SOONER ATHLETIC CONFERENCE MEN:
Two stand alone, final month surprises?
By Shawn Tiemann
Jan. 30, 2011
Diving into the final month of the regular season, it appears Oklahoma Baptist is firming up its grip on the top spot in the league standings. The defending national champs came away with a season sweep of the conference's second-best squad in Southern Nazarene with a home win on Saturday (Jan. 29) over the Crimson Storm.
OBU is clearly the best and most balanced team in the league, and I'd be shocked if they didn't win the regular season crown and make another deep run in the national tournament. It also appears SNU is solidly locked in as the team right behind the Bison.
The best storylines with a month of play left before the conference tournament involves pretty much every other team in the league. It could be argued that the 3-8 spots for the post-season are very much in play. That's what makes the stretch run so interesting to ponder.
Northwestern Oklahoma State sits in third all alone following a win on Saturday over Rogers State, but there are 3 teams tied for fourth and 2 teams tied for fifth.
In four years of broadcasting Rogers State basketball, I don't remember so many close games in this conference on a nightly basis. There really isn't much difference between Northwestern, John Brown (Ark.), Oklahoma Christian, RSU, Oklahoma City, Lubbock Christian (Texas), Mid-America Christian, Science and Arts Oklahoma, and even Wayland.
While Wayland and St. Greg's are mired at the bottom with 2-12 records and their post-season hopes look bleak, I see the most talent assembled at St. Gregory's since Bryndon Manzer was the head coach and led them to a national tournament appearance.
I loved the format change last year when the SAC went to only 8 teams in the conference tournament. It made not only the tournament that much more intriguing, but it also put a premium on the conference schedule. That's why it's vitally important to protect home court during the regular season.
Northwestern is 6-0 in league home games, and Rogers State's only suffered one home loss in conference play at the time of this writing (Jan. 30). That gives both of those teams a very good shot at making the league tournament.
The Hillcats have only one conference road win (at Oklahoma City), so it just shows you how competitive and balanced the league has been this season. It's always been difficult to pick off road wins in the league, but it seems even home teams are finding the footing a little less solid in 2010-2011.
Now, trying to determine which SAC teams will land national tournament berths in Kansas City is just as unpredictable as trying to figure out the seeding for the league tournament. At this point, I would have to argue for only 3 teams, OBU and SNU, and the Rangers from Alva. They were ranked 21st last week and split games with a loss to JBU and that win over RSU.
NWOSU hit a huge roadblock with the league schedule having them log over 1,600 travel miles on a four-game road swing to Shawnee, the two Texas schools, and then at John Brown. They went 2-2 in that stretch, which isn't all that bad considering the circumstances.
At this point, I don't believe any other team deserves an at-large bid. However, the selection committee might disagree with me though because of last year's success by SAC schools at the national tournament.
With that said, all of us know the high possibility for some random, lower-seeded team to jump up and win the league tournament, adding a team to the ledger of those packing their bags for Municipal Auditorium.
It's been another fun season packed full of highlights in covering this league, so put your tray tables and seatbacks in their upright and lock position...it could be a wild and bumpy ride before touch down.
(Tiemann is currently in his 4th season as the play-by-play voice for Rogers State men's and women's basketball. Hillcat games air on RSU Radio, 91.3 FM, and on RSU Public Television. Tiemann also blogs about RSU hoops at www.rsupbp.blogspot.com).
SOONER ATHLETIC CONFERENCE WOMEN:
Long time rivals at top of class headed into final month
By Jessica Lantz
The final stretch of the 2010-11 women’s basketball season is upon us. If the season ended today a veritable palette of the Sooner Athletic Conference tournament would range from high-end fare to a trio of teams sneaking on the plate after getting into the field with a losing conference record.
CREAM OF THE CROP
#2 Oklahoma City University (18-1, 13-1), ranked second in NAIA Division I, is far and away the conference leader. The second-ranked Stars were picked as prohibitive conference favorites and they’ve lived up to the preseason hype. OCU has captured eight tournament crowns since 2000, including last season’s beating of OBU in the final game.
If you look at the SAC individual leaders, you’ll see Starr Fairbanks’ name. The 2010 all-American has come on strong in the post and sinks a conference-high 63.7 percent of her mostly high percentage shot opportunities. Taylor Booze is third in the SAC with 2.33 steals per game and Donica Cosby is sharing the ball for a third-place 4.3 assists per game. But the team’s bread and butter is just that – team. The Stars have the best scoring offense (86.7 ppg), scoring defense (53.4 ppg), field goal percentage (49.1%) and lead in assists per game (19.6) in the conference.
The Stars finish the regular-season on the road against SNU on Feb. 26 in a game that could be a precursor to a potential conference tournament finals matchup.
The SAC tournament is March 3rd through 5th at Abe Lemons Arena in Oklahoma City. Are the stars aligned for the Stars to take the title on their home court? If the first 14 games of the season are any indication, OCU has a bright post-season future.
#20 Southern Nazarene (17-4, 11-2) follows closely behind their in-city rival and sit a game and a half back of the Stars. The Crimson Storm, who sat in a three-way tie for fourth place in the preseason polls might be a surprise to some. But with Logan Martin leading not just the country, but the NAIA in 3-point percentage hitting 57.8 percent of her attempts is coupled with a stout defense, it’s easy to see why the Crimson Storm are finding success.
