Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference. You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.
The Week That Was
The MVC/MWC Challenge Runs To A Draw: Over the weekend, the Missouri Valley and Mountain West Conferences played the third annual MVC/MWC Challenge games. With only eight teams left in the current Mountain West, there were only eight games played. Although Boise State played two MVC teams in the past few weeks, only one of those games was a part of the Challenge. The two biggest games involved Creighton and Wichita State. The Bluejays came back from 17 points down in the first half to escape San Diego State with a victory. On the other side of the coin, Wichita State destroyed UNLV behind Joe Ragland’s 31 points. The Challenge will finish out in the 2012-13 season.
Valley RPI Rising: The MVC has been having some pretty good non-conference success this year. So good, in fact, that the Valley heads into this week with the seventh highest conference RPI. This is quite a difference from sitting at #11 last season at the same time. With Northern Iowa, Creighton, Indiana State, Wichita State and Missouri State all in the top 41 in the RPI, things are looking great for multiple NCAA bids this year.
Creighton In The Top Twenty: With several teams ahead of the Bluejays losing, Creighton moved up to #17 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll and they make their debut in the AP poll sitting at #19. In the AP poll, this represents Creighton’s first appearance since November 2006 and their highest ranking since March 2003.
Ragland Has His Day: Wichita State’s Joe Ragland created a little history in the big win over UNLV. He was the first Shocker since 2006 that scored more than 30 points in a game. He was dead-on from behind the arc, going 8-9 against UNLV. In the two games this week, he was 14-18 from the field and 11-13 from behind the three point line.
Joe Ragland Sliced And Shot His Way To A 30-Point Game In The Shockers' Win Over The Runnin' Rebels Sunday. (MVC-Sports.com)
Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference
A Look Back
Missed Opportunities—This week, several teams missed opportunities to really shake things up in the Missouri Valley Conference. Missouri State had a great opportunity to get a commanding lead in the standings and stay undefeated, but lost to Indiana State on a last-second shot by Jake Kelly to tie the game with a foul. He calmly sank the free throw and the Sycamores found themselves tied with Missouri State for a short time in the standings. Creighton had an opportunity to move up a couple of games, but lost to Missouri State on Saturday with Kyle Weems coming through with late-game heroics for the Bears.
3OT Thriller —In what could have shaken the standings a little more, Indiana State went into Wichita and gave the Shockers all they could handle taking the game to three overtimes. Wichita State eventually pulled out the win.
Standings Stay Put—As a result of the ups and downs of everyone this week, the standings and power rankings stay the same. Slowly, as mentioned last week, Northern Iowa has worked its way up back into the mix and scored a key victory over Wichita State. With Creighton and Missouri State on for this week, it should be another crazy week in the Valley.
Player of the Week—Kwadzo Ahelegbe, Northern Iowa—Ahelegbe has been the key cog in bringing Northern Iowa back into the MVC race. He averaged 18.5 points, 5.0 assists and shot 61.1 percent from the field this week in the two Panther victories.
Newcomer of the Week—Jake Odum, Indiana State–The freshman has continued to impress as the leader on the court for the Sycamores. He had 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in the three-overtime game against Wichita State. His presence on the court will decide whether Indiana State continues to win games or not.
Power Rankings (Record) (Conference Record) (Last week’s rank)
Missouri State (16-4) (8-1) (1)— Missouri State had a wide range of emotions this week. First was the last second loss in Terre Haute against Indiana State, which carried over into the game with Creighton. Missouri State was down the whole game by as many as 15 points until the final 11 minutes of the second half, where they fought back to steal the win against the Bluejays. They get to face the state of Iowa this week by going to Drake and hosting Northern Iowa.
Wichita State (16-4) (7-2) (2)— The Shockers have went through almost the same set of emotions, a bit of an emotional gut check. The Shockers have had some problems defending home court in conference play after losing two straight against Missouri State and Northern Iowa. They almost lost their third straight at home before winning in triple overtime against Indiana State. This week they take a trip to Southern Illinois before hosting Bradley.
Indiana State (12-8) (7-2) (3)— The Sycamores are the surprise team of the season which there always seems to be lately in the MVC. Their six-day stretch of basketball was one to remember. Indiana State had their biggest test of the season in games against Missouri State and Wichita State. While being able to steal one against the Bears, They could not steal another one on the road at Wichita State. Evansville comes to town this week and has been the only other team in the conference to beat Indiana State. I’m sure Indiana State will be hungry for that one. Then, a road trip to Creighton who may be looking for revenge against the Sycamores.
Northern Iowa (14-6) (6-3) (4)— The Panthers have been able to fly under the radar for the most part and have snuck back into the race. They have won six of their last seven games including wins at Wichita State and Drake last week. They host Creighton and then go to Missouri State. If the Valley season has been any indication, don’t be surprised to see Northern Iowa sitting at the top of the conference standings by the end of the week. Some are hoping that their Bracketbusters opponent will put up a better fight.
