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Storm men go to Loras looking to lock up first-round bye

Storm men go to Loras looking to lock up first-round bye

The Simpson men's basketball team closes the regular season Saturday, Feb. 20 when it travels to Dubuque, Iowa to face the Loras Duhawks. The Storm have assured at least the No. 3 seed in next week's Iowa Conference Tournament, but can earn a first-round bye with a win against a Duhawk team looking for the No. 3 seed. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. from Lillis Court.

Game Setup
Matchup: Simpson (15-9, 8-5) at Loras (12-12, 7-6)
Date: Saturday, Feb. 20
Time: 4 p.m.
Location: Lillis Court - Dubuque, Iowa

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Last time out
Dillon Gretzky scored 14 points to lead four players in double figures and Ryan Skaar made his 100th career 3-pointer as Simpson used a 26-3 run in the first half to beat Buena Vista 74-57 on Wednesday. After a slow first half, Gretzky scored 11 points in the second half, finishing one rebound shy of a double-double.

A look at Loras
The Duhawks are 12-12 overall and 7-6 in the Iowa Conference after blowing a 15-point lead in an 87-81 loss to Central on Saturday. With its third loss in the last four games, Loras dropped into a three-way tie for third in the conference, needing a win to have a shot at the No. 3 or No. 4 seed. The Duhawk lineup features two of the top-five scorers in the league in guard Justin VanWambeke and forward Mirko Grcic. VanWambeke is second in the conference with 20.4 ppg while Grcic ranks fifth with 17 ppg to go along with 8.3 rebounds. Van Wambeke has reached double figures in all but one game this season and is averaging 27 over his last two games.

The all-time series
Saturday marks the 93rd meeting in the all-time series, which Loras leads 47-45. Simpson snapped a five-game losing streak in the series with a 78-60 win on Jan. 13 in Indianola.



1. Tournament talk
Following Wednesday's games, the Storm wrapped up at least a No. 3 seed in the IIAC Tournament and the right to host a postseason game for the first time since 2011. With the Nos. 2-5 seeds still up for grabs, Simpson is in the best position, with 7 of 8 scenarios putting the Storm at No. 2. A win over Loras gives Simpson the No. 2 seed outright. A loss to Loras would still allow Simpson to take the No. 2 spot, with one exception. If Simpson loses, Wartburg beats Luther at home and Central loses at Dubuque, Simpson falls to the No. 3 seed. If the Storm get the No. 2 seed, it will be the first time since the inaugural IIAC Tournament in 1999.

2. Defense is key
A big reason for the Storm's surprising success in 2015-16 has been a dedication to the defensive end of the floor. Simpson leads the league in defense, allowing just 72.2 points per game. The Storm also lead the league in steals (197) and rank 15th in the nation in turnover margin (+4.42). To put Simpson's defensive tenacity into perspective, the team's 197 steals are 12 more than the next closest in the IIAC and are the most by a Simpson team since 2010.

3. Turner enjoying career season
Junior point guard Austin Turner has made huge strides in his second year as a starter. Averaging career highs with 9.5 points, 3.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game, Turner has become one of the most valuable players on the floor for the Storm. With 92 assists on the season and a guarantee of at least two more games, Turner could become just the eighth player in program history to hand out 100 assists in a season. The last time that happened was in 2012-13 when Elijah Knox had 111.

4. Impressive opening act
First-year head coach Brad Bjorkgren has led Simpson to an nine-game turnaround in 2015-16, as the Storm sit at 15-9 overall after managing just six wins last season. Bjorkgren's 15 wins are tied with Harry Workman's 1926-27 squad for the most by a first-year coach at Simpson.

5. Skaar reaches century mark
Shooting guard Ryan Skaar became just the seventh player in school history to make 100 3-pointers in a career when he knocked down a 3 from the right corner with 7:22 remaining in Simpson's 74-57 win against Coe on Wednesday, Feb. 17. Simpson's top deep threat over the past two seasons, Skaar has a career-best 47 3-pointers this season, good for eighth in the IIAC. Zack Barragan is Simpson's career 3-point leader with 199 from 2008-12.


The coach
Brad Bjorkgren is in his first season as head coach of the Storm. The Simpson alum coached Urbandale High School for 27 seasons, winning nearly 400 games, nine conference championships and appearing in seven Class 4A State Tournaments.  

Up next
Simpson will host either a first round or semifinal game in the IIAC Tournament with an opponent yet to be determined. The first round of the tournament begins Tuesday, Feb. 23 with the semifinals slated to begin Thursday, Feb. 25.