Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference. You can find him on Twitter @wildjays.
Reader’s Take I
Back to Multiple Bids?: The Missouri Valley Conference is getting a little more attention entering this season than in the past, and rightfully so. Six of the top ten scorers in the league are back along with four of the top five rebounders. The league is looking to have the impact it had back in the 2005-06 season, when it sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament. Since then, only the automatic qualifier from the MVC Tournament has advanced to The Dance. With so many talented upperclassmen, there could be an opportunity for The Valley to get closer to that status of six years ago.
Kyle Weems or Doug McDermott?: There are a lot of people that have probably forgotten that Kyle Weems of Missouri State was the MVC Player of the Year last season with all the buzz that Creighton’s Doug McDermott received over the summer. Going into 2011-12, one hotly-debated topic is whether Weems can repeat or if McDermott will build upon his MVC Freshman of the Year performance. McDermott was only the second freshman in the 100-year-plus history of the MVC to get first team all-conference honors. Weems tried to lead Missouri State to the NCAA Tournament, but came up just short. Due to the personnel losses by the Bears, including their coach, and all of the returning players for the Bluejays, can Weems surprise the “experts” and have even better success to repeat?
Kyle Weems May Be The Best Player In A Resurgent MVC This Season. (MVC-Sports.com)
New Ford Center: Evansville will start the season in a new downtown arena, the Ford Center. They open it in style with in-state powers Butler and Indiana visiting to start the season. This building represents the continual facility improvements for the Missouri Valley Conference member schools. Creighton started the trend with the Qwest Center (recently renamed CenturyLink Center). Northern Iowa followed suit with its own basketball building in the McLeod Center. Missouri State opened JQH Arena a couple years later and in Wichita, a new arena was built to complement Koch Arena as a place where the Shockers can play a game or two a year. Southern Illinois spent almost $30 million to renovate SIU Arena. So if you are looking for a conference that keeps upgrading the basketball environment like a major conference, this is where you should go.
Scheduling Philosophies: In the past, the MVC member schools would hold back a game on their schedules to try to get a home-and-home series against a high-major school. Although this has worked out in the past, it sort of backfired this season. As a result, many of the final games scheduled for each team will come against a non-Division I school, and in other cases, a game was not even scheduled, leaving a gap between the end of the regular season slate and the conference tournament. Creighton and Illinois State chose to schedule one game fewer than the number of games they could have scheduled while the rest of the schools scheduled the likes of Loras College, Emporia State, Upper Iowa, Maryville and others as a regular season game on the schedule. With almost 350 teams in Division-I, that isn’t a good sign for a non-major, major conference.
Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.
A Look Back
Indiana State Is For Real—Indiana State came into the week with a 4-1 conference record, but many were not convinced they were a legitimate contender based on the teams they have played so far—mainly teams in the bottom of the league. However, the Sycamores escaped with a big win against Creighton on the last second lay-in by Carl Richard to take them to 6-1 in league play heading into this week.
Bradley and Illinois State Remain Winless —Both of these schools have yet to win a game in conference play after sitting last season towards the top of the league. For the Braves, this is their worst start in MVC history while the Redbirds have not suffered a start to conference play like this for eight years.
Defense Part of the Elite—Missouri State, Wichita State, and Indiana State are 1-2-3 in scoring defense which has been the key in those three teams sitting at the top of the conference. Missouri State is keeping teams at just over 28% shooting from three-point land compared to almost 40% last season.
Player of the Week—Aaron Carter, Indiana State—The senior for the Sycamores has taken advantage of his expanded role over the past few weeks being a key component in the wins over Creighton and Bradley this week. He averaged 17 points including 8-of-13 from three point range and 8-of-9 from the charity stripe.
Newcomer of the Week—Mamadou Seck, Southern Illinois—Seck has been a bright spot amongst the struggles Southern Illinois has had averaging 15 points and 11 rebounds per game in their two losses this week. He had 17 of the team’s 31 rebounds in the loss to Missouri State.
Power Rankings (Record, Conference Record) (Last Week’s Record)
Missouri State (15-3, 7-0) (1)— The Bears are still rolling along with wins over Southern Illinois and Bradley this week. They have learned from their mistakes from last season which has turned things around for them this season. This week will be a big test to see whether it can stay undefeated in conference play with a road trip to Indiana State and then the return game against Creighton Saturday afternoon on ESPN2.
