Crim: Postseason fate still in question, but Hawks have undoubtedly made strides in Hawkins’ first season back


Steve Hawkins, shown talking with Malik Hardmon during a game against Grand Valley State earlier this season, has guided Quincy University within one victory of their first winning record since the 2016-17 season. | File photo by Matt Schuckman

QUINCY — As the Great Lakes Valley Conference enters the final week of the basketball regular season, the only certainty on the men’s side is that nationally-ranked Indianapolis will finish first and be the top seed for the league tournament March 2-5 in St. Charles, Mo.

Otherwise, we’re left to decipher the GLVC’s rating system that awards varying points for wins or losses at home or on the road based on the opponents’ conference winning percentage to determine the order of the other seven spots in the postseason tourney field.

Oh, and there’s also a tie-breaker for seeding purposes. I can only assume head-to-head matchups play a role.

As much as I like making a pot of coffee and pulling out the calculator and legal pad to toy with sports numbers, that’s a bit much considering two games is all that separates the nine teams trailing Indianapolis. All but Maryville and William Jewell still have two games to play.

What is known is that seven of those teams will join Indianapolis in the GLVC tournament. Two will be left looking back on a game, possibly two, that got away during the 20-game league schedule.

Quincy University, picked to finish 12th in the 13-team conference before the season, is in the mix. At 10-8, it is in a three-way for fourth place in the league standings and is tied with Missouri-St. Louis for sixth in the points rating system after Saturday’s 83-75 victory over Truman State.

The Hawks close out their season on the road against Southwest Baptist and Rockhurst, teams immediately above them in the points standings. They beat Rockhurst and suffered a two-point loss to Southwest Baptist at home in mid-January.

Two victories will assure QU a spot in the postseason field, possibly as high as the second seed, depending on how the other games play out. One win might do it. Heck, play around with the numbers long enough, and it could still earn a bid with two losses.

Or the Hawks could be left out.

What we do know, no matter how the rest of the season plays out, is that this team has exceeded expectations in the first season of Steve Hawkins’ second stint as head coach.

Hired last March, Hawkins inherited a program that went 53-82 over the previous five seasons, never posted a winning record and failed to finish higher than 10th in the GLVC. QU was a team many opponents saw as an easy mark. Home attendance and fan interest dwindled.

Hawkins brought in some new faces during an abbreviated recruiting season.  Outside of freshmen Isaiah Foster and Mason Wujek from Frisco Memorial High School in Texas, and junior transfer Zion Richardson, he largely relied on returning players for contributions.

“I thought I knew what I was getting into initially, but it was more difficult than I thought,” Hawkins said. “The new guys just got here and didn’t know what the program meant to them, and the returning players were all carrying baggage, scar tissue.

“I told them we are going to win here. We’re not going to be (an easy victory for opponents) anymore. We’re going to be a tough game.”

It hasn’t been easy. Hustle and hard-nosed play have often masked the fact that the Hawks are the worst shooting team in the GLVC. QU frequently has fans holding their collective breath when they’re at the free-throw line, and it isn’t consistently strong on the defensive end.

Yet they carry a 14-12 record into the final week of the regular season. One victory would assure them of their first winning record since the 2016-17 season, regardless of how potential postseason games play out.

That’s not how Hawkins ultimately measures success.

Re-establishing a family-oriented culture with “high-integrity players who want to play for each other and the university” is his primary objective. He wants to do the things, big and small, that will make students and the community once again embrace the program and make Pepsi Arena the place to be.

That, of course, will take time and, importantly, commitment. This season has been a series of baby steps.

The GLVC remains a formidable Division II league. However, unlike Hawkins’ first stint at QU, behemoths like Southern Indiana and Kentucky Wesleyan are no longer around to contend with.

Indianapolis, winners of 18 straight and 24-2 overall, is clearly the league’s best. Yet the Hawks beat the Greyhounds at home and lost to them by just six on the road.

The gap isn’t as wide as it once was.

Closing it is the next step. Hawkins is determined to do just that.

Sitting in a near-empty Pepsi Arena late Saturday afternoon, already running late for a birthday party for his wife, he pointed to banners commemorating past QU teams that achieved high-level success.

“I told the players I’ve been part of some of those,” he said. “We can do it again.”

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