If there's one thing we've learned on this Hoops Odyssey, it's that college basketball is everywhere. You might just hear about the big time programs, but for every Duke, UNC and Kentucky, there's a Winona State, Barton and Central Missouri. And the great part about March is that all of these teams are competing to be the champions of whatever league they're in.
The media geeks were rooting for CMU just so its dance team, the Kickers, would stick around.
Tonight, we're back at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass., for the national semifinals of the NCAA DII tournament. Now, we know you're probably in the dark when it comes to DII basketball. Hey, we were too. So, before these final four games begin, we're gonna shed a little light on this year's DII tournament.
TEAM TO BEAT: Winona State University - WSU is the Florida of DII. They're the reigning champs and enter the semifinals riding a 56 game winning streak. Last night, Hoops Odyssey watched as they manhandled Bentley College, another previously undefeated team. WSU looked downright impressive. They had the speed, size and touch to beat a lot of DI teams. Just ask the Minnesota Gophers. They lost to WSU 69-64 earlier this season.
(Here's an interesting aside. When WSU beat Minnesota, rumor had it that WSU head coach Mike Leaf might be a candidate to interview for the soon-to-be-vacated Golden Gopher's job. Alas, with the recent news that Tubby Smith will be taking over for Minnesota next year, it looks like Mike Leaf and his staff will be staying in Winona for at least one more season.)
VIDEO: WINONA MOM RUBS THONG FOR GOOD LUCK
BIG TIME COACH: Kim Anderson - The Central Missouri coach was once a household name in the Show-Me State. In 1977 he was the Big Eight player of the year at Missouri. After a brief NBA career he became an assistant coach, first at Baylor and then at Mizzou under Norm Stewart. He was working as an assistant commissioner for the Big 12 when he decided to take the head coaching position at Central Missouri. Under Anderson's guidance, the Mules won the MIAA tournament two out of the last three years and are about to face WSU in the semifinals. (They lost in overtime 90-85.)
GUARDS WIN GAMES: Anthony Atkinson - This point guard for Barton College looks like someone's little brother. He's listed as 5-10 and he can't weigh more than 160 lbs, but he can move. If I were into analogies I'd say he's quicker than a water bug and has got more handle than a shovel. That's why he averaged 20+ points a game and 3.6 assists this season. In his team's Elite Eight game yesterday, Atkinson knocked down the winning bucket in overtime for an 83-81 victory and tonight I just watched him race the court with 5 seconds left, draw the foul and hit a foul shot to win the game for Barton, 80-79.
You gotta love the arts & crafts touch girls bring to hoops signage.
THE BEST OF THE BIG MEN: John Smith - We've seen a lot of big men play this year, and few have been as impressive as WSU's John Smith. Granted, his 6-8 frame looks a lot bigger at the DII level, but his agility and court vision is pretty awesome nonetheless. He had a move in yesterday's game against Bentley that brought the entire stadium to its feet. With two men on his back, Smith spun baseline and when another defender came over to help, he went up and under for a beautiful reverse. How this guy ended up at a DII program is beyond me, (he was actually recruited by some DI schools and chose WSU) but the Warriors are real lucky to have him.
GOD'S ON THEIR SIDE: Barton loves overtime - (Special thanks to Chris Granozio for this one, check out his DII tournament game articles.) Barton College was initially founded as Atlantic Christian College and, as you can guess, it's a highly religious institution. Head coach Ron Lievense often refers to God when speaking to his players and it seems to be paying off. Get this, Barton played in nine overtime games this season, including four in a row, and they won all nine. Now I'm not a religious man, but whatever this coach is doing obviously works.
It's not just the color of purple; it's the shade that makes this look work.
D THE FAMILY UP: Jonte Flowers - The starting guard on WSU has been taking over games with his defense. He's a three time NSIC defensive player of the year and just seems to find his way into passing lanes. It's no surprise though. Defense runs in the Flowers family. His brother, Michael, plays for Wisconsin and was recently named to the Big Ten all-defensive team. If you want to read more about the Flowers check out this article.
We'll end this blog entry with an example of how dedicated DII fans can be. The Central Missouri dance team took a 24-hour bus ride from Warrensburg, Mo., to see their Mules play in the Elite Eight. They stopped three times for food and once to switch bus drivers, but they were pretty much on the road for an entire day. So if all this writing on the DII tournament makes you say, "Who Cares?" I guess the answer is, "The Central Missouri dance team." And, trust me, if you saw them, you'd care too.