CIO… the Missouri Valley ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on December 27th, 2012
- Indiana State Raises Profile: There have been a lot of question marks surrounding Indiana State and how good the Sycamores might be this season. It is possible those questions have been answered after a couple of important overtime wins over power conference teams in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii. First, they knocked off Mississippi and then after losing to San Diego State, knocked off Miami (FL) in the third-place game. Jake Odum came up big in both of those wins. After battling foot injuries all of last season that kept him from performing at the same level as his freshman year, the junior hit several free throws down the stretch in overtime against Ole Miss and then hit the game-winner against the Hurricanes. The Sycamores might have gained enough momentum out in Hawaii to throw them into the MVC conversation heading into conference play.
- Josh Jones Hangs It Up: A few weeks ago, Creighton’s Josh Jones blacked out before a game against Nebraska. It was later determined he had an atrial flutter and needed an invasive procedure to correct it. There were questions at the time as to whether he could come back from the ailment. Unfortunately, as a result of that successful procedure, it was found that he will have to another medical procedure which will force him to finish his basketball career earlier than expected. Jones has been a fighter throughout his basketball career. It was going to be a tough road ahead for Jones anyway, but he’ll be remembered most for his smile and positive attitude. The only good thing out of this is that Creighton will be able to focus on replacing Jones on the court with the remaining players on the roster. Although Jones will be hard to replace, he will still be with the team cheering them on.
- The Weak Link In The Conference: I would need to dig back into the record books a little bit, but it has to be a long time since a Missouri Valley Conference school headed into conference play looking for its first win against a Division I team. Missouri State enters MVC play with a 2-10 overall record, but the two wins are against two non-D-I teams: Malone and Philander Smith. The Bears even played on the road at SWAC member Alabama State and lost that game by 12 points. Paul Lusk had the luxury of inheriting a talented team over a season ago, but what has happened since? Injuries have plagued the team, with Jarmar Gulley out before the season began, but also other veteran players like Keith Pickens dealing with injuries. The other problem is that they were already down one scholarship this season because of APR scores. While many may look at Bradley’s downward spiral as a comparison the previous two seasons, this one might be even worse. Eventually, Missouri State has to win a game and I’m sure the other nine teams in the league will not want to be the school that falls to them, as it would be a massive hit to their potential at-large chances.
Power Rankings (last week’s rankings in parentheses)
- Creighton (11-1) (1)–The Bluejays took care of business in their non-conference slate with their only blemish coming against Boise State. At this point, that doesn’t look like a bad loss, but yet the questions still hang out there on what might be their best win. Wins over California and Arizona State might look pretty good right now, but it could be the win against Wisconsin that might end up being the key victory for the Bluejays come march. Last season, Gregory Echenique exploded in conference play. After showing signs of dominance down low in the non-conference season, Echenique could be the key to leading Creighton to an MVC regular season championship that has eluded them for the past several years.
- Wichita State (11-1) (2)–Gregg Marshall may ultimately be happy he started the season with a deep bench. He will need every one of his available players heading into conference play. The Shockers are off to a surprising 11-1 start despite having three of five starters on the bench with injuries. Carl Hall (hand) and Ron Baker (stress fracture) were lost within days of each other while Evan Wessel and Ehimen Orupke have both had their own injuries to deal with as well. In addition, Jake White is suffering from back spasms. Nick Wiggins could play a bigger role as the season goes on and will get the opportunity to show what he can do with these injuries. Their RPI of 15 is currently ahead of Creighton.
- Illinois State (9-3) (3)–The Redbirds had a pretty good non-conference season, but missed opportunities against Northwestern, Louisville and Wyoming to build their tournament resume. Getting the win at Dayton was a nice confidence booster. They will have a big opportunity early in the conference season, hosting Creighton. Everyone will look at Jackie Carmichael and Tyler Brown, but Kaza Keane will help determine how far Illinois State will go. It will be interesting to see how he handles his first season in conference play.
- Indiana State (7-4) (8)–Adding players around Jake Odum was needed heading into the season and Gonzaga transfer Manny Arop might have been exactly what they needed. Arop has become more and more involved in the offense including 27 points in the win over Mississippi. He has scored in double figures in the past six games. Arop also leads the team in rebounding with 6.2 a game. Don’t overlook Indiana State as it heads into conference play. In the past they had a brutal schedule that knocked them out of the conference race early. This season, they start off with Illinois State, Northern Iowa and Creighton, but then have a stretch of four games that are very winnable.
- Northern Iowa (7-5) (6)–The Panthers got themselves a much needed win against St. Mary’s to salvage their non-conference season the best they could. The Gaels were likely tired from travel as the game was moved from a Saturday evening start to Sunday around midday due to tough travel conditions with Northern Iowa trying to get back from UNLV and St. Mary’s trying to fly into Cedar Falls. UNI had a lot of missed opportunities in the non-conference season and they may actually be looking forward to diving into conference play, where in a sense, teams can start with a clean slate. The Panthers hope to take what they learned against tough competition and make an MVC run. In the meantime, Chris Olivier has left the team.
- Drake (6-5) (9)–Drake’s non-conference season has had a lot of ups and downs. It had to fight to keep from losing to North Carolina Central before closing out their non-conference season with a win over Eastern Illinois. However, they might be playing a little better right now than the teams below them. I’m waiting for Seth VanDeest to get back to his play as a freshman. VanDeest was out all last season with a shoulder injury and had just come off a great freshman campaign. In order for Drake to win some big games in conference play, he has to step up a little more. Micah Mason might be the answer for the Bulldogs at point guard as he played well in his second start of the season, but Richard Carter has been playing well too. Drake is one of four teams in the nation to have scored 70 or more points in each game this season.
