Missouri Valley dominated in MWC-MVC Challenge Series
Any bubble teams from the Missouri Valley Conference on Selection Sunday better hope no team from the Mountain West is also on the bubble. The bids will likely go out west based on head-to-head play, as the Mountain West Conference breezed to an 8-1 record in this year’s Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge Series. Six of the eight losses were by double digits for the Valley, and only Northern Iowa’s 64-60 win at TCU was the MVC’s taste of victory. There will be little time to lick the wounds, as games against powers such as Duke, North Carolina and Oklahoma State loom this week.
A look at some of the Challenge Series highlights:
Wichita State barely blinked and saw a three-point lead turn into an 11-point deficit during an 83-69 loss at No. 17 San Diego State on Saturday night. It was a match that pitted who most consider the top teams of each conference, and the score can be a little misleading. Had it not been for a fierce two-minute stretch, the contest probably could have been a last-possession thriller. The Shockers led 47-44 in the second half and only let roughly two minutes pass before hitting their next basket. But San Diego State caught fire and reeled off 14 straight points during that span. The closest WSU could pull within the Aztecs after that was six. Wichita State (5-2) now sits at 0-2 against teams currently in the top 25.
Two other top 25 teams from the Mountain West had little trouble with their competition. No. 23 UNLV cruised past Illinois State, 82-51, and 25th-ranked BYU held off Creighton at the Qwest Center, 77-65. Coupled with another loss to Nebraska on Sunday, Creighton’s record against above-.500 teams fell to 1-4. The Bluejays nearly came back to pull off the upset against BYU after erasing a double-digit deficit midway in the second half, but the Cougars tallied 10 straight after Creighton tied the game and made that lead stick.
Bad news for the rest of the MVC: Northern Iowa’s defense is still improving and forcing opponents to play its style. The Panthers held TCU to 60 points on the road, which actually raised their points allowed per game to around 58. The Missouri Valley’s sole win in this series was also the Horned Frogs’ first home defeat of the season.
Evansville was one basket away from giving the MVC a second win in the series – also on the road. Kenny Harris missed a trey as time expired, and Air Force held on, 57-56. Even in the defeat, the Aces continue to look like they may compete for an upper-half finish in the MVC. The real measuring stick will come when North Carolina visits on Wednesday.
Other outcomes of the series: Utah held off Bradley, 68-60, sending the Braves to their fourth consecutive loss after a 4-0 start. Wyoming had little trouble taking care of Indiana State, 81-51. New Mexico used a second-half spurt to pull away at Southern Illinois, 74-59. And Drake shot almost 60 percent from the field in the first half at Colorado State, but couldn’t keep up in the second half during a 78-67 defeat.
Top performers in the MWC-MVC Challenge
Doug McDermott, Creighton: The freshman forward grabbed another double-double with 20 points and 12 boards. He also hauled in more than half of the Bluejays’ offensive rebounds.
Andrew Warren, Bradley: The loss to Utah spoiled a stellar output from the guard. Warren sank 27 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, was 10-for-10 at the charity stripe, nailed 3 treys and snatched 4 steals.
Kwadzo Ahelegbe, Northern Iowa: The senior guard scored almost half of the Panthers total points. Without a doubt, the Northern Iowa defensive effort would have been a loss without his contribution.
Ranking the MVC (through Dec. 6)
- Wichita State (5-2)
- Missouri State (6-2)
- Northern Iowa (4-2)
- Creighton (4-4)
- Evansville (3-3)
- Bradley (4-4)
- Illinois State (6-2)
- Indiana State (3-5)
- Southern Illinois (4-4)
- Drake (2-4)
Top games to watch this week
Wednesday, Dec. 8
Bradley at No. 1 Duke: A four-game skid is not how the Braves envisioned going into Durham, N.C., but a road win at No. 1 would be quite the way to snap a losing streak. The MVC will try to make it two wins in a row over No. 1, after Northern Iowa’s triumph over Kansas last March. Valley teams haven’t beat the top-ranked team outside of the NCAA Tournament in almost 59 years.
North Carolina at Evansville: Evansville also gets to take on an ACC power Wednesday when the Tar Heels visit. UNC sits just outside the top 25 going into this contest. The matchup will be a perfect opportunity for the Aces to prove their win over Butler wasn’t a fluke.
Saturday, Dec. 11
Missouri State at Oklahoma State: After missing its opportunity at Tennessee last month, Missouri State has one last shot to take down a BCS team before conference play.