CIO… the Missouri Valley ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on December 4th, 2012
- Wichita State chugging along, or are they? The Shockers are sitting at 8-0 and the only team in the league without a loss after a tight victory over Air Force in the MVC/MWC Challenge. But how strong is that 8-0? The Shockers may now be in the Top 25 rankings, but at this point it is hard to tell how legitimate that record is when you look at their schedule so far. Wichita State survived bad free-throw shooting by VCU to get that early victory on the road. The Shockers beat DePaul and Iowa in Cancun to take that tournament, but both of those teams have been at the bottom of their leagues for a few years now. A win over Tulsa? The Golden Hurricane are not where they used to be either. And the aforementioned Air Force is not exactly UNLV or New Mexico. The silver bullet might be at Tennessee on December 13. You do have to give the Shockers credit, though, as they are off to their second best start in school history.
- Creighton stumbles but makes a statement: Creighton came back from Las Vegas with big victories over Wisconsin and Arizona State. The hangover from those wins must have taken the toll on the Bluejays as they didn’t recover in time to take on Boise State. On the other hand, Boise State might be better than everyone expected this season, especially after taking Michigan State to the wire. We’ll have to see how the season plays out to determine if this turns out to be a bad loss. Creighton responded by getting off early against a highly anticipated match-up with St. Joseph’s where they were up by more than 20 points early in the first half. The lead extended to as much as 34 in the second half as the Bluejays did a total 180 from the game before. Highlights from both show it. With St. Joseph’s expected to win the A-10 this year, the victory and the way in which it was done was impressive.
- Great matchups, but disappointing results: The Valley, though getting a lot of positive reviews, has already left a lot of important games on the table. It is one thing to schedule big games, but it is another thing to go out and win some of them. Outside of Creighton, pretty much the rest of the Valley has come up with goose eggs against teams from the power conferences. Notre Dame, Louisville (twice), Michigan, Stanford, Memphis, South Carolina, San Diego State, Northwestern, New Mexico, UCLA, Cal, and Xavier have been on Missouri Valley schedules and the league is a whopping 0-13 against them. In 2006, the Valley won a lot more of these games. The non-conference resume sets up the conference season and how far teams can go in the postseason. Opposing coaches, including Rick Pitino, have given some great praise to the conference, but the victories against those conferences are few and far between so far. There are still a few weeks left for the MVC to pick up some bigger wins, but the positive look is that Valley teams are winning the games they should which will also help in the long run.
- Creighton (7-1)–The Bluejays stay at the top after rebounding from their loss against Boise State by demolishing St. Joseph’s. A key to Creighton’s success has been having Doug McDermott AND Gregory Echenique to have good nights down low. Echenique struggled in the loss against Boise scoring nine points, but only getting three rebounds, but turned things around to score 16 and grab six rebounds in the win against the Hawks. Echenique leads the MVC in field goal percentage at about 74%. When the frontcourt is going, the Creighton outside game can bury opposing teams. Creighton leads the nation in 2-point shooting percentage at 61.2%.
- Wichita State (7-0)–Wichita State continues to win on the road which will help them as the season keeps going. The Shockers improved to 21-3 on the road over the past two-plus seasons, best in the nation over that time period. The veteran of the group, Carl Hall, has also stepped up his play so far this season. Hall has four double-doubles already this season, three more than last season. Playing against teams like Air Force will help them when they face Evansville or Northern Iowa in the regular season. Apparently, Wichita State likes road games better than practice since they just get yelled at in practice and no fouls are called.
- Illinois State (5-2)–The Redbirds keep coming close, but are getting turned away after losses to Northwestern down in South Padre and Louisville on the road this past weekend. What might hurt even more is if point guard Kaza Keane will be sidelined for any period of time. Keane, sprained his ankle in practice leading up to Louisville keeping him out of that game and will be game-time decision on Tuesday against an undefeated Wyoming team. It was sort of interesting that the referees swallowed the whistle at the end of the game on Saturday against Louisville. Games against teams like Louisville are likely not a one-time thing. They will be playing more one-and-done’s against top teams in the future based on head coach Dan Muller’s scheduling theory. Redbird fans are probably pretty excited to hear that, although if they don’t get the benefit of the doubt like the game in Louisville, then maybe they won’t.