Creighton (13-8) (5-4) (5)— The Bluejays have had several opportunities slip through their fingers. They came out on fire against Bradley but really struggled in the second half. Creighton has had second half problems all season and that caught up to them again in Springfield when they could not hold a lead against Missouri State in the final minutes. Creighton has now lost games against Iowa State, Nebraska, Missouri State, and Indiana State on final possessions and have had second half breakdowns against BYU, Northwestern, Missouri State, and Wichita State. Creighton needs someone other than Antoine Young to be able to create plays in the backcourt. The Bluejays is tougher than last year, but not tough enough.
Evansville (10-9) (4-5) (6)— The Aces have been average this season as their record indicates. They lost against Southern Illinois but came back to beat Bradley. Pieter van Tongerenhas improved for Evansville. They head to Indiana State, who they have beaten already and have a quick turnaround for the return game against Southern Illinois
Southern Illinois (10-10) (4-5) (7)—The Salukis are sitting in the position that the media picked them in to start the season, but they are getting better, just inconsistent. They gave Illinois State their first conference win of the season which takes them back a couple of steps. The injury to Gene Teague really hurt them this season, but he has now returned to the lineup. They host the Shockers this week before hitting the road back to Evansville.
Drake (8-12) (3-6) (8)— Drake is trying to see what they can do in preparation for next year since things have not turned out as they had hoped. They did get a win against Illinois State to give them some confidence, but then laid an egg against Northern Iowa. They get to play spoiler against Missouri State this week before heading to Illinois State.
Illinois State (9-11) (1-8) (9)— The Redbirds got their first win in the conference against Southern Illinois which gives them a boost before their rival game against Bradley. They hoped that year four underTim Jankovich would not have turned out the way it has.
Bradley (6-14) (0-9) (10)— What else can you say about Bradley? They played probably one of their best halves of basketball against Creighton in the second half on Wednesday night and tried to come back against Evansville, but were too far down to get a victory. Andrew Warren continues to be a scoring machine for Bradley and unfortunately isn’t in the same breath of Jimmer Fredette due to the team’s struggles.
A Look Ahead
The grueling conference season continues with several big games on the schedule this week.
1/26—Creighton @ Northern Iowa (ESPNU)—Creighton has struggled with Northern Iowa in recent years, but a win here is needed by both teams to have a chance for the top of the league. Greg McDermott returns to where his coaching career took off and brings his son who originally signed with Northern Iowa. It will definitely be an interesting return.
1/26—Wichita State @ Southern Illinois (Fox Sports Net)—The Shockers are trying to keep par with everyone else and winning on the road is always important, especially at SIU Arena.
1/26—Illinois State @ Bradley (Local TV)—Both teams are the bottom dwellers in the league, but their rivalry is always fierce. Jim Les’ job may be on the line for Bradley in this one.
1/29—Indiana State @ Creighton (ESPN Full Court/ESPN3)—Indiana State doesn’t want to feel left out in the conference race and getting more wins against the teams like Creighton will help solidify the run they have had during conference season.
1/30—Northern Iowa @ Missouri State (ESPNU)—If the cards fall right earlier in the week and Northern Iowa gets revenge for the conference opener in Cedar Falls that the Bears won, then the Panthers could be sitting at the top of the league after Sunday night. The always adventurous Missouri Valley 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.
Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.
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A Look Back
Indiana State On The Rise—After a rough start in non-conference play, the Sycamores have been improving, jumping out to an early 4-1 record in conference play. A lot of it has been without Jake Kelly and Dwayne Latham. First year head coach Greg Lansing is seizing the opportunity to move Indiana State up in the pecking order in the league.
Early Season Wins On The Road—Missouri State is building up big road wins early this conference season against the top teams in the league. The Bears already has wins in their back pocket at Northern Iowa, at Creighton, and at Wichita State. It may be the way Cuonzo Martinhandles his bench. With the way thing are going with Missouri State winning on the road, they are setting themselves up for having the biggest advantage once February comes around.
Not A Guard League This Season—The Missouri Valley Conference has been known historically as a guard-oriented league, but several teams are relying on their frontcourt players to lead them along: Missouri State’s front line of Kyle Weems and Will Creekmore, Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Kenny Lawson, and Gregory Echenique, and Southern Illinois’ Gene Teague, Mamadou Seck and Carlton Fay are examples of players that are carrying their teams that are not necessarily guards.
Player of the Week—Carlton Fay, Southern Illinois—This week, Fay was instrumental in the wins against Bradley and Illinois State in averaging almost 20 points a game for the Salukis. He had 33 points against Illinois State, including two free throws at the end to seal the win. They will need him to perform big to keep
Newcomer of the Week—Doug McDermott, Creighton—It may seem like this is a little biased, but facts are facts—McDermott has been consistent week to week. This week he averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds a game in the three games played this week. A close second is Mamadou Seck from Southern Illinois, but he only had two good game performances this week. McDermotts three solid games put him over the top.
Power Rankings (Record) (Conference Record) (Last week’s rank)
Missouri State (13-3) (5-0) (2)— It is looking more and more like the team to beat this season is Missouri State. The Bears have gone out on the road and improved from their 1-17 record over the past two seasons to 3-0 so far this season. Against Creighton this week, it was about making adjustments at halftime, which resulted in easy layups. Against Wichita State, it was getting out to an early lead and just taking it to the Shockers before holding on to the victory. They now host Southern Illinois and put their 17-game home winning streak on the line. They are in this for the long haul.
