Posted on: March 6, 2011 11:54 pm

Welcome to the Dance: Indiana State Sycamores

Indiana State was not supposed to be in this position. The Sycamores came into the Missouri Valley Conference tournament playing well, locking in a surprising No. 3 seed with wins in five of their last six games. But with most assuming Missouri State and Wichita State were headed for a conference final showdown, few expected Greg Lansing’s team to be headed to the NCAA Tournament. However thanks to three gutsy wins, Indiana State is dancing once again and believes it can make more noise on the bigger stage.

The Sycamores pride themselves on balance, with all five starters averaging between 8 and 11 points a game. The chemistry of the team, and its fortunes for the season, changed prior to conference play when Lansing says he “handed the keys of the car” to freshman point guard Jake Odum. The Terre Haute native immediately introduced a swagger and up-tempo pace to the team that was severely lacking. Since that day, Indiana State turned around a program picked to finish mid pack in the conference into one that challenged for the regular season league title. After beating both Wichita State and Missouri State in the conference tournament, the school best known for being the college home of Larry Bird is dancing one again. The Sycamores won’t be intimidated by whoever happens to be their first round opponent, as they played two strong games on the road in defeats at Notre Dame and Purdue

PLAYER TO WATCH:  Jake Odum  It is rare to see a team embrace being led by a freshman, but in the case of Indiana State, Odum is the emotional centerpiece. Having grown up in Terre Haute, Odum was a lifelong Indiana State fan who hoped to play for the Sycamores. After receiving the opportunity, he came in and put his personality on the team, playing with a confidence that his teammates feed off on during the game. Odum has deceptive speed, quick hands and a knack for hitting the crucial shot at the end of games (as seen in his game winner in the MVC quarterfinals versus Evansville). He and his “Cousin Mose from ‘The Office’” beard won’t win the eye test coming off the bus, but his game will have you a believer before the final horn.

Team Vitals

Record: (20-13, 12-6)

Team Colors: Sycamore Blue and White

We’re Thinking:  14 seed

Kenpom Ranking:  118

RPI:  95

Best Win: Missouri State (twice)

Worst Loss:  Eastern Kentucky

Most recent tournament history: 2001 (lost to Gonzaga in 2nd round)

Posted by MATT JONES

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 6, 2011 6:18 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2011 7:14 pm

Indiana State with a gutsy MVC title win

ST. LOUIS --- For the first time in a decade and only the third time since Larry Bird departed campus, Indiana State will be dancing in March. The Sycamores defeated Missouri State 60-56 on Sunday to complete its surprising run through the MVC tournament and earn a berth to the NCAA Tournament.

Led by its guard combo of Aaron Carter and Jake Odum, Indiana State was down three at halftime, after a sloppy first half that saw both teams struggle to execute their game plans. But Indiana State came out with defense on its mind in the second half,beginning the second half on an 8-0 run. Missouri State went until the 9:19 mark in the second half before it made its first field goal and the Sycamores were able to withstand a late Missouri State’s rally to get the win.

Having played three games in less than 48 hours, Indiana State came into the game hoping to shoot a high percentage and win with defense. The Sycamores accomplished the first by shooting an impressive 50% from the field, allowing them to overcome a significant size disadvantage and rebound differential on the glass. And defensively, Indiana State was able to limit the scoring opportunities of Missouri State’s big three, Kyle Weems, Adam Leonard and Jermaine Mallett, holding them to only 39 points on 8-25 shooting.

Still yet, Missouri State was able to remain in the game thanks to the striking disparity on the boards. The Bears’ 20 offensive rebounds, in contrast to Indiana State’s four, kept them within striking distance throughout their poor play in the second half. When Missouri State’s Adam Leonard drained a contested three to cut the margin to one with 27 seconds left, it looked as if the Bears might yet be able to once again overcome their poor play with timely late shooting heroics.

After Indiana State’s Jake Odum made one of two free throws, the Bears took over for a final possession to tie or win the game. With six seconds remaining, the ball was inbounded to Missouri Valley Player of the Year, Kyle Weems, whose game winner earlier in the tournament against Southern Illinois sent the Bears to the semifinals. Indiana State quickly double teamed, forcing him to pass to conference tournament MVP Jermaine Mallett. After a quick first step to the basket, the ball slipped from Mallett’s hands rolling out of bounds and handing Indiana State the victory.

Missouri State never looked completely in sync at any point in St. Louis. From the outset, the Bears were unable to execute with their normal offensive efficiency, and won primarily via a desperation to end the school’s NCAA drought. The Bears were fortunate to win their first game against Southern Illinois, overcoming a nine point deficit in the game’s last three minutes, and never were able to regain their regular season form. Each game featured impressive late comebacks designed to overcome large second half deficits, but on Sunday, their fortune finally ran out. The regular season MVC champion, which has been perpetually on the bubble in recent years, likely does not have a strong enough resume to get into the big dance and will probably once again have to settle for a disappointing NIT bid on Selection Sunday. 

