Road to the show
Garett McCullough | sports editor
The Pittsburg State men’s basketball team is just three wins from being crowned champions of the MIAA, which will earn them an NCAA tournament berth. Getting to the championship game looks to be more difficult than the actual game.
In the first game, the Gorillas will face the No. 2 seed University of Central Missouri Mules, who beat the Gorillas, 70-63, on Jan. 12.
If the Gorillas make it past the Mules and all else goes according to plan, the Gorillas will face the Ichabods of Washburn. The Ichabods also defeated the Gorillas in the regular season, 67-51, on Feb. 2.
However, both of those losses were on-the-road games for the Gorillas, who will have the momentum going into the tournament after the high-energy finish in their play-in game on Monday, March 3.
In their regular season meeting with the Mules, the Gorillas didn’t have the same defensive intensity that they have been showing during their current three-game winning streak.
The Gorillas forced only 10 turnovers against the Mules in January, but have an average of 19.67 forced turnovers during the current winning streak. Led by the All-MIAA Defensive Player of the year, Marky Nolen, the Gorillas consistently kept the pace of games in their favor through the second half of the season, which will be key through the entire MIAA Tournament.
The Gorillas have been shooting the three-ball much better late in the season with Nolen, senior forward Rice Pierrievilus and freshman guard Jake Bullard all starting to integrate themselves more into an increasingly explosive offense.
The Gorillas averaged 82.2 points over their last six games while holding opponents to an average of 74.5 points over the same span.
Washburn could be the toughest test for the Gorillas in the tournament, should both teams make it to the semi-finals. The Ichabods have defeated the Gorillas in their last three meetings, including the 16-point beatdown from this season and in the MIAA Championship game last season.
In the regular season meeting, the Ichabods were just slightly better than the Gorillas in about every category. The biggest two factors in the game were free throws and rebounds. The Ichabods made more free throws (20) than the Gorillas shot (16), and outrebounded the Gorillas 40-31.
On the other half of the bracket, there is No.1 Fort Hays State. The Gorillas defeated the Tigers in their one meeting of this season, 72-69, on Jan. 19 in Pittsburg.
The returning players for the Gorillas have already been in one conference championship game and should benefit from the experience, while the freshmen Bullard and Kaleb Porter have no shortage of confidence.
The ceiling for the Gorillas is certainly an MIAA Championship, but with the competition level in this conference, a loss against the Mules isn’t out of the question, either.
The MIAA is a conference that has so much parity that even on the last day of regular season play, there were teams with a chance to move up or down as much as four spots in the standings.
It’s never much of an exaggeration to say that any of the teams in this conference has the ability to make a championship run. The Gorillas proved this theory last season by making it all the way to and nearly winning the championship game as a No. 7 seed.
In any case, Municipal Auditorium will play host to some exciting basketball from March 7 to 10.