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Missouri Valley Notebook

January 28, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments



Missouri Valley Conference Notebook

by Neal Heston

Tourney Watch

With Creighton, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois receiving votes in the latest Associated Press Poll, the MVC is on pace to finish its best season since sending three teams to the NCAA Tournament in 1999.

Creighton (14-2, 6-2) fell behind Southern Illinois after its second road loss in a week at Wichita State. After winning 13 to begin the season, the Bluejays have now lost two of four. Northern Iowa (11-5, 6-2) and Southern Illinois (14-2, 8-0) both debuted last week, receiving consideration on the ballot. Throw in Wichita State (12-6, 5-3) and Southwest Missouri State (13-6, 5-3), and five MVC teams could make a strong case to dance in mid-March.

Looking at each team

A slow start to conference play had many leaving the Shockers out of the loop, but there is a reason why WSU was tabbed to win the conference in the preseason. The Shockers have easily disposed of Northern Iowa and Creighton during the last two weeks, defeating the Panthers by 17 and the Bluejays by 15; three players are averaging in double figures for scoring, led by Jamar Howard; and besides, only two of their six losses have been by more than four points. At 4-3 in league play, the Shockers are still poised to make a run for the regular season title – with a little help from Southern Illinois.

If the season ended today: Not in. The Shockers need to get back on track.

Speaking of Southern Illinois, is there any team out there who is getting more disrespect than the Salukis? SIU loses its head coach and the team’s top two leading scorers from last season and still begin league play this year at a school-record 8-0? It seems unfair that the Salukis are just now receiving votes for the top 25. They played a strong non-conference schedule, with a lot of the games on the road, and still sit a 14-2 on the year. Junior guard Darren Brooks, who leads the MVC in scoring and steals, has the Salukis in great position for another league title and a third consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tourney.

If the season ended today: They’re in.

Another team surprising the rest of the league is Northern Iowa. In his third year as coach of the Panthers, Greg McDermott has UNI in territory that hasn’t been reached for nearly 15 years. With six players capable of scoring 10 or more points per game, the Panthers are in good position to make a run at their first NCAA appearance since 1990. To keep themselves in the running, UNI must end the struggles on the road and will have to learn how to hold large leads in the second half. If the Panthers were to make the big dance though, one thing is for sure: They would be involved in one of those memorable last possession games. Five contests this season have already gone down to the wire for them.

If the season ended today: Not in. Beating Southern Illinois on Saturday would change this.

Potential tournament teams can’t be looked at if Southwest Missouri State isn’t included too. But the Bears are confusing. SMS is winning games, but it hasn’t been pretty. Sunday’s last-second win over Drake is a perfect example. But hey, the Carolina Panthers have been winning ugly games, and now look at them. If there is one thing the Bears have going for them, it’s depth. Eight players are averaging at least 15 minutes a game. If the season ended today: Not in. The defense has been excellent, but the Bears need some convincing wins.

Last but not least is Creighton. The Bluejays stormed out of the gate with a 13-0 record, but they have shown vulnerability on the road lately. Nevertheless, CU still sits in second place and is very much alive for the title. A weaker non-conference schedule compared with the other top MVC teams could cost the Bluejays though unless they post a few strong road wins in the next month.

If the season ended today: They’re in.

Records all over the place

With 14 points in a victory over Indiana State, Darren Brooks surpassed the 1000-point mark in his career with Southern Illinois. The junior guard currently leads the conference in scoring with 16.4 points per game.

Brooks and Southern Illinois are still coasting through the first half of league play. The 8-0 start is continuing the school’s best MVC start ever.

Player of the Week

Jamar Howard, Wichita State

For his strong effort in Wichita State’s big win over Creighton, Jamar Howard has been named the Missouri Valley’s Player of the Week. The junior forward put up a 21-point effort to go along with two blocks and three steals against the Bluejays. He had 10 points against Evansville on Saturday.

Newcomer of the Week

Amani Daanish, Indiana State

Amani Daanish had two very strong performances for the Sycamores last week. The junior transfer’s double-double (16 points, 12 boards) aided Indiana State to a 10-point win over Drake last Thursday. Daanish grabbed another nine rebounds against Southern Illinois on Sunday.

