After a successful first two years, Pretty River Sports and Entertainment, Canada Basketball, and BioSteel are hoping that the third annual BioSteel All-Canadian Basketball Game is their best one yet.
With the talent that will be on display on the hardwood over the two days this year, two things are for certain.
The first is that this year’s event will be one that fans won’t want to miss. Several players in Monday’s showcase are top recruits in the NCAA, and have committed to play for some of the biggest programs across the country.
The second is that the talent level for Canada Basketball continues to rise. Fans in attendance will get a great look at the future of Canada Basketball, before they take the next steps in their respective careers.
Fifty-seven miles — that is the distance between State Farm Center and Redbird Arena. Despite the proximity, the Illinois State Redbirds and Illinois Fighting Illini have played just eight times in 97 years.
A ninth meeting may be in the works for Wednesday.
If #1 Illinois State defeats #4 UCF and #2 Illinois is victorious against #6 Boise State, the in-state rivals will play for a trip to the 2017 National Invitation Tournament (NIT) semifinals. It would be the first time the two have battled in the postseason since the 1980 NIT.
Because the matchup is one win away, Bloomington-Normal is buzzing over the possibility to knock off the heralded program.
“They are obviously having a down year, and we are having an up year,” said ISU class of 1999 graduate David DiMarzio. “We should beat them.”
The first meeting between ISU and U-of-I was in Normal, Illinois, on December 20, 1920. The Fighting Illini were the victors, winning 31-21. The initial contest was the LAST time the Redbirds hosted the most distinguished college basketball team in the state.
Ironically, the imbalance in scheduling led DiMarzio to alter his allegiance.
“I grew up as an Illini fan because I didn’t know any better. Then I came to ISU, and I found out that they won’t play us here (at Redbird Arena),” DiMarzio said. “That’s the big reason that I stopped liking them and cheering for them.”
Since 1920, Illinois has won seven straight contests against Illinois State. No game has been a full-fledged blowout, however. The Birds have kept within ten points in four of the eight contests. Moreover, the 2011-2012 squad took the Fighting Illini into deep waters at the Cancun Challenge before being edged 63-59.
Yet, this Redbirds’ team is more talented than five years ago. Although Illinois State had Nic Moore, Jackie Carmichael and Jon Ekey, their record (21-14) pales in comparison to the final campaign of seniors Paris Lee, Deontae Hawkins and Tony Wills (28-6).
With this in mind, Bloomington, Illinois, native Zachary Holland understands the significance of advancing to the semi-finals of a postseason tournament.
“That would be really big,” Holland said. “I don’t think that has ever happened.”
Holland is right: The Redbirds have not won a game, in either the NCAA Tournament or NIT, to move to the national semifinals.
Colleen Sherwood, who graduated from Illinois State last year, can describe the atmosphere for the Fighting Illini’s trip to Normal in one word.
“It would be crazy!” Sherwood said.
Whether the possible matchup leads to regular season contests is unknown. 2004 was the last time Illinois scheduled Illinois State for a non-conference bout.
Current ISU student Jacob Veazey has hope a victory could spark the beginning of a consistent rivalry.
“If we beat them in the tournament, I think it is a reason to schedule games yearly,” said Veazey.
School pride fills the community of Bloomington-Normal before tonight’s second round matchup versus UCF. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST on ESPN.
The #5 seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish will begin their road to the Final Four on Thursday March 16th at 12:15 PM when they take on the #12 seeded Princeton Tigers at the KeyBank Centre in Buffalo, NY.
Notre Dame is coming off a loss in the ACC tournament finals against the Duke Blue Devils, who made a late push to put the Irish out of reach of their second ACC title.
Regardless of the outcome, the Irish are going dancing, and have been seeded in the West Region.
The quadrant includes teams such as the Gonzaga Bulldogs at the #1 seed, who dominated the West Coast Conference, finishing the season with a 32-1 record, and the Arizona Wildcats, who came away victorious in the Pac 12 tournament final.
