Missouri Valley Conference Weekly Notebook

December 12th, 2006
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Again this week, the Valley was doing what they have done best this season, and that is putting another notch in the loss column of nationally ranked opponents. Both Indiana Sate and Creighton knocked off ranked foes Saturday as the Sycamores beat #15 Butler and the Bluejays beat #24 Xavier, adding to the long list of Valley wins over ranked opponents this year. It was only the fifth time in the Valley’s 100-year history that two Valley teams defeated ranked opponents in the same day. However, it was the second straight season it has happened. After these two wins, the Valley improved to 5-1 this season against teams ranked in the Top 25. Valley teams were once again remarkable this week, going 13-1 against non-conference opponents while increasing their record to 61-18 against non-league foes. It’s been nearly impossible for teams to win at Valley schools as the 10 Valley teams have a combined 41-1 record at home this season. It might just be time that the rest of the nation takes notice of what it taking place in places like Wichita, Springfield and Carbondale and give the Valley the respect they have earned. It can start by dropping the label of Mid-Major as the Valley has shown time and time again this season that it can hang with the big boys. The MVC along with the ever powerful ACC, are the only two conferences in Division I college basketball to have all conferences teams over .500. The term Mid-Major doesn’t seem to fit when you’re talking about a conference with the second best RPI in the nation.

The Shockers climbed to #8 in the latest AP Poll released Monday and rose to #10 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. Wichita State became the first Valley team to crack the Top 10 since Creighton was in the Top 10 in 2003. Missouri State, Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa all received votes in both polls while Creighton received votes in the AP Poll. The Bears just missed the Top 25 this week coming in at #27.

With a light schedule this week that has only one Valley team (Drake) playing two games, the Valley shouldn’t have any trouble adding to its strong non-conference record. Missouri State and Indiana State will play their conference opener in Springfield Saturday and Southern Illinois will get its chance against the Big Ten when it travels to Indiana. Look for another stellar week of Valley play as teams begin to prepare to what is shaping up to be one of the most exciting seasons of MVC basketball in the conferences long and storied history.

Game of the Week – Indiana State 72, #15 Butler 64

Butler had been the surprise team of the 2006 college basketball season so far, but Indiana State didn’t seem to care one bit. The Sycamores, behind a career-high 24 points from Gabe Moore, handed the Bulldogs their first loss of the season, a 72-64 decision. Indiana State played excellent defense in the first half, holding Butler to only 33 percent shooting from the floor while building a Sycamores 14-point lead early in the second half. Butler was forced by ISU to take a lot more perimeter shots then they are used to and they hit only 8 of 28 three-point attempts. The Sycamores also hit 75 percent of their free throw attempts while Butler only shot 62 percent from the charity stripe. Trent Wurtz added 15 points and 8 rebounds for the Sycamores who were hosting their first ranked opponent since 1986 and they made the most of the opportunity picking up one their biggest wins in quite some time. This Sycamore team, playing in the shadow of some of the other Valley teams, showed it may be ready to make the jump into the upper echelon of the league standings and this may not have been the last time the Sycamore fans get the opportunity to storm the court.

Game of the Upcoming Week – Indiana State at Missouri State

One team just missed the NCAA Tournament a year ago and is playing with a chip on its shoulder. The other team, coming off one their biggest wins in recent memory is currently on the rise in the Valley. But come Saturday night both teams will be vying to get off on the right track and win their Missouri Valley Conference opener. The Sycamores coming off a 4-14 conference record a season ago, look to be playing better basketball this season and the Bears have been outstanding in the new season, making this early conference match up that more important. If Indiana State is able to slow the Bears up and down tempo they’ll have a chance to pull off the upset in Springfield. But, if Blake Ahearn and the Bears get hot from outside, look out, it could be a long night for ISU. Neither team wants to lose their conference opener but the winner of this game will gain that early bit of confidence needed to be successful in the grueling 18-game Valley schedule.

