Checking In On… the Missouri Valley ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on December 28th, 2011
The Week That Was:
- Multiple Bid Talk—As the Valley non-conference season comes to a close, there is a lot more talk that the MVC will get more than its one automatic bid this season. Creighton and Wichita State appear to be the strongest in the league right now, but Indiana State and Northern Iowa are close behind. These four teams were talked about before the season started and have delivered in non-conference play. There are some good wins and some bad losses.
- Creighton Dominating—The Bluejays have received a lot of attention behind the performances of Doug McDermott. They capped off their non-conference season by defeating Northwestern to go 3-0 against the Big Ten. Granted, the three teams they beat (Northwestern, Nebraska, and Iowa) may finish at the bottom of the league, but that is still impressive. McDermott is second in the nation in scoring, while Creighton as a team leads the nation in assists.
- Jankovich Ejected—It is not uncommon for coaches to get a little emotional in a game to the point that they get a technical foul. However, it is more rare for the coach to get a second technical foul in a game to get themselves ejected from the game, much less before halftime. This is exactly what happened to Illinois State head coach Tim Jankovich last week when the Redbirds hosted Arkansas-Little Rock. Jankovich was ejected by referee Gerry Pollard with 2:31 to go in the first half after a disputed foul called on a Redbird.
Let’s take a look at each team and how they did in the non-conference side of things.
- Creighton (10-1)— The Bluejays have probably had the best possible outcome during their non-conference season. They already have more road wins this season than they did all of last season. Doug McDermott has been the star for this team scoring over 20 points in the last 10 games. However, the other bright point of Creighton’s performances have been from Gonzaga transfer Grant Gibbs. Gibbs had 22 assists over the last two games. The connection between McDermott and Gibbs has been a key combination for Creighton this season. As a team they lead the nation in assists. Things are going so well this season, there are even stories about the dancing grandma in the stands.
- Wichita State (9-2)— The Shockers started off a little slow, but have been pretty dominant as they closed out their non-conference season. They suffered a couple of losses in the Puerto Rico Tip-off tournament, but have rebounded to get wins over UNLV, Utah State and Tulsa. One thing that will help Wichita State in conference play is depth. They have nine players averaging ten minutes or more of action a game.
- Indiana State (9-2)— The Sycamores have been another team that has been pretty consistent while flying under the radar so far. Their biggest win is against Vanderbilt that knocked the Commodores out of the top 25. They also had a pretty strong performance in the Old Spice Classic. Like many of the MVC teams, they head into conference play with a lot of confidence.
- Northern Iowa (10-2)—People were getting pretty excited for the Panthers when they rattled of nine straight wins after their loss against St. Mary’s, including wins over Iowa and Iowa State. However, the nine-game winning streak was bookended with a loss at home to a potential NCAA Tournament team in Ohio. They will look for Johnny Moran to be a big leader in conference play.
- Missouri State (7-5)— The Bears were the reigning MVC regular season champions and Bear fans were looking for another run. Although they have MVC Player of the Year Kyle Weems, the changing of head coaches and filling in a lot of holes left from last season has been too much for Missouri State. They had opportunities against Oklahoma State, West Virginia and St. Mary’s, but came up short against all of them. Their best wins are probably against Nevada and Tulsa, so they will need a spectacular conference season to get a look come March. Next season the Bears will be taking part in a tourney in Puerto Vallarta.
- Illinois State (8-3)— The Redbirds have had some ups and downs so far. But with no seniors on the team, they have had a chance to develop into a team that is capable of surprising some people. The ejection of Jankovich may have helped solidify some of that cohesiveness that is needed. They lost their opening game of the season, against Illinois and gave UNC-Wilmington their first win of the season, but they have been playing pretty well as of late and could be the surprise in conference play. One reason for their rise could be the work of their strength and conditioning program.
- Drake (7-4)—Drake has been working through all of their injuries at the beginning of the season, and have survived for the most part. The Bulldogs have a 10 game winning streak on their home court dating back to last season, but their biggest challenge will be on the road where they are 1-4 away from the Knapp Center. The duo of Rayvonte Rice (18.2 points per game) and Ben Simons (15.2)rank third and fourth amongst MVC players in scoring.
- Evansville (5-5)—Evansville picked up their first road win of the season against Miami-Ohio last week. They missed out on opportunities against Indiana, North Carolina and TCU. The biggest problem is the lack of a frontcourt. The Aces rank last in the MVC in points allowed (73.7), shooting defense (allowing 47 percent) and rebound margin (minus-7.9). They hope communication is the answer too.
- Bradley (5-7) – Geno Ford is getting used to the new gig in Peoria, but his Braves are going in streaks this season. They started with three wins and four losses in a row. They have continued the trend with two wins and three losses in a row. As usual, the Braves are not getting any favors during conference season as they have to open against Wichita State and then go to Indiana State.
- Southern Illinois (3-8)— The Chris Lowery watch is on. After going 0-3 out in Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic, the fans in Carbondale are counting down the days of Lowery’s tenure. The biggest question isn’t whether they will be a factor in the MVC race, but whether the coaching staff will make it to the end of the season.
The MVC starts conference play this week. A lot of big games already on the schedule:
- 12/28—Missouri State @ Creighton (FSN, ESPN FC/ESPN3)—This will be an interesting matchup against reigning Player of the Year, Kyle Weems, against the potential future Player of the Year in Doug McDermott.
- 12/28—Drake @ Indiana State (No TV)—There are still some questions about Indiana State. There is also the potential with Drake. This game may provide answers on which direction these teams will go.
- 12/29—Northern Iowa @ Illinois State (Local TV)—Northern Iowa wants to prove that they are back while Illinois State is on its way up. If the Redbirds want to contend, then they have to hold serve at home.
- 12/31—Creighton @ Wichita State (ESPNU)—This date has been circled on a lot of calendars for a long time. This game will determine the early frontrunners in the Valley race and a battle between two schools whose fanbases have no love loss between each other.
- 1/1—Evansville @ Northern Iowa (ESPNU)—Evansville has a chance to get a big road win early in the season, while Northern Iowa has the opportunity to start 2-0 in conference play and get themselves on another win streak.
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. Here are the top 5 in non-conference play:
- Doug McDermott, Creighton— McDermott has been amazing this season, second in the nation scoring 25.4 points a game. His 63% shooting percentage including his 57.8% shooting from three shows the versatility in his game making baskets all over the court. He is also second in the MVC in rebounding. His performances have gotten him some national recognition several times already this season, including possibly being this season’s Jimmer Fredette.
- Colt Ryan, Evansville— Ryan has been the most consistent part of the Purple Aces so far this season. He is second in the MVC in scoring at 18.4 a game. He has also earned the ironman award leading the league in minutes played, averaging 36.3 a game. Ryan has also made 68 free throws already this season.
- Jake Odum, Indiana State—Odum has been overshadowed this season by the play from others, but is quietly leading the Valley in assists per game (6.7)and steals (2.2).
- Kyle Weems, Missouri State—Weems started off a little slower than expected, but has played pretty decently as a whole in the non-conference season. He is in the top six in scoring and rebounding and is expected to be a big contributor in conference play.
- Joe Ragland, Wichita State—Ragland leads a balanced attack for the Shockers scoring 12.4 points a game. It is impressive that for a guard he is shooting at almost 60% from the field while also dishing almost four assists a game. From downtown, he is third in the league at 48.6%.