Wichita State (15-3, 6-1) (2)—The Shockers had a successful road trip this week with wins at Creighton and Drake. Wichita State wore down the Bluejays with their athleticism while they just ran the Bulldogs off the court. All six of their conference wins have been by 14 points or more, and their 4-0 start on the road is the first since 1964-65. David Kyles, who was blazing hot at the beginning of the season, cooled off as conference play began, but might have gotten his shot back against Creighton. However, Garrett Stutz strained knee in the game against Creighton and may be limited for a period of time. They host two big games against the rejuvenated Northern Iowa Panthers and the surprising Indiana State.
Indiana State (11-7, 6-1) (4)— The Sycamores have started 6-1 in league play for the first time since the 1999-2000 season and a big part of it is the play of freshman point guard Jake Odum. The local product has been a solid leader for Indiana State while at the same time the team has overcome player injuries by Jake Kelly and Dwayne Latham allowing others like Aaron Carter step up. As these players are coming back, Indiana State has built itself some good depth. By the end of this week, the Sycamores could be sitting at the top of the league if it can get wins against Wichita State and Missouri State. Their biggest concern is getting more fans at home games.
Northern Iowa (12-6, 4-3) (6)— Hello…the Panthers are still around. While many, like myself, wrote off Northern Iowa a couple of weeks ago, they have rebounded by winning four of their last five games and have entered back into the MVC race, including the ugly 46-44 win last Wednesday night. Lucas O’Rear was suspended for a game for violating a team rule, but returned to the starting lineup and had a career high 18 points and added 10 rebounds in his second career double-double in the win against Illinois State. They still need some help, but can make more strides with Wichita State and Drake on the schedule this week.
Creighton (12-7, 4-3) (3)— The Bluejays are not able to win games right now. Creighton has lost two straight home games for the first time since the Qwest Center opened in 2003 when they lost to Missouri State last week and Wichita state this past week. A white-out and $1 sodas and $1 beers were not enough to take down the Shockers ending a 17-game home winning streak against Wichita State. After the stunning loss against Indiana State, they hope to get back to winning ways at home against Bradley and stealing a game at league leader Missouri State this week.
Evansville (9-8, 3-4) (8)— The Purple Aces won two games this week against Drake and Illinois State leaving them in the middle tier of the league. The wins are due to balanced scoring. Colt Ryan may have finally found some other teammates that want to score some points and play ball, including point guard Troy Taylor. It is very possible they could notch a couple more wins this week as they take on Southern Illinois and winless Bradley.
Southern Illinois (9-9, 3-4) (5)— Just when you thought the Salukis had things turned around and could have a decent conference season, they have now lost three of four, including their eighth straight loss to Northern Iowa on the road, and find themselves sitting with a .500 record for the season. The limited play of Gene Teague is keeping SIU from controlling the paint. The bottom of the league battles continue with Evansville and Illinois State on the schedule.
Drake (7-11, 2-5) (7)—Drake has lost five of their last six and if it wasn’t for Illinois State and Bradley being even worse, the Bulldogs would be sitting at the very bottom of the league. They might actually get another win this week as they host Illinois State, but that may be the last one they get for the next month. If their travel problems are any indication, this could be a long rest of the season for the Bulldogs.
Illinois State (8-10, 0-7) (9)—Illinois State and Bradley are fighting for that bottom spot. Luckily head coach Tim Jankovich has a pass for this season and they can build some experience for 2011-12. They are definitely tired of losing and they haven’t even played Bradley yet this season.
Bradley (6-12, 0-7) (10)— Some are talking about Jim Les losing his job at the end of the season despite the injuries they have suffered. If Indiana State’s reaction to injuries is any indication, then it could be very well be Les’ last season in Peoria. They still haven’t said “quit,” but how long until they do?
A Look Ahead
As Missouri Valley Conference play hits mid-season, there are a lot of key games going this week.
1/18—Illinois State @ Drake (Local TV)—Illinois State is looking for their first conference win and this might be their chance to get one.
1/19—Northern Iowa @ Wichita State (Fox Sports Net)—The Panthers are trying to stay in the race while the Shockers are looking to stay at the top to fight Missouri State and Indiana State down the stretch.
1/19—Missouri State @ Indiana State (Local TV, both markets)—The Bears are trying to stay undefeated in conference play. A win here could almost seal things up for Missouri State with all the road wins they have gotten and have a favorable schedule the second half of the season.
1/22—Creighton @ Missouri State (ESPN2)— Creighton was dismantled in Omaha in the second half against Missouri State. The Bluejays will need to get a big road win here to stay on the outside, looking in. Creighton is basically fighting for seeding in the MVC tournament from here on out.
1/22—Indiana State @ Wichita State (Local TV)—The Sycamores finish their week against the top of the league and could be sitting at the top of it with a win in Wichita.
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Former US olympian Karch Kiraly would even be impressed by this rejection from St. Louis’ Jordair Jett (talk about living up to your name)…