Checking In On… the Missouri Valley ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on December 21st, 2011
The Week That Was:
- The Valley Beats Another Ranked Team: Another week, another set of nice wins in the Valley. The latest is Indiana State knocking off then #25 Vanderbilt on the Commodores’ home court. Sophomore R.J. Mahurin came off the bench to get 14 points including 4-7 from three to help lead them to the 61-55 victory. After going 11-22 against BCS schools last season, this year the MVC is 10-10 so far. The last time they had a .500 record against those leagues was during the 2007-08 season.
- Poll Gathering: Creighton continues to stay in the polls, this week at #21 in the Coaches Poll and #23 in the AP poll. But other MVC teams are starting to get noticed. Wichita State, Northern Iowa and Indiana State are all getting votes in the AP poll. The chances of having two teams in the Valley ranked might be going down as conference play starts in about a week. It may be a battle all season on which MVC team will be ranked in the national Top 25.
- Sending Out An SOS: While most teams in the MVC are trying to set the bar high to get the conference at a different level and four teams are in the RPI top 52, there are a couple of other teams that are on the other end of the spectrum. Illinois State is sitting at #292 in the strength of schedule category, while Southern Illinois‘ strength of schedule is at #343 out of 345 teams in D-I. Evansville is at #305. While the top of the league is pretty solid, the bottom half of the league still has some work to do. This could keep the Valley from moving as high as they could in the RPI as a conference later in the season.
- Creighton (9-1)— Creighton moves back up to the top spot this week after blowing out Houston Baptist on Saturday at home and Tulsa on the road Monday night. Grant Gibbs had 18 assists during those two games and Gregory Echenique has had his best performances offensively in those two games. A lot of the talk over the past few weeks from the national media is Creighton’s suspect defense. However, that is one thing they are working on fixing.
- Northern Iowa (10-2)—Ohio stunned Northern Iowa on Tuesday night to break the Panthers’ nine-game winning streak. They will have to regroup a bit heading into conference play. Northern Iowa is all about streaks and they will probably start one again. But the Panthers will definitely be in the top tier of the conference. The question always lingers—What if they did not let Doug McDermott out of his LOI? While everyone still ponders that, get an inside look at Ben Jacobson’s office.
- Wichita State (9-2)— The Shockers now wait until conference play opens on December 28 at Bradley. One of Wichita State’s opponents, Chicago State, has played a bunch of MVC teams this season and their head coach thinks WSU is the best of the bunch based on their defense. Another factor could be that the Shockers know head coach Gregg Marshall does not tolerate trash talking. Wichita State has a lot of balance with six players all over 100 total points so far this year.
- Indiana State (8-2)— The Sycamores are playing with a lot of confidence heading into their final non-conference game after knocking of Vandy. They are starting to be recognized for their efforts even as they continue to elude national media talk. They meet Louisiana-Monroe again in a rare same season home-and-home matchup. The Sycamores won the first matchup, 71-59.
- Missouri State (7-3)— Missouri State is back on track after breaking a three-game losing streak and starting another three-game winning streak. I’ll be really interested to see how they do against West Virginia and St. Mary’s out in Las Vegas. If they win those two games, then look for the Bears to be a factor with the four teams above making an already competitive league even more competitive.
- Illinois State (8-3)— This is where the rest of the MVC is all mixed up and draws a line between the top and bottom of the league. Illinois State may not be this high the rest of the season. I don’t mean to sound so down on the Redbirds, but the question always lingers as to whether their non-conference schedule really prepares them for the MVC battle in the trenches. Illinois State will try to introduce yet another player into the mix with Bryant Allen, a transfer from Minnesota who tried to play both football and basketball for the Gophers.
- Drake (6-4)— The Bulldogs are about the only team that hasn’t beaten Iowa this season. While UNI, Creighton and others had their way with them, Drake could not get another BCS level win for the league. After the game against Central Arkansas on Wednesday night, the Bulldogs have a tough road to start MVC play with Indiana State, Missouri State, Creighton and Northern Iowa as their first four league games. That could be enough to send them on a downward spiral, especially if teams can shut down Ben Simons.
