortunately, the pack still kept UE and DU at arm’s length. More wins, same place (tied for 7 th).

History

Evansville defeated Drake 78-57 in the opening week of conference play. Drake beat Evansville 82-79 in Des Moines in the final week of the regular season.

Webster, Strickland, and Anslinger have all played and started five games in the MVC tournament. Beyond that all three have won two games in St. Louis. Drake can barely field a lineup of players who have been in two games, let alone Valley Tournament wins.

The lone postseason victory in Dr. Tom’s young valley career was over the Purple Aces two years ago.

Drake, though tied for 8 th in the MVC, experienced long forgotten success this season. For the first time since 1987, DU will finish with more wins than losses. For frame of reference, the Boston Celtics were good when last the Bulldogs eclipsed the .500 mark.

Evansville won 14 games this year, the most since the 21 st century began.

Best Versus Worst

In an Indiana boon, Evansville is one of the worst D1 teams statewide. The label “worst in state” is probably unfair, but the Aces are in the discussion.

Drake is the best in Iowa. No debate. They earned that title on the court. Drake’s 67-59 victory at Northern Iowa Feb. 8 gave the Bulldogs a clean season sweep in winning all four games played against Iowa’s three Division I programs for the first time in school history. Drake had earned an 80-78 victory at Iowa State Dec. 3 and then whipped Iowa, 75-59, at home Dec. 16. The Bulldogs also claimed a 74-61 home victory against Northern Iowa Jan. 27.

Former Governor Robert Ray even handed them the Big Four Championship trophy.

Guard Play

February 21 st, Drake guard Nick Grant exploded for 25 points in 28 minutes. With the Bulldog victory fresh in the EU memory banks, Merfeld and his charges have spent the weeklong preparation time undoubtedly game planning for Grant.

GERRR! The Bulldogs have been growling relentlessly reflecting on Jason Holsinger’s and Kyle Anslinger’s success against them. From 3-point land, Holsinger (11-17) and Anslinger (7-18) belittle the Dogs.

Style combat

In a proud defensive league, Tom Davis extends full court and aims to outscore opponents. Drake U yielded 75 ppg, scoring just over 70 a night. The Bulldogs give up almost 20 more points than SIU, and five more than any other Valley team. Both teams will fire more shots if Davis has his way.

Opponents shoot better against Drake than any other MVC school from inside the arc, or outside the arc.

In Evansville’s case, once Webster is found the Aces will pound. The second leading MVC scorer leaves UE as the converter of most free throws All-Time. In other words, the lane is his friend.

Foul Prone

Matt Webster, Aces’ leading scorer, committed 95 fouls in the regular season. With an average of more than three fouls per contest, Webster actually fouled out of eight games.

Drake rotates so many bodies, no one player should fear fouling out. Though Tom Davis may shorten his bench in postseason play 11 Bulldogs ordinarily see minutes.

Hot Hand

Unsurprisingly, Matt Webster has been the most productive Ace down the stretch. The 6’8” forward buried 56% of his shots in the last five games and made six free throws a game during that stretch.

Drake guard Nick Grant is coming off 25 and 22-point games. Granted neither game Nick shot a 3-pointer so that is a lot of buckets.

Final Word

Webster is the pertinent man Thursday night. If Matt Webster can remain on the floor long enough to have an impact, then Evansville wins.

The game will not resemble present day conference play, but someone has to win. The winner gets the unenviable task of taking on the Regular Season Conference Champions and defending MVC Tournament Champions Southern Illinois Salukis less than 16 hours later. Sleep tight.

GAME 2—8:35 PM CST, March 1, 2007

#7 Illinois St. Redbirds (15-15, 6-12 Valley) #10 Indiana St. Sycamores (12-17, 5-13 Valley)

Snapshot

Between the two teams 12 players are experiencing their first Missouri Valley Tournament. Seatbelts on, boys.

History

In the middle of their 6-game winning streak, Indiana State beat Illinois State 54-50 on the road.

The victors wore red, and the Sycamores were blue on Valentine’s Day as Illinois State knocked off Indiana State 68-53 in Terre Haute. Indiana State and Illinois State have split the season series 3 out of the last 4 years. If not for a February 2 nd win over UNI, the Sycamores would have lost their last 14 games. Illinois State, on the other hand, won three of its last four games including an impressive 10-point win over Creighton.

Guard Play

Boo Richardson, Illinois State point guard is as quick as they come. His competitor Moore runs a decent show from Indiana State’s backcourt. The edge should go to Richardson because his speed compliments the lithe, angular frontcourt ISU features. Sycamore Moore has irrelevant quickness, and has a smaller impact on his team’s halfcourt offense.

The MVC Freshman of the Year, Redbird Osiris Eldridge lived up to expectations. Several recruiting outlets dubbed him the best Valley recruit prior to the season for his competitiveness and ability to create. He has aided Illinois State in both regards.

Style Combat

With two of the worst rebounding teams in the Valley opportunity knocks. That opportunity will be in the form of errant rebounds, even shots hitting the floor. From that perspective the game could pack some energy.

The offenses of the two teams are anything but dynamic. Illinois State may move around a lot, but much of their offense is false motion. Indiana State simply does not possess a creator worthy of admiring eyes.

Foul Prone

In 19 of the team’s 30 games Dilligard acquitted four fouls. Illinois State would prefer to have Dilligard, league’s best field goal percentage, on the floor as much as possible.

Courtesy of a defense that funnels towards Tunnell, Jay Tunnell has fouled out four times.

Hot Hand

Mick Yelovich has seen a bump in playing time lately. In Indiana State’s last five games, Yelovich averaged 7.6 ppg. Mick had 26 points the entire year preceding this latest portion.

All six of senior Greg Dilligard’s most accurate nights came in the last month+. The redbird forward did not miss a field goal attempt in any of those six sensational games.

Final Word

Indiana State has all kinds of problems. They don’t score enough, the offense lacks continuity, and Waltman used 12 different starting lineups this year. Cole Holmstrom or Marico Stinson both have long-range heat potential. One player will have to play tremendous for the Sycamores to advance in the nightcap.

The winner plays Creighton in the MVC Tournament Quarterfinals on Friday.

–Andrew Force

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