Men’s basketball earns No. 4 seed in conference tournament

Mens basketball earns No. 4 seed in conference tournament

by Bryan GeelanStaff Writer

The Simpson men’s basketball team has had a season filled with highs and lows. The lows are such that would ruin some teams, such as key injuries and tough losing streaks. However, the highs have been enough to keep the Storm afloat throughout the 2006-2007 campaign.

Simpson goes into the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament riding a four-game win-streak, having won six of their last seven.

Two key, early season injuries started the season out on the wrong foot for the team. Juniors Adam Thorson and Matt Gilbert both sustained season-ending injuries early on, causing some shuffling in the lineup.

“At the start of the year, I didn’t think we were going to have any of our freshman play,” Head Coach Bruce Wilson said.

Because of the injuries, however, freshmen along with other role players off the bench have been called upon to make positive contributions. Freshmen Tim Dunlavy and Andrew Dau, junior Brennan Tubaugh and seniors Jeff Travis and Lyndon Hawkins all see significant playing time off the bench.

“Some of those guys don’t get enough credit,” Assistant Coach Tyler Erwin said. “They may not be starters, but they are of vital importance, especially this late in the season.”

Two of those players, Travis and Hawkins, have been in the program for four years and have never been mainstays in the starting lineup. While fellow seniors Ryan Hittenmiller, Jason Parkinson and Jason Soppe may get more attention in the headlines, Travis and Hawkins help do the little things that result in victories.

“We’ve got great scorers in Parkinson, Soppe and Hittenmiller,” Travis said. “My job is to make it easier for them as far as getting them good looks at the basket.”

Hawkins, who plans to attend graduate school after he graduates from Simpson, considered not joining the team for his senior year. With the support of his teammates, however, he decided to stick it out and has been happy with the decision.

“I am extremely happy that I stayed out,” Hawkins said. ‘I know it would have been a big mistake if I hadn’t.”

While the role players have been a big part of the success of the team this year, it is tough to look past the efforts of the starters.

Hittenmiller moved into seventh place in the Simpson career scoring column, and Parkinson has set the record for made three-point field goals in a career. Hittenmiller averages 17.7 points per game, good for fourth in the conference, and Parkinson is seventh at 15.6 points per game.

Soppe is third in the conference in rebounding at 7.3 boards per game, and sophomore David Ferezy is tops in the conference in blocked shots, having recorded 59 on the year which is also a Simpson single-season record. Second on that conference list is Soppe, who has 35. Senior point guard Brett Cermak is second in the conference in steals at 2.2 per game and first in assist to turnover ratio, with 2.07 assists per turnover.

Another key injury on the year occurred when Soppe injured his foot against Coe on Jan. 17. He returned from the injury earlier than expected and has produced for the Storm despite playing in obvious pain.

“There are probably a lot of players on our team that, if they had that injury, would not be playing right now,” Wilson said. “I do know this about Jason-if he’s on the court, he’s giving it his all.”

Despite injuries, Simpson has had to endure some cold streaks throughout the year. After finishing off a great non-conference schedule that included a win over Elmhurst (ranked 12th in the nation by and a two-point loss to Augustana (ranked ninth in the nation by, Simpson looked to be riding high.

However, the Storm suffered three straight losses to open up the conference schedule, losing to Loras, Buena Vista, and Dubuque.

Since that time, Simpson has played excellent basketball, recording a 10-3 conference record after the cold start.

“The one thing about our program that has been true over the time I’ve been here is that every team I’ve had has played well at the end of the year,” Wilson said.

Simpson is doing just that, as the men finished the season with four straight wins. Three of those wins avenged losses earlier in the season, as Simpson got the best of Buena Vista, Coe and Dubuque the second time around.

“Right now we are playing close to, if not the best basketball we’ve been playing all season,” said Travis. “It’s a good time to peak right now with the tournament coming up.”

With the strong finish in the regular season, Simpson earned the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament, just behind Coe. That means Simpson will have the benefit of playing in the friendly confines of Cowles Fieldhouse for the opening round of the tournament.

“It’s a lot easier when people are cheering for you instead of against you,” said Hawkins.

No matter what happens, the road to the IIAC Tournament championship will go through the city of Dubuque, home of the No. 1 seed Loras Duhawks.

“Us seniors are licking our chops wanting to get back and play Loras because we know deep down we are every bit as good as they are,” Travis said. “We want to be the team to take them out of the tournament.”

Simpson has been able to put big numbers on the board all year, as the team is the No. 2 team in the league in scoring. However, the key to winning in the IIAC Tournament is on the other side of the ball.

“Everyone else sees the ball going through the hoop, but if we can get stops and rebounds we are going to make some noise the last couple weeks of the season,” said Erwin.

Only the top six teams from the IIAC advance to the conference tournament. Once those six teams have been decided, everything that has happened up to that point is irrelevant. The slate is wiped clean.

“It’s about 40 minutes of basketball, that’s as simple as it is,” Wilson said.