Saturday, March 3, 2007

Mid-Continent Conference Tournament Preview

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The Mid-Continent Conference was a two-team race for much of the season, but after Oakland hit a mid-season slump, it was Oral Roberts’ conference to lose. The Golden Eagles won the conference title by two games, going 12-2. Oakland finished at 10-4, while one other team, Valparaiso, finished above .500.

Favorite: Oral Roberts is clearly the team to beat heading into the conference tournament. They won the regular season championship, and their two Mid-Con losses were by a combined four points, both on the road, and both in overtime. Moreover, they knocked off Kansas and Seton Hall earlier in the year. The Golden Eagles do everything well, and don’t have many weaknesses. Caleb Green is one of the best post players in all of college basketball, putting up 20 and 10 every night. Ken Tutt provides terrific perimeter balance, and wings Marchello Vealy and Moses Ehambe give ORU versatility. Adam Liberty is a solid point guard.

Contenders: Oakland started the league season 5-0 and looked like a title contender. However, they dropped four of their next seven to destroy any shot they had. The Golden Grizzlies have excellent offensive balance, with five guys putting up at least 9.6 points per game. Forwards Vova Severovas and Derick Nelson form a very good tandem, and center Shawn Hopes is one of the better big men in the league. Erik Kangas is a good scorer on the perimeter, and is the main man in the backcourt. Valparaiso struggled to open Mid-Con play, but they are 10-4 since their 1-2 start. The Crusaders own the league’s best defense, and have a balanced offense. Wings Samuel Haanpaa, 6-8, and Shawn Huff, 6-6, give Valpo excellent size on the perimeter, while Brandon McPherson does a little of everything. Urule Igbavboa is the go-to-guy down low for the Crusaders.

Sleeper: Missouri-Kansas City went only 6-8 in conference play, but they played Oral Roberts tough twice and have won three of their last four. The Kangaroos have one of the league’s best players in guard Quinton Day, who can do everything on the court. He has struggled lately, though. Brent Stephens and Dane Brumagin round out a solid perimeter group. Dee Ayuba is a very good forward, and he is playing some of his best ball down the stretch.

Prediction: Unfortunately for the rest of the Mid-Continent, the conference tournament is being held in Tulsa, right in Oral Roberts’ backyard. ORU already has the league’s best player and team, and being at home makes them nearly impossible to beat. Caleb Green can put the Golden Eagles on his back and carry them to the automatic bid, but Ken Tutt makes ORU even more difficult to guard. Depending on their seed in March, ORU could be a Cinderella candidate.

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