Checking In On… the Missouri Valley ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on November 23rd, 2011
The Week That Was:
- Creighton Cracks The Polls—This week, for the first time since March 2007, the Bluejays are ranked in one of the major polls. They check in at #25 in the USA Today Coaches poll. The last team from the MVC to be ranked by the coaches was Northern Iowa, which was 13th in the final USA Today Coaches poll at the conclusion of the 2009-10 campaign. While many saw Creighton as a sleeper this season, they now have a large target on their back.
- Wichita State Falls Short—Last season, Wichita State faltered in the Maui Invitational by missing some opportunities to get some big name wins and did not have everything completely come together until they won the postseason NIT. This season, they also struggled to get the wins they need from their exempt tournament, the Puerto Rico Tip-off. They did beat Colorado, but then lost to Alabama and Temple. The good news is that they probably have a few more opportunities outside of this tournament this season.
- Seat on Fire In Carbondale—Many knew that Chris Lowery was on the hot seat at Southern Illinois coming into this season. Three games in, the question is whether he should have been allowed to come back this season after all. With an 0-3 start, including a loss against Division II Ohio Dominican, this could be another long season in Carbondale.
- Creighton (4-0)—Creighton has started the season on a roll and they appear to have the pieces surrounding Doug McDermott to make it a special year. Creighton won their first three games largely without the need of scoring from center Gregory Echenique, but after beating Iowa on Sunday, Echenique is in the mix now on the offensive end. Grant Gibbs has played like another point guard on the court taking some pressure off of Antoine Young. Right now there is a lot of unselfish play with 56 assists on 66 baskets in the first two games and 86 assists on 125 field goals for the season.
- Indiana State (4-0)—With the Sycamores getting a chance to be in the spotlight at the Old Spice Classic during Feast Week and being undefeated, they have earned their way toward the top this week. Jake Odum has appeared to struggle a bit during the first couple of games, but has gotten back in the groove a bit in the last two. Jordan Printy could be a go-to shooter this season as he drained a three-pointer with about 15 seconds remaining Monday night to give them a thrilling 57-56 win over Green Bay. Dwayne Lathan, though he could be a starter, has come off the bench in all four games, and is second in the team in scoring with almost 11 per game.
- Missouri State (3-0)—Missouri State has been a question mark heading into the season with all of the holes they had to fill and a new coach, but they seem to be running on all cylinders. Kyle Weems has not even needed to lead the team in scoring so far (he’s fifth) as the team has five players averaging eight or more points through their first three games. Despite his slow start, Weems could make a run at becoming Missouri State’s all-time scoring leader. DePaul transfer Michael Bizoukas might be the answer at point guard this season dishing out a team high 18 assists to only four turnovers. However, Arkansas State and Emporia State are not the stiffest of competition. We will be more answers about the Bears after they play Tulsa this weekend.
- Wichita State (2-2)—A lot of people had Wichita State in their top 25 to start the season after the way they played at the end of last season, but it is clear the Shockers have some things to solidify after the Puerto Rico Tip-off. The biggest thing is the frontline. Carl Hall and Ehimen Orukpe play hard, but it is going to be tough to replace JT Durley’s output. Garrett Stutz also has to be more of a factor for the Shockers if they want to be successful. There is no doubt that Wichita has a solid backcourt with Toure’ Murry, Joe Ragland, and David Kyles, but they will need more out of their big men to be successful this season.
- Evansville (2-1)—The Purple Aces showcased their new home to start the season, the Ford Center, and created controversy from the start with their win over Butler in overtime. Then, Indiana came in a few days later and just destroyed Evansville. It may be an up-and-down season for the Aces. With Colt Ryan on your team, anything can happen. Ryan will look to join the 1000-point club when they play at Illinois-Chicago on Wednesday night.
- Northern Iowa (3-1)—There are a lot of new players on the Panthers squad and they had quite an introduction to Division I basketball the first week of the season when they traveled out to Old Dominion and then turned around and flew across the country to take on St. Mary’s in the 24-hour Hoops Marathon within a 48-hour period. While there were a lot of impressive things about the ODU win, it was the total opposite against St. Mary’s where points from Northern Iowa were at a premium. Anthony James is one of those veterans expected to take the lead this season for the Panthers , but was 1-15 from the field against the Gaels. He was only 3-9 against Northern Colorado on Sunday. For the season he is shooting just over 25% from the field. The Panthers play Rice and Providence in South Padre this weekend.
- Illinois State (3-1)—The Redbirds are still an unknown at this point, but they have a lot going for them right now. They opened their season at Fresno State with a loss, but have rebounded to win the last three including a nice win against Rutgers in Cancun Tuesday night. So far they have had balanced scoring with seven players averaging between 7 and 11 points per game. Jackie Carmichael has averaged a double-double.