Wichita State (13-3) (4-1) (1)— The Shockers in some respects has sort of flown under the radar as they probably haven’t been talked about as much as other teams, especially with the success of Missouri State. They had an easy start with games against Drake, Bradley, Evansville and Illinois State, which are a combined 3-17 in conference play. The loss against Missouri State on Sunday may be a wake-up call to them. Their next big test will be at Creighton on Wednesday night. They may have found the point guard they have been looking for in Demetric Williams.
Creighton (12-5) (4-1) (3) — The Bluejays suffered from inconsistent play at the beginning of the week. They played a solid first half against Missouri State, but blew an 11-point lead in the second half at home and were outscored 47-26, and did not defend their home court. The first half against Southern Illinois wasn’t much better, but Creighton rebounded with a come-from-behind overtime victory at Southern Illinois and held on for a win at Evansville. Kaleb Korver has finally come around in his scoring with career highs at Southern Illinois and Evansville. Wichita State comes to town and a road trip to surprising Indiana State will be important to them to try and stay in the top half of the league.
Indiana State (9-7) (4 -1) (8)— Right now, the Sycamores are the surprise of the league. Although the wins have come against the bottom of the league and mostly at home, they are still sitting in a good situation. They destroyed defending champion Northern Iowa 70-45. Indiana hopes their defense will be the thing that helps them win on the road. They will already have the return game with Bradley on Wednesday, but then will host Creighton on Sunday. They could be in the top three next week.
Southern Illinois (9-7) (3-2) (4)— The Salukis’ up-and-down season continues. They did get wins against Bradley and Illinois State, but couldn’t put rival Creighton away down the stretch with Carlton Fay missing key free throws toward the end of regulation. Fay rebounded with 33 points including a three pointer with 12 seconds remaining to help secure the win against Illinois State. Right now they are just a middle of the pack team and road trips to Missouri State and Northern Iowa will not be easy.
Northern Iowa (10-6) (2-3) (5)— The Panthers got their first conference win against Evansville, but were destroyed by Indiana State on Friday night. Lucas O’Rear then broke team rules and was suspended for the Bradley game on Sunday. Northern Iowa has some problems to solve if it wants to be in any type of contention down the stretch. The biggest problem is three-point shooting. They are shooting the same number of shots, but fewer of them are going in. If the Panthers hit better than 34% from three, then they are 6-1.
Drake (7-9) (2-3) (9)—Drake has lost three of their last four games and are having problems hanging on to the ball and rebounding—many fundamental things that are needed to win games. One positive is the performance of Aaron Hawley and Ben Simon off the bench. They will head to Evansville before battling Wichita State at the Knapp Center.
Evansville (7-8) (1-4) (6)— The Purple Aces are reeling, losing all three of their games this week. It probably has not helped that three of the first five conference games have been on the road. Colt Ryan and Denver Holmes were quite the duo last season, but Holmes has been pretty quiet this season and hopes he is turning things around. Drake and Illinois State are on the slate this week. It is very possible the bottom four teams in the league right now will battle it out for those positions.
Illinois State (8-8) (0-5) (7)— Tim Jankovich knew that he had some rebuilding to do, but probably didn’t expect to start 0-5 in conference play. They went 0-3 this week and just missed defeating Southern Illinois on Sunday. The Redbirds have now lost against all of the top teams in the league. They get Northern Iowa and Evansville this week at home—they are hoping the schedule can help them get some wins.
Bradley (6-10) (0-5) (10)— You wonder if Jim Les would like to start the season over, as nothing seems to be going right for them. The Braves are still looking for their first conference win, and at this point, it isn’t looking good. Fans and beat writers are trying to stay positive about the Braves. I guess one other positive thing to look at is at least Carver Arena got a good review. They host Indiana State and Missouri State this week.
A Look Ahead
Some great games at the right time this week, as conference play enters the second week. It will be more intense with three games for each school between Tuesday and Sunday.
1/12—Wichita State @ Creighton (Local TV—KMTV and Cox-Kansas)— This is actually a pretty good non-rivalry where both schools really do not like each other. These two teams always play their best against each other.
1/12—Southern Illinois @ Missouri State (No TV)—Both programs are on opposite sides of where they used to be a decade ago, but Southern Illinois wants to stay in contention. They have to beat Missouri State to stay in the race.
1/16—Creighton @ Indiana State (Fox Sports Net)—The Sycamores have been the surprise in the league so far. They would like to continue that run against the Bluejays.
1/16—Missouri State @ Bradley (ESPNU)—At the beginning of the season, this looked like a key matchup, but now Bradley is just trying to not finish last in the MVC. At the same time, this would be a loss that the Bears do not need for their conference run.
1/16—Southern Illinois @ Northern Iowa (Local TV—WSIU and PSN)—The Panthers and Salukis are trying to claw their way back in and both teams are searching for answers to get some wins.
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 Echeniquethree 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 andNed 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.
Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference
A Look Back
Finals Make a Slow Week—The Missouri Valley Conference was quiet for the most part this week as teams had less time on the practice court and fewer games to be played due to finals. Each team only played once this past week except Wichita State and Northern Iowa.