“Thrilled to be back in this thing again (NCAA Tournament) and we are kind of making it an annual event, which is what you want your program to be doing” said Coach Mike Brey right after Selection Sunday. “To not sweat on Selection Sunday, which we haven’t in a long long time, is good for the blood pressure and the hair line”.
ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Illinois State’s Deontae Hawkins has been here before. He was two years younger, but the stage was just as bright.
“That was a bad feeling in our stomachs once we left this place,” said Hawkins. “It doesn’t sit right with me, Tony, Paris or MiKyle.”
As underclassmen, Hawkins, Paris Lee, Tony Wills, and MiKyle McIntosh suited up in the championship of Arch Madness. The Redbirds, led by Daishon Knight and DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, jumped on Northern Iowa before squandering a 16-point lead and what would have been the first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998.
Today is a new day, however, and 27-5 Illinois State is in charge of its own destiny.
“We gotta come in here with that hungriness– that chip on our shoulder,” said Hawkins, the team’s leading scorer (14.0 PPG) and rebounder (6.4 RPG). “Everybody is against us, I believe. We are just going to come out and play OUR basketball.”
The last team standing in the way of the Redbirds is a familiar foe. Wichita State was defeated by the quartet to advance to the 2015 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship game. This time, though, they are waiting to seize what is coveted by all, an automatic bid to the “Big Dance.”
“We know we are not automatically in the tournament,” said Shockers’ sharpshooter Conner Frankamp. “That was our main focus coming into the week: Get to Sunday and WIN on Sunday.”
In a role reversal, Gregg Marshall’s group is now the team graced with talented underclassmen. Two Shockers, redshirt freshman Landry Shamet and sophomore Markis McDuffie, were named to the All-MVC first team. Though, Frankamp, Zach Brown, Rashard Kelly, and Shaq Morris have never NOT played in the NCAA Tournament to conclude a season. Thus, experience is still peppered within the 21st ranked team in the nation.
“We had a lot of doubters of us winning it. So, now we just want to let the doubters down and just win it all,” Morris said. “Personally, you know, I just want to win. You know it’s in my blood, but it’s in my brothers’ too.”
But, does the Shockers have any more experience than three seniors and a redshirt junior who have soared through both peaks and valleys during their collegiate careers? Is it any more than a squad that was never anticipated to be co-champions WITH Wichita State? Is it any more than a team that has overcome emotional turmoil when losing assistant coach Torrey Ward?
“I feel like it brought the unit together as far as me, Tony, MiKyle and Deontae, and everybody that went through it,” said MVC Player of the Year Paris Lee. “This is (the) closest team we’ve been on, and it’s definitely due to the leadership on this team.”
Leadership begins with the head coach. Dan Muller has instilled important values and phrases into his players since day 1. One of great popularity is “chopping wood.”
“Each year we actually have a different theme. So this is the chopping wood theme,” Muller said. “Our guys have bought in. They’ve bought in every year. Last year was don’t let go of the rope, but it’s all about taking care of the process. That’s it.”
Hawkins has a more elaborate meaning.
“Chop the wood is just taking each possession at a time,” the All-MVC second team forward said. “Press pause. When you make a mistake, don’t even worry about the mistake you just made. Just PRESS pause.
“How coach has been explaining it to us is: ‘carry the water,’ care for one another, (and) carry your brother.”
Illinois State enters Scottrade Center as a seven-point underdog. Yet, no betting line can wilt the confidence soaring underneath the Redbirds. Moreover, they, as Wichita State, hold great value in winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, ultimately because it places their name in the field of 68.
“Man, we have been snubbed all year. But, we just have to take care of the process,” Hawkins said. “We can’t worry about any of that (though). We just have to play Illinois State basketball and play the right way, which is not doing anything outrageous.”
Illinois State eyes their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1998 this afternoon. Opening tip is scheduled for 2 p.m. EST. The showdown can be viewed on CBS.
ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Seven days ago Dequon Miller forecasted the future. He knew his final Arch Madness would be special.
“Our run is coming at Arch Madness.”
In six words, he gave a personal warning to the whole Missouri Valley Conference. And, now, nationally ranked Wichita State will be his and the Missouri State Bears‘ next victim.
