With a Month Left, Missouri State and the MVC are Worth Your Attention

There is a month left in the regular season, and the Missouri State Bears are in the hunt for the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title. That may not sound like much, but this is the first year of the tenure of head coach Dana Ford.

The Bears currently sit at 5-4 in conference play after having rattled off three-straight wins. Their defense has been on-point during this stretch of success, holding MVC front-runner-of-the-moment Loyola Chicago to their lowest point total (35) for the year, and then allowing a total of 91 points to Bradley and Valparaiso. MSU is just a pair of games behind Loyola for that top spot.

Now Coach Ford and the Bears see a path to the top. Three of their next four matchups are against teams below them in the standings, with that one against Illinois State. The Redbirds are a game ahead of the Bears for second place.

Meanwhile, those above the Missouri State will be battling each other. Loyola takes on Illinois State, this Saturday, followed by Drake (ahead of Missouri State only by overall record). The key will be the Redbirds. While they face the Ramblers this Saturday and the Bears next Sunday, the rest of their schedule is filled with the bottom half of the MVC. Missouri State will need to beat Illinois State in their matchup, and hope for a few surprises from the likes of Evansville or Indiana State.

Moving forward, the Missouri Valley Conference will be fun to watch. The difference between last place and first place is four games. Should the Redbirds beat the Ramblers in Normal, this Saturday on ESPN2, seven teams will be within two games of first place. While all 10 teams play in the conference tournament, the bottom four seeds have to play on Thursday of the tournament, with all other teams getting a single-bye.

Missouri State has a simplistic formula, moving forward. In all their conference games, if they hold their opponent to less than 70, they’re undefeated. They lose every game their opponent scores 70 or more, though. So, if the Bears just hold their opponent to less than 70, they’ll win the MVC and go to the NCAA Tournament. Sounds easy, right? We’ll see.

Ford Era, Bears off to Roaring Start

So, like I mentioned in my preview of this season, I cover Cincinnati sports, but I really like following this up-and-coming coach out in Missouri. The Missouri State Bears (1-0) got their first victory of the Dana Ford era and it was a thorough dismantling of Oral Roberts (0-1) by a score of 84-50. Get ready for the Bears, if Tuesday is any indication, this is going to be a good year in Springfield.

Jarred Dixon led the charge for the Bears with a career-high 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting. The senior displayed his catch-and-shoot ability, but also showed his talent of creating shots, giving MSU as dynamic scorer to lean on in any situation. He led four Bears who scored at least 11. Ryan Kreklow put up 13 points, off the bench, Keandre Cook added 12, and Kabir Mohammed pitched in 11.

The Bears played Dana-ball, beating the Golden Eagles on the boards and causing as many turnovers as MSU had assists (21). Senior forward Obediah Church stuffed the stat sheet with six points, seven rebounds, four blocks, and three assists. Coach Ford also has his point guard in Josh Webster. The senior finished the game with nine assists, seven of which came in the first half. Webster will be one to watch, heading into the weekend, though, as he looked to have injured his left ankle, early in the second half. He did return and finish the game, though, so it may be minor.

ORU put up a fight, but it didn’t last much past the halfway point of the first half. Five and a half minutes into the opening frame, the Bears took the lead, for good, at 15-14.

Coach Ford and the Bears will turn their focus to Robert Morris (Friday) and Stetson (Sunday), this weekend.

Other Area teams:

Kentucky suffered its worst loss of the John Calipari era, Tuesday, as Duke thrashed em 118-84. UK will need to get it’s defense in shape, though these early November games tend to mean very little, come March. This will be plenty of fuel to the practice fires that Calipari will be stoking all year. I can still see that game being a championship preview.

Xavier took care of business with IUPUI, winning 82-69. Were it not for a rash of turnovers by the Jaguars, late, this may have been a lot closer. Xavier struggled to pull away for much of the game. They’re still building an identity under Travis Steele, but it’s nice to see a one in the win column, rather than the loss column.

NKU beat Wilmington College. Nothing really to see here.

Who’s Next:

At 6 pm, The Bearcats re-open Fifth-Third Arena tonight with the Buckeyes. I’m looking forward to sitting down with a few cold ones and taking this one in.

Dayton also hosts North Florida and Wright State welcomes Western Carolina to town. Both of those games tip at 7 pm.

College Basketball, Previewing Miami (OH) and Missouri State

It’s that wonderful time of year when college basketball begins. I’ve taken a look at the area teams (and one not in the area) and will give you what you should watch for this year with each one. This post looks at the Redhawks of Miami (Ohio, in case you were wondering) and the out-of-town team, Missouri State. That’s the American dream, right? Someone who tells you what to think about?

Miami Redhawks (16-18, 8-10 MAC), Head Coach – Jack Owens

The good news for Miami is that they return their leading scorer from a year ago. Nike Sibande averaged just over 15 points a game taking a little over 12 shots a game. The next closest shooter took five-less shots, per game. So the offense will probably run through him again this season. Defensively is where the question comes in. The Redhawks lost their leaders in steals and blocks, in Darrian Ringo and Logan McLane, as Sibande was the only other Miami player to average at least a steal a game. Miami could employ an interesting zone, as their frontcourt will likely be out-sized this year, with no one taller than 6’ 9”. Owen’s second year at the helm of the Redhawks will see some new challenges with a younger team.