Schedule Anomalies—Speaking of scheduling, a few schools have had some extended time off. Bradley has not played since their December 8 loss at Duke, but the Braves play two games this week before Christmas. Southern Illinois has had 11 days in between games since the December 11 loss at Western Kentucky. Indiana State lost to Purduethis past Saturday and does not play again until conference play begins on December 29. In addition, the winning percentage of The Valley as a whole is at its lowest since 2003. These are not good times for this league.
Echenique’s Debut—Creighton fans have been waiting for almost a year for Gregory Echenique to step on the court for the Bluejays. In his debut on Saturday night, Echenique scored 12 points, grabbed five rebounds and tallied three blocks in 18 minutes of action. Two games against Western Illinois and Samford will let Echenique get more court time before conference season.
Player of the Week—Kyle Weems, Missouri State—Weems has shown a lot of consistency in the non-conference season and his 26 points and eight rebounds led the way in the Bears’ win against Saint Louis this week.
Newcomer of the Week—Kenneth Harris, Evansville.—Harris was instrumental in Evansville gaining a victory against Middle Tennessee this week with his 13 points and a game-high eight rebounds. The Aces had to hold on after blowing a 21-point lead in the final twelve minutes of the game.
Power Rankings (Record) (Last week’s rank)
Wichita State (8-2) (2)—The Shockers played twice this week with a warm-up game against Alabama A&M before hitting the road with what amounted to basically a road game against LSU. Garrett Stutzhit a three-pointer with eight seconds to go to give Wichita State a two-point lead and they held on for the win. I know I had Toure’ Murry as the MVC Player of the Year this season, but he is really struggling as of late, including a 3-12 performance against LSU and five turnovers. Tulsa comes to town before the holidays to close out the non-conference slate.
Missouri State (7-3) (1)—Missouri State earned a nice win against Saint Louis on Saturday, and only fall in the rankings due to the competition they played this week compared to Wichita State. However, I still think that overall, Missouri State is still slightly ahead of the Shockers. The Bears play Arkansas State in a rematch of the opening round of the NIT-Tipoff. Defensive intensity is still something they are working on.
Northern Iowa (7-3) (4)— Northern Iowa heads to Las Vegas this week for a great opportunity to get a couple of wins against the top conferences in the nation. However, even though Indiana and Colorado have potential this season, they still aren’t the top teams in their respective conferences. At the same time these could be significant wins come March. Kerwin Dunhamhas been absent lately because of plantar fasciitis. Injuries are not good for any team trying to make the postseason.
Illinois State (7-3) (3)—The Redbirds might have an opportunity here come conference play. They didn’t win against the toughest teams in their non-conference slate, but Tim Jankovich has had a nice opportunity to play a lot of players and lineups to prepare for conference season, including BlakeMishler. They close out on the road at UNC-Wilmington on Monday.
Creighton (6-4) (5)— Creighton gets a chance to solidify their rotation with a couple of buy games this week before Christmas. Even though Gregory Echenique looked good on Saturday night, they barely beat a bad Idaho State team, which shows they still have a ways to go.
Evansville (5-4) (7)—The Purple Aces created a lot of unnecessary drama on Saturday with their win over Middle Tennessee, who they met for the second time this season. Evansville appears to have a lot more potential than the likes of Southern Illinois and Indiana State at this point. They definitely won’t end up in the cellar.
Southern Illinois (5-5) (6)—The Salukis have not played since December 11 and may have to shake the rust off against Northern Illinois before preparing for conference play. One thing I know they probably have been working on is rebounding. But they are still looking for that leader they have not had since Bryan Mullins was there.
Indiana State (5-6) (8)—The Sycamores battled Purdue this past weekend, but just came up short in their final game of the non-conference season. They now have until December 29 to prepare for Bradley in their conference opener which now looks like a winnable game. They also have two very capable players in Jake Kelly and Dwayne Lathan, but they have put a little too much pressure on themselves.
Bradley (4-5) (9)— The Braves are still recovering from their blowout at Duke and will play two games this week against Jackson State and Detroit.Jim Les has the opportunity to finalize his rotation and hopefully find the players that will ultimately replace Taylor Brown and Sam Maniscalco who are both out for the season with injury. Now add backup point guard Dyricus Simms-Edwards to the injury list with a sprained knee. Dodie Dunson is now the only option at point guard for Bradley.
Drake (4-5) (10)—Drake came up short against their in-state rival Iowa, but have a couple games this week against Dartmouth and Chicago State. A loss to either of these teams could mean disaster for this young team. They also have to understand how to break the press.
A Look Ahead
There are only a couple games before the holidays and the start of conference season that are of significance.
12/21—Tulsa @ Wichita State at Intrust Bank Arena (Local TV)—After the thrilling victory against LSU on a neutral court this past weekend, the Shockers leave their normal comfy confines of Koch Arena to instead play downtown at the brand new Intrust Bank Arena against the always tough Tulsa. This could end up being their best win of the non-conference season.
12/22—Detroit @ Bradley (No TV)—With the injuries Bradley has had to deal with this season, this game will be an interesting one to see if they can pull out what might have looked like a guarantee win at the beginning of the season.