As for Indiana State, the NCAA Tournament now awaits for a program that hasn’t been invited in nearly a decade. Just three years removed from a 20 loss season and one summer from having its head coach leave the program to become an assistant at Oregon, the Sycamores are now dancing. First year coach Greg Lansing says his team is “made of the right stuff” and their path, which featured a buzzer beating win and victories over the top two teams in the conference proves their mettle. They now head to the NCAA Tournament, hoping to recreate the glory of the past with a tough, young team ready to make history of its own.

MVC Conference Page and bracket

Posted by MATT JONES

Coach Greg Lansing on the victory:

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Posted on: March 5, 2011 7:55 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2011 9:27 pm

Indiana State and Missouri State to MVC Finals

ST. LOUIS --- They have had the smallest crowds, the fewest students and at times, the sloppiest play in the Missouri Valley Tournament field. But on Saturday, Indiana State threw a wrench in the tournament’s presumed Missouri State-Wichita State final, by defeating the Shockers 61-54 in St. Louis. 

Buoyed by an 18-1 run early in the second half, Indiana State is now headed to its first conference tournament final in a decade and a chance to be the next team to deny Missouri State’s its coveted NCAA Tournament bid. The Sycamores were led by their inside-outside combination of Myles Walker and Jake Odum, each of whom hit big shots down the stretch in the second half to help pull away to the win. 

The huge surprise was Walker, who scored a career high 14 points in the game. Walker has been an inconsistent presence all season, scoring in double figures only three times previously. But on Saturday, he was a dominant figure, hitting two crucial shots when Wichita State narrowed the Sycamores’ lead to two late. His ability to score created late double teams and allowed Indiana State shooters the open looks needed to hold on in the games’ final minutes.

The win sends Indiana State to the final on Saturday versus Missouri State, but the future of Wichita State is much murkier. The Shockers were likely just on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble coming into the tournament and the loss to Indiana State does nothing to help its resume. Gregg Marshall’s team scheduled ambitiously early in the season and without question had the deepest and most talented roster in the Missouri Valley. But its loss on Saturday was indicative of a season in which all did not quite click, and the team was left not quite reaching its vast potential.

Missouri State 60 Creighton 50

Missouri State is just one game away from finally reaching its goal of making the school’s first NCAA Tournament since 1999. After the Bears trailed by 8 at halftime, the duo of Jermaine Mallet and Kyle Weems help spur their second substantial comeback of the Missouri Valley Tournament. Mallet scored 18 points and pulled down 11 rebounds, while Weems added 15 points and 7 rebounds in the comeback victory.

As in Friday’s game versus Southern Illinois, Missouri State was completely out of sorts for most of the contest, looking nothing like the team that won the regular season conference title. But in the second half, coach Cuonzo Martin once again changed the team’s offensive strategy, allowing for more one on one opportunities for his star players and overwhelming Creighton’s slower defenders. Missouri State scored efficiently, shooting 50% from the field in the half and committing only one turnover, allowing it to cruise to the championship game.

Posted by MATT JONES

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Posted on: March 4, 2011 5:27 pm

Missouri State gets the Madness going

ST. LOUIS --  March Madness has officially begun. Yes, I know we have had a few days of games involving the lower seeded teams with directional names in conferences like the Big South and OVC. But for my purposes, the best month of the year kicked off on Friday. 

Missouri State’s 58-56 win over underdog Southern Illinois had everything that makes a March college basketball game great. There was the tremendous story of Southern Illinois, with its coach under increasing heat, hoping to overcome a disappointing year by getting an unexpected win that would keep its season alive. There was the desperation of No. 1 seeded Missouri State, likely out of the NCAA Tournament unless it takes the title, finding itself down 9 points with 2:30 left in the game and its postseason dreams fading away. And there was the environment, a loud building filled with fans from 7 other teams hoping the conference favorite would fall early.

The setting was perfect for one of the most impressive, and important, late-game comebacks we have seen this season in college basketball. Down 9 with 150 seconds on the clock, Missouri State drained 3 three-pointers in four possessions to even the game. Helped by two missed free throws on the front end of one-and-one opportunities by Southern Illinois, the Bears’ rally took a game in which they never led, into a tied, two possession battle for advancement to the MVC semifinals.

After Southern Illinois’s Kendall Brown-Surles missed an open look with 16 seconds left, Missouri State called timeout for the final play. The Bears’ star Kyle Weems was fighting through one of his worst games of the season up to that point, going 4-17 and producing a series of audible groans from the St. Louis crowd after every missed open look. However, as he went to the bench for the final timeout, he asked for the ball and his teammates saying, “I want to make it up right here.”

