ST. LOUIS — It is often thankless work to guard the opposing team's top scorer. Wichita State guard Toure Murry received his thanks with a spot on the Missouri Valley Conference All-Defensive team.
That team is voted on by coaches, which makes it all the more meaningful for Murry, a 6-foot-4 sophomore.
"Every night, guarding the best offensive player, and containing them, is a hard thing to do," Murry said. "Coach (Gregg Marshall) challenged me all year. This shows that I can do it."
The MVC's top four scorers and six of the top 10 are guards. None play for WSU, which means Murry drew the big scorer almost every game. After last season, Marshall challenged him to use his long arms and quickness to mature into a lockdown defender. Murry took the challenge seriously, often mentioning that he wants to be known as a great player, and he needs to be a great defender to earn that reputation.
"Every night I stepped out there and did the best I could on the best offensive players," he said.
Murry also had to avoid letting shooting slumps lessen his enthusiasm for defense, a common trap for young players. He enters the tournament in a cold streak, shooting 3 for 14 from three-point range in his past six games. He failed to reach double figures four times in that span.
"The ball can't go in the hole all the time," he said. "You can play defense all the time."
Senior guard Clevin Hannah is doing what he can to help Murry through the offensive drought.
"I just talk to him and let him know he's got teammates who are going to help him out, even when he's not having a good scoring night," Hannah said. "Just keep playing his game and keep taking good shots and they'll fall sooner or later."
Murry needed four stitches in his lip after bumping into teammate Garrett Stutz's head during Tuesday's practice.
Playing for seed — With a 25-4 record and a power rating at No. 21, according to Jerry Palm's RPI simulation, Northern Iowa is a lock for the NCAA Tournament.
Palm has the Panthers a No 9 seed. ESPN's Joe Lunardi agrees. In a weak year for at-large candidates, the Panthers are solid. It's much different than 2009, when UNI struggled in non-conference games and needed to win the automatic bid.
"This year we might have had a little better resume going into it," senior Adam Koch said. "But at the same time, you're guaranteed a spot in the field if you win this."
WSU, for those who don't follow bracket projections, is under no illusions.
"In my heart, I feel we can play in an NCAA Tournament," Durley said. "We can play with any team in the country and have a chance to win. That being said, our RPI dropped, and that's what is going to hurt us. I don't think, realistically, we'll get (an at-large bid)."
Hatch honored — WSU junior Graham Hatch is a member of the MVC's scholar-athlete team announced Thursday.
Hatch, a chemistry major with a 3.70 grade-point average, is also a third-team academic All-America selection.
Koch, also the MVC Player of the Year, is the scholar-athlete of the year. He carries a 3.34 GPA in biology/biomedical.
Repeat winner — Northern Iowa's Ben Jacobson earned MVC Coach of the Year honors for a second straight season.
The Panthers won a school-record 25 games this season and back-to-back MVC titles with Jacobson in charge.
Indiana State's Kevin McKenna finished second in the voting with WSU's Gregg Marshall third.
Creighton's Dana Altman is the most recent coach to win the honor in consecutive seasons, 2001 and 2002.
Flood of seniors — The All-MVC team of Koch, Illinois State's Osiris Eldridge, teammate Dinma Odiakosa, Drake's Josh Young and Wichita State's Clevin Hannah is full of seniors.
That oddity sent MVC associate commissioner Mike Kern searching through record books. He looked a long time.
That last time five seniors made up the All-MVC team was in 1915, when Kansas State's E.C. Jones, and R.A. Dunmire, E.J. Sorensen, Ralph Sproull and A.B. Weaver of Kansas were honored.
The MVC — then officially known as the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association — was eight years old and consisted of Washington University of St. Louis, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Kansas State, Iowa State and Drake.
Worth noting — The top seeds (Drake in 2008 and Northern Iowa in 2009) won the past two tournaments. Before that, no top seed had won since 1998.... Bradley is in the (seeds) 4-5 game for the fifth straight season.... Creighton has as much on the line as any team this season. The Bluejays (16-14) have made 12 straight postseason (NCAA or NIT) appearances. Coach Dana Altman says he is open to playing in one of the minor tournaments, such as the College Basketball Invitational, if necessary.... With UNI (25-4) and Wichita State (23-8), the MVC has two teams with 23 or more wins entering the tournament for the first time.