Missouri Valley Notebook
Going into the conference season, three Missouri Valley teams had made their mark. Southern Illinois had ambushed Indiana and gave Illinois everything it could handle. Northern Iowa stunned visiting in-state rival Iowa. And Creighton topped a ranked Western Kentucky squad. With perennial contenders Illinois State and Bradley suffering down years, the league entered the conference season as a three-horse race. It has been exactly that.
Top of the Valley
Southern Illinois: As the season progresses, the Salukis’ win over Indiana looms as a bigger and bigger accomplishment. With the league’s top offense and second-rated defense, the Salukis are clearly the class of the league. The secret is in their balance. Bruce Weber’s club has four legitimate scorers, the most potent of which is Kent Williams. In addition to the Salukis ability to score from several positions, they are an excellent rebounding team, particularly Rolan Roberts, a monster inside. This allows the shooters to have no fear when launching from the perimeter. Throw in a rotation that goes nine players deep, and the Salukis always have fresh legs to play intense defense.
Creighton: Few teams are as little respected from year-to-year as the Creighton Blue Jays. 2001-2002 will be no different. The high-scoring Jays look to score from the perimeter with Kyle Korver and Terrell Taylor. Both are excellent three-point shooters. The deepest team in the league, with more than 10 players getting extensive minutes, the Blue Jays are unselfish. The element that separates the Blue Jays from the Salukis is the toughness inside. Despite the presence of Brody Deren, Creighton sometimes struggles in the paint.
Northern Iowa: The Northern Iowa Panthers are just as talented as any one else in the Missouri Valley Conference, but may lack the defensive intensity to finish atop the league. The Panthers can score, often in bunches. First, they score outside with Robbie Sieverding, and then inside with David Guber. It is the best inside-outside combination in the conference, and proved to be better than Iowa’s Luke Recker-Reggie Evans connection. But turnovers and poor defense will be the downfall of an otherwise capable team.
Middle of the Valley
Southwest Missouri State: The Bears boast of perhaps the best player in the conference in Mike Wallace, who could average a double-double for the season. With little help inside, however, the Bears are destined for the middle of the Missouri Valley. Shooters Terrance McGee, Robert Yanders and Daniel Novak make the Bears a threat to defeat anyone.
Illinois State: Some prognosticators think that Illinois State should win the Missouri Valley behind the excellent play of Baboucarr Bojang. But the versatile Bojang gets little scoring and rebounding help from the defensive-minded Redbirds. Anything more than a middle-of-the-pack finish will be impressive.
Wichita State: It is bombs away for Wichita State as they feature at least four excellent perimeter shooters. The best of which is Randy Burns. The Shockers, however, are woeful inside and sometimes struggle with point guard play.
Drake: Luke McDonald should contend for league Player-of-the-Year honors but his team will not. McDonald is one of few options on a punchless Drake squad. Depth is also a problem.
Bradley: Usually, the Braves can be found at the top of the Missouri Valley standings, but this year will be much different. Few options are available to coach Jim Molinari. So, the Braves will hunker down in a defensive stance and hope for the best. It is their only option.
Indiana State: The only team in the league with less offensive weapons than the Braves are the Sycamores. Indiana State is hoping that Djibril Kante can carry them to a conference crown.
Evansville: The Purple Aces have two capable scorers in Dan Lytle and Clint Cuffle. But Evansville is only average on the boards and much too easy to score on to be a serious threat in the conference.