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Missouri Valley Notebook

January 13, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Missouri Valley Conference Notebook

by Neal Heston

Familiar territory for the birds

The departure of its top two scorers from last season hasn’t stopped the Creighton Bluejays from rolling through the first half of the schedule. At 12-0, Creighton is off to its best start since beginning with 16 consecutive wins in the 1942-43 campaign. The only difference the Bluejays would want between now and 60 years ago is to make an appearance in the NCAA tournament and not the NIT.

Despite losing Kyle Korver and Larry House, who combined for nearly 30 points a game last season, the Bluejays managed to start 10-0 for the second consecutive season. No Missouri Valley Conference team had accomplished that feat since Indiana State did from 1977-79. The early season success not only has earned head coach Dana Altman midseason honors with the annual Jim Phelan Midseason Coach Award, but has Creighton back in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Top 25 at number 20 and number 24 in the AP Poll. The Bluejays also log in at 24 in the Hoopville poll.

Thanks to the leadership of senior Brody Deren and other strong contributions from the likes of Nate Funk and Joe Dabbert, Creighton is silently on the road to duplicating last year’s 29-5 run to the NCAA tournament.

The offense has struggled compared to this time last season, putting up 12 points less, but the defense has been taking charge thus far by allowing just 56 points a game – tops in the MVC. Besides that category, everything else is almost identical to last season. Creighton is shooting 70% from the free throw line (71% this time last season), gaining almost 35 rebounds per contest (34 last season) and is forcing 17 turnovers a game (18 in 2003). Is another MVC title in the works too?

Come back soon

Bradley is seriously missing the absence of Phillip Gilbert. Before Gilbert’s injury, the Braves were averaging 76.1 points per game and featured a 7-3 record. With Gilbert sidelined, BU is putting up just 58.4 points per contest and is 1-4. Gilbert was tallying 20.2 points a game before he left with a stress fracture in his left foot during late December. He is expected to play again in about two to three weeks.

Should have expected it

There is still a long way to go in the season, but Wichita State is continuing this season’s trend in college basketball. In a year where it’s not so desirable to be ranked first, the preseason favorites to win the MVC have stumbled out of the gate for a 2-2 conference record. The Shockers have a favorable schedule to get momentum on their side this week.

MVC Player AND Newcomer of the Week

Blake Ahearn swept the awards from the MVC office this week, with good reason. Ahearn scored 25 against Evansville, and SMS needed every point to force overtime and finally pull away in the second extra period. The majority of his points came from behind the arc as he nailed seven treys.

Touring the Missouri Valley

Bradley (8-7 / 1-3)

Last week: lost to Drake 90-67, lost to Evansville 84-69

The Braves are reeling and can’t seem to find any offense to replace the absence of Phillip Gilbert. James Gillingham continues to light it up for the Braves though as he averaged 20.5 points in the two losses. After high expectations, Bradley could be looking at a 1-5 start in the MVC as Wichita State comes to town on Wednesday and Southern Illinois visits on Saturday.

Creighton (12-0 / 4-0)

Last week: defeated Illinois State 56-55, defeated Drake 78-67

It comes as a surprise, though it shouldn’t. The Bluejays sit atop the Missouri Valley early in the season along with Southern Illinois. Brody Deren scored 12 points and grabbed seven boards in the squeaker over Illinois State last week. Johnny Mathies tallied 20 as CU stopped Drake’s three-game winning streak on Sunday. A 6-0 start in the conference could be possible as the Bluejays take a road trip to Northern Iowa on Wednesday and host a struggling Evansville team on Saturday. Creighton owns a four-game winning streak over Northern Iowa.

Drake (6-6 / 2-2)

Last week: defeated Bradley 90-67, lost to Creighton 78-67

Their record may not be pretty, but this young squad is giving everybody in the conference a headache thus far. After the Bulldogs pounded Bradley, Creighton snapped their three-game winning streak on Sunday. Drake did play its typical game though, forcing Creighton into 22 turnovers while committing just 12 themselves. Josh Powell averaged 13 points in the two contests for the Bulldogs last week. Illinois State will visit Des Moines on Wednesday, and then the Bulldogs will head north for another Iowa rivalry against Northern Iowa on Saturday.