- Evansville (5-5)—There was great anticipation of what the Purple Aces could do this season. So far, it has probably been more disappointing than anything. They have had opportunities against top flight competition, but came up well short with the likes of North Carolina and Indiana. The loss against Tennessee Tech last week does not help things, but they then received a big blow when Jordan Jahr broke his foot and will be out for the season.
- Bradley (5-6) –Bradley, record-wise, is almost exactly as I predicted at the beginning of the season except for a loss against Wofford. So there hasn’t been much of a surprise from that standpoint. Michigan, Wichita State and Indiana State will be a tough stretch for them although they did get Geno Ford’s first road win as Bradley head coach in dramatic fashion.
- Southern Illinois (3-5)—The Salukis have a unique opportunity. They can put the beginning of the season behind them and almost start anew with an opportunity in front of them at the Diamond Head Classic. However, it will be up to them if they are going to Hawaii for a vacation or if they plan on winning some games. With all the injuries, missing players and inexperienced players, it will be interesting to see if they can come together as a team. The past couple of wins against Northern Illinois and SIU-Edwardsville might be a good sign that their defense is starting to pick up.
There are several interesting games to watch during the Christmas holiday. While you are at it, enjoy a little ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas—MVC Style.
- 12/22—Northwestern @ Creighton (Local/ESPN3/Full Court)—The Bluejays look to defeat their third Big 10 team of the season. Both teams have one loss headed into this game. Creighton will be looking for payback after the loss in Evanston last season.
- 12/22-25—Southern Illinois @ Diamond Head Classic (ESPN Family)—This could be the make or break tournament for Chris Lowery and the Salukis. They open up against Kansas State on Thursday. Hawaii is an enticing place, but Southern Illinois needs a good performance here if they want to salvage their season before conference play even begins.
- 12/22—Missouri State vs. West Virginia (ESPN3)—Missouri State has had several opportunities in the non-conference season to make some noise. This game is out in the desert as a part of the Las Vegas Classic. A win here could add not only to their resume but the resume of the Missouri Valley Conference as a whole.
- 12/22—Bradley @ Michigan (Big 10 Network)—Bradley got this scheduled as a home-and-home series due to Michigan head coach John Beilein’s son, Patrick, becoming the Basketball Director of Operations for the Braves. Could Bradley score an upset here? It is unlikely, but at least worth following.
- 12/23—Missouri State vs. St. Mary’s (ESPN3)—The Bears get another opportunity to play a quality team. With the late start (10:30 PM) we will have to see if anything similar happens to Missouri State like it did for Northern Iowa when they played the Gaels earlier this season as a part of the 24-hour hoops marathon. The Panthers could not make baskets and did not compete well. This could be a key win for Missouri State.
POY Stock Watch
Each week we will take a look at the top five of the Missouri Valley Conference who could be in contention for the league’s Player of the Year. Let’s look at our top five this past week.
- Doug McDermott, Creighton—McDermott continues to be dominant on the court, recording his ninth straight game scoring more than 20 points in the win on Monday against Tulsa. The wide variety of ways he can score make him the most dominant player in the league at this time. He will be until teams figure out how to stop him.
- Colt Ryan, Evansville—It is probably too bad that Ryan doesn’t play for a team doing better this season or he would be getting more recognition for what he has done. He is currently averaging more points per game this season (19.7) than he has the past two seasons (14.5 and 15.7), including a 22-point showing against Tennessee Tech. He is also great at the free throw line, shooting 40-of-43 over the past 5 games.
- Joe Ragland—Wichita State—Ragland continues to move up the list as a steady contributor for the Shockers with 12 points and six assists against Chicago State followed by 11 points and six assists against Newman. The offense is running through him right now .
- Kyle Weems, Missouri State—Weems continues to be solid, including 22 points on 9-11 from the field against Kennesaw State. He also had a game-high eight rebounds along with four assists and two blocks.
- Jackie Carmichael, Illinois State—The one constant for the Redbirds has been the play of Carmichael. He had 20 points against Norfolk State, going 14-for-14 from the free throw line. If he can continue to go to the foul line like that each game, that could be a good thing for his young team.