- Evansville (7-5) (7)–The Purple Aces record doesn’t reflect what they probably could have done in their non-conference slate. Losing Colt Ryan early really hurt them get their rotations set and build consistency as a whole. The biggest thing has been rebounding. In the losses they have been outrebounded significantly. They also suffered from missed opportunities against Notre Dame, Colorado State, Murray State and Butler. It is really tough to find a signature win for them so far. Egidijus Mockevicius and D.J. Balentine have been instrumental in the Aces rotation this season. But as freshmen, they will need to prepare for the MVC grind.
- Bradley (8-4) (4)–Bradley has really improved compared to the last two years. Unfortunately, out in Las Vegas, the Braves lost both of their games by a combined three points. If they get those wins against Virginia Tech and Portland, Bradley has a remarkable season going. The two losses show how close they are: against Virginia Tech, the Braves had a five-point lead in the last 49 seconds and the game ended up going into overtime and against Portland, Bradley only shot 32% from the field and were outrebounded by double-digits.
- Southern Illinois (7-4) (5)–After a fast start, the Salukis are probably coming back to earth. SIU backed out of the Charleston Classic earlier this year to play in an MTE at Utah State to maybe give themselves a better chance. However, that did not quite work so well as they lost two of three and open conference play at Missouri State, Barry Hinson’s last head coaching job. Desmar Jackson, although just playing his first season at SIU coming off a transfer year, looks to be the leader of this team. He scored a season high 29 points against Utah State, but also looks to be a leader on defense.
- Missouri State (2-10) (10)–The Bear’s RPI is sitting at 323 right now. They are 327th in scoring. Their field goal shooting percentage ranks them 336 (37.6%). Everything that could go wrong is going wrong right now for Missouri State. The 2-10 start is the worst in program history. The Bears have lost 14 straight contests against DI schools dating back to last season. Recruiting misses appear to be the biggest issue right now. The good news is that they are the seventh youngest team in the nation and are building on some things for the future.
- 12/29–Evansville @ Creighton (7:00 PM, Local TV / ESPN3)–Colt Ryan is back on track after his injury at the beginning of the season and he always plays well at the CenturyLink Center — he scored an arena-record 43 points the last time he was in the building. Creighton wants to start conference play on the right foot after starting two of the last three seasons 0-1.
- 12/30–Illinois State @ Indiana State (Noon, Local TV)–Indiana State is riding high after its nice wins out in Hawaii. The Redbirds, however, want to establish their preseason hype into a fast start in the MVC standings. A fun match-up to watch might be Jake Odum vs. Tyler Brown.
- 12/30–Southern Illinois @ Missouri State (5:30 PM, No TV)–It is almost a shame that this game isn’t on TV, but it might be for the best. Missouri State is still looking for its first D-I win of the season while former head coach Barry Hinson will try to lead the Salukis to a win over his old school.
- 12/30–Northern Iowa @ Wichita State (5:00 PM, Fox Sports Net)–Northern Iowa came into the season with a lot of returning players, but has struggled in the non-conference season. It is Wichita State and their newcomers that have been a pleasant surprise and makes this first conference game a big one for both teams.
- 1/2-Creighton @ Illinois State (7:00 PM, Fox Sports Net/ESPN3)–The top two projected teams in the MVC race get together within the first week of conference play. Jackie Carmichael vs. Doug McDermott was a battle in last season’s Arch Madness championship game. It will be one again in Normal.
- 1/2- Wichita State @ Drake (7:00 PM, Local TV)–Wichita State hits the road against Drake who always plays the Shockers tough at the Knapp Center. Drake wants to start conference play on the right foot and maybe surprise some people with an early run.
POY Check-In (last week’s rankings in parentheses)
A few weeks ago we looked at the MVC Player of the Year Race. As we close out the non-conference season, let’s take another look at the race before the conference action heats up:
- Doug McDermott, Creighton (1)–Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, McDermott has scored more points than any other player in the nation. His back-to-back 30+ point performances against Akron and California were impressive. His rebounding is starting to rise as well.
- Jackie Carmichael, Illinois State (2)–Carmichael continues to be really consistent and appears to be getting even better. He has averaged over 24 points in the past four games including two double-doubles in the past two games. The key for him come conference play will be how many times he can get to the free throw line.
- Jake Odum, Indiana State (NR)–We mentioned earlier how important Odum is to the Sycamores. He isn’t their leading scorer, but his scoring has been in the clutch, especially at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii. His distribution of the ball is also the key to his game as he averaged six assists in the three contests out there. His assist to turnover ratio isn’t great, but he makes plays when needed which right now makes him jump up to this spot heading into conference play.
- Cleanthony Early, Wichita State (NR)–With all the injuries that Wichita State has suffered to its starting lineup, Early has been the one consistent player holding things together for the Shockers. The JuCo player has jumped in right away for the Shockers and has been key to their victories. Wichita’s only loss was against Tennessee and Early’s stat line — 0-5 from field, two points, three rebounds, two turnovers and five fouls — shows his importance. Early will be forced to carry the team on his shoulders if it wants to be at the top of the MVC.
- Grant Gibbs, Creighton (5)–Gibbs continues to be in the conversation if only for his continued success in assist-to-turnover ratio. Gibbs leads the MVC with a 6.3:1 assist to turnover ratio. The guy behind him is Bradley’s Dyricus Simms-Edwards with 2.5:1. While you may think that it is just one or two games worth of assists, it isn’t. He leads the MVC with 75 assists. Kaza Keane from Illinois State is second with 58.