Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.
Current Records and my standings, (Conference Record) (Last Week):
- Northern Iowa 14-1 (5-0) (1)
- Wichita State 13-2 (4-1) (2)
- Missouri State 13-3 (3-2) (3)
- Illinois State 12-4 (3-2) (4)
- Indiana State 11-5 (3-2) (6)
- Bradley 7-8 (2-3) (7)
- Southern Illinois 9-5 (2-3) (5)
- Creighton 7-9 (2-3) (8)
- Drake 6-11 (1-4) (10)
- Evansville 6-8 (0-5) (9)
STORIES OF THE WEEK
Valley sitting 10th — The Missouri Valley Conference is sitting 10th right now in the Pomeroy ratings with Northern Iowa sitting up on top at #33 with Wichita State and Missouri State at #62 and #68 respectively. In 2006 when the Valley had so much success and got four teams into the NCAA Tournament, six teams were in the top 60. It will be interesting to see what kind of rankings they can end up with at this rate. The conference is getting back to the national scene, but the numbers still are not where they were a few years ago and they are just hoping to get at least more than one team in the Big Dance this season.
Northern Iowa ready to run away — Speaking of Northern Iowa, the Panthers look like they could run away with the Valley this season. With road victories already at Southern Illinois, Illinois State and Creighton, they have set themselves up for a chance to run away with the conference. However, they still have all those teams at home. Last season the Panthers struggled down the stretch, losing a lot of games in their own building. A game in Wichita on January 19th is one to circle on the calendar as you may see the first game between the two leaders in the Valley.
Teams separating themselves — There are several other teams in the Valley trying to separate themselves from the rest of the pack to make the Valley less weird and wacky compared with past seasons. Wichita State is playing extremely well right now along with Missouri State and Illinois State wanting to have a say. A dark horse could be Indiana State.
Historically top teams need to check into rehab — Last season it was Southern Illinois suffering a losing record for the first time in ten years. This season it may be Creighton headed to a losing season, sitting at 7-9 right now. Southern Illinois may still end up joining them by the time the season is over as they have now lost three straight. It is very unusual to see one of these two teams heading to the bottom of the league, but if both end up down there by season’s end, then there will be a lot more questions going forward.
TEAMS TO BEAT
Northern Iowa (2-0 this week)—As mentioned above, the Panthers are getting a lot of attention especially with a 13 game winning streak, but also as the only undefeated team in conference play after big road wins at Southern Illinois and Illinois State this past week. Some feel that UNI deserves to be ranked. They better be careful for what they wish for. This week Northern Iowa gets to host Bradley and Indiana State which looks like an easy enough task, but there might be an upset in there that could turn things upside down.
Wichita State (2-0 this week)—The Shockers keep plugging along, getting wins against Creighton and Missouri State. Wichita State had a 25 point lead at Missouri State before barely holding on at the end to get the win. The Shockers, however, still look to play a full 40 minutes but have a lot of weapons. The controversy in that game was that a fan in the Missouri State crowd shoved Toure Murry to the ground. Likely no punishment for the fan. They might have found that full 40 minutes on Saturday night as they took revenge against Creighton over last season’s MVC tournament game shocker with a rowdy home crowd and took Creighton out right from the beginning of the game. They will be tested this week as they hit the road for both of their games against Indiana State, and a return game with Creighton in Omaha.
Missouri State (1-1 this week)—Missouri State thought they could just show up to their JHQ Arena home court and notch a win, but Wichita State kicked them in the mouth to remind them that their non-conference success was nothing on which they could hang their hat. Though they made a valiant effort to come back, it wasn’t enough, and they lost their first one at home. They were able to rebound from that game to pound Bradley this week as Kyle Weems led the way with 30 points in that win. Road trips to Drake and Bradley this week await the Bears.
Illinois State (1-1 this week) –The Redbirds got off on a good note this week to defeat Evansville as expected, but then laid an egg in front of a national television audience in their loss to Northern Iowa. Though they remember the troubles with Northern Iowa over 300 days ago in the MVC Tournament finals, it was not enough for them to pull the upset. Illinois State will fly under the radar this week against Evansville and Drake. If they expect to be in the Valley race, they need to win both of these games this week.
