Looking For A Late Season Spark
(St. Louis, MO) – These are both the ‘dog days’ and most exciting times in the Missouri Valley Conference race. League members have been at it since early October, have experienced the highs and lows of non-conference challenges, injuries, the beginning of the conference race, and are looking at seven more games in a very long season.
After Bradley knocked off first-place Loyola, there are just three games separating the top eight MVC clubs. Missouri State and Indiana State are tied for seventh and three games out of first place AND two games out of tenth. It is a wild season in the Missouri Valley Conference.
During these ‘dog days’ of a highly competitive race, each team is looking for that spark, a lift, a player that finally emerges or shows up out of nowhere and provides something that has been missing.
Who are some of those ‘just off the radar’ players that can emerge during the final weeks of the league race?
After Bradley’s Wednesday victory over Loyola, one name that pops to the top of the list is Elijah Childs. The 6’7 freshman scored a career high 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Monday, I asked coach Brian Wardle about Childs and about the need of someone to step up and add something extra for the team.
His responded by saying Childs is growing in confidence and fellow freshman Ryan Stipovanich could be a guy to provide some of that spark.
Indiana State has received outstanding play from guards Brenton Scott and Jordan Barnes, but head coach Greg Lansing says his team is searching for someone to step up and share some of the load.
Southern Illinois has played shorthanded all year. Season-ending injuries have reduced the Saluki rotation to just eight players. Head coach Barry Hinson says forward Rudy Stradnieks could be a huge factor for his team, if he is able to accomplish some simple tasks during his allotted minutes.
Often that spark comes from a senior that is passionate about finishing on a high note. Bradley’s only senior, Donte Thomas averaged 8.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game prior to the start of the conference season. During Valley play, the 6’7 post player is averaging 12.6 points and 8.2 rebounds.
Loyola’s Porter Moser says Thomas is playing like a senior with ‘a chip on his shoulder.’
At times, expectations can be misplaced. Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson tells us that he may have underestimated the effect of a long lay off where Wyatt Lohaus is concerned. The red-shirt junior missed over a year of action and is just now starting to play some of his best basketball.
Missouri State would love to get Reggie Scurry back in their lineup and Drake needs both De’Antae McMurray and Ore Arogundade to find their offensive rhythm. The Bulldogs have lost three straight and four of their last five games. They have led the Valley in scoring all season, but have averaged just 62 points per game over that five game stretch. Arogundade reached double digits six times in the team’s first 14 games and has done so once in the last ten opportunities.
Finding a spark from somewhere other than their stars, could be the ignition that catapults a Valley team near the top.