CIO… the Missouri Valley ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on December 18th, 2012
- Realignment May Finally Hit the MVC–Since 1995, only the Missouri Valley Conference and the Ivy league have not been affected by conference realignment. That may change soon depending on what happens with the seven catholic schools that are breaking away from the Big East. A lot of overtures to an “All-Catholic” league have been on peoples’ wish lists for some time, but many thought that it could never become a reality. Now with these teams looking to start their own league, they need more members. It seems natural that Creighton would be on that list. A lot of scrambling and rumors have led some to believe that Evansville was also looking to head to the Horizon league. While this speculation has been squashed by both Creighton and Evansville officials, you would have to think that if this new league gets big enough, that the Bluejays would be in the mix. The panic button hasn’t been hit yet, but every school in the Valley should have a backup plan just in case the league loses one or more members.
- Losses to Top Teams–Wichita State lost to Tennessee last week, but it wasn’t until the practice after that game when they lost Carl Hall to a hand injury that will keep him out of action for a month. Hall has been the steady force for the Shockers while they implement a slew of new players into the mix this season. With the Valley grind so close to its arrival, they will need Hall’s presence and leadership to get on the right foot as conference play gets started. Making matters worse, freshman guard Ron Baker will be sidelined for at least six weeks with a stress fracture in his foot. Baker isn’t as important a player as Hall, but it leaves a 25 minute-per-game gap that will need to be filled as well. Creighton also lost a key player for an undetermined time with guard Josh Jones. Jones blacked out before a game against Nebraska on December 6. An atrial flutter in his heart has sidelined the Bluejays’ sixth man for at least a month. He will have a procedure performed and could be cleared again at some point, but it is hard to tell whether he will be able to come back or if he even would want to. His energy and smile is infectious and his performance on the court, like an 18-point outburst against UAB earlier this season, will be missed and may raise some questions about Creighton’s depth. For Illinois State, they make the news in the wrong way with Geoffrey Allen first being suspended from the team and then arrested for selling marijuana. Although Allen didn’t play much this season, news like this can be a distraction to the team as it moves forward.
- Surprise of the Non-conference Season–The MVC has been full of surprises this season, including the notion that Bradley and Southern Illinois look ahead of schedule. Bradley’s second year under Geno Ford appears to be on the right track as the Braves have been able to get some nice wins on the road, something that they had trouble doing the past few seasons. If they can win out in the non-conference season, they could look better than some of the other teams that were expected to be ahead of them. For the Salukis, Barry Hinson put together a schedule that could definitely give a troubled team a big confidence boost. Southern Illinois won’t win any strength of schedule contests, but they have been playing together, winning close games, and even getting some road wins. They both will finish the non-conference season with .500 records or better. The current bottom third of the conference — Indiana State, Drake, and Missouri State — are a bit of a surprise in that they are on the opposite end of things right now. The biggest disappointment has to be Missouri State. The Bears are 0-8 against Division I competition as a result of a lot of injuries. With the road they are going down, they could head into conference play still looking for that first D-I win.
Power Rankings (current record and last week’s ranking in parentheses)
- Creighton (10-1) (1)–The Bluejays keep winning and are coming off of a trip to California where they didn’t have the best night of shooting but were still able to come out with a double-figure victory. In all of Creighton’s wins this season, they have had a winning margin by 10 or more points. Doug McDermott continues his spectacular play as of late and has the nation’s best scoring average per 40 minutes over the past two seasons at 29.3 points per game. He has had back-to-back 30-point games, which is a first for Creighton in more than 20 years. Creighton is 8-1 against power conference teams over the past two seasons.
- Wichita State (9-1) (2)–Wichita fought hard against Tennessee before losing their first game of the season and will have to wait another year to try and set a school record with a 10-0 start. Carl Hall’s four double-doubles have really helped the Shockers in a few of their victories. He had 21 points and 9 rebounds in the loss against Tennessee. It is important to reiterate how much his injury will hurt the Shockers. To win games, the Shockers need some high scoring firepower. Gregg Marshall is 84-4 when his teams score at least 80 points.
- Illinois State (7-3) (4)–The Redbirds are back on the winning track with two wins in a row. Jackie Carmichael has become the third player on the team this season to score 30 or more points in a game (Bryant Allen & Tyler Brown are the other two). IllinoisState boasts the best two-point field goal percentage at 58.3%. The Redbirds are averaging over 86 points a game at home and winning games there by more than 21 points per game. Redbird Arena could be a scary place to play for opponents.
- Bradley (7-2) (5)–Bradley had a 13-day layoff before defeating Georgia Southern on Monday night. They are rolling right along right now. The Braves matched their 2011-12 win total with that win. So there is definite improvement in this team. They have outscored their opponents in the paint in each of their six wins and have an overall 335-196 scoring advantage in the paint. Tyshon Pickett has been a big key to their success. The JUCO transfer has been pretty dominant in the paint and has played his role well.
- Southern Illinois (6-2) (6)–The Salukis are off to a great start and at this point seem to be playing really well. However, head coach Barry Hinson will readily admit that he isn’t sure what type of team he has because they haven’t played any giant killers. He said that he may not know for sure what kind of team he has until they hit MVC play. The road wins have been important as well as SIU has three road wins already compared to only two last season. Including the win against Green Bay, SIU will play five games in an eight day stretch to close out the non-conference season. They will need a healthy Kendal Brown-Surles.
- Northern Iowa (6-4) (3)-Northern Iowa hit another bump in the road when they lost to Iowa last weekend in Des Moines due to their perimeter defense. What head coach Ben Jacobson needs to worry about now is whether the Panther’s confidence has been damaged before getting into conference season or if these early season losses will make them better once they see MVC play. Deon Mitchell continues building on his freshman season. His last outing against the Hawkeyes was a 23-point performance.