12/22-23—Northern Iowa at Las Vegas Classic (CBS College Sports)—The Panthers head to Las Vegas right before Christmas to play a couple of games. They open first on Wednesday against Indiana and then play either Colorado or New Mexico on Thursday. These could be two great wins for Northern Iowa after the slow start they have had this season and set them up with some great confidence before the start of conference play.
Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.
A Look Back
ACC Beatings: The Missouri Valley Conference was featured this week in a pair of games on Wednesday night—a sort of ACC/MVC challenge. It wasn’t much of a challenge for Duke and NorthCarolina to dispose of Bradley and Evansville both by over 25 points. Fans love the idea of the matchups, but the end result on national TV may not be the best for the league.
Missouri State Quietly Consistent: Everyone anointed Wichita State the preseason favorites. Some thought Creighton was ready to break out even with a new coach. There were others that said Northern Iowa would just reload. But very quietly, Missouri State has strung together the most consistency so far. They put up over 100 points last weekend against Central Arkansas and rode a four-game winning into Saturday’s game with Oklahoma State. Granted, they haven’t won against the best teams they have played (Tennessee, Oklahoma State and Tulsa), but are at least not losing to teams they shouldn’t.
Scoring Drought: The Missouri Valley Conference against Iowa, Duke and North Carolina this week were only able to score as many as 49 points. Against Iowa, Northern Iowa’s cold shooting woes only garnered them 39 points. Evansville hosted North Carolina but could muster only 49 points while Bradley went to Duke and only put up 48. The conference was 4-6 this last week because they could not score any points – aside from a few “Power Six” foes, the MWC played good defense, as reflected by the opponent scoring totals.
MVC As A One-Bid League: It is becoming clearer that the MVC is going to be a one-bid league this season. Through Saturday’s games, the league is an unimpressive 49-38. A lot of losses have come against teams the league has no business playing at this point. As Kyle Whelliston wrote this week, the Valley needs to start playing regularly against teams in leagues currently around them to bring the league back up.
Player of the Week: — Dwayne Lathan, Indiana State: Lathan is starting to come on for the Sycamores. Against DePaul last week, Lathan had 24 points, five rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks. If Indiana State is going to surprise people this season come conference play, Lathan will have to carry the team on his shoulders.
Newcomer of The Week — Doug McDermott, Creighton: McDermott is the only consistent newcomer right now. He continues the start of his career of scoring in double figures in every game he has played and is currently ahead of pace on Creighton’s all-time leading scorer, Rodney Buford.
Power Rankings (Record) (Last week’s rank)
Missouri State (6-3) (1)—Missouri State is on a roll right now (outside of Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State) and seem to be the most consistent in the league routing Central Arkansas 101-61 with six players in double figures. Will Creekmore, who is one of only two players in the league to score in double figures every game this season is dealing with a dislocated finger on his non-shooting hand. With Adam Leonard struggling and having health issues, Creekmore will be needed to team with Kyle Weems to keep their pace going.
Wichita State (6-2) (2)—The Shockers have been flying off of everyone’s radar after their failure at San Diego State. Their problem right now is that they play in spurts but cannot put together a long stretch of consistent play. They have a game against Alabama A&M on Monday to try and get more consistency before taking on LSU after finals.
Illinois State (7-3) (3)—Illinois State still has a ways to go, but they are still sitting towards the top this week because the rest of the league does not want to play any better. Against Ohio, D.J. Cooper, a player who ISU head coach Tim Jankovich tried heavily to recruit, torched the Redbirds for 29 points including the game-winner. Justin Clark is hoping to get on track. He was 0-for-17 from three point range before hitting one against Ohio this week.
Northern Iowa (4-3) (5)— Speaking of the three pointer, the Panthers were 6-30 from the arc against Iowa in their 51-39 loss on Tuesday. Northern Iowa is 1-22 all time in Iowa City and are probably glad they don’t come back for another couple of years. With a rebuilding team like Northern Iowa, they take one step forward and then two steps back. The Panthers made it 19 wins in a row at home by beating Morehead State Saturday night.
Creighton (4-4) (7)—The Bluejays have lost to a top 25 team, a potential top 25 team, the coach’s former team and their in-state rival in a span of two weeks. After the loss to Nebraska on Sunday, the new coaching staff probably suffered their first negative reaction from fans during the transition to Greg McDermott. Kenny Lawson will get some help down in the post with Gregory Echenique becoming eligible at the end of the first semester this week. Echenique wants to live up to the expectations many have already put upon him.
Southern Illinois (5-4) (8)— Southern Illinois won two straight this week before heading to Western Kentucky. The Salukis will not play another game for 11 days. It will be interesting to see whether the time off will help them regroup before conference season. What has emerged for Southern Illinois is their frontline of Carlton Fay, Gene Teague and Mamadou Seck. Lowery made the tweek to the lineup by starting Seck and it appears to be paying off.
Evansville (4-4) (4)—Evansville started their week off with a one-point loss to Air Force in the MVC/MWC challenge, but then had the opportunity to take on North Carolina. The Tar Heels ran out early against the Purple Aces and didn’t look back. Clint Hopf and Tyler Zeller are both local products, but never faced each other until this game. Evansville hopes to rebound against Middle Tennessee this week as they finish up a same season home and home with them. The Aces lost to Middle Tennessee in their first meeting this season.