- Bradley (3-1)—The Braves still have a lot to prove after having a horrible season last year and then losing their coach and best player. Taylor Brown has a lot of eyes on him this season after sitting out all of last year due to an enlarged heart. He hasn’t disappointed averaging almost 19 points a game. Bradley currently has four players averaging double-figures, but has a short bench with five players playing more than 28 minutes a game. We will know more about them after the Chicago Invitational this weekend against Wisconsin and then either BYU or Nevada.
- Drake (3-2)—Initially, I thought I might have been wrong to put Drake so low in the rankings at the beginning of the season after they beat Iowa State. What they may be missing is the toughness to finish games. They went to the Paradise Jam and led throughout the game against Mississippi until the final minutes where they couldn’t hold the Rebels off. After a close win against Winthrop, they then had to fight back from 17 points down against Virginia to again fall short. The one bright spot is Ben Simons who has come out of nowhere leading the team at 18.2 points a game. He scored 252 points all of last season and through 5 games this season he already has 91 points.
- Southern Illinois (0-3)—Southern Illinois has nine new players to the team this season and the change has not been going well so far. First was the loss at home to D-II Ohio Dominican and then a 19 point loss to Saint Louis at home. In the past the Salukis were nearly unbeatable at home. Now visiting teams regularly leave with a win. Dating back to last season, SIU has now lost six games in a row at SIU Arena. Throw in a loss at Northeastern and Southern Illinois fans are already giving up on the season. The bigger question is, will they beat Chicago State on Friday night at home? They are learning on the job, but it will be a long season for Saluki fans.
There are some nice games on the schedule in the upcoming week. Unfortunately, a lot of them are not on TV, but keep your eye on the ticker for these games.
- 11/24, 25, 27—Indiana State @ Old Spice Classic (ESPN Networks)—The multi-team exempt tournaments are the Missouri Valley Conference’s biggest opportunity to play against teams from the big six conferences. This field isn’t extremely strong, but provides the Sycamores with an opportunity to get some wins. Wins against any team from these conferences would help them in the long run. They open on Thanksgiving against Texas Tech and then either Minnnesota and Depaul on Black Friday and then the leftovers from Arizona State, Dayton, Fairfield, and Wake Forest. Winning this could really boost the Valley profile as a whole, not just the Sycamores.
- 11/25—Wichita State vs. UAB—The Shockers want to prove they are still a tough team. They will have an opportunity as they head across town to downtown Wichita to take on the Blazers in the Intrust Bank Arena in a “neutral” court match-up. This is not the same as the Koch Arena atmosphere, but there should be plenty of Wichita State fans in attendance.
- 11/25—Bradley vs. Wisconsin (Big 10 Network)—With Bradley having a new coach, this game will give us an opportunity to see how the Braves are adjusting. Unfortunately, Wisconsin has started the season exceptionally well this year and should overwhelm the Braves.
- 11/25—Chicago State @ Southern Illinois—Normally this game wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but right now, the focus is on whether Southern Illinois will be able to notch their first win of the season. I think you would have been surprised to hear that the Salukis started the season 0-3, but the reality is this game is almost a must-win early in the season.
- 11/26—Tulsa @ Missouri State Tulsa will be playing three different MVC schools this season. The Bears get the first shot. With the Hurricanes coming off a couple of losses in the Charleston Classic, this might be a good time for Missouri State to pick up a win that might be looked upon favorably later in the season.
POY Stock Watch
Each week we will take a look at the top five players in the Missouri Valley Conference who could be in contention for the league’s Player of the Year. Let’s start with the conference’s projected first team and rank them up. Spots will be updated throughout the season as we track this.
- Doug McDermott, Creighton—McDermott has played as advertised in Creighton’s first four games. After a couple of early fouls limited his productivity in Creighton’s opener, McDermott has gone on a tear averaging 21.5 points and seven rebounds per game.
- Colt Ryan, Evansville—Ryan has always been a scoring machine and he has managed to start his junior season putting that talent to action. He leads the Aces with over 18 points a game while averaging over 35 minutes per game. He has already gotten to the free throw line 29 times in the first three games
- Kyle Weems, Missouri State—Weems has started off slow for the Bears. He has only averaged a little over eight points per game including shooting only 1-13 from the three-point line. The pressure is on him to follow up last season’s spectacular performance.
- Toure Murry, Wichita State—Murry leads the Shockers in scoring with almost 17 points a game and is shooting 47% from the field, but he is still recovering from a rib injury he suffered in the preseason and has only started one of the four games Wichita State has played in.
- Jake Odum, Indiana State—You always worry about the sophomore slump, but with Odum, he may end up having a pretty good follow-up to last season. Of course, Odum is still a young player and that shows in his high turnover numbers (averaging 3.8 per game including one game with 7 turnovers), but he is racking up the assists with 6 per game in his first four games.