Category archive: Missouri State Bears

College basketball lost one of its comedic old souls Wednesday when Charlie Spoonhour succumbed to a lung disease at 72.

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins lost one of his closest friends, leaving him with a stark reminder of an era long past.

"He was more than a friend; he was like the big brother I never had," Huggins said on Wednesday afternoon. "We had weeks when we would talk every day. It's been harder now since he's been in and out of the hospital. It's just a sad, sad day."

Spoonhour died at his home in Chapel Hill, N.C. Spoonhour had settled in the area as he spent time at the Duke University Medical Center, where he received a lung transplant in 2010. He had a disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a scarring of his lungs.

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Charlie Spoonhour
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesCharlie Spoonhour won 122 games in seven seasons at Saint Louis.

Huggins said he had been in contact with Spoonhour regularly but hadn't seen him since the season started.

Huggins said in his two Final Four appearances -- in 1992 at Cincinnati and in 2010 at West Virginia -- Spoonhour would be with him the night before the semifinal game.

"He just had an incredible magnetism," Huggins said. "He was so funny. He's a throwback to the old days."

Spoon, as he was affectionately called, was a jovial character. Every time I dealt with him throughout his career he was accessible, amiable and always full of life. He loved to share stories with his Arkansas-native twang. He was a hit at Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State) from 1983 to 1992 (five NCAA bids) and transformed Saint Louis University into Spoonball from 1992 to 1999.

He then took two seasons off before trying to revive UNLV from 2001 to 2004.

"I was right in the middle of that," said Huggins of advising Spoonhour. "I don't think people realized what he did at Saint Louis. When he got there they played in the Checkerdome in front of 2,000 people and then we were playing in front of 20,000 at Kiel. It was an incredible atmosphere. He had an incredible hold on the city of Saint Louis."

Huggins was the head coach at Cincinnati when Spoonhour was at SLU. The two were rivals in the Great Midwest but were extremely tight.

"We were very, very close," Huggins said. "He was the best. We used to make up things so we could hang out together. He'd call me up to see if I could do a roast for the Southwest Missouri State baseball team. People who didn't know him missed out on a lot."

Spoonhour had an infectious smile and personality. I'm not sure I ever heard a negative word about him during his tenure in coaching.

"He had such an appreciation for the profession, and the people who worked at their craft," Huggins said. "We were all friends. It was me, KO [Kevin O'Neill at Marquette], Charlie, Gene Bartow [UAB], Larry Finch [Memphis] and Joey Meyer [DePaul]."

Now three of them have passed, all within the past year: Spoonhour, Finch and Bartow.

"It was different, it was the old days, we all hung out," Huggins said. "This business has changed so much. We used to do clinics and go in on a Friday and leave on Sunday. We broke bread together. Now we all fly in and out. With all the recruiting regulations and time periods it's not like it used to be."

No, it is not. Spoonhour was one of the game's characters. He was treasured while he was in the game. He was missed when he retired and will be now even more.

At this time last year, Ben Hansbrough's name didn't appear on the Wooden Award preseason watch list.

Five months later, he edged out Connecticut's Kemba Walker for Big East Player of the Year.

Using that as a backdrop, let's remember that the list of 50 Wooden nominees is flawed, much like any of the award lists. The Wooden Award does not allow its voters to nominate any freshmen or transfers (either four-year or junior college) on their ballots.

And with college basketball as loaded with talent as any year since 2007-08, narrowing it down to 50 is not easy. So below I've attempted to come up with the names that didn't make it, either as "just missed the cut" omissions or just because they're freshmen or transfers. These guys aren't on the list (which can be found here), but might show up when it's updated during the season.

This group is by no means definitive, either. There's no telling who else might emerge nationally as the games get under way.

Let's take a look …

The omissions (in alphabetical order):

Julian Boyd, Long Island: The Blackbirds are the favorite again in the Northeast Conference and the main reason is because Boyd is back and ready to dominate the stat sheet.

D.J. Cooper, Ohio: The diminutive point guard does a little bit of everything; he averaged 15.8 ppg, 7.5 apg and 5.0 rpg for the Bobcats last season.

