The young season is two weeks old already, and the Missouri Valley Conference is off to a slow start – although against some strong competition. All teams have combined for a 33-21 non-conference record – not quite on pace to match last winter’s 90-39 mark.
What we’ve learned heading into December:
Wichita State is the only team helping its at-large opportunity so far. Yes, there is a long time to go after November, but the selection committee nevertheless will look at some of these good wins and losses – and in some cases, very bad losses. Wichita State (3-1) has steamrolled through the competition early, with the only defeat at the hands of Connecticut, 83-79. UConn, now ranked No. 7, shot its way to the Maui Tournament title, also knocking down the likes of No. 2 Michigan State and No. 9 Kentucky.
Other teams who may depend on at-large bids in March aren’t faring as well as the Shockers. After rushing out to a 4-0 start, Bradley has dropped two straight, including a head-scratching home loss to Eastern Illinois. Missouri State (4-2) sits in a slightly better position, with a 4-point loss to then-No. 23 Tennessee, but another loss to Conference USA foe, Tulsa. What may work in Missouri State’s favor this March is its 60-49 victory over fellow mid-major, Pacific. Northern Iowa’s (2-2) best chance to prove it hasn’t fallen far from last season’s success flopped during the second half of the season-opener at Syracuse, a 68-46 defeat. That was followed with another loss at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Creighton (4-2) has a lot to prove in the Mountain West-Valley Challenge Series this week. A date with BYU on Wednesday will give the Bluejays an opportunity to raise some eyebrows. It will also give Creighton another chance to beat a team with a winning record for the first time this season.
Through the questions though, Creighton has a fearsome trio forming for MVC opponents. Antoine Young, Kenny Lawson Jr. and newcomer Doug McDermott have combined for 44 points and almost 20 rebounds per game. If they’re unable to grab the needed non-conference wins, the Bluejays are certainly solidifying themselves as a scary team by the time the conference slate begins.
The Northern Iowa defense looks like it will have to be stellar for another postseason appearance. They allowed just 55 points per game last season and might need to duplicate that to stay competitive in the MVC during 2010-11 to aid a struggling offense. Not counting the victory over Division III Coe College, the Panther offense is managing a mere 58.7 points. The good news so far: The defense is still solid, allowing just 57.5 points in four games. Syracuse managed the best output so far against them during its 68-46 thumping.
Evansville (3-2) is continuing where it left off last season. A 71-68 overtime win at No. 23 Butler Saturday is the proof. As the only MVC team not to win at least 10 games last season, Evansville still finished the ’09-10 campaign 3-3. That included wins over league leaders Northern Iowa and Wichita State and another near-miss against Wichita State. With its current play, the Aces may be pushing 10 wins by the time they play Wichita State on Dec. 29. Even if they don’t have 10 by then, the Aces have clearly pulled themselves out of the Valley cellar.
Ranking the Missouri Valley (through Nov. 28)
- Wichita State (4-1)
- Missouri State (4-2)
- Bradley (4-2)
- Northern Iowa (2-2)
- Creighton (4-2)
- Evansville (3-2)
- Indiana State (3-3)
- Illinois State (5-1)
- Southern Illinois (3-3)
- Drake (2-3)
Games to watch this week
Tuesday, Nov. 30
Indiana State at No. 25 Notre Dame: After a rough start, the Sycamores have an opportunity to run their win streak to three and make a statement against the newly-ranked Irish.
Wednesday, Dec. 1
Iowa State at Northern Iowa: The unbeaten Cyclones (6-0) will try to continue their early season dominance over the MVC, having dropped 91 points on both Creighton and Drake. With the style Northern Iowa plays though, you can almost expect Iowa State and UNI to combine for 91 points Wednesday.
No. 21 BYU at Creighton: The Bluejays have yet to beat an opponent with a winning record. Wednesday is the perfect opportunity, as the No. 21 Cougars visit the Qwest Center unbeaten.
Saturday, Dec. 4
Wichita State at No. 17 San Diego State: This contest will be like a Bracket Buster in February, and could catapult the Shockers into the Top 25 with a win.