The Big Upset

The Maryville boys’ basketball team finds itself in a familiar position.  They have won their district and sectional games.  Now with one game to go before the state’s Final Four, a huge roadblock faces them.  Hogan Prep, a traditional power in Kansas City, will bring all that athleticism to the Lee’s Summit gym Saturday to face the Spoofhounds.

 

Before I get to big upsets and monster teams, I want to vent a little on the Missouri system of postseason basketball.  Missouri wastes a great opportunity to showcase their high school programs on a grand stage.

 

I know tradition and all, but only bringing four teams in for each class and bringing them in boys and girls together takes away a lot from what should be a great week in high school basketball.  

 

I got to experience the Iowa State Tournament when I recruited players from that state.  It all takes place during six fantastic days of basketball.

 

There are five girls’ classes and four boys’ classes in Iowa.  The girls’ teams, eight per class, are all in Des Moines this week.  That’s 40 teams in one week at one site.  There’s some great tradition in Iowa.

 

I grew up in Nebraska and have experienced both boys’ and girls’ state tournaments many times as a high school and college coach.  There are six classes in Nebraska.  Eight teams per class come to Lincoln on Thursday.  They play in four locations around Lincoln on Thursday, two locations on Friday and at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday.  There isn’t a vacant hotel room in Lincoln for two straight weekends.  In both states, the teams are seeded just for the state tournament.

 

If that was Missouri’s system, Maryville would be in its second straight state tournament appearance.  Also, it probably wouldn’t be facing Hogan Prep if teams were seeded.   It will take a big upset to reach the Missouri State Tournament.  It’s easy for coaches, parents and fans to say anything can happen on the basketball floor.  For the most part, it’s just lip service, but I can offer proof it really does happen.

 

I think there is a lesson to learn from each of the huge upsets I was lucky to participate in.  I’m not sure I am right about the lessons learned but let’s check things out.

 

The first huge upset came in my fifth year at Doane College.  We had qualified for the NAIA National Championship in 1988-1989.  Back then, the NAIA was all one division and only 16 women’s teams qualified for the National Tournament. Since we were a very small, private school in our first National Tournament ever, we were seeded 15th and had to face the number two team in the nation, Wingate out of North Carolina.

 

Wingate was coached by a long-time, legendary coach by the name of Johnny Jacumin.  A year earlier, his team was in the Final Four.  He had a thick southern drawl and was very arrogant.  At the coaches’ meeting the day before the tournament, the NAIA showed Doane so little respect, they put the coaches’ meeting at the same time Doane was to practice.  I couldn’t even attend our team’s final practice before the tournament.

 

Johnny didn’t show much respect either. At the meeting, he was whining about the fact his team would have to wear their white uniforms the first two rounds of the tournament.  He claimed there was limited laundry facilities at the hotel.  As everyone stared at me, someone reminded Johnny it was a single elimination tournament.  He would have to beat Doane to wear the white uniforms on the second day.

 

I might have missed practice, but I didn’t miss the opportunity to tell the team the story. At half trailed Wingate by four points.  The Washburn women’s team, coached by Patty Dick, was warming up at halftime. They played in the next game.   Patty made a point to talk to me. She said, “Make sure Johnny doesn’t have to do any laundry.”

 

Thanks to Johnny’s motivation, that Doane team went on to beat Wingate by three points and advance to the Elite Eight.  Lesson number one: Speak softly and carry a big stick.  Later, I did become friends with Johnny, but I never let him forget that meeting.

 

Giant upset number two came at Doane College.  Doane was and still is an NAIA team.  Missouri Western was a very good NCAA II team coached by Jeff Mitte.  Jeff now is the head coach at Kansas State. He brought his undefeated team to Crete to face our four-loss Doane team.

 

I know Jeff was worried about playing at Doane.  Our home court was in a noisy, drafty quonset-type building with seating on one side only.  Jeff couldn’t convince his players to worry.  You could see them screw around in warmups.  They half-heartedly went through the motions, probably wondering where their post-game meal was coming from.

 

I had a 5-7 guard matched up with their 6-1 junior college All-American guard, a huge mismatch.  Nikki Plank, my guard, was never intimidated by anyone.  She scored a career high 21 points and held the All-American to nine points before fouling out.  Nikki even brought her to tears.  We won by seven.  It was Western’s only loss in the regular season. They went on to win the MIAA Conference.  Lesson learned:  Take advantage of over confidence.

