'Tis the season to focus on basketball

01/01/2012 12:00 AM

01/01/2012 12:05 AM

If any team needed a holiday break, Wichita State's men's basketball team did.

Many of them declined, spending their days off in Wichita instead of home for the holidays.

The Shockers played on Dec. 19. They returned to practice on Christmas Day, and several Shockers decided it was simpler to stay rather than go to the expense and hassle of travel.

It also made sense for basketball. WSU showed no signs of a holiday hangover when it routed Bradley 90-51 on Wednesday.

"Christmas Day, it just wasn't convenient for me to go home," said junior Demetric Williams, from Las Vegas. "A whole lot of it was we didn't want to come out in the conference race being tired and not in shape and none of us in the basketball mind-set. A lot of us (thought) it was better off to stay and get in the gym."

Williams, Toure Murry, James Anacreon, Joe Ragland, Carl Hall and Ehimen Orukpe were among those — excluding those who live nearby — who stayed.

"Everybody worked on their game, continued to shoot the ball," Murry said. "When we stay in the gym and work on our game, we're a lot better team."

Some of those Shockers live too far away to drive home. Orukpe is from Nigeria. Anacreon and Ragland are from the East Coast. Murry, from Houston, decided not to drive home.

"It was tough, but I'm looking at the overall prize, which is winning," he said. "I can see my family after the season. They understood, because it's tough to try to come home and come back on Christmas Day."

Williams will get his presents after the season. Murry's sister mailed gifts, including a Polo shirt and Michael Jordan socks.

The Shockers did celebrate on Christmas. Some of them went to the home of friends for dinner. Coach Gregg Marshall also had them to his house.

Breaks are precious for college students, especially for the Shockers, who cut short summer vacation for their trip to Brazil. The Shockers are willing, as are many college athletes, to sacrifice to make the NCAA Tournament their destination for spring break.

"They (family) wanted me to come home, but they know the big picture of what our plans are this year," Williams said.

Strong start — The MVC has 10 Bracket Busters games remaining in February to wrap up non-conference play.

The numbers on November and December, and why the MVC is positioned for an at-large berth (or more) to the NCAA Tournament:

* According to the Collegiate Basketball News RPI Report, five MVC teams rank in the top 75 of schedule strength — No. 3 Northern Iowa, No. 47 WSU, No. 62 Bradley, No. 68 Missouri State and No. 75 Drake. Last season, two MVC teams ranked in the top 75 (No. 70 Indiana State and No. 72 WSU).

* The MVC went 11-14 against the six Bowl Championship Series conferences, with two of those losses in overtime. Last season, it went 6-18.

* The MVC went 15-15 in road games, an improvement over last season's 8-31 record.

* WSU, Creighton, Indiana State and UNI, the top four teams in the preseason poll, went 38-7, 9-2 against BCS schools.

Back in the race — Creighton sophomore Doug McDermott seemingly built an insurmountable lead in the race for MVC Player of the Year.

He averaged 25.4 points and 8.4 rebounds in 11 non-conference games, making 63.3 percent of his shots. CollegeInsider.com named him the national player of the year at midseason. Everybody from ESPN.com's Andy Katz to the Jesuit Basketball Spotlight named him player of the week for games of Dec. 19-24.

Then conference play started.

Missouri State's Kyle Weems — remember him? —scored a career-high 31 points and the Bears beat the Bluejays 77-65 on Wednesday in Omaha.

"I've done a pretty good job of biting my tongue," Weems told the Springfield News-Leader. "I know what I'm capable of doing."

Weems, a senior from Topeka, scored 25 in the second half and 22 in the final 11 minutes.

Are there other candidates?

Wichita State may win the MVC, but its depth and balance work against individual honors. Don't overlook Drake guard Rayvonte Rice, who will put up big numbers. History shows the MVC champion almost always gets the Player of the Year award as a bonus. This season looks like an exception if Creighton or Missouri State doesn't win it.

Weems could be the first repeat winner since Southern Illinois' Darren Brooks in 2004 and 2005.

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