The actual center of North America is in Rugby, North Dakota. There in the parking lot of a Conoco station you’ll find a fifteen-foot tall rock statue denoting it as, um, the middle of the continent. Just don’t tell that to Tulsa, Oklahoma, home to both this weekend’s Midcontinent Conference Championship and the world’s largest bronze sculpture, a 60 foot tall pair of praying hands. The bronze behemoth was commissioned by televangelist Oral Roberts, outsourced to Mexico, and originally placed in front of his faith-healing center…until it went bankrupt, proving that his prayers for funding (or domestic labor) haven’t exactly been answered. Currently the hands stand at the entrance to Oral Roberts University where they inspire both the student body and countless NBA tattoos.
On to the matchups.
#8 Centenary vs. #1 Oral Roberts
Tiny Centenary College names their sports teams like most places name their restrooms. The men are the Gents, the women are the Ladies, which at least is straightforward. I hate going to cutesy restaurants where I inevitably find myself standing in front of the door, legs crossed and jaw clenched, as I debate whether I’m a Hunter or a Gatherer. Regardless, after the first round of this tournament, you can pretty much flush the Gents’ season too.
All students attending # 1 seed Oral Roberts must adhere to an insanely strict code of conduct where lying, cursing, smoking, drinking, gambling, and premarital sex, are all prohibited. Going to college there sounds a lot like living with my parents. It’s also not a coincidence that the Golden Eagles (according to their website the color gold represents the royalty of God. Well, obviously…) have an enthusiastic student fan base, because what the hell else would they be doing?
Senior forward Caleb Green led the conference in scoring (20.2) and rebounds (9.5) and was named the conference player of the year for the third year in a row. He’s also second on the conference all-time scoring list, helped translate the Rosetta Stone, writes black belt Sudoku puzzles, and is currently texting your girlfriend.
Since the Gents are 1-7 all-time against O-Rob and had a craptacular 1-13 away record. I’m taking the Godly Golden Eagles in a blowout.
#7 Western Illinois vs. #2 Oakland
I got super excited when I heard that Western Illinois’ mascot was the Leatherneck, because that guy was bad ass in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Then I realized that I drink too much. Actually, Western Illinois is the only public school in the United States that has permission to use the US Marine Corps official seal, logo, and the “Leatherneck” nickname. Who’s gonna stump the Schwab now? The women have been saddled with the name Westerwinds, which I believe is also the name of the retirement community where the Golden Girls live.
As for Oakland, they finished the season with 17 wins, tying a school record. The Golden Grizzlies (they do not specify whether it is a Godly gold or not) are paced by All-Conference First Teamer Vova Severovas, which I’m honestly afraid to say three times. Their coach, Greg Kampe, was named Conference Coach of the Year but, more importantly, was given his own bobblehead.
Oakland’s website is entertaining because they ask the players some Penthouse Pet-type questions about their favorite things. My favorite favorites:
Sophomore Guard Erik Kangas’ favorite non-sports hero is Batman. Thank you, Oakland, for specifying that Batman did not play a sport.
Sophomore Guard B-Jay Walker would like to star in a movie with Halle Berry and Jennifer Lopez. No word on whether the film would be named after him as well.
Sophomore Center Shane Lawal’s favorite movie is Pulp Fiction and he would like to have dinner with Jesus, a meal sure to be fraught with tension since the Prince of Peace prefers Reservoir Dogs.
The teams split the season series, with the away team winning both times. Regardless, I’m taking the Secular Bears in a close one.
#6 University of Missouri-Kansas City v. #3 Valparaiso
When I was a kid, my mother wouldn’t let me leave the table until I’d taken at least three bites of every food on my plate. So here are my three bites about the Kangaroos, so named because apparently UMKC wasn’t sure which continent they were in the middle of.
1) They didn’t get their first road win until the last week of the season.
2) New Zealand native and Sophomore center Alex Pledger’s high school is listed as “Boys”.
3) Mr. Rooney’s secretary, Edie McClurg, attended UMKC. Oh, Ed. You just sounded like Dirty Harry just then.
Valparaiso just finished their 13th winning season in the past 14 years and is definitely the most internationally diverse team in the league. Freshman Samuel Haanpaa (Finland) leads the Crusaders with 11.7 points per game and was named to the conference All-Newcomer team. Sophomore forward Urule Igbavboa (Senegal) has the best hairstyle in the tournament, while sophomore Jake Diebler (Sandusky) says that he’s majoring in International Business and Chinese. So either Jake is a liar or he’s not very good at basketball.
Finally, young Valpo fans are encouraged to join the Children’s Crusades, where they’ll receive a t-shirt, discounted game tickets, and death by shipwreck.
This game is a rematch coming a week after these two played each other to end their seasons. Valpo won 77-61, and went on a painful-if-you’re-in-the-Roo-Crew 33-6 run at one point. They swept the season series so I’m giving win number three to #3
#5 Southern Utah vs. #4 IUPUI
Southern Utah is basically Bode Miller. In 8 of their 9 previous MidConCon tournament appearances, they either made it to the championship or they crashed and burned in the first round. In keeping with Bode’s party standards, the team mascot is a Thunderbird. I assume it’s not named after the wine-ish like beverage available at finer Exxons nationwide, but I’d like to recommend it as an option for those nights when Boone’s Farm just isn’t special enough.
IUPUI, which I believe is also a Van Halen album, split the season series with the Thunderbirds. In both games the Jaguars led big and led early but then let Southern Utah catch up. So pace yourselves, boys and get the ball to Gary Patterson, who led the conference in 3-point shooting, with an insane 52% average. Coincidentally, IUPUI alum Dan Quayle has used 52% of his mental capacity. IUPUI’s other celebrity student is 1980s pop sensation Rick Astley.
It’s a benefit to IUPUI that this game isn’t being played at Southern Utah. Over the past 21 seasons, the T-Birds have a 215-44 home record, including 12-2 on their turf this year. But–and I’m bringing this full circle–one of those losses was to IUPUI so I’m giving a slight edge to the Quayles.
If I were to channel my inner Zoltar, I’d tell you to watch for an Oral Roberts-Oakland matchup in Monday’s Championship. And when the game clock runs out in Tulsa, one of those teams will finally stand head, shoulders, and—yeah—hands above the others. Do you see what I did there?