Indiana State (4-5) (9)— After being called out for lack of toughness in the loss against Wyominglast week, they bounced back to beat DePaul for the first time since 1979—In the Final Four with Larry Bird with the Sycamores. Indiana State is slowly climbing the ladder as they appear to be coming together as a team.
Bradley (4-5) (6)—Bradley is in shambles right now. The Braves have lost five in a row after starting out 4-0 and the blasting at Duke this week has not helped things. They have to put the pieces back together and Jim Les thinks that, “They are close to turning this thing around.” One bright spot was the emergence of freshman Walt Lemon, Jr. leading Bradley in scoring against Duke. Their next game is not until December 20.
Drake (3-4) (10)—Drake broke a three-game losing streak with a gutsy win at Eastern Michigan last week. Drake returned to the Knapp Center for the first time in a month with their game on Sunday against Boise State. FrankWiseler is gradually coming back from his Achilles injury that he suffered over the summer. With the Valley suffering like they are, don’t be surprised if the Bulldogs are able to take advantage of things once conference season rolls around.
A Look Ahead
With finals week this week, there are limited choices, but some games worth paying attention to once the weekend arrives.
12/18—Idaho State @ Creighton (ESPN Full Court)—Many Creighton fans had this date circled on their camera for the debut of Rutgers transfer Gregory Echenique. The Bluejays specifically tried to schedule three games between now and the conference opener on December 29 to get Echenique some playing time.
12/18—Iowa @ Drake (Local TV)—The battle for Iowa supremacy concludes as the Hawkeyes visit the Knapp Center. The Bulldogs need this win not only for them, but to help the conference profile.
12/18—Indiana State vs. Purdue at Conseco Fieldhouse (Big Ten Network)—The Sycamores and Boilermakers get together for the Boilermaker Blockbuster which was revived for the first time since 2003.
12/18—Wichita State vs. LSU in Bossier City, LA (Local TV)—This closes out a three-game series between these two teams where each team played on their home court and the final game of the series was at a neutral site. But in reality it is basically a home game for the Tigers in this one. Wichita State needs this one to get a key win on their resume. LSU is not the answer, but they are still a Power Six conference team.
12/18—St. Louis @ Missouri State (No TV)—This is a rare A-10 vs. MVC matchup in this one. Both teams want to make noise in their respective conferences, so this should be a good game, but too bad it is not on TV.
Patrick Marshall of Bluejay Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the MVC and Big 12 Conferences.
Current Records and my standings (Last Week Rank):
Illinois St. (10-0) (1)
Creighton (8-2) (2)
Drake (9-3) (4)
Evansville (8-2) (3)
Missouri St. (7-3) (5)
Northern Iowa (6-5) (7)
Bradley (5-5) (6)
Wichita St. (5-5) (9)
Southern Illinois (4-6) (8)
Indiana St. (2-8) (10)
The non-conference season for the Missouri Valley Conference basically ended this past week with conference play starting next Sunday. The non-conference games left for the Valley this coming week are most teams playing lower level competition that should result in wins for the Valley. Since Conference play will have started by the time I report for RTC, here is a little recap of what I expected versus what we got from the Valley in the Non-Conference.
Patrick Marshall of Bluejay Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley and Big 12 Conferences.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Creighton (27-4, 15-3)
Southern Illinois (25-6, 14-4)
Bradley (22-8, 12-6)
Illinois St. (22-8, 10-8)
Drake (21-10, 10-8)
Indiana St. (17-13, 7-11)
Wichita St. (15-15, 6-12)
Northern Iowa (15-15, 6-12)
Evansville (14-15, 6-12)
Missouri St. (13-17, 4-14)
WYN2K. Last season, Drake was predicted to finish 9th in the league and ended up having a dream season, winning the conference and the conference tournament, only to be knocked out by Western Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA tournament in a thrilling game. Most coaches from the Missouri Valley after a successful season jump ship and embrace the hype of their ability to move up into the major conferences – Steve Alford (Iowa at the time), Bruce Weber (Illinois), Matt Painter (Purdue), Greg McDermott (Iowa St.), Mark Turgeon (Texas A&M) and now Drake’s head man, Keno Davis. Davis jumped at the Providence job 26 days after taking Drake to its first NCAA Tournament in many, many years. The question that needs to be asked is whether Drake was that good or if the Valley was down last year. It was probably a combination of both. In the past, the Missouri Valley Conference has had multiple teams make the NCAA Tournament and the known teams in the conference will be making their return. Creighton has been in the postseason (NCAA or NIT) a conference-record eleven straight seasons and Southern Illinois last year broke their six-year streak of getting into the NCAA Tournament. Creighton has a ton of experience coming back whereas Southern Illinois is going back to their roots of tough defense and a solid floor general. Drake will not reach the same level as last year as they have their third different head coach in as many years. If Drake didn’t have the year they did last year, the story of the Valley would have been Illinois St. First year coach Tim Jankovich (who was an assistant at Kansas) was able to take advantage of the recruits of former coach Porter Moser and led this team to an unbelievable season themselves, but got destroyed on national TV in the Missouri Valley Tournament Championship game by Drake (79-49) and that was probably what kept them from being considered for the Big Dance. Valley Preseason Player of the Year Osiris Eldridge will be back to try to lead the Redbirds to another successful season. After getting to the finals of the inaugural CBI postseason tournament, Bradley is a tested team with experience that will make some noise this year. Former Creighton assistant and second-year head coach Kevin McKenna has started to turn the Indiana St. team around and will show improvement. Gregg Marshall is still trying to have the same success with Wichita St. that he had at Winhrop, but still has a lot of work to do. Northern Iowa gets out of the gate a ltitle behind with several injured players, one suspended for the first three games and one waiting until semester’s end to become eligible. MVC cheerleader and resident little man Barry Hinson is out at Missouri St. and did not leave a lot behind. Evansville is Evansville, although they have the advantage of returning all five starters from last season.
