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Midwest Hoops Report

   by ASA - 02/13/2006

Northern Iowa: The Panthers played their first game as a ranked team in school history last Saturday and quickly disposed of a struggling Indiana State team. The win put the Panthers back in a tie for first place in the Missouri Valley Conference with Creighton, which has beaten Northern Iowa twice this season. Senior guard Ben Jacobson leads four Panthers averaging double figures in scoring at 14.1 points per game, and junior forward Grant Stout chips in 12.8 points and almost nine rebounds per game. The Panthers have been chugging along without senior guard Erik Crawford, who has missed the last seven games with a broken bone in his right foot. Crawford, averaging 10.5 points per game, has played in only 17 games for the Panthers this season, but he and head coach Greg McDermott are hopeful that he can return before the Missouri Valley Conference tournament next month. Northern Iowa, 21-4 SU, 13-7-1 ATS, hosts Missouri State Saturday and is at Indiana State next Tuesday.

Missouri State: The Bears are coming off a heartbreaking two-point loss to Southern Illinois Tuesday that would have put them only two games behind first place Northern Iowa and Creighton in the Missouri Valley Conference standings. As it is now, the Bears sit three games off the pace and their tournament hopes are fading more by the day. Junior guard Blake Ahearn leads the Bears in scoring, pouring in 18 points per game. The Bears have been without their inside presence in Drew Richards, who has missed the last three games due to post-concussion syndromes. Richards, who was averaging 4 points and 4 rebounds per game before being hurt, is expected to miss a little more time recovering. “Until we get the complete thumbs-up medically, he's not going to play,â€쳌 Missouri State head coach Barry Hinson said. “We're not going to take any chances.â€쳌 In the mean time, sophomore Sky Frazier has stepped into Richards starting role and has performed well. Frazier played big in Richards’ absence in the Bears’ win over Bradley last Saturday, grabbing a career-best 12 rebounds against a big, physical Bradley front line. Guards Tyler Chaney, Blake Ahearn and Shane Laurie combined for 18 rebounds as the Bears dominated that category. However, that group combined for only 11 rebounds in the loss to Southern Illinois. Missouri State is at Northern Iowa Saturday and hosts Evansville next Tuesday.

Saint Louis: The Billikens are riding high after their win over Xavier last Sunday, which represented their first three-game winning streak in nearly three years. The last time Saint Louis won three in a row was March 2004, when it won the regular-season finale over Houston and then beat Southern Miss and Memphis in the first two rounds of the Conference USA tournament. The Billikens were 9-21 last season and won two-straight games only twice. The win was the fourth in the last five games for the Billikens, who alternated wins and losses for the first 19 games of the season before hitting this hot stretch, one that started with a win at Xavier Jan. 22. Junior Ian Vouyoukas leads the Billikens in scoring and rebounding (13.6 PPG, 7.7 RPG) and two freshmen, Tommie Liddell and Kevin Lisch, average 10 points per game. Saint Louis, 12-9 SU, 10-7 ATS, faces two straight A-10 road games when they visit Dayton Saturday and Duquesne next Wednesday.

Xavier: The Musketeers are still reeling from their home court loss to George Washington last Thursday. Xavier blew a 10-point halftime lead to the No. 10 ranked Colonials, who went on a 15-1 run and won on Xavier’s home court for the first time in 10 years. Xavier followed that crushing loss with a 61-47 drubbing at the hands of Saint Louis just three days later, Xavier’s worst loss of the season, running the Musketeers Atlantic-10 record to a mediocre 4-4. This team appears to be headed for the NIT, barring a miracle in the next month or so. “Where we go from here, we're starting over,â€쳌 Xavier head coach Sean Miller said. “I think I would be foolish myself for not taking full responsibility. We need to get some of the things back that we've done so well for so long.â€쳌 The loss to Saint Louis was Xavier’s fourth loss in their last five games after winning seven games in a row and it featured their worst offensive output of the season – a season low 47 points and 35.2% shooting from the field. Senior Brian Thornton leads three Musketeers scoring in double figures scoring 15 points and grabbing almost 8 rebounds per game, but he had no help in the Saint Louis game, as the other Musketeer scoring threats were virtually invisible. Stanley Burrell (13.1 PPG) and Josh Duncan (8.9 PPG) combined to shoot 0-for-9 from the field, and Xavier made only 1 of 12 from beyond the arc, with Justin Doellman (10.9 PPG) going 1-for-7 from long range. The Musketeers also committed 17 turnovers in the game. Xavier, 13-6 SU, 7-9 ATS, hosts La Salle Saturday and Fordham next Wednesday.

DePaul: The Blue Demons are struggling mightily. They have lost 8 of their last 10 games (including a six-game losing streak mixed in) and their 2-8 record in the Big East puts them out of the picture to make it to New York City for the Big East tournament. Their remaining schedule (No. 4 Villanova, at St. John’s, at Louisville, Seton Hall, at Notre Dame) almost insures they will not sniff the top-12 of the conference standings come March. Junior Sammy Mejia and sophomore Draelon Burns continue to handle the workload for the Blue Demons, with Mejia averaging 16 points per game and Burns averaging 12 a night. Mejia had been slowed by an injured left ankle and scored only five points in 24 minutes of action in last Tuesday's 64-44 loss to Georgetown. DePaul, 9-12 SU, 10-10 ATS, hosts No. 4 Villanova Saturday.

Notre Dame: How easily the Irish could be 8-2 in the Big East rather than a maddening 2-8. We’ve all heard it by now; eight Big East losses by a total of 26 points and eight losses in their last 10 games. Irish fans can take some solace in the fact that their misery might be over as the schedule, save for a trip to No. 1 Connecticut, is relatively easy over the next three weeks (home games with South Florida, Marquette and DePaul and a road games at Providence and Seton Hall). As it stands now, the Irish are just two games behind St. John’s for the 12th and final spot in the Big East tournament, which remains Notre Dame’s only hope to make the tournament. Many believe that the Irish would have to make the championship game, if not win the thing entirely to earn an NCAA berth. Senior guard Chris Quinn has had a remarkable year, averaging almost 19 points, five rebounds, and six assists per game in 37 minuets of action a night. Quinn also shoots nearly 47% from beyond the arc. The Irish, 10-10 SU, 11-7 ATS, host South Florida next Wednesday.

Texas: The No. 6 Longhorns have begun to hit their stride in the past weeks, having won 12 of their last 13 games since back-to-back losses against Duke and Tennessee back in December. With their win at Texas Tech on Monday, only the Red Raiders’ second loss on their home floor all season, the Horns clinched their seventh-straight 20-win season under head coach Rick Barnes, a school record. The Horns appear to have clear sailing the rest of way, as the Big 12 schedule is extremely easy, except for a return engagement with No. 20 Oklahoma in early March, who handed Texas their only conference loss to date. Texas, 20-3 SU, 10-7-1 ATS, hosts Nebraska Saturday and Baylor next Tuesday.

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