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Duke's Seth Curry
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesSeth Curry hasn't done enough to warrant a mention on a preseason watch list, but he might end up being a Wooden addition.

Jared Cunningham, Oregon State: Cunningham has some of the best hops in the sport and a chance to be a Pac-12 star, allowing the Beavers to finally move up in the standings this season.

Seth Curry, Duke: Curry was a standout shooter for the Blue Devils on their trip to China and could be one of the top scorers on the team.

Brandon Davies, BYU: Davies was recently reinstated to the Cougars, and the offense is expected to flow through him inside and out as BYU mounts a campaign to win the WCC in its first year in the league.

Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary's: SMC coach Randy Bennett envisions this as one of the best teams he's ever had, but a lot of that will have to do with whether Dellavedova can shoot like Mickey McConnell did last season.

Greg Echenique, Creighton: Echenique was a rebounding force for Venezuela this summer and should do even more for the Bluejays with a full season to work with.

TyShwan Edmondson, Austin Peay: The Governors should be the favorite in the Ohio Valley with a legit scorer like Edmondson, who has a strong man, Will Triggs, to take pressure off him.

Kyle Fogg, Arizona: Fogg is next in line to assume a leadership position for the Wildcats, who are in a position to compete for Pac-12 titles for years to come.

Kevin Foster, Santa Clara: As a sophomore, Foster sort of came out of nowhere to average 20.2 ppg and become one of the nation's top 3-point shooters.

Chris Gaston, Fordham: The Rams aren't any good, but the nation's leading returning rebounder (11.3 rpg) at least deserves a shout-out in this space.

Yancy Gates, Cincinnati: UC coach Mick Cronin said he'd be surprised if Gates wasn't one of the 10 names on the Big East preseason first team.

Malcolm Grant, Miami (Fla.): The Hurricanes have to play most of the season without big man Reggie Johnson, so Grant will have more opportunities to shine.

Rob Jones, Saint Mary's: Jones could be a double-double regular for the Gaels, and for Saint Mary's to win the WCC, Jones will have to be a star.

Doron Lamb, Kentucky: John Calipari says Lamb will be the Wildcats' best player. Just Coach Cal mind games, or the truth?

Meyers Leonard, Illinois: Leonard didn't contribute a whole lot as a freshman, but he was a hidden gem on the U.S. U-19 team in Latvia this summer. The Illini are expecting big things out of him.

C.J. McCollum, Lehigh: McCollum is the nation's leading returning scorer (21.8 ppg) and is in the top five in steals (2.5 spg). Oh, and he did that as a freshman. What more do you need to know?

Cameron Moore, UAB: The Blazers have been consistently good under Mike Davis and have had unheralded C-USA stars. Moore is the latest.

Toure' Murry, Wichita State: If the Shockers win the Missouri Valley over Creighton, a lot of the credit will end up going to the veteran Murry.

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Ryan Pearson
Rafael Suanes/US PresswireRyan Pearson looks to lead Mason to another run to the NCAAs.

Brandon Paul, Illinois: Illini coach Bruce Weber was a bit surprised Paul didn't crack the top 50 on the Wooden list, given his overall importance to this team.

Ryan Pearson, George Mason: The Patriots are a trendy pick for the Top 25 and a lot of that has to do with the versatility of Pearson.

Damier Pitts, Marshall: The Thundering Herd are a real sleeper to gain an NCAA tourney berth out of Conference USA in large part because of Pitts.

Herb Pope, Seton Hall: Pope has come back from multiple life-threatening situations and has a real shot as a senior to put it all together and finally shine.

Terrence Ross, Washington: The Huskies can't be dismissed as a major player for the Pac-12 title, and if they win it, Ross will be a significant reason why.

Robert Sacre, Gonzaga: Sacre has matured into a solid post player, and that progress shows no signs of stopping as the Zags once again compete for the West Coast title.

Mike Scott, Virginia: If the sleeper Cavs mount a run to the NCAA tournament, the oft-injured Scott will be the reason why.

Renardo Sidney, Mississippi State: If Sidney is in shape and plays up to his potential, he has SEC Player of the Year potential and could be the difference between the Bulldogs making the NCAAs or NIT.

