Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.
A Look Back
- End of the Non-Conference Season—Some people may say it is a relief to see the end of the Missouri Valley Conference’s non-conference season. Every school in the conference had opportunities against top teams in the nation and none of them could come through and separate themselves, nor get into the national spotlight. The conference really needs to take a look at the scheduling that each of the schools do and maybe re-evaluate what can be accomplished in the non-conference season. There were more games than usual scheduled against the top 25 teams in the nation, but maybe it would be better to get more with the teams ranked 26-75 instead. They may also have to try and play more neutral court games as well.
- Diamond in the Rough—We have talked before about Gregory Echenique and his impact to the Creighton basketball team since becoming eligible, but another player that has become eligible heading into conference season is Diamond Taylor from Southern Illinois. Taylor came to the Salukis last season after being kicked off the Wisconsin basketball team in September 2009 after being arrested for burglary and possession of stolen property. With a new start, Taylor will bring a scoring and defensive spark to Southern Illinois.
- RPI doldrums— If the Valley ever wants to be considered a multiple big league again, one thing they will need to do is find a way to move up the conference RPI rankings. As of the past week, the Missouri Valley Conference was as low as the 13th in some conference rankings sitting below the Ivy League. While they now beat up on each other in the conference season, their only hope to move up now is to have a couple of teams separate themselves and then make a nice showing in the now overblown Bracketbusters.
- Non-Conference Player of the Season—Kyle Weems, Missouri State—Weems is second in the league in scoring, sixth in rebounding and the only player in the league to be in the top 10 in both categories. He has been the leader the Bears have needed during their tough non-conference season. The junior has scored in double figures in all but one of their games and has averaged 22 points a game in the past four games. If Missouri State is going to win the conference season, Weems will be the key to take them there.
- Non-Conference Newcomer of the Season—Doug McDermott, Creighton—There was talk that McDermott would redshirt this season. With the wait of Gregory Echenique to become eligible, Ethan Wragge’s foot injury and the loss of Casey Harriman, McDermott was the required to go ahead and play. He has started every game this season and is second on the team in minutes played. The freshman has responded by averaging almost 13 points and 6 rebounds a game. Creighton received a gift when Northern Iowa released him from his Letter of Intent so he could play for his dad.
Power Rankings (Record) (Last week rank) and Conference Outlook
- Wichita State (9-2) (1)— Wichita State had an up and down non-conference season. They missed some opportunities out in Maui, blowing a lead late to Connecticut putting them in the wrong part of the bracket and missing a chance against Michigan State and Kentucky. Then they failed to win their MVC/MWC Challenge game against a still undefeated San Diego State. However they have come on lately by winning a tight game at LSU (which now doesn’t look as good after the Tigers were blown out by North Texas) and then taking down Tulsa this past week in the first basketball game at Intrust Bank Arena. They have some big momentum going into conference play. They host Evansville and travel to Bradley for their first two conference games.
- Missouri State (8-3) (2)— Will Creekmore has stepped up larger than many have expected and together with Kyle Weems gave the Bears a decent non-conference season, but probably not what they were hoping for. They came up just short against Tennessee in the NIT Tipoff, got caught by Tulsa unprepared, and played tough against Oklahoma State. Unfortunately they were all losses. There is no signature win on their resume that will help them come March.
- Northern Iowa (9-3) (3)— Rebuilding and exceeding expectations from last season has been a large challenge on Ben Jacobson’s plate. The Panthers were taught an early lesson at Syracuse and have had some troubles on the road losing to Iowa and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. However, winning the Las Vegas Classic springboards them into conference play with a lot of confidence and a solid rotation of players. The Panthers now have a knack for beating storied teams with the win against Indiana this week.
- Creighton (8-4) (5)— Creighton got off to a slow start, but heads into a conference season riding a four game winning streak, getting Rutgers transfer Gregory Echenique three games under his belt to get ready for conference season. However, losses to their toughest competition like BYU, Nebraska, Northwestern and Iowa State lays out a path that the Bluejays need to have a stellar MVC regular season and put all of their eggs into the MVC Tournament basket..
- Illinois State (8-3) (4)— Tim Jankovich said coming into the season he had one of the youngest teams in the league having to replace a lot of key players, so their non-conference has been probably as expected. They lost games against their toughest competition, UNLV and Ohio, and had a rough outing on their first road game of the season losing at Arkansas-Little Rock. But they finished their non-conference on a strong note in a back and forth contest at UNC-Wilmington before winning in overtime. They will be tested early with Creighton and Missouri State to start things off.
- Southern Illinois (6-5) (7)—Southern Illinois is where most people had them coming into this season. Somehow I missed the memo and expected them to be better than they have been. They started off the season getting blown out by Illinois and then somehow called a timeout they didn’t have against Northeastern to start the season 0-2. The Salukis have been able to beat the teams they were supposed to beat, but lost to known commodities of a Drake and Northern Iowa start their battle for the MVC. Shorter and more intense practices might be their answer.
- Evansville (6-4) (6)— There are signs of improvement in Evansville, but like the other teams in the conference, could not get a big win to put in their back pocket. Butler could be that win, but even they look down compared to their NCAA Championship game run last season. Losses against North Carolina and Indiana along with Air Force and Middle Tennessee exploits their inconsistency that is still being put in place for a program that has struggled to do anything since becoming a part of Division I years ago. But with young players like Colt Ryan, Denver Holmes and Ned Cox, things might be looking up. Starting at Wichita State will not be an easy task.
- Bradley (6-5) (9)— There is something in the water in Peoria that has caused things not to turn out at all what was expected coming into this season. Two starters and potential All-Conference players in Taylor Brown and Sam Maniscalco have been grounded with injury and the Braves were riding a five-game losing streak coming into the week before Christmas where they were able to get back on the winning track. Jim Les may have saved his job for another year once again because of injuries and coaching a different way. Indiana State and Wichita State are on the slate for the first week.
- Indiana State (5-6) (8)—The Sycamores have had time to think about their last non-conference game against Purdue on December 18th. Being on the road for most of their non-conference season was a killer for Indiana State though they probably gained a lot of experience playing against adversity heading into the conference season. They could get themselves off to a good start if they can beat Bradley and Evansville in the first week.
- Drake (5-6) (10)— After Drake’s teaching lesson from Dartmouth to start the week, the Bulldogs in shambles at the end of the non-conference. When your wins are against Texas Southern, Southern Utah, Eastern Michigan, Boise State and Chicago State, there is definitely something that is not clicking for them. They have had the last two top recruiting classes in the conference, but there may be some questions on whether that talent has the right coach in place.
A Look Ahead
Conference play begins and there are already some good matchups to kick things off.
- 12/29—Missouri State @ Northern Iowa (Fox Sports Net)—A great game to kick off MVC conference play as both teams expect to be in the race at the end of the season.
- 12/29—Creighton @ Illinois State (ESPN Full Court/ESPN3.com)—Creighton has had some struggles with Illinois state when they have played each other early in the conference schedule. Both teams have work to do as they start conference play.
- 1/1—Wichita State @ Bradley (ESPNU)—This game had a lot of potential before half of Bradley’s starters went down with injury. The Shockers will set the bar in this game.
- 1/1—Illinois State @ Missouri State (No TV)—Missouri State has steadily risen in the Valley stature over the past couple of seasons. I still think the Bears can win the conference. At the same time, we may know early where the Redbirds will ultimately end up.
- 1/1—Northern Iowa @ Southern Illinois (No TV)—Both programs are heading in different directions. Northern Iowa is in the reloading stage while Southern Illinois is still going through an extreme makeover.