Six-foot-one Abbey Marra is the tree in the middle for SNU and is leading the conference in rebounds (10.6) and blocks (2.14) per game. Logan Martin ranks third in the conference with 16.1 points per game and second averaging 5.4 assists per game. The only team categories that OCU doesn’t lead – rebounds and field goal defense – belong to SNU. SNU is currently on a five-game winning streak and up next is their make-up game vs. USAO on Monday that should move the streak to six, in all probability.
Games to watch include home matchups on Feb. 5 against Lubbock Christian and on the road at Rogers State on Feb. 17 and at John Brown on Feb. 19. And, of course, don’t forget that that season-capper as SNU hosts OCU on Feb. 26.
#25 Lubbock Christian (14-6, 11-3) sneaks into the top three after earning the distinction of saddling the Stars with their only loss of the season this week. The Lady Chaps, picked to finish third in the preseason, are also riding a five-game winning streak.
LCU is led by a pair, with Emily Atkins posting 15.3 points per game and Brittany Hampton adding 14.7 a night for the Lady Chaps.
Along with their season split against OCU, Lubbock Christian also defended their home court against SNU. The Lady Chaps still have to travel to Bethany to face the Crimson Storm and finish the season with two tough home games against John Brown and Rogers State that could change the seeding of three through five if LCU falters.
MEAT AND POTATOES
#18 John Brown (16-6, 10-4) picked to finish in eighth in the preseason has bettered its position by four and sits in fourth coming down the stretch. John Brown plays grind-it-out basketball, only scoring above 80 twice this season, but generally putting up modest numbers in the 50s and 60s. The Golden Eagles’ toughest tests remaining include road games at Lubbock Christian and OCU and a home contest against SNU, who handed them their most lopsided loss earlier in the season. Should Rogers State and John Brown end the conference season tied, JBU swept their two meetings on the year to give them the seeding advantage.
Rogers State (14-7, 8-6), much like JBU, have improved upon the preseason coaches’ prognostications of a seventh-place finish. The Hillcats are even receiving votes in the national polls. Courtney Crockett records 2.43 steals a night, good for second in the SAC. Of their eight remaining games, five are on the road and six are against would-be SAC tournament teams, so RSU’s standings could be in jeopardy without a solid finish to the season.
SIDE DISH AND SMORGASBORD
With the same conference records, overall wins and losses come into play to round out the final three conference tournament competitors. It appears that the top eight as they are now will remain with slight placement variations being the only change come March.
Wayland Baptist (12-9, 6-8) stays in the tournament mix with a trio of scorers, led by Erika Raymond’s 16.6 points per game, second in the SAC. Alex Williams and Staci Murphree both post over 10 points a night. The Flying Queens appear to have a favorable schedule heading into the final stretch of the season, as their last tough road test comes next week at SNU. After that, their other three games against current tournament qualifiers are on their home court.
Mid-America Christian (10-10, 6-8) is quietly plugging away after beginning the year as the predicted 10th-place team, even receiving a vote in the last NAIA poll. MACU doesn’t have any statistical stunners and can boast just two wins against the teams above them in the conference. The Lady Evangels have eight games left, and five of them are against the five teams currently sitting below them in the standings, and they have already taken care of all but OC in their first meeting. MACU could be another of the surprise teams of the season, on the positive side, if they can sweep some of their season series’.
Oklahoma Baptist (8-14, 6-8) could be one of the surprises of the season if you’re the type that places a lot of stock in preseason picks. OBU, started the season where they ended the last, as the second place pick. Gabriell Mattox is sinking 58.5 percent of her shots and is leading the conference in scoring average. Mattox puts in 17.8 points per game, but that just shows that one player does not a title-contender make. Samantha Smith’s 8.1 rebound per game is good for second in the league and yet the Lady Bison’s defense is particularly nonexistent. OBU is a league-worst in scoring defense, allowing its opponents to score 70.8 points each night. They say defense wins championships and it appears last year’s second-place finisher cannot play both sides of the ball effectively.
BREAD AND WATER
The bare-bones teams that will be looking on from the outside if the season stopped today are not necessarily surprises, save Oklahoma Christian perhaps.
Oklahoma Christian (10-12, 4-10) started the season as one of the three tied for fourth in the preseason, so the way-below .500 conference season must be a disappointment.
Northwestern (8-11, 4-10) was picked to finish as the first man out, in ninth place. And it looks like the coaches got that one right. With an identical conference record as OC, ninth and 10th is like potatoes potahtoes.
USAO (6-14, 2-11) was slated for the cellar, 12th place. Due to a rescheduled game being played tomorrow, the Drovers get a half a game advantage at least for another day. Defense seems to be a bright spot for USAO as Aita Gueye averages a league-high 2.60 steals per game and Victoria Russell swats 1.8 shots, third in the conference.
St. Gregory’s (6-15, 2-12) will duke it out with USAO for the dubious honors of being the league caboose this season. SGU was picked to finish 11th so I guess you could say they’re living up to expectations. Jalisa Howard’s 8.1 rebounds per game give SGU their only Top 3 individual category player.
A deep conference is bound to have a solid showing when the NAIA tournament bracket takes shape and teams travel to Tennessee for the mid-March madness that is national tournament basketball. But don’t book those tickets yet fans, there’s still a lot of regular season and conference tournament basketball to be played in the shortest month of the year. Hurry up March, I’m hungry for some post-season dessert!
(Lantz is the assistant sports information director at Oklahoma City University, and freelance blogger, which can be found at www.freelantzsports.com)