Before I hit the first part of my column, the win by Providence over #1 Pittsburgh had some mid major implications. If you are a regular reader of this blog, making you one of ten people, you will know that St Mary's has a neutral site non-conference win over Providence at the 76 Classic. Experts say now that Providence is back in the mix for an at large spot with that win. Well St Mary's certainly has to be any part of that discussion.
Last night, Illinois State had destiny in their hands. A win vs. Northern Iowa at home then a win at Creighton and the Redbirds would have ended in at least a three way tie for first in the Missouri Valley, aka the Bizarro Valley. To paraphrase a great Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd cartoon "Illnois State twied and twied Mr Bogart, but they couldn't get a wabbit". In other words, the Redbirds fell short of their goal, losing in double overtime to Northern Iowa 69-67.
The Redbirds certainly had their chances to win. With the game tied at 55, after Johnny Moran, a 78 percent free throw shooter on the season, somehow missed two free throws, the Redbirds' Osiris Eldridge missed a potential game winning jumper with four seconds left. In the first over Lloyd Phillips missed a jumper with no time left on the clock.
However, in the second overtime, Northern Iowa's Adam Koch tipped in a missed shot at the buzzer and the Panthers escaped with the victory. Koch had 25 points to lead the Panthers, who remain in a first place tie with the Bluejays. Brandon Sampay had a double double for the Redbirds with 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Redbirds. Eldridge, the preseason pick for Valley player of the year had another horrid game, 9 points on only 3 of 13 shooting from the field, including only 2 of 4 from the line. If Illinois State wants to know why they can't win close games, perhaps shooting only 9 of 16 from the free throw line might clue them in.
Meanwhile in Springfield, Missouri, Creighton had to come from behind to beat Missouri State 65-59. The Bluejays were down twelve 37-25 with 15 minutes left before going on a 13-3 run to get back into the game, then eventually took the lead with 6:16 left and never trailed again. Cavel Witter and P'Allen Stinnett had 11 points for the Bluejays. Booker Woodfox, who had a showcase night vs. Mason on Bracketbuster Saturday only had five field goal attempts and ended with 7 points. With the win, the Bluejays remain tied with the Panthers for first place.
The preseason pick for Valley MVP, Eldridge has a horrid night, a 78 percent free throw shooter misses two free throws that could win the game, two overtime periods in a top team battle gets decided on a tip in, and perhaps the best player in the MVC has five field goal attempts all night. Just another night in the Bizarro Valley.
Meanwhile its "Wacky Wednesday in the CAA", otherwise known as "Bye or Die!". All twelve teams are in action. There are seven teams still fighting for a first round bye as the top four place finishers get a first round bye in the CAA tournament. As far as I know, no team that has ever NOT got a bye in the first round has ended up winning the CAA tournament. Four games in four days is just way too much for any team. Six teams are within two games of each other, with the seventh place team only a game out of fourth place. And you thought the Valley was Bizzaro. Parity thy name is the CAA.
So, the biggest game of all is Northeastern, tied for second place, traveling to the DAC to face Drexel, tied for fourth place. The Dragons are partially responsible for the collapse of Northeastern, having defeating the Huskies on their home court to start a three game losing streak for Northeastern. That was part of a stretch where Northeastern actually lost four of five games and fell out of first place in the CAA.
Meanwhile, Hofstra, also tied for fourth place travels to eighth place Georgia State, who has won four of their last five. The Pride have won five in a row and nine out of their last eleven. ODU, also tied for fourth, is home to William and Mary. The other team tied for second, George Mason tries to finally win a game on the road as it travels to UNCW. The under the radar game for the night is first place VCU traveling to seventh place James Madison. A win at home by Madison coupled with a Huskies road win would result in a tie for first place in the CAA with Northeastern holding the tiebreaker. And oh yeah, in meaningless 101, Towson is home to Delaware.
As Dave Johnson, the famous horse racing announcer would say...DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME! Enjoy.