Prediction – Missouri State 75 Indiana State 68

Player of the Week – Blake Ahearn, Sr., G – Missouri State

Missouri State’s Blake Ahearn was at the top of his game this past week leading the Bears to 2 more wins and helping extend their winning streak to 4 games. On Wednesday night, in the Bears win over UW-Milwaukee, Ahearn was nearly perfect from their field shooting 6-of-8 from the floor including 4-for-4 from three point land to lead the Bears in scoring with 26 points. Saturday night the Bears traveled to UNC-Wilmington and Ahearn picked up right where he left off. He once again led the Bears in scoring with 18 points and made 5-of-9 three-point attempts. Teams should know by now not to foul Ahearn, as it almost a guaranteed two points, as he hit all 11 of his free throw attempts last week. With Ahearn, one of the top shooters in the nation, playing at such a high level so early in the season, the Bears are going to be a force in the MVC this season.

Team Capsules

1. Wichita State (7-0, 0-0) Last Week: 1st

After climbing all the way to # 10 in the latest AP Poll the Shockers took to the road for their only game this past week, a Saturday evening tilt with Wyoming. The Shockers, however, weren’t about to let the Cowboys spoil their marvelous season, as they got 19 points from Kyle Wilson to beat the Cowboys 83-69. Matt Braeuer added 18 points and Ryan Martin led the Shockers with 12 rebounds. The Shockers will have a little time to rest before they hit the courts again. Their next game is a Sunday, Dec. 17th match-up with Maryland-Eastern Shore, a team they should run right off the court and right out of Wichita.

2. Missouri State (8-1, 0-0) Last Week: 2nd

Another week goes by and the Missouri State Bears continue to put the clamps on their competition. Wednesday night the Bears fought off a struggling UW-Milwaukee squad using a 22-7 run to end the first half and erase an 8 point deficit to hold on for the 79-60 win. Blake Ahearn led the Bears with 26 points while Deven Mitchell had 18 points and 7 rebounds off the bench. The Bears then took to the road for the first time this season traveling to UNC-Wilmington on Saturday night. Never was the game in doubt as the Bears won their eighth game of the year 78-62 behind 15 points and 9 rebounds from Nathan Bilyeu. The Bears now have a week to get ready for their MVC opener this Saturday at home against Indiana State.

3. Northern Iowa (8-1, 0-0) Last Week: 3rd

What a week it was to be a UNI Panther as they proved to Iowa they are the State’s best college basketball team. One week after beating in-state rival Iowa State, the Panthers were at it again, this time against the Hawkeyes from Iowa City. UNI stormed back from a 13 point second half deficit and got a bucket from Travis Brown with 33 seconds left to play to beat the Hawkeyes 57-55 and record their first win ever in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Eric Coleman, the MVC Player of the Week, was huge for the Panthers down low, scoring 21 points and pulling down 15 rebounds while Grant Stout added 12 points and 7 rebounds. UNI didn’t get caught up in their win as they then returned home and routed Missouri-Kansas City 85-53 behind 24 points from Adam Viet. UNI should have no trouble improving to 9-1 on the season as they play Loyola Chicago in their only game this week. The Panthers, under first year head coach Ben Jacobson, are off to a hot start and they are showing the rest of the Valley that they better watch out for the Panthers come conference time.

4. Southern Illinois (7-1, 0-0) Last Week: 4th

After falling to Arkansas on Thanksgiving Day, their only loss of the season, the Southern Illinois Salukis have been unstoppable. The Salukis have rolled off 5 consecutive wins after they beat Western Kentucky 75- 70 Saturday night behind 22 points from Tony Young. Four other Salukis were in double figures, including Randall Faulker who had 12 points and 7 rebounds as well as Matt Shaw who just missed another double double with 11 points and 9 rebounds. The Salukis shot 56 percent from the field while improving to 6-1 on the season. SIU will look to continue the Valley’s success against the Big Ten this week when they travel to Indiana to take on the Hoosiers.

5. Creighton (4-2, 0-0) Last Week: 6th

Anthony Tolliver showed why he was voted first team all-MVC in the preseason. Tolliver led the Bluejays with 17 points Saturday night as Creighton handed #24 Xavier its second loss of the season. Nate Funk added 15 points and Dane Watts grabbed 10 rebounds as the Bluejays beat the Musketeers 73-67 in front of the largest crowd ever to watch a basketball game in Nebraska. 15,872 fans packed the Quest Center in Omaha and watched the Bluejays play their best game of the year and move their record to 4-2 on the season. Tolliver and the Bluejays, however, didn’t have quite as good luck in their other game of the week as they fell to Dayton 60-54 Wednesday night. Tolliver had another huge game with 13 points and 13 rebounds while Funk had 15 points in the losing effort. The Bluejays, who beat Fresno State 67-62 a season ago, will travel to California this Saturday in a rematch of last year’s Bracketbuster Saturday game.