Games to watch this week

Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: Southern Illinois at Wichita State

The Salukis will look to keep their conference record perfect while defeating Wichita State for a second time this season. If the Shockers fail to get revenge in this one, they can more than likely kiss any chance of an MVC title good bye.

Saturday, 7:05 p.m. (on Fox Sports Net): Northern Iowa at Southern Illinois

Depending on what happens during mid-week, Northern Iowa could have a chance to move into a first-place tie in the league. UNI is 2-3 on the road, but only one of the losses has been by more than three points. SIU is 7-1 on its home floor this season.

Saturday, 7:05 p.m.: Wichita State at Drake

If Wichita State can pull off a victory over Southern Illinois on Wednesday, then a win in Des Moines would make revenge over the Bulldogs even more enjoyable. Drake upset the Shockers in Kansas earlier this season, 71-60.

Touring the Valley

Bradley (8-11 / 1-7)

Last week: lost to Southwest Missouri State 52-45, lost to Northern Iowa 78-71

Two tough road tests equaled two tough losses for the Braves this week, which fell to a dismal 1-7 in league play. Once picked to finish third in the conference, injuries and what head coach Jim Les calls lack of attention to detail has Bradley in a last-place tie with Illinois State and Evansville. Despite the poor record, the Braves are not far from turning their fortunes around. Large deficits at both SMS and UNI were cut to three and four point deficits, but BU just couldn’t keep the rallies going. Cellus Sommerville recorded a double-double with 18 points and 14 boards in the loss at SMS.

Bradley has winnable games on its schedule this week as the Braves host Drake on Wednesday and head to Illinois State on Saturday.

Creighton (14-2 / 6-2)

Last week: lost to Wichita State 77-62, defeated Illinois State 72-63

If not for extremely hot shooting in the second half against Illinois State, the Bluejays would be looking at a third loss in four games. The largest crowd to ever watch a regular season MVC game almost witnessed Creighton’s 26-game home winning streak come to an end. ISU held a 30-27 halftime advantage, but CU came out red hot in the second half to shoot 80 percent from the field. Nate Funk and Kellen Miliner each scored 15 points for the Bluejays.

Saturday’s win was needed after the beating Wichita State gave Creighton on Wednesday. The Bluejays fell behind early and couldn’t catch up to the Shockers, losing their second consecutive contest on the road.

The Bluejays have a favorable schedule this week while the other teams at the top of the standings are beating up on each other. Two road dates are on the slate: a trip to Indiana State on Wednesday and Evansville on Sunday.

Drake (7-9 / 3-5)

Last week: lost to Indiana State 80-70, lost to Southwest Missouri State 51-50

Dr. Tom Davis and the Bulldogs were one possession away from pulling another upset, but Southwest Missouri State’s Merril Andrews sunk a jumper as time expired to send Drake to a third consecutive loss. Chaun Brooks was good for 13 points in the loss.

Two days earlier, the Bulldogs couldn’t overcome strong shooting from Indiana State. The Sycamores sunk 60 percent of their shots en route to an 80-70 victory over Drake. Lonnie Randolph led the ‘Dogs with 18 points, and Klayton Korver added another 15.

This week’s slate won’t be easy for Drake. The Bulldogs will head to Peoria to take on Bradley on Wednesday. The Braves are just aching for a victory. After the road trip, Wichita State will head to Des Moines on Saturday and shoot for revenge. Drake went to Kansas earlier in the season and upset WSU.

Evansville (2-14 / 1-7)

Last week: lost to Northern Iowa 67-53, lost to Wichita State 86-66

The Purple Aces faced a tough schedule in two losses last week, and this week won’t be any easier. Evansville will have to head to Southwest Missouri State on Wednesday and then will host Creighton on Sunday. Clint Cuffle was sensational in Saturday’s loss to SMS. He tallied 26 points for UE. Evansville has now dropped four consecutive games and 10 of its last 11.

Illinois State (5-11 / 1-7)

Last week: lost to Southern Illinois 71-58, lost to Creighton 72-63

If not for the second half, the Redbirds would have recorded the two largest upsets in the league last week. Against Southern Illinois, ISU trailed by just one at the break, but the Salukis pulled away in the second frame for the 13-point win. On Saturday it was Creighton pulling away in the second half after nailing 16 of 20 shots from the field. The Redbirds held a three-point advantage at the half before the Bluejays suddenly caught fire. Good performances were put on in the two defeats. Trey Guidry averaged 14 points during the week, and Neil Plank grabbed 11 rebounds against Southern Illinois.