Predicted Champion.Creighton (NCAA #9). Creighton is the obvious choice as they have eight players returning that played 12 or more minutes a game. They also led the nation in bench scoring last year and there is enough talent on this team that the two players leading the nation in scoring off the bench without receiving a start (Booker Woodfox and Cavel Witter) may still not start this season. P’Allen Stinnett is the Jays’ POY candidate that can amaze and wow people with his athleticism, but will need to be a leader this season and play with emotion like he is known for (keeping it contained to keep from bugging officials and unnecessary fouls). Justin Carter comes in from the JUCO ranks as a scorer who may be able to step into the starting lineup sooner rather than later. The frontcourt may be a little suspect since they only have three players over 6’8 but it appears they have been to the weight room and if they make the impact as expected, they will solidify this team. Coach Dana Altman plans to have the high-pressure full-court defense back in motion this year to create turnovers. The veteran coach, the returning player experience and the ability to play high-pressure defense is what will cause Creighton to rise to the top. Also having eleven straight 20+ wins in a season is a streak that this team will not want to break. This team should be able to get to the NCAA Tournament and win a couple of games to continue to build this program. Here’s POY candidate P’Allen Stinnett rising up for a dunk.
Southern Illinois(NCAA #13). SIU had a high-profile non-conference schedule last season due to recent success, but came up short in justifying their hype. Fortunately, the Salukis still have a high-profile non-conference schedule, but at the expense of playing marquee home games and instead going on the road to try to regain their notoriety. They have the opportunity to be the featured team with the likes of Duke, Michigan and UCLA by being a part of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic if they win their home regional and advance to New York. They are also part of the John Wooden Tradition game against St. Mary’s. So the opportunities are there to be back in the spotlight for the Valley. SIU will be led by senior point guard Bryan Mullins who was the Valley Defensive Player of the year and a solid leader. The supporting cast is hyped as SIU’s best recruiting class ever and they had the opportunity to go to Canada over Labor Day to get familiar and some early playing time. However a little blow came after the Canada trip when 3-point specialist Joshua Bone (at least he has seemed like that every time I have watched him) had a tough trip and decided to leave the team once they returned. That is one less player with experience. So there will be a bit of a learning curve this season for Southern Illinois, but their tradition and fan base will keep them in contention and they should have enough to make it back to the NCAAs after settling for the NIT last season.
Bradley (NIT). People reading this who are knowledgeable of the Valley probably think I am crazy for having Bradley ranked so high compared to their own views and what other publications have written. However, it was three short seasons ago that Bradley was in the Sweet 16. Like it or not Jim Les has developed quite a program with Bradley. Last season because of injuries, suspensions and other various reasons, the actual starting lineup that was expected to be on the floor didn’t occur very much, but last year’s team was a solid team. Being able to be a part of the initial CBI basketball tournament gave them the chance to play longer than most Valley teams and an opportunity to improve in areas for this season. With the trio of point guard Sam Maniscalco, guard Andrew Warren and forward Theron Wilson provide a good starting group of players that if the newcomers gel could make some noise. However, Bradley probably does not have enough firepower to win the Valley this season, and are otherwise borderline in making the NCAA tournament so they probably will be in the NIT.
Illinois St. (NIT). The Illinois St. defense was a stalwart last season as they were 11th nationally in points allowed per game (59.3). Osiris Aldridge will be looked upon to continue his conference leading scoring along with the additions of transfers Champ Oguchi (Oregon) and Landon Shipley (Austin Peay). The Redbirds’ frontcourt will be decimated to start the year as forwards BrandonSampay and Bobby Hill are expected to be out until January due to injuries. So this team will just be starting to gel under a cupcake non-conference schedule and these players will be coming back once conference season starts. It may take a while for this team then to adjust to the higher level of play and integrating these players back into the lineup which will keep Illinois St. from returning to the Big Dance this season. The non-conference slate that has an RPI average of 215 is well below standards of the Valley and will not jump onto anyone’s page as an at-large team for the NCAA Tournament. Unless they win the conference tournament, it is the NIT for them.
