CIO…the Missouri Valley ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on January 8th, 2013
- MVC Race Already Heating Up–What a wild first week in Missouri Valley Conference play. Creighton, as expected is sitting at 3-0. Gregg Marshall doesn’t get enough credit for reloading Wichita State and the Shockers are at 3-0 as well. After that, things get really interesting. Indiana State, Evansville, Bradley and Missouri State are all sitting at 2-1. None of those four teams were mentioned in the top echelon at the start of the season, but each of them have wins over others that weren’t expected. The biggest surprises are Northern Iowa sitting at 1-2 and Illinois State sitting at 0-3. The Panthers were expected to be a sleeper in the league this year, but after a tough non-conference slate where they did not win as much as they had hoped, they started off MVC play at 0-2 before defeating Illinois State on Saturday. The Redbirds were expected to be league contenders along with Creighton, but they have had a lot of things go wrong for them this season. While it is still early, some of these situations may build upon themselves making for another crazy season. What it may hurt in the long run, though, are the number of NCAA bids come March.
- McDermott Still Reaping Rewards–Doug McDermott has been playing very well since Thanksgiving. As a result, he has continued to be recognized for his talent. He received the Lute Olson Midseason Player of the Year award, and ESPN recognized him as its Player of the Month in December. He’s third in the country in scoring at 23.1 points per game, is averaging 7.3 boards per contest, and is shooting 49 percent from beyond the arc. Those are numbers that are hard to ignore. Through his first three conference games, McDermott has also averaged 23 points a game while fighting off sickness over the past two games. He is on the verge of carrying Creighton on his shoulders, but luckily he has not had to since the Bluejays have been pretty balanced and different players have stepped up when needed. He should remain in the National Player of the Year conversation throughout, but it may become tougher to put up the same outstanding numbers in conference play that he did in the non-conference season.
- Drugs Become Problem–A few weeks ago, Illinois State’s Geoffrey Allen was indefinitely suspended from the team and was soon after arrested for trying to sell marijuana. The newest incident involving drugs now surrounds Bradley’s Will Egolf. The sixth-year center was arrested as the year rolled over to 2013, accused of possession of a controlled substance. It turns out that he was purchasing Vicodin to help him manage the pain resulting from knee injuries he has suffered over the past few years. Those knee injuries ultimately allowed him to gain a sixth year of eligibility. He did not make the trip to Wichita this past weekend and it now appears that he will be suspended for a minimum of three games, but this transgression could ultimately end his career. These two incidents should raise a red flag to other MVC schools to remain vigilant and aware of what their players are doing and what may be affecting their play. I hope this doesn’t become a trend because it sort of gives the league a black eye.
Power Rankings (conference record and last week’s ranking in parentheses)
- Creighton (14-1) (3-0) (1)–If you don’t know by now, Creighton is not just a one-man show with Doug McDermott. McDermott sat on the bench during a key stretch in the second half against Indiana State and the Bluejays were able to come back from a deficit and take a lead with the play of Gregory Echenique and Ethan Wragge. Avery Dingman has stepped up with the loss of Josh Jones and everyone is doing their part to contribute to the Bluejays success. Probably the biggest development has been the play of Austin Chatman who took over the point guard duties this season. In the first three conference games, Chatman has 21 assists to only 6 turnovers. A 3.5/1 assist-turnover ratio is pretty good.
- Wichita State (14-1) (3-0) (2)–Wichita State continues to roll along with little fanfare. The Shockers are without three starters that were in the lineup at the beginning of the season, but have continued to win. Cleanthony Early continues to be the big scorer, including 24 against Bradley, with his fourth game scoring 20 points or more. With the injuries, Nick Wiggins has been playing some of the power forward position, something that probably was not expected of him at the beginning of the season. He has responded with a couple of nice games, including 17 points against Drake. Two of the three wins in conference play have been on the road where they continue to find success. Carl Hall is expected to return soon, which will give WSU’s frontline a boost. On the other side of the coin, Evan Wessel is looking at season-ending surgery on his pinky finger. Wichita State rejoins the Top 25 polls this week. Both Creighton and Wichita St. could be ranked when they meet in a couple of weeks.
- Indiana State (9-5) (2-1) (4)–Indiana State is continuing to play with a lot of confidence and even had Creighton on the ropes over the weekend. They are sitting in a nice position with wins over Illinois State and Northern Iowa. The one thing they need to do a better job of is distribution of the ball. Jake Odum does his part, but the rest of the team needs to do a better job finding the open guy. The Sycamores rank 311th in assists per game. Justin Gant has been a big contributor in this success. He has scored in double-figures in all three conference games so far and is a nice complement to Odum and Manny Arop in the scoring column. They are tired of moral victories and although they are a young team, they could continue to surprise as we get deeper into the season.
- Evansville (9-6) (2-1) (7)–After losing the MVC opener against Creighton, the Purple Aces have won their last two, but against two teams that may be towards the bottom as the conference season shakes out-Missouri State and Southern Illinois. Getting Colt Ryan back to his previous form has been important for their confidence. Ryan has averaged over 22 points per game in the last four. He will get his points every night. Someone else will have to give him a hand. That might be Troy Taylor. Taylor had a triple-double against Creighton and grabbed 19 big rebounds against Missouri State. The next two games against Northern Iowa and Wichita State will show where the Aces might land in the long run. It is possible they may rise out of this group below Creighton and Wichita State.
