by Kevin Burton
Wow, shame on me!
I did a story about the players who left Wichita State’s basketball program after last year (“Ex-Shockers Prospering With New Teams,” Feb. 7) and didn’t even mention Asbjorn Midtgaard.
He averaged just 2.7 points and 2.6 rebounds per game in his three seasons at WSU. The fans loved him but he played sparingly.
But in his first year at Grand Canyon University he has powered the Antelopes to their first Western Athletic Conference championship and a bid in the NCAA tournament. They will play against Iowa tomorrow at 5:25.
I was watching for former WSU assistant coach Chris Jans, now the New Mexico State head coach, to make the tournament. He and the Aggies did not, thanks in large part to Midtgaard.
Grand Canyon defeated New Mexico State 74-56 in the WAC tournament final.
Midtgaard, a 7-foot center from Denmark, wasn’t one of the players who left in a huff. He credits Wichita State for his development as a player and calls his WSU teammates, his brothers.
“I’m very grateful for my time in Wichita because it taught me a lot of things about working hard,” Midtgaard told The Wichita Eagle. “The motto there was practice so hard the games are easy. I’ve tried to take some of that to Grand Canyon with me and hopefully have it rub off a little bit.”
Midtgaard led Division 1 in shooting percentage at 70.6 percent. He led Grand Canyon with 14 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.
He will have his hands full for sure with Iowa All-America Center Luka Garza. But he gets his chance to show what he can do on the big stage. That’s a chance he rarely got in Wichita.
As for the Shockers who stuck around and the players who replaced the ones who left, they have been sent home already. Wichita State lost to former Missouri Valley Conference rival Drake 53-52 in a First Four game they should have won. They had 12-point leads in both the first and the second halves, but didn’t make the fundamental plays down the stretch that could have won it for them.
If that were the first college basketball game you ever watched, you could be forgiven for not allowing a second. It was the kind of ugly game the two teams used to play in the Valley. Wichita State now plays in the more prestigious American Athletic Conference but didn’t play like a superior team last night.
I love the Shockers, but I am relieved to have this season over. This team is loaded with talent but never, never, never did things the easy way this year. They never got the most from their talent.
I am worn out as a fan and can not imagine what it would be like to coach this bunch. They did overcome a lot of adversity moving on from their abusive former coach Gregg Marshall. So I give them credit for that.
I always have a better time watching somebody else’s slightly above mediocre team than I do my own.
Meanwhile if you had Belmont to the sweet 16 in your bracket, you’re out of luck. How do I know that already? They were not invited.
They were not invited to the big dance, or the little dance, the NIT, despite a regular season record of 26-4.
They lost the Ohio Valley Conference championship game and thus the automatic NCAA bid to Moorhead State. In any other year they would have grabbed an NIT bid at least, but this year, Covid 19 fears caused the NIT to reduce their tournament form 32 to 16 teams. The slimmed-down NIT passed over Belmont for teams from bigger conferences.
“I don’t feel like we deserve a spot in the NCAA tournament at the moment,” Belmont coach Casey Alexander told the Nashville post after the OVC tournament loss. “We can put our case together, but honestly I don’t think anyone cares what we think.”
“I hope we have some basketball left to play somewhere. If we do we’ll be ready to go,” Casey said.
Belmont was ready, but not invited. My Shockers were invited but apparently not ready. Enjoy the games kids. Even if your team doesn’t win, at least we have the games this year.