The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

February 11, 2013

Lions, Gorillas play in tough basketball pod

Love it or hate it, sometimes the only option for a conference schedule in a large league is an unbalanced schedule.

With 15 teams in the MIAA, a 14-team football schedule and 28-game basketball schedule are impossible because both are more than the maximum games allowed under NCAA rules.

The MIAA outlined three five-team pods for basketball. The 18-game league schedule consists of two games against teams in your pod and one game against teams in the other two pods.

With three weeks left in the regular season, the pod that includes Missouri Southern and Pittsburg State has the best combined record against the other two pods. Surprisingly the combined records for each pod are identical on the men’s and women’s sides:

27-22 for the Lions, Gorillas, Emporia State, Northeastern State and Central Oklahoma;

23-21 for Washburn, Fort Hays State, Missouri Western, Northwest Missouri and Nebraska-Kearney;

19-26 for Central Missouri, Truman State, Lincoln, Southwest Baptist and Lindenwood.

In Missouri Southern’s men’s pod, four teams are .500 or better against the other two pods, and Emporia State could get to .500 if the Hornets beat Washburn.

Only two teams have seven non-pod victories — Central Oklahoma (7-3) and Northwest Missouri (7-2). Central Missouri and Fort Hays State, the league co-leaders, are 6-3 with one non-pod game left.

In women’s basketball, five teams have won at least seven games against other pods, and three of them are in Missouri Southern’s pod — Pittsburg State (7-3), Northeastern State (7-3) and Emporia State (7-2). The others are Central Missouri (8-1) and Washburn (7-1).

Missouri Southern’s recent six-game losing streak included games against five teams that were nationally ranked at some point this season — Pittsburg State, Emporia State, Northeastern State, Washburn and Fort Hays State.

“I don’t talk to coaches before the game, but I did talk to Dave Slifer (Central Missouri coach) before the game (on Saturday),” Lions coach Maryann Mitts said. “He said, ‘My gosh, Maryann, what a schedule you’ve played. You’ve played the toughest schedule in the league.’’’

Mitts believes the competition against those nationally ranked teams helped prepare her team for two solid performances last week — 69-63 victory over Southwest Baptist and 74-63 loss to No. 10 Central Missouri.

“We looked like we belonged (Saturday night),” Mitts said. “I don’t think if you played a different schedule maybe that happens this quickly with all these new kids. You may have a better winning percentage. You may have won a lot more games, but I don’t think you compete against some of the top teams in the country the way we have.

“We’re a very good team. We’re about a 10-point difference against these nationally ranked teams. We have to move to a great team, and I’m anxious for these kids to strive to want to be that. We’ve played some darn good basketball, we’ve just come up a little bit short.”

The schedule certainly doesn’t get any easier as the Lions’ final five games are inside their pod, starting Wednesday night at Northeastern State.

“The good thing about (this) week is we’ve seen these two teams (NSU and Emporia State),” Mitts said. “The first time around you have to convince the kids of what’s going to happen. They know on Wednesday night that NSU is going to shoot the 3. We’re not going to have to convince of that. ... That hopefully is going to make our preparation just a little bit easier and help the confidence go up.

“But this pod is a tough way to finish in the league. I’d sure like to play some of these other teams twice, but that’s not how it is this year. We knew having 11 new kids and this pod all hitting on the same year was going to be a tough, tough challenge. The good thing is this pod only lasts one year. I already have the schedule, and we don’t have this pod next year.”

Truman State’s departure after this year leaves 14 teams. The basketball schedule will be based on two seven-team pods — Missouri schools in one pod and Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska teams in the other pod.

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