- Bradley (10-5) (2-1) (8)–Bradley is ahead of schedule already at 10 wins. After the last two seasons of single-digit wins, the Braves might have found their coach in Geno Ford. The absence of Egolf might have been the difference on whether Bradley could have upset the Shockers. With him out of the lineup, it may take a little bit for the Braves to adjust, but we’ll have to see how that plays out. One thing that Ford has instilled in his players since arriving in Peoria is to be tougher. It appears that might be the case.
- Northern Iowa (8-7) (1-2) (5)-I really think the Panthers are an example of how playing a non-conference slate as tough as theirs was and not having success can carry over into conference play. As veteran a team as it is, they still look like they are trying to find their identity. It is possible they broke out of that with the win over Illinois State. Keeping players focused is something head coach Ben Jacobson might need to work on . Deon Mitchell missed the bus to shootaround and was held out of the starting lineup. It is little things like that which will keep Northern Iowa from being a cohesive team.
- Illinois State (9-6) (0-3) (3)–It may be surprising at this point in the season to see the Redbirds down this low, but they are in a spot that they definitely did not expect to be in to start conference play. The Redbirds are 2-5 in games decided by 10 points or less. The three league losses to start conference play were decided by 10 points or less. Being able to close out games has been a problem so far and something that will need to be fixed. There is also an emphasis on better defense. Jackie Carmichael needs to step up and carry the team on his back. In non-conference play, Carmichael scored over 20 points in six games. In conference play, he has been in double-figures (13, 10, 19), but not as dominant as he appeared in the non-conference.
- Missouri State (4-11) (2-1) (10)–The Bears are the biggest surprise so far and have deserved to rise up from the bottom even if it is for only one week. They are even trying to get fans all pumped up now. They got their first D-1 win of the season opening conference play against Southern Illinois. They could be sitting at 3-0 in conference play right now if it wasn’t for Evansville knocking them off in overtime. Anthony Downing has been the only player to start all 15 games for Missouri State. But Paul Lusk isn’t necessarily looking at his starting lineup, but who eventually plays the minutes. In the three conference games, starters Dorrian Williams, Drew Wilson and Christian Kirk have only averaged 17, 16 and 21 minutes per game respectively. If they want to continue winning, a key is limiting opponents three-point shooting.
- Drake (6-8) (0-3) (6)–The Bulldogs have lost 4 of their last 6 games. All three conference games were losses by double-figures. Where do they turn next? They will have to figure it out quickly. Their next five games: Creighton, Illinois State, Evansville, Northern Iowa and Creighton again. If they want to change their destiny this season, they have to do it now. The Bulldogs frontline of Jordan Clarke and Seth VanDeest has been dealing with injury and illness, but rebounding has been what has hurt Drake the most.
- Southern Illinois (7-7) (0-3) (9)–Barry Hinson was skeptical of how good his team was heading into conference play. He mentioned how they have not played as high caliber competition as what was in the MVC. He was right. After starting 6-2, the Salukis have lost five of their last six games. It doesn’t get any easier this week with a game at Wichita State and hosting Indiana State. The last four opponents (all losses) have shot over 50% from the field. Their defense needs to get back to their roots.
- 1/8–Illinois State @ Missouri State (7:05 PM, No TV)–The Redbirds might be the best 0-3 conference team out there. However, they could very well be 0-4 after this game on the road. Winning in Springfield isn’t easy and all of a sudden Missouri State has found life. It might be good this one isn’t on TV.
- 1/8–Drake @ Creighton (7:05 PM, Local TV/ESPN3)–Creighton and Drake are only a couple of hours away from each other. The fan bases wonder why this game isn’t on a weekend when people can travel to the games. Drake is trying to get its first conference win but it won’t be easy.
- 1/12–Indiana State @ Southern Illinois (7:05 PM, Local TV)–Indiana State hopes to continue its good play and stay in the MVC race early. Southern Illinois has hit a wall with an 0-3 start. They are hoping they can nab an upset at home.
- 1/12–Bradley @ Northern Iowa (1:00 PM, Fox Sports Net/ESPN3)–Both teams are probably the opposite of what many expected heading into conference play. The Braves are off to a 2-1 start and took Wichita State to the wire. Northern Iowa was out of the gates slow at 0-2 to start conference play, but got its first conference win against Illinois State. This one could be interesting to a national audience.
- 1/13–Wichita State @ Evansville (3:35 PM, Local TV, ESPN3)– The Shockers are off to an amazing start. They are one of the toughest road teams in the nation over the past two seasons. They hope to continue that dominance against the Purple Aces.
Spotlight On: MVC Coverage
For years, the MVC has had to look for coverage of its hoops teams from just local beat writers, a few occasional stories in the newspapers and maybe some local sports talk on the radio. MVC schools have to fight for attention due to the local media’s coverage of bigger schools. Creighton fans deal with a lot of Nebraska talk. Northern Iowa and Drake fans get overlooked because of Iowa and Iowa State. Wichita State gets the short end of the stick with Kansas and Kansas State dominating attention in the Sunflower State. The list goes on and on.
Advancements in social media and content access have allowed the Missouri Valley Conference to get some really nice coverage in other ways. That coverage was boosted a little more since the beginning of conference play with a new radio show called the MVC Hoops Show. This show is available in most of the MVC local markets on the radio as well as through an online podcast. Tim Krueger (from Bluejay Banter) and Chris Sorensen (who runs MVCFans and the MVC Report) have teamed up to provide even more Valley hoops talk. So far they have had a lot of great guests and continue to help build the Missouri Valley Conference brand. For those that want more talk about all of the MVC teams, it is definitely worth checking out.