- Southern Illinois (4-1)–SIU is probably the biggest surprise in the Valley so far. Maybe it is the new coach in Barry Hinson. Maybe it is the early confidence games that got them going. But through the first seven games, the Salukis have been in every one of them, including a tough game at SIU-Edwardsville and a down to the wire game against Fresno State. Even in their only loss at St. Louis, the game was close throughout and gave the Billikens fits. Fast break points have been big as they have outscored opponents 56-18. Going to Western Kentucky this week will give us even more of a sense of what to expect. However, the Salukis are exceeding expectations.
- Bradley (5-2)–The Braves have looked a lot different so far this season and there is a little more buzz going on around Peoria this year. The student section is encouraged, the effort has been nice and the confidence is rising, due to their battle with Michigan. Seniors Dyricus Simms-Edwards, Jake Eastman and Will Egolf want to go out as winners in their final season. It starts with defense. The Braves force almost 16 turnovers a game and get almost 10 steals a game. The steals puts them at 25th in the nation. If their defense continues like that, there is a pretty good chance they don’t finish last this season in the MVC.
- Northern Iowa (4-3)–After going 0-3 in the Bahamas, the Panthers are looking for some offense. Despite the talk of an up-tempo flow going into the season, Northern Iowa has hit a scoring slump. In the three games in the Bahamas, they scored 50 points or less in all three games. Against Milwaukee this past weekend they did score 72, but other than the overtime game with Toledo (84) and the season opener against a non-D1 school (108), the Panthers have not scored more than 72 points a game yet. Things didn’t get much better for UNI when they played Milwaukee. Deon Mitchell was out for that game, but luckily Nate Buss came off the bench to hit his first eight shots and a career high 17 points. Marc Sonnen hit a three pointer in that game, extending his streak to 17 games of hitting at least one three point shot.
- Indiana State (4-2)–In between bookend losses to UCLA and New Mexico, the Sycamores haven’t played too bad themselves. They rallied hard to send the game with the Lobos into overtime, overcoming a 14 point deficit. The slow start is something the Sycamores cannot have in order to win more games. Jake Odum has continued to be a leader. He has moved up to eighth in the all-time Indiana State record books for steals. Indiana State has a tough stretch now on the road and will not go back home until conference season opener against Illinois State. Morehead State, IUPUI and the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii are all on the schedule in the meantime.
- Drake (3-3)– Drake may be back on the right track after knocking off Nevada on the road last Saturday. After a less than spectacular showing at the DirecTV Classic over Thanksgiving, Mark Phelps could not have been happy with the Bulldogs. However, with all the new players this season things may work out by the time they get to MVC play. The balanced scoring is what may keep them in games. In the win over Nevada, five players were in double-figures. Efficiency from behind the arc at 44.1% (fifth in nation) will win some games too. Richard Carter continues to be a sparkplug for the Bulldogs. They have a big game at home this weekend against St. Mary’s
- Evansville (4-3)–The Purple Aces haven’t been able to rise up over their tougher competition so far. Playing on the road has not been nice to them either. Against Notre Dame and Colorado State, the Aces were outrebounded 44-34 and 41-22 respectively. If the Aces cannot improve their rebounding, they will be in for a heap of trouble once they get to conference play. On the bright side, it looks like Evansville might have a successor to Colt Ryan, once he graduates, in DJ Balentine. He came off the bench in the loss against the Rams and went 10-of-15 from the field, including six three pointers, and led with 26 points. He is really becoming a weapon that could surprise opponents.
- Missouri State (2-5)–Preseason prognosticators probably missed the boat by having Missouri State anywhere but the bottom of the conference this season. The only two wins so far for the Bears have been against non-D1 competition. The last two losses sting the most however, with a loss in overtime and then a one point loss for third place in Puerto Villarta against SMU. Anthony Downing, the only healthy senior, is trying to lead the team, scoring in double-figures in every game this season. However, a lot is riding on his shoulders and other players are going to have to start to rise up in order for them to be successful. One positive is that they are taking care of the ball only turning it over five times per game.
