Is this thing on?

A play-by-play guy trying to survive in a mid-major world

Archive for the month “February, 2012”

Seeds Are Set

Entering the final night of the Summit League season seeds 3-8 were all up for grabs. When the dust settled Oakland completed a mid-season turnaround to take the #3 seed and Western Illinois, projected to finish 9th, jumped up to 4th place. North Dakota State lost 5 of their last 6 league games to fall into 5th place while Southern Utah limps into 6th place. The state of Indiana holds down the last two seeds with IUPUI finishing in 7th place and IPFW beating out UMKC for the last spot in this weekends tournament.

Regular season champion Oral Roberts is the favorite while the two seed South Dakota State will take the court with the support from a majority of the crowd. Sioux Falls is a short drive from the SDSU campus making the game feel more like a Jackrabbits home game than a neutral court atmosphere. Here is the schedule for the opening round:

Saturday: #1 Oral Roberts vs #7 IPFW
#2 South Dakota State vs #7 IUPUI

Sunday: #3 Oakland (2-time defending champ) vs #6 Southern Utah
#4 Western Illinois vs #5 North Dakota State

Monday: Semi-Finals

Tuesday: Championship

The past couple of years Oakland entered the tourney as heavy favorites thanks a couple of 17-1 regular season records. Now it’s ORU who has the gaudy 17-1 mark, but are they the heavy favorites? For all the winning Scott Sutton has done with the Golden Eagles his teams have never won a tournament championship outside of Tulsa. ORU has never cut down the nets when the tournament was played in Ft.Wayne, Kansas City, and Sioux Falls. However, his team is loaded with experience and possible player of the year Dominique Morrison.

ORU has a nice road to Tuesdays title game and the #1 team should have a nice path. After facing the Dons in opening round play they will get either WIU or NDSU. Western is the more difficult match-up, but I wouldn’t expect the Eagles to trip up. It’s a guess, but privately they may be preparing for a title game showdown with South Dakota State.

You would expect the #2 seed to enjoy a nice path, but it will not be easy for Scott Nagy’s SDSU club. First up is the rematch with the Jaguars and there is no question Todd Howard’s club has the talent to win. The Jags lost a wild December shoot out in overtime and Saturday built a 13 point 1st half lead, but we’re overwhelmed by three’s and the Jacks offensive movement. The Jacks will have to beat IUPUI for a third time this year to advance and the high octane Oakland Grizzlies will likely be the opponent. Entering the tournament the 4 teams playing the best basketball are ORU, SDSU, Oakland, and IUPUI. In order to win the Summit Leagues automatic birth SDSU will have to beat the best and hottest teams in the league. One heavy advantage will be the backing of the crowd. Since the league moved to Sioux Falls the support for the Dakota schools has always dwarfed the other schools. I bet you could add up the other 6 schools fan base, multiply it by two and it doesn’t equal the support for NDSU and SDSU.

If the top two sees met in the title game ORU will face a road atmosphere.

ROLLER COASTER

The Jags finished the season with a 14-17 record and a 7-11 mark in league play. They were pegged to finish 4th in the preseason polls, but stumbled out of the gates at 2-8 including two league losses. Then IUPUI bounced back with 6 straight wins including dubs vs Ball State and the Horizon League regular season champion Valparaiso Crusaders. At the end of December the Jags were 8-8 and 2-2 in league play and ready to make a move. It never happened as they lost 7 straight to fall into last place. The postseason was in doubt and the players were facing the prospect of becoming the first team to miss the postseason. They found a way to turn it around to win 6 of their last 8 and finish the year on a high note. After an up and down year the only consistent thing this season was their inconsistency.

The up and down play doesn’t matter because anything can happen in March. IUPUI will be the underdogs in every game they play from here on out.

SOME BRIEF COMPLAINING

The Summit League loves the tournament in Sioux Falls because of the total attendance and the money generated by sponsorship dollars. I understand and outside of the weather the city does a really nice job of hosting the tournament. Now let me gripe for just a minute.

NDSU and SDSU and soon South Dakota have the benefit of taking a short bus ride to the tournament. Because of this the league should not have them host games the weekend before the tournament. For the second time in the past three seasons IUPUI has finished the season at SDSU and had to turn around less than four days later to fly back to the Dakota’s. Travel is tough, but weather can cause even more problems.