 

Giant upset number three came in Plainview, Texas.  During a rare rebuilding year at Doane, Wayland Baptist came to our classic and beat us at home by 42 points.  One player out of 15, Tracee Uldrich, never got in the game. Her dad told Tracee to “read the writing on the wall” and give up basketball.

 

A year later, we played a return game in Plainview, the home of the historic Flying Queens of Wayland Baptist.  We did recover to win 21 games the previous year, but Wayland was ranked higher than when they beat us by 42.  

 

The game started poorly and we trailed by nine at half.  My halftime speech was one simple question, “Do you really think they are that much better than us?” Wayland was getting every call and we were in deep foul trouble.

 

The problem for Wayland is they still complained about every call that went against them.  Their coach was the worst of the complainers.  Eventually, the officials got sick of all the whining and we started to get the calls.  The Flying Queens got in foul trouble now.  

 

The game went to overtime.  Tracee, the player that never got in the game the year before, was forced to play the post position since all but one of my post players had fouled out.  With just seconds left, she hit a 17-foot shot to break a tie and give us the upset win. Lesson learned: You must believe you are just as good as anyone you play.

 

Finally, the fourth, last and greatest giant upset.  It happened again at Doane College.  It was in the 1990’s.  Tracee and point guard, Mari Maaske, the only first team All American to ever play at Doane, had graduated.  They had advanced to the Final Four for the first time in school history.  However, they had graduated as well as several other good players.  It looked like a rebuilding year for Doane College.

 

At the end of January, Briar Cliff was ranked number one in the nation and was undefeated.  We were scheduled to face them in Sioux City.  My new point guard, Missy Knippelmeyer, had a tough game, turning the ball over 12 times against Briar Cliff’s devastating pressure defense.  She had cried each half in frustration.  The number one team beat us by 28 points.

 

My assistant coach, John Moody, came to me the next week with a new press break.  I liked it, so we changed our press break and practiced it five minutes every night.  No one beside Briar Cliff ever pressed us, so the practice was for the next time we faced Briar Cliff, which wasn’t very likely.

 

To all our surprise, we made the NAIA National Tournament.  Now in two divisions, the NAIA sent 32 women’s teams to Angola, Indiana to play the NAIA II National Tournament.  We were seeded about 10th, but that was generous.  

 

We won our first two games in overtime and the monster appeared on the horizon.  I remember the Sterling College coach tell me he was glad it was us and not him that had to face Briar Cliff.  I didn’t care because we were back in the Elite Eight.  It would be our third game in three days, but we didn’t care.

 

John Moody, my assistant, gave the team had two messages before the game.  We would execute the new press break and all five players on the floor had to sprint back in transition to stop the long passes that resulted in Briar Cliff layups.

 

The press break worked to perfection.  Not only did we break the press, but we scored on it.  We led by 13 at half.  Briar Cliff did the unthinkable after half and dropped the press.  Slowly, they crept back into the game.  It wasn’t enough, though.  We won the game by four to advance to our second straight Final Four.  Briar Cliff finished the year 37 – 1. Missy grabbed me after the game and asked if we were going to church the next day, which was Sunday.  I told her anything she wanted.  After all, she only had five turnovers.  Missy said she had made some promises.  I made sure she was at Mass the next day.  Lesson learned:  Learn from past mistakes and get a little heavenly intervention.

 

Back to the present and the monster called Hogan Prep.  There are positives that should help the Spoofhounds craft a giant upset.  We are very athletic, led by Tate Oglesby and Eli Dowis.  Don’t overlook the athleticism of Jake Woods. Jake seems to have found the control to drive hard to the basket and avoid the charge call.  Jalen Sundell’s a big kid and very athletic.  There’s a reason North Dakota State is overjoyed to have recruited him.  Lately, he has been aggressively looking for his offense, which is a great sign.  Tyler Houchin broke out of a small shooting slump with a couple of big three-point field goals in the sectional game.  If Tyler can stay hot and it will add another dimension to the Spoofhound attack.

 

There is no doubt, Maryville will go into the game as a decided underdog.  I think it’s time for this Spoofdog to rise up and grab the giant upset.

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