Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.
Current Records and my standings (Conference Standings) (Last Week):
- Northern Iowa 16-1 (7-0) (1)
- Wichita State 14-3 (5-2) (2)
- Illinois State 13-5 (4-3) (4)
- Creighton 9-9 (4-3) (8)
- Missouri State 13-5 (3-4) (3)
- Bradley 8-9 (3-4) (6)
- Indiana State 11-7 (3-4) (5)
- Drake 8-11 (3-4) (9)
- Southern Illinois 10-6 (3-4) (7)
- Evansville 6-10 (0-7) (10)
STORIES OF THE WEEK
Big Game Week—Have your TVs tuned to ESPNU on Tuesday night as the top two teams in the conference have their first matchup of the season. Northern Iowa tries to take another road game in conference play, having already won at some of the toughest places in the conference—Southern Illinois, Creighton and Illinois State. They will try to conquer probably the loudest and rowdiest crowd at Wichita State. On the other side of the coin, Creighton and Illinois State who are tied right now for third in the conference will also be playing each other on Tuesday night. If Northern Iowa wins Tuesday night, it looks like things will be coming down to a fight for second place in the conference, as UNI could run away with the Valley — and we are not yet into February.
Missouri State starting to slide—The Bears were the talk of the conference coming into conference season, but Cuonzo Martin probably wishes they weren’t so heralded, since they’re playing like most people expected them to play once conference season started. They now have lost four out of their last five games and are essentially taking themselves out of the MVC race.
Creighton and Drake surging—The Bulldogs and Bluejays have both had some struggles winning games this season but are now on a roll. Creighton has won four of their last five games and Drake has won three straight, with surprising wins over Southern Illinois, Illinois State and Missouri State.
Lets take a look at the MVC at just about the halfway point to see where teams are headed:
TEAMS TO BEAT
Northern Iowa (2-0 this week, 15 game winning streak)—Northern Iowa just keeps winning and have their longest winning streak in school history. They are the toast of not only the Valley but of the state of Iowa as well. They aren’t the fastest, the best-shooting, or the most imposing team on the court, but they keep finding ways to win with different players stepping up on different nights. They survived against Bradley and then decimated Indiana State this week. Wichita State will be big game for them, but they can survive if they don’t win that one. That could, however, set up a trap game in the return game against the Sycamores later in the week.
Wichita State (1-1 this week, won 5 of last 6)—Wichita had been flying high until they came into the Qwest Center Saturday to take on Creighton. After jumping out to an early lead the week before and turning on the cruise control the rest of the way, in the return game it looked like the same thing would happen. But the Shockers were called for too many fouls, and Creighton hit their charity shots to give Wichita State their first loss in six games and keep a losing streak in Omaha intact since 1992. They don’t have time to sulk on this one as Northern Iowa comes to town on Tuesday and then WSU hits the road again to Drake. Toure Murry is on his way to being one of the elite Shocker players if he continues his play.
ON THE RUN
Creighton (2-0 this week, won four of last five)—Considering the way that Creighton played in their two games this week, you wish they could have played like this since the beginning of the season. First was a dramatic last second shot by Antoine Young to get the victory against Southern Illinois earlier in the week, and then they had to shrug off a really bad shooting night to hit 22-of-30 free throws and survive the final seconds to edge out a one point victory against Wichita State. Creighton received a late Christmas gift as Rutgers big man Greg Echenique decided to transfer to the Bluejays and will be eligible in December. He cannot wait to get started. This week doesn’t get any easier for the Bluejays as they travel to Illinois State before returning home to host Missouri State.
Drake (2-0 this week, three game winning streak)—This feels weird putting Drake up in this spot, but they are two seconds away from a four-game winning streak and the Bulldogs are now playing their best basketball of the season with victories over Missouri State and Illinois State. The big reason is coach Mark Phelps decision to give his senior players more minutes on the court. Drake is setting themselves up for a victory over Evansville this week, and could surprise Wichita State, especially if they lose against Northern Iowa earlier in the week. Fear the Drake.