Tonight the IUPUI women play in Fargo and they are scheduled to fly home Tuesday morning at 6:45 am. Fargo is expecting 6 to 10 inches of snow and there is concern the flight may not happen. So the women will board a bus after the game and travel 14 hours home. Normally they would take the flight and wait out any delay, but because they are scheduled to fly back to the Dakota’s on Thursday they want to get back to campus as soon as possible. The quicker they get back the sooner they can rest at home before returning for the tourney.

I’m sure the Dakota fans would tire of Senior night in the middle of February instead of the end of the month. They would just have to except the fact that due to the shirt trip to the tournament they have to finish on the road.

Ok, I’m done complaining. I’m turning bitter because a long bus ride is ahead for me and the women’s team.

HOW ABOUT A HAND FOR AUSTIN PARKINSON

Monday night the IUPUI women’s basketball team will play at North Dakota State and the winner will be the 4th seed in the Summit League tournament. Head coach Austin Parkinson’s squad was picked to finish in 9th place and it was hard to argue with the preseason pick. Last season Coach Park was named the women’s coach just four days before practice was scheduled to begin. What was even more unusual was his decision to jump from the men’s game to the women’s game. In his first year as a head coach and first year in the women’s game the Jags won only four games. Yet as you watched the team you could see a steady improvement and an excitement entering this season. The improved talent and Coach Park’s defensive mentality have turned the Jags from an easy win to a title contender.

Junior Kerah Nelson is deserving of 1st team consideration while sophomore Katie Comello, Junior Emily Phillips, and true freshman Nevena Markovic may all make the all-newcomer team. This will be the schools first trip to the postseason since March 2009. A win tonight gives the team a fourth place finish and in my opinion Austin Parkinson a coach of the year award.

I’ll be adding more and more to the blog this week as the Jags prepare for March Madness.

Bracketbuster

For the first time in school history IUPUI took part in the Sears BracketBuster. Saturday afternoon the Jaguars knocked off Nicholls State 84-80 for their 3rd straight win and the 5th win in the past 6 games. The game was not as close as the score indicates with the Jaguars building double digit leads in both halves and only trailing once. The story was once again the offense getting good looks and making those looks count. It was the second straight game the Jags shot 60% from the floor and like Wednesday it was the three seniors leading the way. The thing is, if the coaching staff had their way this game would not have been on the schedule.

For years IUPUI has been asked to participate in the BracketBuster and for years they have declined. Todd Howard never felt there was a benefit to playing the extra game. “We understand that we play in a one bid league and we are not going to bust any rackets or put ourselves on the bubble. Travel in our league is hard enough and to add another road game never made sense to us. The one positive of the win is adding another non-conference win giving us a 7-6 record out of league play and we are proud of that.”

I can see his point and a win or loss only affects your record and not your tournament hopes. Yet I think it is a way to gain some extra exposure. Zero exposure was gained from Saturdays game, but that’s because 142 teams now compete in the busters when before is was around 48. The chance to be one of 48 is a lot nicer than 1 of 142. I know not everyone is on TV, but if this was the Jags 4th buster and say they were 3-0 or 2-1, maybe they are looked at as an attraction. In the end it worked out with a road win and next year the Jaguars will return to the buster with a perfect 1-0 mark. One kick back of the game is IUPUI will host Nicholls State next year in non-conference play.

UP IN THE AIR

The trip to Nicholls State added 4 more airplane flights to an already busy February. The travel in the Summit League can take its toll on you. You can’t blame the team if they feel like they are living out of a suitcase.

February 8: fly from Indianapolis to Memphis and on to Tulsa. (side note: a delay in Indy caused the team to miss their connecting flight to Tulsa and the next flight was not until the morning. The coaches immediately made arrangements for a bus trip to Tulsa. Then Delta informs us a plane is on the way to pick us up and take us on to Tulsa. A plane pulls in and we board what we think is an near empty plane…uh no….it was a packed flight that was diverted from Detroit. We got some pretty nasty looks and more than a few people we mumbling under their breath. I later learned the passengers were told in mid flight they were stopping off in Memphis. They didn’t receive any extra benefits or vouchers and we arrived into Tulsa a full hour later than expected. It worked out for us and that was a first for me jumping on a diverted flight.)