What makes me so sure? There are four reasons the Shockers will lose in the semi-finals for a third consecutive season.
From the days of Toure’ Murry and Garrett Stutz to Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, Gregg Marshall’s Wichita State have won Arch Madness just once in the past seven years.
Regardless of possessing a two seed or higher, Wichita State has failed to play on Sunday five times. These squads have possessed some of the best “The Valley” had to offer. Six different Shockers have earned All-MVC first team honors over the tenure, including the latest duo of VanVleet and Baker being named a top-five player three consecutive years.
Though, just one championship was won (2014).
Illinois State, the current top-seed at Arch Madness, has “upset” Wichita State three of the six seasons while Northern Iowa, Creighton, and Indiana State each downed the notorious once.
Yes, the one team that hasn’t is Missouri State. Though, it just takes one time to “Shock the World.”
After all, two of the five semi-final teams to defeat Wichita State have etched their names into the field of 68 the day after.
If I have said it once, I have said it four million teams: Missouri State has GREAT depth.
Even without junior guard Ronnie Rousseau III (11.6 PPG), the Bears have eight players who average over five points per game. The group is led by All-MVC first teamer Alize Johnson, who has recorded 17 double-doubles on the season and is averaging a double-double, and stat-stuffer Dequon Miller. Yet, the x-factors are Jarred Dixon, Jarrid Rhodes, and Obediah Church. All three had their fingerprints on last night’s 70-64 victory over Northern Iowa (which was UNI’s first loss in St. Louis since 2014).
Church, an All-Defensive team selection, anchored the defense and grabbed 11 rebounds going against Panthers’ juniors Bennett Koch and Klint Carlson. Rhodes, although he only scored five points, grabbed four rebounds in 15 minutes while helping the Bears to a positive five in plus/minus.
Dixon’s impact could not have been more important. He was 10-of-10 in free throws, six of which came in the final 46 seconds. Ironically, it was only the sophomore’s FIRST game at Scottrade Center (he missed last year’s tournament due to injury).
Church, Rhodes, and Dixon will have to play tremendously to send the Bears to their first Arch Madness championship since 2011. Yet, their play is as crucial as a trio of seasoned sharpshooters.
42.4 percent, 36.4 percent, and 32.1 percent; these are the three-point shooting percentages of Ryan Kreklow, Austin Ruder, and Chris Kendrix.
The trio only combines for 17 of Missouri State’s 73 points per contest; however, one triple can sway momentum as a right hand to the temple.
All three have started games for head coach Paul Lusk. In fact, a combined 103 games have been started by the assassins. Moreover, their points per game averages are the lowest it has been in their respective college careers.
With the depth and unselfish nature of Missouri State basketball, neither Kreklow, Ruder, nor Kendrix needs to produce ten points a night. However, this season each have had outbursts of 15+ plus points. All are extremely capable, and today will be the day that they let the nation know they are high-level marksmen from downtown.
4. THE Dynamic Duo
Argue with me if you prefer, but the best guard/big man duo in the Missouri Valley Conference is none other than Dequon Miller and Alize Johnson.
Responsible for 30.5 points during conference play, Miller and Johnson are the second highest scoring two-man tandem behind Loyola’s Milton Doyle and Donte Ingram.
Johnson, individually, has had SEVEN double-doubles featuring 15 or more rebounds. In other words, Johnson may be the most valuable big man since Northern Iowa’s Seth Tuttle (and we all remember how he guided the Panthers to an Arch Madness championship in 2015).
On the other hand, Miller, when shooting more than 10 times in a game is lethally productive with 15.4 points per game.
In fact, when comparing the Charleston, West Virginia, product’s senior MVC season to Wichita State legend Fred VanVleet, Miller is averaging two more points per game (14.9 > 12.6). Yes, VanVleet had nearly three more assists per contest (6.4 > 3.5), but his scoring prowess in nowhere close to the Bears’ two-year star.
Miller and Johnson will have outstanding games this afternoon at Scottrade Center.
— Missouri State 67, Wichita State 63
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