WICHITA FALLS (March 13, 2016) — March Madness is officially under way and there was plenty of Madness inside D.L. Ligon Coliseum here Saturday, where Tarleton State and Lone Star Conference rival Angelo State were fortunate to advance, while LSC Champ and tournament host Midwestern State suffered a stunning upset.
What did we learn in the midst of all the chaos? Several things, including a stark reminder to never, ever ever ever ever ever, overlook an opponent. Why? It’s March that’s why.
Here are a few of my personal outtakes from the quarterfinals of the South Central Regional.
1. Nobody is a clear cut favorite – With Midwestern being upset, this is now a neutral court tournament between four teams good enough to beat/upset anyone on any given night. Fort Lewis has the best record, and if the Skyhawks have a good showing against Angelo State today, I bet we’ll all finally shut up about their “weak schedule,” which cost them the chance to host us all in Durango, Colo. this weekend. You already know about MSU and ASU, and the fact that Lubbock Christian has defeated West Texas A&M twice, lost by two in overtime to ASU and, oh yeah, upset Midwestern, tells me they are a contender, too. In fact, if LCU had not been upset in the Heartland Conference tournament, you would probably be looking at the 2-3-4-5 seeds in action today.
2. LCU is better than Colorado School of Mines – Lubbock Christian has a strong inside out game with a freshman big man in Brennen Fowler who racked up 14 points and nine boards against MSU. Marcus Arrington scored 16 points, but the most worrisome player for LCU may be Marcos Schuster, who had 13 points, four boards, four assists and three steals in 32 minutes. Isaac Cardona is a workhorse of a big man who played 40 minutes Saturday. LCU had four players in double figures and six with at least seven points while shooting 52 percent in the first half and 46 percent for the game against an MSU defense we all now is normally well beyond legit.
3. It may not matter – Yes, I believe LCU is better than Mines. They dang sure better be because Mines was never on the same stratosphere as Tarleton Saturday. The Texans blasted the Orediggers in every aspect of the game. And while LCU was impressive Saturday, the question now becomes, can they muster that magic twice? I think they’ll make some runs, but I think Tarleton wins going away. Have I been wrong before, though? You betcha! I could have lost the farm on LCU over MSU!
4. The Lone Star has the best athletes in the region – Was this not blindingly obvious? Like the sun will rise in the morning obvious? Here’s a stat for you – Tarleton eight blocked shots, Colorado School of Mines, NONE. Former LSC commissioner Stan Wagnon told me once the reason LSC games are often low scoring is because the teams are athletic enough to guard. The RMAC and Heartland have great shooters. Doesn’t matter if the athletes guarding them don’t let them get looks at the basket. Of course, all that and 50 cents will buy you a soft drink but won’t help MSU out a bit.
5. The lack of six fouls – This is just a fun one, but after the confusion about the individual foul limit – coaches and media all thought it was changing to six for the playoffs but the NCAA clarified and said that was just for the Division I NIT and CBI tourneys – I found myself wondering who would have benefited the most from a sixth foul. Clearly, MSU. Bretson McNeal was the instigator in the Mustangs’ second-half defensive assault that wiped out a 16-point LCU halftime advantage to force overtime. But when McNeal fouled out – with five fouls, not six – late in regulation, the game changed completely, and with less pressure on its guards, LCU was dominant in the overtime.
6. Biggest role player – How about Jakob Damstra, the Flying Dutchman from Dublin (TX). Tarleton could have easily found itself in a single-digit dog fight at halftime, but with Romond Jenkins in foul trouble, Damstra came off the bench and scored three times on put backs following offensive rebounds for a season-high six points. The result? A 15-point halftime lead and momentum coming out of the break when the Texans built their lead to 75-50 before coasting into round two.
7. Surprises other than MSU losing – I thought ASU would finish stronger than it did against Arkansas-Fort Smith, but the Rams did hold on for a 95-89 win…. For the second straight season I’m just stunned how little defense is played in the Heartland and RMAC. It’s no coincidence, that the LSC has been the dominant conference in the region the last two years.
8. Watch those feet coach! – Not even the sixth winningest active coach in all of Division II basketball is immune to the occasional technical foul. Tarleton legend Lonn Reisman picked up one Saturday, for being out of his coaching box. He received a warning when he was too close to the baseline at the end of his bench, then was whistled for the tech when a ref ran past and saw his feet across the sideline on the court. A bit touchy? Perhaps? But Tarleton made light of the situation by amusingly sliding its bench back two or three feet during the next media timeout.
9. Next up – Game times for the regional semifinals Sunday are 5 and 7:30 p.m. ASU and Fort Lewis are up first, with Tarleton and LCU to follow. Tarleton improved to 10-3 all-time in first round games and is 5-4 in regional semifinals contests.
Perhaps the best outtakes are the great photos by Russell Huffman of The Flash. Here’s a few you may not have seen last night: