Rattling the rants
Tim Spears | Sports Reporter
When you mention Pittsburg State to any fan of the other 13 MIAA schools you’re likely to receive some competitive disdain and a good bit of trash talk, but all Washburn University head coach Bob Chipman has is praise.
“They’re definitely a championship caliber team,” Chipman said. “Tough group. Well coached. I picked them as the team to beat.”
Chipman was not only giving his own take on the fourth year of Pitt State head coach Kevin Muff’s program, but echoing a sentiment felt around the league. This year’s Gorillas are already making some noise.
“I think coach Muff does a great job, he really gets the kids to play hard,” Northwest Missouri head coach Ben McCollum said. “They defend, rebound; (Coach Muff) is establishing an identity where they stay consistent with what they do.”
The style McCollum is referring to is one that creams intimidation.
“They really look to pound you inside. It’s all paint. Attack the paint, attack the paint,” McCollum said. “If you can get your team to play hard, hopefully you can generate some kind of culture, and that culture should sustain itself. I think (Muff) has done that. He’s gotten his team to play hard. So it’s a matter of getting the right pieces and putting them in the right positions to be successful.”
Missouri Southern head coach Robert Corn believes it will be pieces like senior forward JaVon McGee who could lead the Gorillas to a conference championship.
“McGee seems like he’s been there forever. He has always played well against us and has had an outstanding career,” Corn said. “They have a lot of returning players that from a physical standpoint have really presented a lot of problems for us.”
McCollum is more fearful of the physical play of PSU’s wings.
“The McGee kid has always been tough for us to stop,” McCollum said. “But Marky Nolan … I don’t think a lot of people in the league likes what he does on the floor, but the kid always competes. He brings it all the time. He’s probably really fun to play with, but people hate to play against him because he’s so tough and so physical.”
Pitt State is one of the reasons many believe the talent of the MIAA is at an all-time high. Even in his 24th season, coach Corn can’t figure out the landscape of the MIAA Conference.
“We still have 12 conference games and there’s not one of those games I can point to and say, ‘If we play well we’re going to win that game,’” Corn said.
The Washburn basketball team knows all too well what an underdog can do in this conference.
“Truman beats us at home and we’re supposed to be a top team. (Truman’s) not a top team,” Chipman said. “I’ve always said it and I think it’s really true. Any night anyone can win in this league. And it looks like a lot of the games are going to be really close where it comes down to a basket here, a basket there. Injuries might be the key. Whoever can keep everybody healthy might be the team that ends up on top this year.”
“Everybody is going to have talent in this conference. It’s a matter if they can handle adversity throughout and handle a few losses,” McCollum said. “The MIAA is wide open. No one is separating themselves. So (PSU is) right in the mix.”
At this point it’s survival of the fittest, and at least a few top coaches in the MIAA say they believe that Muff and his team might just have what it takes.