Non-Shockers to watch
The spotlight in the MVC Tournament will be on No. 2 Wichita State, just as it has been for most of January and February. The only stories to break through are ones about freshmen and sophomores, in hopes that they can revive the MVC.
Next week in St. Louis, do yourself a favor and watch Missouri State senior Keith Pickens, one of the many overshadowed stories in the Valley. Despite knee injuries that caused him to retire from basketball, Pickens is one of MSU’s most productive players and the kind of story to root for. He is a top defender, a floor-burn guy and an athlete who wants to coach.
He missed all of his sophomore season due to knee surgery. The injury, and its effects on other parts of his body, limited his ability to play and practice so much that he quit after last season. He changed his mind, however, paid his tuition and played this season.
Through injuries, of course. He missed 13 games due to knee, shin and back problems. When healthy, he does whatever the Bears need. He scored 14 points in Tuesday’s 72-56 win over Loyola, blocked two shots and grabbed four rebounds in 24 minutes.
After the game, he kissed the Bears logo at center court.
“This place means a lot to me,” Pickens told reporters after the game. “I just wanted to go out like that.”
Pickens, a 6-foot-4 guard from St. Louis, averages 6.9 points and 5.3 rebounds, despite the pain and toll of the injuries. His 24 blocks lead the team, in only 16 games. MSU plays at Wichita State on Saturday.
“It’s really a pretty amazing story,” coach Paul Lusk said. “He affects winning. He plays so hard. When we’ve had him, he’s helped us win. I just hope we can get him through this final stretch of the season.”
• Wichita State is locked in as the No. 1 seed in the MVC Tournament. Indiana State is No. 2. Bradley, Drake, Evansville and Loyola will play on Thursday in the play-in games. That leaves Missouri State, Southern Illinois, Illinois State and Northern Iowa fighting for seed three through six.
• Evansville coach Marty Simmons won his 100th game on Tuesday, 61-48 over Drake.
• Indiana State senior guard Jake Odum entered Wednesday’s game at Illinois State as the only player in MVC history with 500 made free throws and 500 assists. He had 578 assists and 560 free throws.
In their words
“He makes big plays at the end of games. That's a very unique quality for a player. His length and size make it difficult because he can get in the lane and finish, and he can also see over players. He's got a great knack for getting fouled.” — Illinois State coach Dan Muller, in the Pantagraph, on Odum
One to watch