The Mules and Jennies basketball teams head into the MIAA Tournaments as the two-seeds, but the Jennies are hoping to host the regional tournament, while the Mules just hope to make the tournament.
The Mules (19-7, 13-5) dropped from four to seven in this week’s Central Regional poll, and eight teams get into the tournament.
Last season the Mules lost to Pittsburg State (18-9, 10-8) in the first round of the MIAA Tournament and missed the regional.
This season the Mules begin the conference tournament against the seven-seed Pittsburg State tonight at 6 p.m. at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas city, Mo., but Central gets more time to prepare since it got the first round bye because of the extended tournament field.
“It does get us some rest and allows us to get healthy,” coach Kim Anderson said.
Senior Matt Webb has been limited because of a hamstring injury, but is expected to be ready for the tournament.
Senior Reggie Stallings returns from a hand injury that has sidelined him for about a month.
He had surgery a couple of weeks ago, and said he feels mostly comfortable playing. When asked if he can make it through the MIAA Tournament without any problems, he answered, “I can make it through the rest of my life with it,” he said.
Stallings said he is excited to play the Gorillas again.
“I’m grateful that we got them,” he said. “We get to prove something that we didn’t prove last year.”
Along with Stallings, junior Charles Hammork said they need to be ready to attack.
“They are an aggressive team, so I think we should go in more aggressive and execute what we’ve been doing in practice,” Hammork said.
Anderson said he wants to try to get the ball inside.
“I think we are going to have to play more physical,” he said. “I thought Washburn kind of took it to us. They had us back on our heels. Pitt State is the same type team. We have that ability to do that too. We just have to do it and we didn’t do it.”
The Gorillas have three players who average double-digit points in freshman Kaleb Porter, and seniors JaVon McGee and Marky Nolen.
“You start with those three guys, you’ve got to do a good job on them, and hopefully that will carry over to the rest of the team,” Anderson said.
The Jens (22-4, 14-4) remain in second place in the Central Regional rankings despite losing two of the past three games.
The Jens ended the regular season with a 59-53 loss at Washburn (22-4, 16-2). It was the fourth time in five games the Jens scored in the 50’s, but Central only allowed Washburn to grab five offensive rebounds.
“For the first time this year, I was very excited about how we attacked the other team on the defensive glass,” head coach Dave Slifer said. “Obviously I think we are going to have to work on penetrating with a purpose on offense. Whether it’s to score or whether it’s to get our teammates to score, so we’ve got to get back in the mode of ‘Yes I’m going to drive thinking about going to the rim, but I’m not afraid to kick it back to my wide open teammate or to the post player who’s open.”
Senior Nicole Caddell said she expects to see Washburn again.
“I foresee that we are going to play Washburn again in the championship, and this time we’re ready for them,” she said.
The Jens start the tournament Friday at 6 p.m. against the 10-seed Missouri Western (16-11, 8-10). The Griffons beat the seven-seed Pittsburg State in Tuesday’s first round game.
Slifer said he wants to create space for Caddell and junior Keuna Flax inside.
“We’ve got to get Nicole and Flax a little bit of room inside, and the way you do that is stretch the defense a little bit,” he said.
The 5-foot 11-inch Caddell will be facing the 6-foot 3-inch senior Heather Howard.
Howard put up 26 points and 11 rebounds when the Jens beat Western 74-71 in January.
“We’ve put in some sets where we’re bringing Nicole up to the high post more so we’ve got some different looks,” Slifer said. “Which should help her out so it’s not just a bang-in contest against a taller opponent.”
The Jens have six players with no MIAA Tournament experience, so Caddell said she has been sending a message to them this week.
“In the end we are the best team, so let’s show everybody that we are the best team,” she said.