Evansville (2-10 / 1-3)

Last week: lost to Southwest Missouri State 95-85 (2 OT), defeated Bradley 84-69

The Purple Aces snapped their six-game losing streak against a reeling Bradley team on Saturday after almost knocking off the SMS Bears earlier in the week. UE held a 39-27 halftime lead against Southwest Missouri State before the Bears rallied to force overtime. A 15-point halftime lead never vanished against Bradley as the Purple Aces shot well from the free throw line, hitting 39 of 52. There is no time to celebrate as UE has road dates at the top two teams in the conference, to Southern Illinois on Wednesday and Creighton on Saturday.

Illinois State (4-8 / 0-4)

Last week: lost to Creighton 56-55, lost to Indiana State 56-49

The Redbirds almost handed Creighton its first loss of the season earlier in the week but now face the reality of being the only MVC team without a conference victory. Free throws destroyed ISU’s run to take down Creighton as they hit only 4 of 12 from the line. Marcus Arnold recorded a double-double against the Bluejays with 12 points and 12 boards. The Redbirds will visit Drake on Wednesday and will host resurging Southwest Missouri State on Sunday.

Indiana State (6-5 / 2-1)

Last week: lost to Southern Illinois 67-50, defeated Illinois State 56-49

Jerod Adler tacked on 11 points for the Sycamores in a losing cause to Southern Illinois. ISU rebounded on Sunday though to take down Illinois State. David Moss dazzled the crowd with 14 points, five assists and went 12 of 15 from the free throw line. The Sycamores head to Southwest Missouri State on Thursday and to Wichita State on Saturday.

Northern Iowa (7-5 / 2-2)

Last week: lost to Wichita State 82-65, lost to Southwest Missouri State 62-60

Freshman Brooks McKowen took charge for the Panthers last week, but it wasn’t quite enough to put UNI on the winning side. McKowen averaged 16 in the two losses, including an 18-point performance against SMS. Senior David Gruber also averaged in double figures for the Panthers with 13.5 points per game. UNI will host unbeaten Creighton on Wednesday and then will host those pesky Drake Bulldogs on Saturday.

Southern Illinois (9-2 / 3-0)

Last week: defeated Indiana State 67-50, defeated Wichita State 73-64

Darren Brooks tallied 19 points in a victory over Indiana State, and Bryan Turner added another 17 for SIU. Five players reached double figures for SIU in a dominating win over Wichita State on Sunday. The Salukis nailed 10 treys in the contest. Turner averaged 14.5 points in a victorious week for the defending conference champions. The Salukis face good odds to keep pace with front-runner Creighton this week as they host Evansville on Thursday and travel to Bradley on Saturday.

Southwest Missouri State (10-5 / 2-2)

Last week: defeated Evansville 95-85 (2 OT), defeated Northern Iowa 62-60

It wasn’t pretty, but the Bears rebounded from their 0-2 MVC start with two hard-fought victories. Evansville held a 12-point lead over SMS at halftime, but couldn’t hold off a Bears’ rally. Blake Ahearn took charge for SMS with 25 points. He was good for seven of the team’s eight treys in the game. The starters were held silent against Northern Iowa, but Deven Mitchell and Tommy Johnson came off the bench and reached double figures in scoring to save SMS. The Bears will host Indiana State on Thursday and from there will head to Illinois State for a contest on Sunday.

Wichita State (9-5 / 2-2)

Last week: defeated Northern Iowa 82-65, lost to Southern Illinois 73-64

Fridge Holman took control for the Shockers against Northern Iowa with 22 points. Jamar Howard averaged 16.5 points during the week. WSU will head to struggling Bradley on Wednesday and will host Indiana State on Saturday.


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