Predicting the team MVP – Dalonte Brown. Sibande will lead the team in scoring, but Brown will be second in scoring and first in everything else. In 21 minutes per contest, last season, Brown led the team in rebounds as he was the only Redhawk to pull down at least four defensive rebounds a game.

Best game to watch – Miami plays every team in the tri-state, except Dayton and Cincinnati. Their most intriguing game, from my perspective, will be against Xavier on November 28th. Miami will have gone through the gauntlet of the Bahamas Showcase and may put their development in a hyperbaric chamber, because of it.

Predicting what we will be looking back on, next April – This may be bold, or maybe not, but Miami will win the MAC. They have their scorer (Sibande) and their do-everything guy (Brown) and will have a stellar year two under Owens.

Missouri State Bears (18-15, 7-11 Missouri Valley), Head Coach – Dana Ford

One of these is not like the others, oh, and it’s this one! What is a Missouri team doing in a college basketball blog post about Cincinnati sports, you ask? Well, it’s my blog and I can post about who I want to. Also, one of my favorite coaches, a guy I got to know a tiny little bit while I interned at Tennessee State, was hired as Missouri State’s head coach, back in March. Dana Ford is an awesome coach and human being. As well as growing young basketball players into young men, Ford also helped found the Rebound Foundation. The Rebound’s goal is to end domestic violence. So yeah, he’s a cool dude.

Starting out at Missouri State is going to feel a little like Ford started at Tennessee State. Just three players who accumulated some sort of statistics return from last year’s team. There’s the Bears third-leading scorer in Jarred Dixon, the team-lead in blocks Obediah Church, and a kid who played in 13 games in Ross Owens. The rest of the roster is made up of transfers, a redshirt-freshman, and the Wojcik twins (who are freshmen). This team will be an interesting story and follow, outside of seeing Coach Ford rebuild another school, in that they have zero identity. It will all be on Coach Ford to instill his mentality of physical defense and rebounding in the most major mid-major conference in the country. Oh, and they have a transfer on their team by the name of Jared Ridder, who transferred from Xavier. Just a little nugget for the Xavier fans out there.

Predicting the team MVP – Jarred Dixon. If the scrimmage with Evangel is any indication, he is Coach Ford’s Jay Harris. Harris was the holdover at TSU whenever Ford began there that Ford leaned on to make baskets and drive the offense. Dixon shot 6-of-7 from the field for 15 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. He played 30 minutes in the exhibition, the only player to go over 25. He will be the guy for the Bears.

Best game to watch – January 23, 2019, they host Sister Mary-Margaret and Loyolla-Chicago.

Predicting what we will be looking back on, next April – Coach Ford leads the youngsters and the brand new Bears to a 9-9 MVC record.

Check out more area college basketball previews:

The Gem City Previews

The Blue Grass Previews

The Queen City Previews

Follow @jefffcarr and @sportsinnati on Twitter

Thinking about College Basketball in September

It’s late September and baseball is transitioning into the post season, football season is building up some steam, and I want to talk college basketball. What? Yeah. I know, it’s a bit early, but I took a look at whats up on the hardwood today.

First thing I noticed is a familiar face (to me) in a new place. I once traveled with the Tennessee State men’s basketball team as their media relations point of contact. That was the 2014-2015 season, the first for head coach Dana Ford. He was the youngest coach in the country, that season, having just turned 30 that year.

In his first season, the Tigers won just five games. He was able to transform that team into a 20-11 team the very next year, earning conference coach of the year. Fast forward to March of this year. Ford accepts the offer to become the head coach of Missouri State. I’d kept tabs on him at TSU and now look forward to watching him move through the Missouri Valley Conference. 

Ford takes over a team who finished in the bottom half of the conference where Sister Mary, aka Loyola-Chicago, hails from. He’s got just two returning players who saw playing time for the Bears last year. He’s also got a former Xavier player in redshirt-freshman Jarred Ridder. I’ll keep my eye on Missouri State and Coach Ford, this year, and may even tell you a little bit about em, on this space.

The other thing I noticed was the ticket prices for Cincinnati’s home opener, the re-opening of Fifth-Third Arena, against Ohio State. My go-to app for tickets, Gametime, has the cheapest ticket for that game currently going for $94. UC is advertising this coming basketball season, heavily, at football games. People are excited to see the new arena, and excited to see how the Bearcats follow up last year. 

I’ll write more about this in the days to come, but I’m looking forward to Kyle Washington, Jaron Cumberland, and the rest of the team picking up where they left off.

As someone who constantly has sports on the television, I am enjoying my football and baseball, but am looking forward to some hoops. Without having looked at it, I’d say the top five for the preseason rankings are Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Villanova, and Michigan State, in some kind of order.