The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 8, 2012

Looking at MSSU-Pitt, Part II

By Ryan Atkinson

— Missouri Southern hosts Pittsburg State tonight for a pair of crucial MIAA tilts.

The men's game is especially big.

Starting with what matters most -- the real meat and 'taters -- the league standings.

MoSo, despite not quite living up to some pretty high expectations thus far, is still very much in the thick of the MIAA title race. The Lions are just two games behind league-leading Central Missouri, one game behind Northwest and half-game behind Washburn.

Now, getting Central Missouri to stumble a few times down the stretch may be a long shot, but if the Lions win out, they'll have their chances to repeat as MIAA champs.

The Gorillas have gone cold the last couple weeks. After being tied with MSSU for third place in the conference, they've suddenly lost three straight and are sitting at 8-7 in MIAA play and in a tie for sixth place. Barring an epic collapse, they'll easily make the MIAA tournament, but a win tonight would be huge.

The game also serves as a winner-take-all clash for the men's basketball point in the Sonic Trophy Series, the year-long competition between the Gorillas and Lions.

Pitt State won the first meeting the two teams back in December and can clinch the point with a win. If MSSU wins it'll create a tie. And with the tiebreaker being final conference standings, the Lions would virtually have the point locked up.

All that being said, I expect the Lions to run away with this one. Theat 10-point loss to the Gorillas that knocked them out of their No. 6 national ranking will undoubtedly be fresh on their minds.

And I don't see the Gorillas, with their lack of a strong inside presence, being able to survive Keane Thomann a second time.

On paper, the women's matchup is a wash. The MIAA-leading Gorillas, at 20-2 overall, should run away from the Lions, who are fighting to get into the eighth and final spot of the MIAA tournament.

The Gorillas can't afford to stub their toe in a game like this, not with powerful Washburn just a half-game behind them.