Saturday, March 4, 2017

Rosenberg: Illinois State and Wichita State set for epic clash after handling business in the MVC semifinals

Photo Credit: Jeremy Rosenberg  

By: Jeremy Rosenberg

                                                            Pregame observations:

Is this Arch Madness or the July 4th VP Fair? The real March Madness is that it is 70 degrees outside. On an improbable day in March, two teams are fighting for an inprobable victoy, while two others are still fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives. Southern Illinois and Missouri State are out to rekindle past glory, both teams will try to come out loose and open up an early lead, hopefully causing their oponents to tighten up.

Illinois State and Wichita State need wins to silence detractors. Lose in the semis and the Selection Commitee will use the loss to justify snubbing the Redbirds or Shockers. I'm not saying it's right, I'm just saying we've seen this movie before.

Look for Illinois State's seniors to set the tone early in the first semifinal, and for Wichita State's overall depth to wear down Missouri State in the late game.

Midday tip in St. Louis. Will Arch Madness play out as scripted?

                                                       Photo Credit: Jeremy Rosenberg

Semifinal #1 (1) Illinois State 63, (4) Southern Illinois 50

From the opening tip of the first Missouri Valley semifinal game, the Illinois State Redbirds asserted their dominance. Propelled by a suffocating defense, ISU exploded out of the gate, leaving the shell-shocked Salukis wondering what hit them. The Redbirds looked the part of a team geared up for an NCAA Tournament run. 

At the final buzzer, the Redbirds had put down the Salukis by the score of 63-50. It wasn't even that close. A spirited late run by the Salukis kept the score from reaching an embarrasing margin.

Early threes by Redbird seniors Paris Lee and Tony Wills set the tone offensively, while SIU was reduced to the twin Seans, O'Brien and Lloyd, just to keep it respectable. The game was a blowout in every sense. You name a category and the Redbirds dominated. Just to pick one, at the end of the first half ISU had an assist-turnover ratio of 11:1. Meanwhile, SIU was 1:6. Not pretty.

It was a game where Illinois State could have been caught looking ahead to a final with Wichita State. Instead, it was a performance full of passion and spirit. The Redbirds played with confidence and purpose, and seemed to be having fun doing it.

Whether or not today's win over Southern Illinois was enough to secure a bid in the Big Dance remains to be seen. You get the feeling watching this senior-led group that they have their eyes on a more immediate prize -- the MVC championship its automatic bid. The 27-5 Redbirds will not be an easy out, for whomever they might face in the finals.

                                                       Photo Credit: Jeremy Rosenberg

Semifinal 2: (2) Wichita State 78, (6) Missouri State 63

In a reverse of the opening game, the lower-seeded Missouri State Bears came out firing, jumping to a 12-2 lead. Wichita State is too deep and talented to be buried by a big opening run, and by the 11:09 mark the Shockers had cut the lead to one point, thanks to strong shooting by junior Connor Frankamp.  

Standout Bear junior Alize Johnson did his best to keep the Bears close, but the inside-outside combo of Frankamp and fellow junior Shaquille Morris proved to be too much for the Bears to handle. After the 12-2 opening, Wichita State went on a 33-13 run before Missouri State coach Paul Lusk was forced to call a time out. The Shockers looked primed to run the Bears out of the arena faster than Betsy DeVos could blast them out of a public school.

Coming out of the timout, however, the Bears seemed reinvigorated. Sophomore guard Jarred Dixon 
had the hot hand, and Alize Johnson dished out mulitple assists. By halftime, the score was Wichita State 37, Missouri State 34.

Despite being behind, no question the Bears were happy with the first half result. Their hopes for a victory relied on keeping the game within striking distance. The second half began as a grind-it-out affair. The Bears and Shockers were content to trade body blows, with Alize Johnson and Shocker sophomore Markis McDuffie doing the heavy hitting.

Little by little, the Shockers superior depth and athleticism took control. The Bear starters were barely able to get a breather, while Shocker head coach Gregg Marshall had fresh legs to call on whenever he needed them. A Connor Frankamp three with 6:18 left in the game stretched the Shocker lead to 68-54.

The Shockers kept their foot on the gas, and ended up with a 78-63 victory, pushing their overall record to 29-4. There was much rejoicing among college basketball fans everywhere, for even as game as Paul Lusk's Missouri State squad was, the rubber match between Wichita State and Illinois State is needed to settle Valley supremacy once and for all.

Sunday's final has all the ingredients of a classic. There is animosity between the fan bases, always a fun factor in a title game. Two talented teams with outstanding records, fighting for the right to win a title, and to sleep well for a week. 

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