Weems took the ball off the dribble and hit a running bank shot from ten feet that was the perfect combination of half-luck, half-tremendous skill. Weems said he purposefully shot the ball off the glass (afterwards he said his grandfather instilled in him the principle “backboards are our friends”), but the trajectory of the ball leaves its true intention up in the air. But regardless of what he hoped to do, what he accomplished was a game winning bucket with 1.4 seconds remaining that left Missouri State’s tournament hopes alive and sent the Salukis to another heartbreaking defeat.

As both teams walked off the court, the scene was once again indicative of what makes March so wonderful. The Southern Illinois fans stood in a state of shock, as their players walked off the court, all twelve heads focused upon the ground. Conversely, Missouri State fans hugged and danced in the stands, while Bear player Adam Leonard pumped his fist to the students. The elation/relief was palpable and Cuonzo Martin’s team lived to fight another day.

You can focus on the NFL labor negotiation extension, the Miami Heat flameout, Oregon’s football woes or Milton Bradley’s idiocy if you please. But I hope you keep the noise down, because after Kyle Weems nailed a jumper to send Missouri State to the MVC semifinals, for me March Madness has now officially begun.

Posted by MATT JONES

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 2, 2011 10:56 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2011 11:09 pm

Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Preview

The best conference tournament in America that you have never been to occurs every year in the Missouri Valley. What the natives call “Arch Madness” is potentially the best mix of the desperation of Championship Week with high-quality play that occurs in college basketball. Mix in the fact that it has become a festival for the fans of the various schools and includes an often high-energy environment and the Missouri Valley conference tournament is one that everyone should visit at least once.

And if you were going to pick a year to go MVC, this would be the one. For the first time in a number of years, the Missouri Valley is likely a one-bid league, meaning the events in St. Louis will be the sole decider as to who will play into March. While Missouri State and Wichita State are the class of the conference, the gap between these two teams and Indiana State, Northern Iowa and Creighton is not large. Thus, even though cries that the “Valley is down” might mean less teams at the top, it will likely mean a tremendous tournament.

The favorite is Missouri State (23-7, 15-3), which won the conference with a home victory over Wichita State in the last game of the season. The Bears are America’s perpetual bubble team and this season likely will find themselves on the opposite side come Selection Sunday if they don’t win in St. Louis. Missouri State is led by Kyle Weems, the do-everything junior forward who has dominated the Valley all season. His ability to score inside and out makes him a matchup problem for every team in the league and the Bears rise and fall based on his play. Towards the end of the season, fatigue seemed to have set in and his worst performances occurred in the final four games.

If the Bears falter, it likely will be to Wichita State (23-7, 14-4). The Shockers are as balanced a team as you will see in the country, with seven players all averaging between 6 and 11 points. Wichita State looked to be the favorite in conference prior to the season and its losses to UCONN, San Diego State and VCU out of the Missouri Valley are nothing for which to be ashamed. But two losses to Missouri State and a bad loss at home to Southern Illinois likely make this a must-win to dance.

If the two favorites falter, the next 4-5 teams all have a fighting chance. The team with the most experience is last year’s tournament darling Northern Iowa (19-12, 10-8). The Panthers have not been the same team since the injury to Lucas O’Rear and his shamrock tattoo, but in a one-game scenario they are dangerous. Indiana State and Creighton also have the ability to surprise.


PREDICTION: Missouri State and Wichita State battle to the finals, but the third time is the charm for the Shockers, who get the bid to the Big Dance.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Sunday, March 6, 2 pm (CBS)

Best Three Players

  1. Kyle Weems, Missouri State
  2. Andrew Warren, Bradley
  3. Kwadzo Ahelegbe, Northern Iowa

Conference RPI: 12

Kenpom.com Rating: 11

Sagarin Rating: 10

NCAA Tournament Locks: None

NCAA Tournament Bubble Teams: Missouri State, Wichita State

Last NCAA Tournament

Missouri State: 1999 (lost to Duke in Sweet 16)

Wichita State: 2008 (lost to George Mason in Sweet 16)

Indiana State: 2001 (lost to Gonzaga in Second Round)

Northern Iowa: 2010 (lost to Michigan State in Sweet 16)

Creighton: 2007 (lost to Nevada in first round)

Evansville: 1999 (lost to Kansas in first round)

Drake: 2008 (lost to Western Kentucky in first round)

Southern Illinois: 2007 (lost to Kansas in Sweet 16)

Illinois State: 1998 (lost to Arizona in Second Round)

Bradley: 2006 (lost to Memphis in Sweet 16)

Posted by MATT JONES

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Category: NCAAB
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com