- Evansville (6-4) (8)–Evansville is just trying everything they can to get wins and Colt Ryan appears to be back to full strength. The senior scored a season-high 24 points in the win over Alabama State. He has scored at least 13 points or more since his return from injury five games ago. Ryan Sawvell will become more important as the season goes on. Getting his confidence level up might be what he needs to keep going.
- Indiana State (5-3) (9)–The Sycamores have been flying quietly through the non-conference season. They broke a two-game losing streak with a nice road win against IUPUI. They have been away from home the past two games, and they will play another three out in Hawaii over Christmas. If they can grind out games and keep the opponent to 63 points or less, IndianaState will win a lot of games. They are 5-0 this season and 31-1 in three seasons under head coach Greg Lansing.
- Drake (4-5) (7)– Rebounding has been killing Drake this season. It reared its ugly head once again in the loss to Iowa State. If they could morph Jordan Clarke across the team, they would be in good shape. He leads the MVC in double-doubles this season with four. In the loss against Iowa State, the Bulldogs were limited to very few free throws and only made four three pointers. They were making almost 10 three-pointers a game.
- Missouri State (2-8) (10)– Injuries have devastated Missouri State with an already limited roster. Gavin Thurman and Drew Wilson are out with injuries. It is at this point that I’m sure they wish they had Jarmar Gulley this year. The Bears have to rely on their freshman to carry the team. Combined the newbies are scoring 25.5 points per game which is about 43% of the team’s offensive output.
- 12/18–Missouri State @ Alabama A&M (7:00 PM, Local TV & ESPN3) — The Missouri State win watch is still on as the Bears try to get their first D-I win of the season. In a weird twist of scheduling (former Missouri State official is now the AD at A&M), Missouri State is on the road for this one. This one even makes the national scene as it is on ESPN3.
- 12/19–Illinois State @ Dayton (6:00 PM, Comcast Sports Net) — Dan Muller said he wanted to up the level of competition during the non-conference season and he has delivered by getting a home-and-home series with the always tough Dayton. The Redbirds could get a nice win in a tough road environment and could get themselves back in the national spotlight after coming up short in games earlier in the season against some tough competition.
- 12/19–Northern Iowa @ UNLV (9:00 PM, Time Warner Sportsnet) & 12/22–St. Mary’s vs. Northern Iowa (no TV)–The Panthers came into this season as everyone’s sleeper, but some of those same people probably wonder if they are asleep at the wheel. Northern Iowa has missed out on a lot of opportunities so far this season to get big wins in the non-conference and they are down to their final two opportunities to earn a signature win for their resume. UNI is the only MVC school to go 3-0 in the Missouri Valley/Mountain West Challenge. They would like to make it 4-0.
- 12/22-23–Bradley @ Las Vegas Classic (CBS Sports Network)–Bradley has been a nice surprise this season. They have a chance to capitalize on the early success in Las Vegas when they take on Virginia Tech first on Saturday. Depending how things go, then the Braves could get another nice win against either Colorado State or Portland. Their success here could give them a nice boost heading into conference play.
- 12/22–Evansville @ Butler (1:00 PM, Local TV)–The Aces started the season slow in large part to the early injury to Colt Ryan so he is just now really starting to look like his old scoring self. They have a nice opportunity here to take down Butler who is coming off of a victory over the former #1 team in the nation, Indiana. While the Bulldogs made headlines last week, Evansville could make headlines here.
- 12/22–Indiana State vs. Mississippi (5:00 PM, ESPNU)–The Sycamores head to Hawaii to play some basketball for their Christmas break. Indiana State is looking to get a few big wins and this is their opportunity on a neutral floor. First up is Ole Miss. If everything goes well, they could get opportunities against San Diego State and Arizona in their other games on the islands.
Spotlight On: Realignment
On this week’s MVC conference call, a lot of the coaches weighed in on the possibility of changes coming to the MVC, whether Creighton leaves or not. The most colorful of these was Barry Hinson. He is always very quotable. He has a love for the Valley and he gave his speech to the “jury” about why the MVC should ultimately stay as they are.
“I’m passionate about this league. Let me tell you how I feel about this. I can’t control it, but this is the facts. Ladies and gentleman of the jury, when you play in the Missouri Valley Conference, you are playing in the second oldest conference in the country. When you play on the road, most likely seven of the 10 schools you play on the road are going to be sold out. Wichita State has been sold out since Naismith was born. Illinois State, sold out. Bradley may not be sold out, but they have been drinking beer two hours prior to the game and is one of the most entertaining crowds you will ever want to see. You go to Creighton — maybe not sold out, ok well we have 16,700 for that night. You go to Missouri State, back in the day, sold out. You go to Drake, sold out and the Dawghouse is sitting right there next to your bench. You go to Northern Iowa in their new facility, sold out. You go to Indiana State — oh sometimes not sold out but an unbelievable crowd. Evansville with their new facility, a great chance, sold out. You just go through the league, doggone it, what do you want? You want to play in a basketball league, a league where basketball is a priority, where communities absolutely support their educational institutions as well as their athletic department. You have a great commissioner in Doug Elgin. You have a great reputation You have a great track record of being the best ranked mid-major conference in the country. It all comes down to what is right.”
According to reports, the MVC presidents got together in the past few days regarding the possibility of Creighton leaving the MVC. While we do not know the details specifically of the meeting it is sure that the threat now posed by the start of a new Catholic Big East that plans to add members will cause concern for many basketball conferences across the nation.