February 10: Depart Tulsa for Dallas an then on to Las Vegas. I know, it’s Vegas, but still it’s a long travel day and a new time zone.

February 12: direct flight from Las Vegas to Indianapolis (booooo)

February 15: Senior Night and a 88-70 home win over South Dakota. SD flew in for that game and flew back the next day.

February 17: depart Indianapolis for Atlanta and on to New Orleans. Ok, again, Vegas and now New Orleans? But you can see the travel is adding up right? No? I promise, you won’t be jealous of the next trip.

February 19: New Orleans to Baltimore to Indianapolis.(I’m typing this entry on the very bumpy first leg of our journey)

February 22: Indianapolis to Minneapolis to Fargo ND. Ah, jealous now?

February 26: Sioux Falls SD to Chicago to Indianapolis.

That last trip marks the end of the regular season. From February 8 to February 26 IUPUI will have been on 13 different flights and spend 10 out of 19 days in a hotel. Then it’s back in the air and back to Sioux Falls on March 1st for the Summit League tournament.

ROBO-GUARD

Late on Saturday February 11th the Jaguars were leading Southern Utah and close to putting the game away. Senior point guard Stephen Thomas blew by his man and went down the right side of the lane for a lay-up. The bucket was good and everyone headed back down court, everyone except Steve. He was under the bracket grabbing his ankle. “I thought he was done for the year.” Most of Coach Howard’s players probably agreed with him. It has been an injury plagued year for Thomas, but he has only missed one game. The pain began in the preseason when he suffered a concussion during the days of practice. Then during the exhibition season he severely sprained his ankle and from that point on he has been living in the training room.

“He’s put together right now with toothpicks.”. Coach Howard continues, “and yet he doesn’t miss a game and we need him. I really feared the worst at Southern.” The fears were quickly put to rest when he checked back in just minutes later. “It has been hurting all year and at that time it felt better after I walked to the bench. It’s routine now, I get treatment, practice, treatment, game,and then more treatment.”. The past few weeks he has been playing with a special ankle brace that looks more like a knee brace for an ankle than a traditional ankle brace. I’m not sure exactly what it’s made of, but my guess a semi-truck could run over it and it would still be in one piece. “It’s my brand new ankle.” No one has given me a percentage, but he sure isn’t 100% and likely not 85%. Regardless he doesn’t miss a start because the team needs him and the 5th senior wants to be on the floor.

I’LL HAVE THE LOBSTER

Food and snacks are always a big topic when traveling with the team. It’s not easy accommodating a 20 person party. Director of basketball operations Jason Buckner handles the food and restaurant stops by taking our orders before we arrive in a city. That was case at our first stop in New Orleans. Since we were in NOLA I figured I would have some seafood and there was a lobster lunch option. It was $19 and that is a bit steep, but it was under 20 and I asked JB if is was OK. He said it was fine and we agreed the price was right and I figured it was going to be only the tail.

Our food arrives and most of the players ordered chicken while the coaches tried the catfish and shrimp. (I remember those plates were about 12 bucks so clearly I was the most expensive order…not a good sign.) I see the waiter turn the corner and walk towards our table. I see my lunch and it’s not just the tail…I see a tail and two claws hanging off the front of the plate. Holy cow, I’m getting a full lobster for lunch…and the it starts…

“Whoa, look at Scotty, big timer over there”
“Is your filet on the way?”
“I see how it is, radio guy gets the lobster”

I really thought it was going to be just the tail. On top of that I enjoyed my $19 lobster in front of IUPUI athletic director Mike Moore. “I think you may be done eating for the rest of the trip.”. A not so subtle dig on my selection. (Mike and I have a great relationship and for the record I ordered low priced meals for the rest of the weekend.) The joking didn’t stop there and every place we stopped to eat the players suggested I get a lobster or surf and turf. “Can’t eat here, They don’t have a market priced lobster.” By the way, it was delicious.

Now I gotta go catch another plane. Heading home…for 72 hours

Go Jags

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