MVC Weekly Basketball Notebook

December 5th, 2006

Valley teams began separating themselves from each other this week as Wichita State, Missouri State, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois all showed that, as of right now, they look to be the top 4 teams in the league. Creighton, with only 4 games under their belt, rounds out the top five teams in the Valley. Bradley, after a hot start, has lost three straight games and Indiana State fell twice this week dropping them to 4-3 on the season. Illinois State has replaced Bradley as the hottest team in the league as they improved to 5-2, extending their winning streak to 5 games. Drake and Evansville still have work to do before conference play begins as, at this point, they round out the bottom of the Valley.

Even though numerous teams lost games this week, the Valley still has a very impressive non-conference record. At 47-17 the Valley is showing the basketball world that their conference is worth every bit of the praise they received last March. The Valley picked up another win against a ranked opponent when Wichita State defeated # 15 Syracuse and elsewhere, Northern Iowa and Drake both beat Iowa State to go along with the Southern Illinois win against St. Louis.

Following Wichita State’s second victory over a top 15 team in as many weeks, the Shockers climbed all the to number 10 in the latest AP Poll released Monday. Wichita State became the Valley’s first team to crack the Top 25 since Creighton was ranked in the top 10 in 2003. The Shockers moved up 6 spots to number 16 in the ESPN / USA Today Coaches poll. Missouri State, Southern Illinois, Creighton, Northern Iowa and Bradley were all among others receiving votes in either of the polls, proving how strong this year’s Valley really is.

Things will heat up this week as the leagues first conference game will be played when Illinois State travels to Evansville to take on the Purple Aces. Right now, Wichita State looks to be the league favorite, but from top to bottom, this year’s Valley is even better than last year’s conference that sent 4 teams to the NCAA tournament and 2 to the NIT. It’s anybody’s guess who will win this year’s league title but in the next couple of weeks, as conference games begin to get underway, we’ll start to find out who the contenders are and who are the pretenders.

Game of the Week – # 17 Wichita State at # 15 Syracuse

One week after going on the road and upsetting #6 LSU, the Shockers were at it again Saturday night, this time at the expense of the #15 Syracuse Orange. The Shockers jumped all over the Orange in the early going including a remarkable 27-1 run in their first half, helping them build a 14-point halftime lead. However, the Orange were not about to get ran off their own floor in front of over 22,000 fans. They were able to slowly chip away at the Wichita State lead, finding themselves within 2 points with less than three minutes left on the clock, after they held the Shockers to only one field goal in the final 9 minutes of the game. The game looked to be over as Syracuse guard Demetris Nichols had an uncontested lay up chance with 21 seconds to play but the ball rimmed out and the Shockers hit their free throws to hold on for the 64-61 win in a wild game that featured incredible runs by both squads. This was the second time this season the Shockers went on the road and defeated a Top 25 team and the first time they accomplished that feat since the 1968-69 season. So far this season, the Shockers are clearly the class of the MVC and as the season progresses and they continue to get better the rest of the nation won’t see these wins as shocking upsets.

Game of the Upcoming Week – Northern Iowa at Iowa

The Valley will look to continue its early season success against the so-called “big boys” of college basketball when the Northern Iowa Panthers travel to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes. Although the Hawkeyes aren’t as good as they have been in recent years, they will be out for revenge as the Panthers beat them a season ago 67-63 in overtime when the Hawkeyes were ranked 12th in the nation. Both teams are off to different starts, the Panthers are 6-1 and look to challenge for yet another NCAA tourney berth, while the Hawkeyes are in the midst of a rebuilding year. If the Panthers can handle playing on the road at Carver Hawkeye Arena and are able to play their brand off basketball, UNI should have no trouble beating the Hawkeyes for the second consecutive season.