Drake (NIT).Mark Phelps takes over the Bulldogs and has now been tasked with high expectations after last year’s remarkable season. Gone is the point guard, Adam Emmenecker, who really made things gel for Drake last season. However they return “Bucky” Cox who likes to shoot threes more than play inside and All-MVC pick Josh Young at guard. Keno Davis did not go too deep into his bench last season so a lot of players come in inexperienced. Also, Davis did not really talk to players extensively and sort of let the players play their game. On the other hand, new coach Phelps is more of a talker, telling the team the things they need to do that may take some adjustment. Both the coach and the team like the 3-ball so that will help the team stay on a common ground, but the moving back of the 3-point line will affect them if they live and die by the three. The Bulldogs are the hunted and not the hunters this season and will suffer through a year of transition and will probably settle for the NIT this season. In the meantime, Drake fans will still have this to remember…
Indiana St. This team took a hit when its leading returning scorer Marico Stinson unexpectedly left the team and the university, but is on an upswing with a solid coach. Look for them to make some noise next season.
Wichita St. Only one returning starter and several new players will still try to find an identity while Gregg Marshall tries to look like he is not mad at the world.
Northern Iowa. UNI gets out of the gate a little slowly with injuries and players missing from the team that won’t be able to play right away. With coach Ben Jacobsen on the hot seat, he cannot afford to have another mediocre season after what Greg McDermott did with the team before Jacobsen’s tenure. It may show the recruiting or coaching ability is not there.
Evansville. This team is still rebuilding as half the team is still freshman and sophomores though they have an advantage of returning all five starters. However, they will need a lot of help inside and that is not there yet.
Missouri St. The most exciting thing Missouri St. fans have to look forward to is the new $67M JQH Arena.
RPI Boosters / Key Games.
The key to this conference getting multiple bids is to have success against BCS and high mid-major teams. Unfortunately, home games for the Valley teams are far and few between.
Missouri St. @ Auburn (11.14.08)
Bradley @ Florida (CBE Classic) (11.16.08)
Southern Illinois @ 2K Sports College Classic vs. Duke and Michigan/UCLA, but of course have to get out of their regional to get to New York. (11.20-21.08)
Missouri St. vs. Arkansas (11.22.08)
Wichita St. @ Old Spice classic vs. Georgetown and Maryland, Michigan St., or Gonzaga. (11.27-30.08)
Northern Iowa vs. Marquette (Chicago Invitational) (11.28.08)
Northern Iowa vs. Auburn (Chicago Invitational) (11.29.08)
Indiana St. @ Depaul (11.29.08)
Drake vs. Vanderbilt (Cancun Tourney) (11.29.08)
Wichita St. @ Texas Tech (12.03.08)
Creighton @ St. Josephs (12.06.08)
Indiana St @ Louisville (12.06.08)
Bradley @ Michigan St. (12.07.08)
Creighton vs. Dayton (12.10.08)
Indiana St. @ Purdue (12.13.08)
Evansville @ North Carolina (12.18.08)
Southern Illinois v. St. Mary’s (12.20.08) (Wooden Tradition)
Creighton vs. Depaul (in Vegas possibly) (12.23.08)
Drake and Northern Iowa also benefit from a state law requiring Iowa and Iowa St. to play both Valley teams each year which adds and extra large conference school to their schedule.(ed. note: apparently this is a myth… thanks, readers)
Then you have the key conference games that will decide the conference champ.
Creighton vs. Southern Illinois (01.14.09)
Bradley vs. Illinois St. (01.29.09)
Southern Illinois vs. Creighton (02.14.09)
Drake vs. Southern Illinois (02.25.09)
Creighton vs. Illinois St. (02.26.09)
Drake vs. Bradley (02.28.09)
Neat-O Stat. Home Sweet Home. The Missouri Valley Conference is known for defending its home court. Southern Illinois is 92-6 in overall home games since 2001-02 and is 61-2 against conference opponents at home during that same period. During that same period, Creighton is 97-17 at home. Since Creighton opened the Qwest Center in 2003-04, the Jays are 66-13 at home. These are just a couple of examples of why major conference teams don’t want to visit Valley schools.
65 Team Era. The MVC is a multiple-bid league, having before last season gone a decade between single-bid years (1998 to 2008). In the 24-year history of this era, the league has only gotten one bid seven times, and even got as many as four in the high-water mark of 2006. Despite an average seed of #10.2 over this period, the Valley has gone 22-45 (.329) and put seven different teams into the Sweet 16, including S. Illinois in 2007 and both Wichita St. and Bradley in 2006. What’s more, in the last six years, MVC teams play teams tough, losing by an average of 6.1 pts in their knockout games (only one double-digit loss in 14 games). We see 2008 as a one-year blip, and have no reason to believe the MVC won’t continue to put numerous teams into the Dance and have them succeed.
Final Thoughts. If Creighton plays to its potential they could easily run away with the conference and have a chance to make some noise in the Big Dance. The 2-5 spots will be a dog fight between the established Southern Illinois and the questions of the one-year wonders of Drake and Illinois St. Bradley will stick its nose in and cause a little disruption in the league similar to what Drake did last year and could be the big surprise. If the Valley teams can win their high-profile non-conference games, the league will be recognized again as a powerful conference. No significant wins by the Valley in the non-conference could unfortunately put them in obscurity for another season. However, I say to look for the Valley to be a multiple-bid league once again this season and to make an impact on the college basketball world.