There may not be a big man in the MIAA playing better offensively right now than Northwest Missouri State's Dillon Starzl.
In Northwest's two road wins over Missouri Southern and Pittsburg State last week, the 6-8 Starzl was nearly automatic inside, averaging 19 points on 15-20 (.750) shooting.
Starzl dropped 22 points at Missouri Southern, marking his best game against a Division II opponent in his career. He had a career-high 24 points in an 80-69 win Dec. 1 over NAIA York College.
"He's in better shape than he's ever been," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Ben McCollum. "He had a great summer, really worked at it and had a great preseason. He's stepped up and been more of a leader, more vocal. He's just been great for us."
A 5.6 point per game scorer each of his first two years, Starzl is providing nearly triple that level of production as a junior, helping to fill the scoring void created by the absence of starting point guard DeShaun Cooper.
He currently ranks second on the team with 14.0 points per game, just behind DeAngelo Hailey's 14.6 points per game.
Starzl is also the team leader in field goal percentage and ranks third league-wide at 61.2 percent. Starzl has only three games all year in which he's made under 50 percent of his shots.
"We're passing him the ball," said McCollum. "Last year, he was open every game and we never passed him the ball. This year, we get it to him in the spots he needs it."
The one part of Starzl's game that's yet to come around fully is his rebounding.
He leads the Bearcats with 5.4 per game, but ranks outside the top 20 in the MIAA and has yet to record a double-figure rebounding game this year.
"There's always two things that you can never do enough of and that's rebounding and give effort," said McCollum. "We always want kids to rebound more. Do I feel like he's doing a good job of rebounding? He's getting in there. He's fighting and he's getting key rebounds."
Bearcats ranked again
With back-to-back road wins over Missouri Southern and Pittsburg State last week, Northwest Missouri State has earned its way back inside the NABC Division II Top 25 Poll.
The Bearcats appear at No. 24 in the latest rankings that came out Tuesday.
Northwest was ranked as high as No. 10 before falling out of the previous poll because of consecutive losses to unranked teams in Hawaii.
The Bearcats (11-2, 4-0) have won three straight since then and are in sole possession of first place in the MIAA heading into Saturday's clash with Missouri Western (5-7, 1-3).
Page 2 of 3 - "I think it just helps with the recruiting aspect of things," said McCollum of being ranked again."It doesn't really mean anything as far as helping us regionally or helping us make the national tournament or winning more conference games. It's more of just a result of the process that we've had so far."
Washburn is the only MIAA team ranked ahead of Northwest at No. 13. The Ichabods dropped five spots after losing to Central Oklahoma Saturday.
No. 11 Minnesota State is now the highest ranked team from the Central Region.
West Liberty (W. Va.) held on to its No. 1 ranking.
As Northwest Missouri State approaches the second half of its season, there's still no indication that point guard DeShaun Cooper is close to being ready to return to action.
Sidelined by knee tendinitis since the team's exhibition loss to Missouri, Cooper hasn't practiced this week and McCollum says he probably won't play Saturday against Western.
Assuming Cooper sits out, it would be his 14th missed game out of 27 on the Bearcats regular season schedule.
"The longer it goes, the less chance he has of coming back," said McCollum. "I try not to think about it much more because the more I think about it, the more it affects the way I coach my team on the floor."
Women hit snag on the road
For the first time in Mark Kellogg's inaugural season as head coach, Northwest Missouri State's women are in the midst of a losing skid.
After an 8-2 start and four straight wins to end 2012, the Bearcats dropped each of their first two road conference games last week to Missouri Southern 64-55 and No. 20 Pittsburg State 76-47. The Bearcats gave up a six-point second half lead to Southern and were never in the game against the powerful Gorillas.
"I think it's gotten their attention a little bit," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Mark Kellogg. "We weren't completely surprised playing at two difficult places against quality teams. We had chances at Southern and didn't play well enough in the second half. At Pitt, we ran into a buzz-saw. I don't think it's a huge thing. We just got to fix small, little details that are breakdowns."
Northwest averaged only 51 points in the two losses, shot under 33 percent and went 6-31 from three—offensive numbers that persisted during last year's miserable 6-22 season.
The Bearcats had been a fairly efficient offensive team up to that point, ranking in the top five in the MIAA in field goal percentage.
"For now, it's just a two-game trend," said Kellogg. "We had open looks. We just didn't make them."
Page 3 of 3 - Of greater concern to Kellogg is the rebounding.
The Bearcats got hammered on the boards in both games, losing the rebounding battle to Southern 44-23 and Pitt 46-30. They are now the league's bottom-ranked offensive rebounding team.
"That causes real problems because earlier in the year we were forcing turnovers which kind of offset that," said Kellogg. "Now, we're getting out-rebounded and not winning the turnover battle. We did stuff today with rebounding and we'll work on it all week until we figure it out."
Previously tied atop the MIAA standings, Northwest (8-4, 2-2) is now in a three-way tie with Missouri Western and Lincoln for eighth place.
The Bearcats play Western (9-3, 2-2) Saturday in St. Joseph at 1:30 p.m.