Andrew Smith, Butler: The Bulldogs will have fewer stars this season, but Smith has a chance to outshine Khyle Marshall and newcomer Roosevelt Jones with his scoring prowess in the post.

Chace Stanback, UNLV: Stanback's suspension to start the season is only one game, so that won't diminish his ability to lead the Rebels in their hunt for a Mountain West title.

Raymond Taylor, Florida Atlantic: FAU quietly won the Sun Belt East Division last season and Mike Jarvis' diminutive point guard was the catalyst behind the regular-season championship.

Hollis Thompson, Georgetown: If the Hoyas are to make the NCAA tournament again and be a pest in the upper half of the Big East, then Thompson needs a breakout season.

Kyle Weems, Missouri State: Doug McDermott is the one everyone is talking about in the Valley, but let's not forget that Weems is the reigning MVC Player of the Year. Too bad for the Bears he's their only returning starter.

Kendall Williams, New Mexico: The sophomore guard was the leading scorer in four postseason NIT games for the Lobos and should only get better with the addition of Australian Hugh Greenwood.

The transfers

Dewayne Dedmon, USC: Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill firmly believes this JC transfer is an NBA talent who could dominate the post and average a double-double for SC.

Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State: The former UTEP big man is ready to have a bust-out season for a team that has serious bounce-back potential after a disappointing 2010-11 campaign.

Mike Rosario, Florida: The former Rutgers scoring guard finally has plenty of support around him and will put up numbers for a winner.

Rakim Sanders, Fairfield: The Boston College transfer should flourish after dropping down a level, and he should get coach Sydney Johnson another trip to the NCAA tourney. Johnson is beginning his first year at Fairfield after leading Princeton to the 2011 tourney.

Royce White, Iowa State: White is finally ready to be a star on the college scene after multiple transgressions at Minnesota.

Brandon Wood, Michigan State: The Spartans picked up a rare senior transfer (taking advantage of the graduate transfer rule) from Valparaiso who could be one of the best shooters in the Big Ten.

Tony Woods, Oregon: The embattled Woods arrived from Wake Forest after legal issues and has a chance to really shine as a double-double player for the first time in his career.

The freshmen

Bradley Beal, Florida: Beal has a chance to be a productive player in a frontcourt that has a vacuum after multiple seniors departed.

Gary Bell Jr., Gonzaga: Coach Mark Few has been anticipating Bell's arrival for over a year now. He's expected to step in and deliver right away.

Wayne Blackshear, Louisville: The Cardinals fancy themselves a Big East title contender, and that's partly because they consider Blackshear a star in the making.

Jabari Brown, Oregon: Brown was the star of the Ducks' trip to Italy with his scoring prowess, and expect that to continue in the Pac-12.

Jahii Carson, Arizona State: There is some question right now as to Carson's eligibility, but if he's good to go, the Sun Devils might become relevant in the Pac-12 again.

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Anthony Davis
Brendan NolanThere seems to be little doubt that freshman Anthony Davis will have a major impact for UK.

Erik Copes, George Mason: Copes was bound for George Washington before Karl Hobbs was fired; now he'll be a headline performer for the Patriots and first-year coach Paul Hewitt.

Anthony Davis, Kentucky: Davis has a chance to be the SEC Player of the Year and the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, so expect him to be on the midseason list when freshmen are allowed.

Andre Drummond, Connecticut: He will be an immediate star and help lift the Huskies into the national title chase again. He's more than likely a future top-five pick in the NBA.

Myck Kabongo, Texas: Coach Rick Barnes has had quite a bit of success with big-time freshmen guards, and Kabongo is next in line.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky: Gilchrist will be another star on what will be a headline team throughout the season.

Johnny O'Bryant, LSU: Coach Trent Johnson needs the Tigers to start trending upward again, and he has a shot with the arrival of the big man from Mississippi.

LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma State: OSU is a bit of a mystery team in the Big 12, but the All-American from Dallas could push the Cowboys into contention.

Austin Rivers, Duke: Rivers will have the ball in his hands quite a bit and appears to be the next Duke star in a lengthy list of recognizable names.

Josiah Turner, Arizona: The Wildcats will win the Pac-12 regular-season title if Turner is as good as advertised.

