Fresh, ready or both?
Missouri Valley Conference schools are about to enjoy their longest break in two months, followed by, potentially, their busiest time. All 10 schools play Saturday and won’t resume until four play Thursday and the rest on Friday.
Everybody is tired at this time of the season and many players are slowed by bumps, bruises, sprains and strains. The end of February can be especially hard on freshmen, who aren’t used to the grind and lack the time to build up their bodies in the weight room.
Against that backdrop, coaches are preparing for the possibility of playing three games in three days in the conference tournament. For eight MVC teams, winning those games represents the only sure way into the NCAA Tournament. While nobody talks about it now, pumping up an NIT resume is also important for some programs.
“It’s been a fine line for me, and we’ve gone round and round about it with the staff of, ‘Hey, do we go harder and longer and make them tougher going into getting ready for the end of the year, or do we need rest?” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “We’ve erred on the side of getting some rest. We’re doing shooting workouts with them. We’ve shortened up practice.”
Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson calls these the dog days of the schedule. As director of operations at Kansas, he helped liven things up by inserting movie clips into game video. He wanted to play dodgeball with his team, until he saw Kentucky coach John Calipari stole that idea.
“I think you’ve got to do everything you can possibly do to keep your guys focused and still have fun,” he said. “Whatever you can do to do that, whether it’s taking your team to a community service project, going to see a movie. You’re constantly having to motivate people.”
Practice plans change at this time of year. More film. More shooting. Fewer possessions and less contact, while still trying to keep the intensity high.
Bradley relies on three players who average 30 minutes or more. In MVC games, Walt Lemon Jr. (35.6 minutes) and Dyricus Simms-Edwards (34.7) rank third and fourth in the conference.
“How many trips up and down in practice can you do and then go out and play 38 minutes effectively?” Bradley coach Geno Ford said. “We’re going to have them here for two hours, but it’s not going to be physically draining.”
Around the Valley
• Evansville guard Colt Ryan will leave the MVC as one of its top 10 scorers, while enduring the misfortune of being overshadowed by Creighton’s Doug McDermott and never playing on a title contender. Ryan, a 6-foot-5 senior, entered Wednesday’s game at Wichita State with 2,113 points, 10th on the Valley’s list. “He’s just been a great ambassador for our school and our program,” Aces coach Marty Simmons said. “He’s been a major part of any success we’ve had, and I think the impact he’s had on this program, as a player and a person, is something people will remember for a long, long time.” Lansing recruited Ryan while an assistant at Indiana State. Head coach Kevin McKenna wasn’t totally sold on Ryan, he said. “I think he had his heart set on going to Evansville,” Lansing said. “I wish I could have had a chance to coach him. I respect the heck out of him. He is just so tough.”
• Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early earned newcomer of the week honors for the sixth time, making him the easy choice for Newcomer of the Year. The choice for Freshman of the Year may also be a simple one. Missouri State guard Marcus Marshall averages 11.9 points in MVC games, most by any freshman. “He is poised and composed beyond what you would expect from a freshman,” Drake coach Mark Phelps said.
• Hinson wants to make sure the MVC gets some love for going 7-3 in BracketBusters games. “What our conference did this weekend was phenomenal,” he said. “If 7-3 in BracketBusters doesn’t just speak volumes for what our conference is and how tough it is, I just can’t even fathom.”
In their words
“He’s always moving, but he’s never rushing around out there. He knows how to use screens, and he’s really good at putting defenders in tough spots. He’ll keep moving until you fall asleep for a second, and then it’s too late,” _ Creighton’s Grant Gibbs, on the difficulty of guarding Ryan, in the Omaha World-Herald.
One to watch
Indiana State at Evansville, 4 p.m. Saturday (FSKC, Ch. 34) — Bracket projections maintain Indiana State’s at-large chances aren’t finished.