- 12/5–Southern Illinois @ Western Kentucky (7:00 PM, Local/ESPN3)–With Barry Hinson seemingly giving SIU a resurgence so far this season, this will be a big road test for them after getting a tough win against Fresno State. This is also the final game for the Salukis before a 10-day break.
- 12/5–St. Mary’s @ Drake (7:00 PM, no TV)–This game is apparently a result of participating in the DirecTV Classic over Thanksgiving, as both teams were a part of that event. Although not in California but in Des Moines, Iowa, instead, the Bulldogs have a marquee game against an always tough St. Mary’s squad and could enhance their strength of schedule in the long run.
- 12/6–Creighton @ Nebraska (7:00 PM, ESPN3 Exclusive) –This is an in-state rival that some don’t want to claim as a rivalry. But it will be a big game since the Bluejays have not won in Lincoln since the 2004 season on Kellen Milliner’s winning basket with 0.8 seconds to go. The other odd fact is that this game is exclusively on ESPN3 instead of being carried on the Big Ten Network. Instead of being seen statewide by fans, it is relegated to online only where casual fans may miss it.
- 12/8–Northern Iowa @ George Mason (5:00 PM, NBC Sports Network)–After the Battle 4 Atlantis, Northern Iowa has a few opportunities left to score some points in the win column against good teams. While Mason may not be the same team they were a few seasons ago, the MVC vs. CAA is always a good game and this one will likely go down to the wire.
- 12/8–Missouri State @ Oklahoma State (3:00 PM, Local/Fox Sports/Fox College Sports Central)–As of December 3, the Bears do not have a Division I victory. It will be tough to go into Stillwater and get their first one, but is featured as a big game. With a win here, it will help the conference as a whole as they are missing wins against major conference competition.
- 12/8–Murray State @ Evansville (1 PM, Local TV)–What would Murray State look like if they played in the Valley? This match-up seems like a natural one that for Evansville could be counted as a top-notch win for them. The fun part of this match-up will to watch Isaiah Canaan and Colt Ryan duke it out on who will score more to lead their team to victory.
POY Stock Watch
This week we will take a look at the first time this season of the Player of the Year stock watch for the MVC and evaluation of the top five players in the conference heading into this week.
- Doug McDermott, Creighton–McDermott continues almost where he left off last season, averaging 21.3 points and 7.1 rebounds a game. As defenses continue to collapse on him to stop him from scoring, he still finds different ways to produce and was well on display in a win over St. Joseph’s when he stepped back to shoot 5-of-7 from three and had 18 points in the first 12 minutes of the game. His efficiency continues to be fun to watch.
- Jackie Carmichael, Illinois State–There has been noticeable improvement in Carmichael’s game this season and he continues to want the ball in late game situations. He is averaging around 17 points and seven rebounds a game and had his way with Drexel a couple weeks ago. He is also leading the league with 2.1 blocks a game and keeps opposing teams from taking advantage of things in the paint.
- Tyler Brown, Illinois State–Both Brown and Carmichael have scored 30 points in a game so far this season. Brown averages almost 20 points a game and is third in the league in three-pointers made. If you catch him and Carmichael hot together in the same night, Illinois State will be tough for anyone to stop. Brown and Carmichael have scored 20 points or more in the same game three times already.
- Ben Simons, Drake–Simons is the MVC ironman so far this season, averaging 34.2 minutes a game. He also leads the Bulldogs in scoring with 16 points a game, and the league with 3.2 three-pointers made per game. Stopping him off of ball-screens is really tough and if you leave him open, he will make you pay.
- Grant Gibbs, Creighton–Some may be surprised to see Gibbs on this list, but his skills on the court are hard to ignore so far this season. He leads the Valley in assists (48), averaging six a game. But, it is also his lack of turnovers that is above and beyond the rest of the league. Although the MVC lists him as second in the league with 6:1 assist-turnover ratio (Colt Ryan is at 8:1, but only 16 total assists), the next person after him is Bradley’s Jake Eastman with 2.6:1 ratio.