ST. LOUIS —
The Missouri Valley Conference Tournament semifinals are always scintillating. No more so than Saturday when Illinois State upset 15th-ranked Wichita State 65-64 and when No. 25 Creighton took care of business with a 99-71 victory over Evansville.
Arch Madness indeed.
(And how cool is it that Arch Madness has a curse? Wichita State has never won Arch Madness, and this year’s Shockers were the best chance WSU has had since the tournament came to St. Louis in 1991. All great sporting events need a curse.)
From a certain viewpoint, the talent on display was also unsettling to watch. That would be from the Indiana State perspective.
Many of the players that lit up the Scottrade Center stage on Saturday will be back in the league next year. That’s fantastic for the MVC and its future, but daunting for the Sycamores.
Creighton has starters Doug McDermott, Gregory Echenique, Jahenns Manigat and Grant Gibbs back from a 27-5 team. Nice.
Illinois State took a major step forward by advancing to the MVC championship game and has everyone back. Jackie Carmichael, Tyler Brown, John Wilkins, Jon Ekey and Nic Moore have evolved from questionable to formidable.
Evansville has scorer extraordinaire Colt Ryan back. And no coach does a better job of piecing together glue guys like Marty Simmons. Emerging Ryan Sawvell is the last example.
Even Wichita State, which loses 57.4 points from its current roster, has some nice pieces with Demetric Williams and Carl Hall returning.
And those are just the MVC semifinalists. Drake has everyone of significance back from an improved team. Northern Iowa loses just one senior. Even Southern Illinois has some promising young players — like Dantiel Daniels — and a new coach will guide them.
Meanwhile, ISU loses four seniors — Carl Richard, Jordan Printy, Dwayne Lathan and Myles Walker –all of whom were major contributors. The 2012 season was supposed to be when the window was wide-open for a MVC championship run, but it didn’t happen.
Has ISU’s window closed? The Sycamore coaching staff doesn’t think so. But what do we know about the 2012-13 Sycamores at this point?
We know Jake Odum is an elite-level MVC point guard who had an outstanding season given the multitude of injuries he had.
Not only is there the hope that Odum can have a healthy season, but also, that he becomes the unquestioned leader of the team. He shouldn’t have any upperclassman competition for that role and he will have the ears of his teammates in a way he couldn’t have as an underclassman.
We know Steve McWhorter can defend. We know R.J. Mahurin can take charges, draw fouls on 3-point shots and scrap in the paint. We know Lucas Eitel is a smart player who runs the offense and gives solid minutes off the bench.
We also know all three of them need to be more consistent — offensively for McWhorter and defensively for the latter two.
That’s about it. That’s about all we know for sure about next year’s Sycamores. Everything else is pinned on hope. It’s disconcerting to stand on unproven ground.
Of the returning players who played, the hope is that big men Jake Kitchell and Justin Gant can expand their games and improve. Their freshman seasons were typical: flashes of their potential mixed in with growing pains.
They need to put in the effort to get better, but they might also be Exhibit A in how the ISU coaching staff needs to prove it can develop talent as they enter their second full offseason.
They’re also Exhibit A in how their ISU’s teammates need to demand accountability and improvement from one another.
There might not be hope for Koang Doluony. His future is uncertain as he played just five games in the MVC season and not at all after Jan. 21.
No one else expected to contribute for ISU has played a game in a Sycamore uniform. The Sycamores hope Gonzaga-transfer Manny Arop can score as seamlessly as he did in practice, but he needs to vastly improve his defense.
The Sycamores hope swingman Khristian Smith fulfills his potential and becomes a go-to player. ISU also hopes that Smith is academically eligible, as it appears he will be at present.
The Sycamores hope guard Devonte Brown and swingman Brandon Burnett got comfortable in their redshirt seasons and can contribute next year.
The Sycamores hope power forward Rhett Smith brings the versatility and toughness he has displayed at Sullivan. Smith has worked hard to diversify his game through the course of his senior season with the Golden Arrows.
The Sycamores hope true freshman T.J. Bell and big man JUCO transfer Michael Samuels bring something to the table.
That’s an awful lot of hope to hitch your wagon to. Meanwhile, several teams in the MVC know what they have.
It’s going to be daunting for the Sycamores to finish in the upper half of the MVC in 2013. Hope springs eternal, but there will be little quarter given by ISU’s conference rivals.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please follow him on Twitter @TribStarTodd.