Indiana State (1-1 this week)—The Sycamores have to be kicking themselves in that they had an opportunity to get a win at Bradley before losing in overtime after a furious comeback in the second half. At least they were able to turn it around to blow out Evansville. Indiana State is increasingly looking like a better and better team and could be in the mix in the conference race, but they cannot let games like Bradley slip away. They also need to avoid the injury bug. Last week it was Jake Kelly, now they hold their breath on leading scorer and rebounder Dwayne Lathan and a leg injury. With Wichita State and Northern Iowa on the schedule this week, this could be a make or break point for Kevin McKenna and his team.
Bradley (1-1 this week)—Bradley needed overtime to get past Indiana State and then lost at Missouri State this week. There are doubters on whether this Bradley team can improve the rest of the season, but do not count them out. With games against Northern Iowa and Missouri State this week Bradley needs to wake up now if they want to stay in the race. Really, Sam Singh is in his final year at Bradley.
Creighton (1-1 this week)—Funny how both teams that have the most veteran coaches (Jim Les – Bradley), have teams on which they aren’t sure what they really have. Creighton survived after a pesky Drake team took them to the wire earlier in the week, and then they were “not ready” for the Koch Arena crowd in Wichita. In addition, Creighton forward Casey Harriman said, “We think we have it, but we don’t. We need to recognize our record and where we’re at in the league. We have to do something about it. Yeah, we are Creighton, but we’re not the Creighton of old. We’re not getting it done, and we need to pick it up.” They need to do it in a hurry; Southern Illinois and Wichita State come to town this week.
Drake (1-1 this week)—Drake almost pulled out a win at Creighton this week, but then was able to come back against Southern Illinois to steal a victory in Carbondale. The Bulldogs were looking to turnaround their season against SIU, and that is exactly what happened. Drake is going to be one of those teams throughout the rest of the season that could play spoiler to other teams’ conference hopes. This week, Missouri State and Illinois State get to head to Des Moines to play with the Bulldogs.
STRUGGLING THIS WEEK
Southern Illinois (0-2 this week)—Is Chris Lowery’s job really on the line in Carbondale? Yes, Southern Illinois struggled mightily last season, but they were on their way back up, right? Well, this week after the loss to Northern Iowa, there were quotes from Lowery criticizing the crowd for not getting behind his team. Then, a writer at ESPNChicago called for Lowery’s job. People on the Salukitalk message board were talking about bringing Lowery boo signs to the arena, as well. There was just a full explosion on that board about Lowery. With the collapse in the final minutes against Drake this past Saturday to give them a three game losing streak, there are probably even more boo birds out there, and questions as to whether or not Lowery’s job is secure. They hit the road to Creighton and Evansville this week.
Evansville (0-2 this week)—Another week and another couple of Evansville losses. But they also lost another player as Bryan Bochie decided to leave school and basketball all together. But coach Marty Simmons thinks Bochie leaving will be a positive on the team. Will they show up to play Illinois State and Southern Illinois this week? Probably, but don’t expect them to walk away with a win. Maybe when they host Drake in a couple of weeks.
WEEK AHEAD AND GAMES TO WATCH
The Valley does not have a lot of compelling matchups this week due to many top teams playing bottom feeders, but here are the best of the crop (or at least the ones you can watch on TV):
- 1/12, Bradley @ Northern Iowa (ESPNU)—The Panthers try to stay undefeated in conference play.
- 1/13, Southern Illinois @ Creighton (Fox Sports Net)—These two teams have historically sat at the top of the conference, but these rivals are fighting to just stay relevant in the conference race.
- 1/16, Indiana State @ Northern Iowa (Local TV)—The Sycamores want to be in the race, and a win at Northern Iowa would be huge.
- 1/16, Wichita State @ Creighton (ESPN2)—The second matchup in a week, this time on ESPN2 as the Bluejays try to make it a closer game at home.
- 1/17, Illinois St. @ Drake (ESPNU)—The Redbirds have been flying a little under the radar with Wichita State, Northern Iowa and Missouri State getting all the attention. This is a chance to showcase what they bring to the table.