HEADING DOWN THE WRONG PATH
Illinois State (1-1 this week, two of four conference wins against Evansville)—Don’t be fooled by the Redbirds at this point in the conference season. If Osiris Eldridge is not putting up his normal points, this team may not be able to have other people step up all the time like they did against Evansville , but if he does, then no one else gets involved and they are having problems winning games, like against Drake Sunday night. The easy wins are gone with their series against Evansville completed. Creighton comes to town this week and then they head to Carbondale to take on Southern Illinois. Illinois State could be headed for a freefall if they aren’t careful.
Bradley (1-1 this week, 3-7 in their last 10)—Bradley is the most inconsistent team in the conference to this point in the season. The PJ Star outlines this pretty well. They have a lot of problems winning on the road as they are 1-3 on the road so far in conference play. They just missed a big win against Northern Iowa, losing by a deuce. They may go 1-1 again this week when they go to Southern Illinois and then host Evansville.
Indiana State (0-2 this week, lost threfo of last four)—Just as I was about to jump aboard the Indiana State bandwagon, the Sycamores lost out on a great opportunity to put themselves in a great position in conference play. The losses to conference leaders Wichita State and Northern Iowa is a big blow. Instead of getting ahead of others in trying to get to the top of the MVC, they are now in a six-team race to not have to play one of the dreaded Thursday night play-in games of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Harry Marshall has stepped up his game, and now we will have to see if the rest of the team steps up as well. They have an opportunity to redeem themselves on the road against Missouri State and when they host Northern Iowa in the return game.
Missouri State (0-2 this week, lost four of last five)—Missouri State is well on its way to a freefall, unable to win games on the road. Like Bradley, the Bears are 1-3 on the road in conference play. But they were able to go 3-1 on the road in non-conference play. That is the difference between non-conference and conference play; it is a lot harder to win on the road against teams in your own league. The first half has been the key for the Bears as they keep “laying eggs.” They are in a lot of trouble if they lose both games against Indiana State and Creighton this week.
Southern Illinois (1-1 this week, lost four of last five)—The Salukis are pretty lucky they didn’t lose at Evansville Saturday night. With rumors of head coach Chris Lowery headed to Depaul at the end of the season and Lowery seemingly losing his players during a four game losing streak, they were still able to salvage a win against Evansvile. Against Creighton on Wednesday night, Nick Evans got into a little altercation with Creighton’s Chad Millard which led to Evans’ ejection. He was also out for the Evansville game because of that. It is important for SIU to beat Illinois State and Bradley at home this week if they expect to return to the postseason. Otherwise they are headed for their second consecutive losing season.
Evansville (0-2 this week, eight game losing streak)—Evansville can only play spoiler mode at this point in the season, though their seven point loss to Southern Illinois was the closest they have come to winning a conference game. Colt Ryan is the best thing going for the Purple Aces right now — oh, and how they conduct themselves. Can they get their first conference win against Drake or Bradley this week?
WEEK AHEAD AND GAMES TO WATCH
This week, the Valley’s two top teams finally meet up, and there are several other intriguing matchups this week.
- 1/19, Northern Iowa @ Wichita State (ESPNU)—Easily the game of the week as the matchup of the two top teams of the conference takes place.
- 1/19, Indiana State @ Missouri State (Fox Sports Net)—Who will step up to the plate to turn things around for either team?
- 1/20, Bradley @ Southern Illinois (Local TV)–Both teams need a win badly to stay in contention.
- 1/20, Creighton @ Illinois State (Local TV)—Although Creighton has been struggling this season as a whole, they are right in the conference race and can score a key win against Osiris Eldridge and the Redbirds. Eldridge tears Creighton apart every time he plays them.
- 1/23, Wichita State @ Drake (ESPNU)—Drake hopes to continue their surge while Wichita State tries to stay at the top. Things will be turned upside down in the Valley if Drake wins this one.
- 1/24, Missouri State @ Creighton (Local TV)—Two teams headed in the opposite direction. Can the Bears steal one in Omaha or is their early season start going to become irrelevant?
- 1/24, Northern Iowa @ Indiana State (Fox Sports Net)—The Sycamores need this win, and could give Northern Iowa their first conference loss — if UNI is still undefeated in conference play at that time.