Cody Zeller, Indiana: If coach Tom Crean is going to turn the Hoosiers into a relevant team this season, it will be because of Zeller and his impact in the Big Ten.

As the conference season nears its halfway point, there may not be another division leader with as many significant road wins in its league as Missouri State has in the Missouri Valley.

The Bears head into Wednesday night's game at Indiana State atop the conference standings with a 7-0 league record, a 15-3 overall mark and an impressive road streak in the Valley.

To be fair, some of the other conference leaders around the nation (Duke, Ohio State, Kansas and Washington) haven't been through the gauntlet yet.

But Missouri State has already won at preseason favorite Wichita State, at perennial MVC contender Creighton, at last season's Sweet 16 darling Northern Iowa and at Bradley. Possible trouble spots left on the road schedule include the surging Sycamores on Wednesday and at Southern Illinois on Feb. 23.

Cuonzo MartinIcon SMIMissouri State's 15-3 start under third-year coach Cuonzo Martin is its best since 1967-68.

There are other road stops (at Drake and Evansville), but the Bears' run has been quite impressive. Finishing with a perfect conference mark isn't easy, regardless of the level. Teams like Gonzaga and Butler have the target on their backs in every game in the WCC and Horizon. Davidson went through the same thing in the Southern Conference with Stephen Curry. The Valley has annually been one of the tougher leagues to conquer on the road because there are passionate fans who follow the schools on a game-by-game basis.

If you watched the crowd and atmosphere at Wichita State on Jan. 9, you can appreciate the significance of Missouri State winning that game 59-56.

"It was one of the best environments I've ever been in, and that includes the Big Ten,'' said third-year Missouri State coach Cuonzo Martin. "The fans are right on top of you. That's a really good team. That was a tough, tough win for our guys.''

Martin is part of the Gene Keady coaching tree. On Tuesday he chatted with the former Purdue coach, now a special assistant to St. John's coach Steve Lavin, and keeps in regular contact with Purdue coach Matt Painter and Illinois coach Bruce Weber. Martin was always a possible candidate for jobs in the Midwest. When he landed this gig three years ago, it seemed to make the most sense then and it makes even more now.

"I was trying to find my way as a coach early,'' said Martin, who was 11-20 in Year 1 with a 3-15 Valley record. Missouri State then won the CollegeInsider.com Tournament a year ago (24-12 overall, 8-10 in the Valley) with a 78-65 win over Pacific in the championship game.

This is the program that prior to 2005 was referred to as Southwest Missouri State. It went to the Sweet 16 in 1999 under Steve Alford and made five NCAA tournament appearances (including the second round in 1987) under Charlie Spoonhour.

Martin said he wanted to be in a neutral-site tournament this season, but the Bears were already slated to play in the NIT Season Tip-Off at Tennessee. The Vols beat the Bears by four Nov. 17 and then two days later Tulsa beat Missouri State by 12. Martin didn't have any excuses for that loss. The Bears also lost at Oklahoma State 84-70 in December.

Missouri State has nothing to show in the nonconference to warrant an at-large berth. But the selection committee could reward it for possibly winning the Valley with a tremendous record, quality in-conference road victories and, for argument's sake, a Valley tournament title loss in St. Louis.

The Bears have put it all together despite not having two players they were counting on in sophomore Keith Pickens, who hurt his knee in the summer and is out for the season, and sophomore Michael Porter, who was involved in an offseason car accident and ultimately transferred to Southeast Missouri State to be closer to home.

The 15-3 start is Missouri State's best since 1967-68. Kyle Weems leads the team in scoring (16.4 ppg) and rebounding (6.9) and is the leader in the clubhouse for MVC player of the year. Winning the first four Valley road games is a school record and winning nine straight and 18 in a row at home are also worthy of praise.

If you look at the cyclical nature of Valley teams, from Drake to Creighton to Southern Illinois to Northern Iowa to Bradley to Illinois State to Wichita State, they've all taken their turn at the top over the past decade. The common denominator? They've been led by seniors.

The Bears start four seniors and Weems, a junior, is the only one who is not in his final season of eligibility.

"I just think we're playing really hard right now,'' Martin said. "We're making shots, we're handing out assists and we're not turning the ball over. We're doing a good job of scoring the ball and we're defending at the same time.''