Prediction – Northern Iowa 66 Iowa 58

Player of the Week – Matt Shaw, Jr., F – Southern Illinois

The Salukis went 2-0 this past week and Matt Shaw was a big reason behind their success. In the Salukis 50-36 win over Louisiana Tech Wednesday night, Shaw nearly captured a double double with 15 points and 9 rebounds. Shaw also led SIU in assists with 3. St. Louis traveled to SIU Arena Saturday night and once again Shaw helped lead the Salukis to their 6th victory of the season with a 13 point, 7 rebound effort. Shaw has been a big reason for the Salukis quick start to the season as he leads the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 13.3 points and 7 rebounds per game. As competitive as the Valley is this season, the Salukis will need to continue to get solid efforts out of Shaw, with consistent help form the rest of the team, if they look to be sitting atop the standings at the season’s conclusion.

Team Capsules

1. Wichita State (6-0, 0-0) Last Week: 1st

The Shockers are showing why last year’s Sweet Sixteen appearance was no fluke and they are proving to the nation they are one of the top teams in the country. Wichita State, the only unbeaten team in the Valley, improved to 6-0 after a blow out win over Missouri-Kansas City and a thrilling 3-point victory at Syracuse. The Shockers turned a close game against UMKC into a rout as they rolled to an 85-55 victory in which they scored more points, 58, in the second half than the Kangaroos did for the entire game. PJ Couisnard led the way with 16 points and Phillip Thomasson, the Missouri Valley Newcomer of the Week, had a solid game with 12 points and 10 rebounds. The Shockers then beat their second nationally ranked opponent this season with a 64-61 win over Syracuse. Kyle Wilson led the Shockers with 17 points against the Orange. Wichita State should have no trouble keeping their undefeated record intact this week as they travel to Wyoming for their only game of the week.

2. Missouri State (6-1, 0-0) Last Week: 2nd

The Bears hosted the annual Price Cutter Classic in Springfield this past weekend and for the fourth consecutive year walked away with the tournament championship, this year in dominating fashion. In their tournament opener the Bears didn’t have any trouble beating Alabama State 89-49 behind 14 points from Deven Mitchell and 13 points from Blake Ahearn. The Bears then took on Santa Clara, fresh off their win against Alabama State, for the tournament championship. After only holding a seven-point lead at the break, the Bears went on a 30-6 run and rolled to a 78-51 victory. Bears guard Tyler Chaney was named MVP of the tournament as he had 9 assists in their two games with no turnovers. Missouri State will welcome UW-Milwaukee on Wednesday night in a rematch of the Bears’ Bracketbuster Saturday win from last year. The Bears will then travel to UNC-Wilmington on Saturday for a game against the Seahawks. With two more wins this week, the Bears will inch even closer to cracking the Top 25.

3. Northern Iowa (6-1, 0-0) Last Week: 5th

The Panthers picked up two very good wins this past week beating in-state rival Iowa State and beating Bucknell on the road. Brooks McKowen, the Missouri Valley Player of the Week, had 27 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists as the Panthers beat the Cyclones 70-57. UNI then traveled to Bucknell in a rematch of last year’s Bracketbuster match-up, a game UNI won in double overtime. This year’s outcome wasn’t any different as the Panthers beat the Bison 57-48 behind a double double from Eric Coleman. The Panthers will look to improve to 2-0 verses the two big time programs in Iowa as they travel to Iowa to take on the Hawkeyes Wednesday. UNI will return home to take on Missouri-Kansas City, a team they will have no trouble defeating. Before long, UNI will be the talk of the state of Iowa because right now the best basketball in the state is being played in Cedar Falls.

4. Southern Illinois (6-1, 0-0) Last Week: 4th

The Salukis didn’t have much trouble in their two games this week as they beat Louisiana Tech Wednesday night 50-38 and then beat St. Louis 65-56 Saturday night in Carbondale. On Wednesday night, Matt Shaw’s 15 points and Randall Falker’s 12 points and 4 blocked shots led the Salukis, while they held La. Tech to only 14 made field goals on 32 percent shooting. On Saturday, after building 6-point halftime lead against St. Louis, the Salukis never trailed as they held on for the win over the Billikens. Falker had 17 points to go along with 7 rebounds against St. Louis. The Salukis are playing great basketball early in the season, which is something Valley teams have grown accustomed to and SIU will look to continue their stellar play when they travel to Western Kentucky Sunday to take on the Hilltoppers.