6. Bradley (6-3, 0-0) Last Week: 3rd

The Braves snapped their 3 game losing streak with a monstrous 88-49 win over Wright State in their only action of the week. J.J. Tauai was one of 6 Braves in double figures with 15 points while Daniel Ruffin had 13 points and 7 assists. Bradley shot 54 percent from the field including 13 three-point makes while holding Wright State to only 32 percent shooting. The Braves showed that if you share the basketball good things tend to happen as they had 26 assists on 32 baskets. Bradley will have plenty of time to rest before it plays again as there are 11 days before its game Saturday against Iowa State in Des Moines.

7. Indiana State (5-3, 0-0) Last Week: 8th

Indiana State made the most of its only game this week, adding to the Valley’s list of upset victories by beating #15 Butler at home 72-64. Behind 24 points from Gabe Moore, the Sycamores ended Butlers 10 game winning streak and improved to 5-3 on the season. ISU shot 49 percent from the field, including 44 percent from three point land and got 15 points from Trent Wurtz and 9 points and 7 rebounds from Jay Tunnell as the Sycamores added to the Valley’s list of quality non-conference wins. The Sycamores will open their 2006 Valley schedule with a Saturday match up in Springfield against the Missouri State Bears.

8. Evansville (6-3, 1-0) Last Week: 9th

The Evansville Purple Aces currently sit atop the Valley conference standings at 1-0. The Aces turned a close game into a rout with a huge second half, beating the Illinois State Redbirds 69-41 in the first MVC conference game of the year. Matt Webster had 21 points for the Purple Aces and Bradley Strickland added 12 points as the Purple Aces won their second game of the week after beating Valparaiso 69-64 Tuesday night. Against the Crusaders Matt Webster was once again the key for Evansville. Webster had 30 points and 7 rebounds while no other Ace’s player had more than 9 points. The Purple Aces will no doubt need someone else to step up besides Webster if they look to be competitive this year in the Valley. Evansville will host Lipscomb Saturday in its only game this week

9. Illinois State (6-3, 0-1) Last Week: 7th

The Redbirds increased their winning streak to 6 games Tuesday night in Peoria as they beat Miami (OH) 64-40 behind 15 points and 10 rebounds from Anthony Slack. Slack wasn’t the only Redbird with a double double as Greg Dilligard had 11 points to go along with 10 rebounds. With 6 consecutive wins and a 6-2 record the Redbirds were flying high into their MVC opener Saturday against Evansville, but that momentum didn’t last long and the Redbirds came crashing to the ground. After trailing by only one at the break, ISU allowed Evansville to take command of the game as they opened the second half on a 28-4 run and chased the Redbirds right off the court. Dom Johnson was the only Redbird in double figures with 11 points as ISU feel to 6-3 on the season. The Redbirds will look to get back on the winning track as they travel to Western Michigan Saturday.

10. Drake (5-2, 0-0) Last Week: 10 th

The Bulldogs added two more wins to their total this year by winning the Drake Regency Classic in Des Moines, Iowa. The Bulldogs avenged a loss earlier in the season to Troy, beating the Trojans 102-90 Friday night behind a career high 22 points from Jonathan Cox. Drake then beat Georgia Southern in the tournament final 87-75. The Bulldogs got 24 points and 7 rebounds from the MVC’s leading scorer, Ajay Calvin. Freshman Josh Young, the MVC Newcomer of the Week, added 19 points for the Bulldogs who have now won 4 consecutive games. Drake will play UC-Irvine Tuesday evening and then try and do what Northern Iowa has already done, beat both Iowa State and Iowa, as the Bulldogs take on the Hawkeyes at home Saturday. If these early season games are any indication as to how the Bulldogs are going to be playing come conference time, they won’t be the push over they have been in year’s past.