Translation: The Bears are winning.

Missouri State has plenty to do before March. But if the Bears earn an NCAA tourney spot, this grinding team will likely again uphold the Valley name and be a tough out in the first or -- perhaps -- second round.

Of course, Wichita State could win the Valley tournament and end the Bears' NCAA hopes. But Missouri State has been more impressive to this point in the season. If it finishes the run with an NCAA bid, it will be quite an accomplishment.

Assuming his grades are reported as expected, UTEP will add enigmatic center Derrick Caracter to its lineup Sunday against New Mexico State. (Update: As announced Saturday, Caracter will indeed make his debut with the Miners this weekend.)

UTEP coach Tony Barbee doesn't expect a hitch in getting Caracter into the Miners' rotation. He backloaded their nonconference schedule knowing the team would be without Caracter early in the season.

The Miners, a trendy pick to push Tulsa and Memphis and win Conference USA, are 5-0 with a glut of nonconference games remaining against Ole Miss in Southaven, Miss. (Dec. 16), Oklahoma in Oklahoma City (Dec. 21), at Texas Tech (Jan. 3) and against BYU (Jan. 9). Their C-USA schedule begins SMU on Jan. 6.

"I tried to play the fewest amount of games I could prior to Dec. 13," Barbee said. "If I could have played two games, I would have, but there weren't enough dates after it. I had to play some home games."

According to Barbee, Caracter has been a model citizen since his arrival in El Paso after transferring from Louisville because of differences with Cardinals coach Rick Pitino about weight and work. Barbee said Caracter, who was hyped as the "next great thing" since he was 14 years old and attending school in New Jersey, has been a loyal foot soldier on the scout team.

But don't for a second think that Caracter is the only reason UTEP should be watched throughout the season.

The Miners, who lost to Oregon State in a decisive third game of the College Basketball Invitational in April, have one of the better-balanced scoring rosters.

UTEP has five players averaging double figures -- guards Randy Culpepper, Julyan Stone and Christian Polk and forwards Arnett Moultrie and Jeremy Williams.

"I told Derrick that he wasn't coming here to be the savior or that this would be a one-man show," Barbee said. "This is a team that we've built here. This is our fourth year, and we're where we want to be. We talked about being balanced, and we are. Derrick will make us better, but he doesn't become our team."

The Miners relied heavily on Stefon Jackson early in Barbee's tenure. But although Culpepper and Stone don't have similar star power, they're much more of a complementary pair. Moultrie is a developing talent who will thrive even more with Caracter next to him. The Miners should have the best shot-blocking tandem in the league with this pair, even more so than true center Jerome Jordan of Tulsa, who wouldn't have as meaty a mate next to him as Moultrie will with Caracter.

Barbee talked about how high this team can go once he has everyone eligible. Still, the Miners may not have as much room for error in Conference USA, which should be extremely competitive. Building a résumé with wins now will only help, and unlike a lot of other potential NCAA teams, the Miners have purposely gotten off to a quiet start. Once Caracter is eligible, the higher-profile games will start rolling in, and we'll have a more accurate picture of the possibility of UTEP being a true team to watch for the next three months.

• Florida's loss meant there were 15 remaining unbeaten teams this season. It's still so early and it doesn't mean that much -- yet.

But still, which is the most surprising unblemished team?

Texas Tech.

The Red Raiders' overtime win over Washington is still one of the more surprising results this season.

New Mexico probably would finish second in this group. The Lobos play Texas A&M on Saturday in Houston.

Which of the one-loss teams has been one of the most overlooked?

Saint Mary's.

If the Gaels had beaten Vanderbilt instead of losing by a deuce, they might've been one of the more-talked-about teams. Omar Samhan has been stellar so far, and so has the guard play. The Gaels got overshadowed by Gonzaga and Portland in November, but check who is atop the West Coast Conference standings in overall record in mid-December.

Of schools outside the power six leagues, which one-loss teams should you keep tabs on? Northern Colorado at 8-1 is now a favorite to win the Big Sky, and a battle is brewing in the Missouri Valley among undefeated Missouri State (8-0), Illinois State (7-0), Wichita State (8-1) and preseason favorite Northern Iowa (6-1).