BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — If you thought single-elimination playoff basketball was done for the year with the conclusion of March Madness, think again.
The Midwest Professional Basketball Association is holding its playoffs Thursday and Friday in Bloomington, Illinois to decide their first champion. Both local teams have made it to the postseason in the MPBA’s inaugural season. The St. Louis RiverSharks, the top-seed, will play the Gateway Steam, the four seed, in the first semifinal on Thursday at 5:05 p.m. CT.
The original word was that the playoffs would be composed of four teams competing in multiple three-game series with teams traveling between games, but that plan was scrapped for a simpler single-elimination tournament to take place over two days at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum.
The St. Louis RiverSharks secured the top playoff spot by rattling off six straight wins to end the regular season. The RiverSharks topped the Steam in the season’s final regular season game to finish with a 16-4 record tied with the Bloomington Flex, but St. Louis held the tiebreaker with a 3-1 head-to-head record.
“We have had contributions from numerous guys all year, and hopefully, that will continue in the playoffs,” said Head Coach Al Grushkin. “ I’m proudest of all, though, in our team for re-making themselves and finding new chemistry despite having four guys move up to the next level during the season.”
Midway through the season, St. Louis was cruising, rattling off 6 straight wins and holding a 9-2 record at the end of February. But then the RiverSharks leading scorer Brandon Hogg signed with a team in Albania and left. St. Louis desperately missed the dual threat Hogg provided with his ability to get to the rim, shoot from deep, get his own shot, and, of course, his more than 20 points per game. The RiverSharks dropped two of their next three games before going on their current winning streak. They even kept going without missing a beat after Hogg’s replacement Brandon Provost was called back to his D-League team, the Erie Bayhawks.
The two key reasons the RiverSharks experienced this second half awakening are Jerrold Brooks and Marcus Goode. Both joined the team a little more than a month into the season and worked their way into premier roles. Brooks, a guard, is the team’s leading scorer at 25.5 points per game and shot 48 percent from 3-point range. Goode, a big man with an impressive shooting touch from 20 feet, averaged 18 points. Both had multiple 30-point games.
The RiverSharks most consistent player was forward Keith DeWitt. The High Point product averaged a double-double for the season and led the league in rebounding at 10.8 per game.
All of this added up to Grushkin’s squad being the top scoring team in the league at 113.5 points per game.
The Gateway Steam (5-15) had a much tougher go of it in their first season.
After winning their first game during the opening weekend of the season, the Steam dropped their next eight in a row. Head Coach Durrell Robinson was aggressive during the streak with signing players to try and make his team more competitive, and he finally got the right mix towards the end of February. The Steam finally broke the nearly two-month losing streak with their second win of the year against the Chicago Force. They then signed their leading- scorer Tarvin Gaines and Gateway’s four consecutive wins took them out of last place and put them in contention for the fourth and final playoff spot. The Steam were playing possibly the best in the league at that point.
However, during a 157-151 double OT loss to the then top-ranked Bloomington Flex that snapped their winning streak, forward Lee Fisher broke his hand and his season was ended. The Steam were blown out in their next game and backed into the playoffs on a six-game losing streak.
The RiverSharks beat the Steam in all four of their regular season matchups including the final two games of the regular season. The Steam’s Jake Anderson did post a triple-double in the penultimate game.
You can watch the semifinal matchup between the two St. Louis squads live at theMPBA.com at 5:05 p.m.
The other semifinal is the Bloomington Flex (16-4) versus the Champaign Swarm (15-5) and that will tip at approximately 8:05 p.m.
The MPBA Championship game will be Friday at 7:05 p.m.