The slate for this week isn’t going to be easy for ISU. The Redbirds will head to Northern Iowa on Wednesday, where the Panthers have won seven in a row. From there ISU will host Bradley on Saturday.

Indiana State (8-8 / 4-4)

Last week: defeated Drake 80-70, lost to Southern Illinois 53-44

Going even last week leaves the Sycamores right where they began the week – in the middle of the pack. At 4-4 in league play, ISU sits in sixth place with two very tough games this week against Southwest Missouri State and Creighton.

The Sycamores seemed to use all of their energy while defeating Drake last Thursday. David Moss tallied 21 points while grabbing eight rebounds, Amani Daanish recorded a double-double with 16 points and 12 boards, and Tyson Schnitker scored a career-high 14 points to go along with three assists and four steals. Three days later, the point total was nearly cut in half in a struggling loss to Southern Illinois. Moss managed to score 12 points, and Daanish grabbed nine rebounds.

Tough tests will be on the slate this week, but at least they will be at home. Creighton will come to town on Wednesday, followed by Southwest Missouri State on Saturday.

Northern Iowa (11-5 / 6-2)

Last week: defeated Evansville 67-53, defeated Bradley 78-71

The Panthers keep on rolling after winning their fourth consecutive game on Saturday. Earlier in the week, Ben Jacobson led the way as UNI captured its first-ever win in Evansville. Chris Foster also came off the bench to score 12. Senior Matt Schneiderman grabbed 10 rebounds while fellow senior teammate David Gruber worked for another 11 boards.

Bradley nearly erased a 15-point UNI lead on Saturday, but the Panthers were nearly perfect from the line in the second half to seal the win. Five UNI players reached double figures, led by a season-high 21 points from Gruber.

UNI will host Illinois State on Wednesday and then will head to conference front-runner Southern Illinois on Saturday. The Panthers will have to fix their road struggles if they are to upset the Salukis. They haven’t shot any better than 40 percent in the last three road contests, going 1-2 during the stretch.

In off-court news, head coach Greg McDermott signed a contract extension that will run through 2008. By recruiting strong players from Iowa, McDermott has revitalized a struggling program in just his third season. He is 36-37 at UNI to date.

Southern Illinois (14-2 / 8-0)

Last week: defeated Illinois State 71-58, defeated Indiana State 53-44

The Salukis dodged two bullets last week but will face two larger challenges this week against Wichita State and Northern Iowa. Darren Brooks scored 20 points and Stetson Hairston put up a double-double with 16 points and 10 boards in the victory over Illinois State last Wednesday. SIU converted 16 Illinois State turnovers into 18 points. Brooks tacked on another 14 points in the defensive struggle against Indiana State Saturday.

With 10 games remaining in league play, Southern Illinois is still perfect, but they will travel to Wichita State on Wednesday and host Northern Iowa on Saturday. The Salukis have taken the last three games against Wichita State and haven’t lost to Northern Iowa in Carbondale since 1997.

Southwest Missouri State (13-6 / 5-3)

Last week: defeated Bradley 52-45, defeated Drake 51-50

Points are not coming easily for SMS, but the Bears still clawed their way to two victories. Merril Andrews saved the Bears against Drake on Sunday with his jumper as time expired. The win keeps SMS in a third-place tie with Wichita State, and a favorable schedule this week could help the Bears rise even further in the standings. Evansville will head into Springfield on Wednesday followed by a Saturday road trip to Indiana State. The Bears haven’t reached 70 points since beating Evansville in double overtime on Jan. 7. Yet, SMS is 4-1 during that span.

Wichita State (12-6 / 5-3)

Last week: defeated Creighton 77-62, defeated Evansville 86-66

Two convincing victories have Wichita State back in the middle of the MVC race. The Shockers have now won back-to-back games with a home contest against conference leader Southern Illinois on the horizon. WSU will try to stop a three-game skid to the Salukis while gaining ground in the league race. A loss would put the Shockers four games out of first and make any run at the regular season title all the more difficult. A trip to Des Moines is in store on Saturday as the Shockers try for revenge against Drake.

     

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