Two surprises near bottom after Week 1
As anticipated, Wichita State leads the pack after the first week of play in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC). The Shockers have used their experience and very deep bench to cruise to a 3-0 mark. They’re joined by Missouri State (11-3, 3-0 MVC), who mounted second-half comebacks to win at Northern Iowa and Creighton.
On the opposite end, a pair of buzzer-beating losses has Northern Iowa scrambling. After their first 0-2 conference start in 10 seasons, the Panthers avoided catastrophe and finally closed out a win against Evansville on Tuesday. Another team predicted for an upper-half finish has struggled, as Bradley dropped its first three MVC games.
Hoopville MVC Player of the Week: Doug McDermott, Creighton
The freshman forward shined during his first week of play in the MVC, with 17 points and 7 rebounds per game. His highlight of the week included a 28-point effort in a win against Drake.
Other top performers: Bradley’s Andrew Warren, who leads the league with 19.3 points during conference play and snatched 6.3 rebounds per game. Creighton junior guard, Antoine Young, was also instrumental in two victories, piling up 16.7 points per contest.
Games to watch this weekend
Friday, Jan. 7: Creighton (10-5, 2-1 MVC) at Southern Illinois (8-6, 2-1 MVC): Just like the old days, the Bluejays and Salukis will play for position at the top. With a couple of down years from both teams, it has been awhile since this once fierce rivalry has had a meaningful game in the conference race.
Sunday, Jan. 9: Missouri State (11-3, 3-0 MVC) at Wichita State (12-2, 3-0 MVC): Take a couple hours and step away from the NFL playoffs. This game will be worth it. Both teams have been playing their best basketball in the second half, and in the six conference victories between the two squads, five have been by double figures. Something has to give. An MSU win will give the Bears three road wins in the first four conference games at arguably three of the toughest places to play in the Valley (Northern Iowa, Creighton and Wichita State).
Reasons to worry
There are still 15 chances to turn it around, but here are some teams who need to find answers quickly (in order of who should be sweating the most):
Bradley (6-8, 0-3 MVC): Once expected to compete for the title, the Braves now find themselves three games back after three MVC games. And the tiebreaker still goes to Wichita State at the moment, as they knocked down Bradley in Peoria, Ill., 79-63. Getting the first win on the board won’t be easy this weekend, as Bradley will be on the road at Drake and Northern Iowa.
Illinois State (8-6, 0-3 MVC): After losing their first three by an average of 12, the Redbirds also face an unfavorable schedule as they search for conference victory No. 1. Wichita State comes into town on Friday, and then a road trip to Southern Illinois looms on Sunday.
Evansville (7-6, 1-2 MVC): The Aces didn’t fare as well against Wichita State and Northern Iowa as they did late last season, losing by double digits in both this week. One of the most brutal early conference schedules of any team in the Valley continues with a trip to Missouri State on Friday and a contest against Creighton (10-5, 2-1 MVC) on Sunday.
Northern Iowa (10-5, 1-2 MVC): If games were about 30 seconds shorter, Northern Iowa would be sitting at the top of the conference with little to worry about at the moment. Instead, last-second losses against Missouri State and at Southern Illinois sank the Panthers to their first 0-2 league start since the 2000-01 campaign. Although their season average of 62 points per game is last in the MVC, the Panthers may be fine if they can hit that magic number each game. Their defense is allowing just 55.9 points per game as of Wednesday – sixth in the nation.
Don’t get too comfortable
Both teams at the top of the standings had a trend of pulling away in the second half after a close game in the first 20 minutes. Although Wichita State’s smallest margin of victory so far is 16 points, the Shockers had two games head into the break with one- and four-point leads. The only comfortable lead was a 13-point advantage against Evansville (which ended as a 34-point win).
Missouri State made its contests a little more interesting when it trailed by six at Northern Iowa, led Illinois State by just two and trailed at Creighton by nine at the break. Two of those games ended as double-digit wins for MSU, with the lone thriller happening when Kyle Weems sank a 3-pointer to propel the Bears over Northern Iowa, 58-57.
Experience only goes so far
Wichita State returned four starters from last season’s 25-win team, but they’re not the ones causing the most trouble so far in the MVC race. The WSU bench is annihilating opponents, as the Shockers backups have outscored their competition by a total of 137-50 in three games.