Super mega ultra conferences can collect members like teenage boys once accumulated baseball cards. They can even brag about having 10, 11, 12 NCAA Tournament contenders.
That will never change this fact: there is no substitute for a double round-robin conference race in college basketball.
The Missouri Valley Conference is annually one of the best conferences to watch in the regular season for that very reason. The Valley’s 18-game schedule is a grind, and winning an undisputed title is a big deal.
It’s been 19 years since Illinois State won an MVC championship, the second-longest drought in the conference (only I-74 rival Bradley has a longer one), and don’t believe for a second that longtime Redbird fans don’t know this. ISU took a step Saturday night towards its first league title since 1998, though, toppling Valley Goliath Wichita State 76-62 in front of a rockin’ crowd.
Emerging MVC star MiKyle McIntosh scored 20 points and was one of five players in double figures as the Redbirds continued to be a thorn in the Shockers’ side, winning a game against WSU for the third straight year. ISU knocked Wichita State out of first place in the Valley for the first time since 2013(!) and won its seventh straight game.
This was one of the biggest home games at Redbird Arena in years, and more than 9,000 showed up even as most ISU students still have not returned yet from winter break. Most impressive perhaps was that the moment was not too big for Illinois State.
Those on the outside have had this game targeted for some time, and the buzz grew as it became apparent these two teams could be unbeaten in the Valley entering their first matchup. The Redbirds played one of their best games of the season, though, shooting 54.2% and nailing 10 three-pointers. Combined with sticky defense (the Shockers shot just 34.9%),
Illinois State now will be the hunted in the MVC, no longer the hunter, and it will be fascinating to see how the Redbirds react. Meanwhile, Wichita State has another new challenger, which is good for the Shockers and good for the Valley, and if this game was a must-watch, just wait for the rematch in Wichita. And one of the best parts is, we don’t have to check schedules to see if they’ll play again (see: Florida State’s huge matchup Saturday against North Carolina in the ACC. And the answer is, no, they will not in the regular season). With a double round-robin, we know they will, and the Shockers will have an equal opportunity to exact revenge on the Redbirds.
- Phil Kasiecki has his Saturday Notes from all of the day’s biggest games.
- The great Ray Floriani also is back with one of his box score breakdowns on Hoopville from the recent Mount St. Mary’s/Fairleigh Dickinson Northeast Conference game.
- Hoopville’s Paul Borden also checks in with a piece on Miami coach Jim Larranaga, who picked up win No. 600 on Saturday with the Hurricanes’ 72-46 dismantling of Pittsburgh.
- Top individual performances from the day were led by Quincy McKnight, who scored 44 points for Sacred Heart in the Pioneers’ 112-110 triple-overtime win against Bryant. Also: Youngstown State’s Cameron Morse scored 40, but it wasn’t enough in the Penguins’ 92-89 loss to Illinois-Chicago; Troy’s Wesley Person blew up for 39 points, including 10 three-pointers, in the Trojans’ stunningly easy 93-71 win over suddenly sputtering Texas-Arlington; Josh Robinson scored 36 for Austin Peay as the Governors won at Eastern Illinois 92-84; Brandon Clarke notched a career-high 36 as San Jose State won at Air Force 89-85 in the Mountain West, and Jacob Wiley tallied 36 for Eastern Washington in a losing cause in a 70-67 loss to Weber State.
- Which Michigan State will we get when the Spartans go to Ohio State? (1:30 p.m. Eastern, CBS). The Buckeyes are reeling; will they rise up in desperation, or does the spiral downward continue.
- Two New Jersey rivals in the MAAC square off with St. Peter’s at Rider.
- It’s another Atlantic 10 doubleheader on NBC Sports Network with Massachusetts at Rhode Island (2:30 p.m.) and George Washington at La Salle (4:30 p.m.), making it five A-10 games on that national network this weekend. Again: why aren’t other conferences taking a serious look at a contract with NBCSN?
- Two teams fighting to be third-best in the MVC face off when Missouri State goes to Loyola of Chicago (4 p.m., ESPNU).
- Pesky Georgia Tech is at a North Carolina State team needing a major rebound (6:30 p.m., ESPNU).
- Fresh off a big win over Purdue, Iowa now goes on the road to Northwestern (7:30 p.m., Big Ten Network).
- The last game of the day may be the best one, with USC playing at Colorado (8:30 p.m., ESPNU). The Trojans need to stop a two-game losing streak; the Buffaloes need to hold serve at home and start building their NCAA Tournament resume.
Enjoy your Sunday