5. Creighton (3-1, 0-0) Last Week: 6th

The Bluejays had no trouble in their only game this past week defeating Arkansas-Pine Bluff 74-39. Anthony Tolliver had a double double with 17 points and 11 rebounds to lead Creighton while Nate Funk and Isaac Miles each had 10 points apiece. The Bluejays shot 43 percent from the field while holding the Lions to just 24 percent shooting. We’ll learn a lot more about the Bluejays this week as they take on a pair of Atlantic 10 opponents, both of whom are currently 6-1. The Bluejays will travel to Dayton to take on the Flyers on Wednesday and return to Omaha Saturday for a match up with Xavier.

6. Bradley (5-3, 0-0) Last Week: 3rd

After nearly beating Illinois a week ago, the Bradley Braves seem to be still trying to recover from that loss. Two more losses this week have dropped the Braves to 5-3 after they had opened the season with 5 consecutive wins. The Braves lost Wednesday night in heartbreaking fashion as Tennessee Tech got a lay up with just under 2 seconds to go to win 86-84. The loss spoiled Zach Andrews’ marvelous night as he had 22 points and 14 rebounds. Bradley then looked to seek revenge on the Big 10 conference as they traveled to East Lansing to take on Michigan State, but a close game turned into a rout as the Spartans handed the Braves their third consecutive defeat 82-53. The Braves will look to get back on the winning track this week as they play host to Wright State in their only game.

7. Illinois State (5-2, 0-0) Last Week: 8th

After dropping their first 2 games of the season, the Redbirds have rolled off 5 consecutive victories, over competition that isn’t exactly in the same league. Illinois State had no trouble this week winning their games, an 86-69 win over Sacramento State and an 86-61 win over Texas-Arlington. Anthony Slack had 21 points and 10 rebounds against Sacramento State while Levi Dyer led the Redbirds in scoring against Texas-Arlington with 17 points. The competition will get a little tougher this week for the Redbirds as they host Miami (OH) on Wednesday and travel to Evansville Saturday in the Valley’s first conference game of the season. The Redbirds will have a good chance this week to show the Valley if they are as good as their 5-2 record says they are.

8. Indiana State (4-3, 0-0) Last Week: 7th

It wasn’t a good week to be a Sycamore as Indiana State dropped two games to teams they should have beaten. Thursday night ISU fell to Middle Tennessee State on the road 65-58 and then the Sycamores lost a heartbreaker Saturday in overtime, a 73-70 decision to Ball State. Gabriel Moore continued his outstanding play averaging 17.5 points for the week and Jay Tunnell, coming off an 11 rebound performance against the Blue Raiders, added 20 points and 12 rebounds against Ball State. Indiana State will get its chance this week to continue the Valley’s success against ranked opponents, as they will host # 19 Butler in Terre Haute on Saturday. If Indiana State can pull off the upset, the Sycamores will no doubt have some momentum before they begin Valley play December 16.

9. Evansville (4-3, 0-0) Last Week: 8th

The Purple Aces had a chance to extend their winning streak to five games Sunday but Evansville was unable to get past undefeated Missouri in Columbia. After beating Tennessee-Martin 75-57 Wednesday, Evansville had a chance to pick up a quality win but they were unable to stop the Tigers up-tempo style of play. The Tiger defense did an excellent job on Evansville as the Purple Aces shot only 29 percent from the field led by Bradley Strickland’s 13 points. Strickland also was Evansville’s lead scorer with 20 points against Tennessee-Martin. Evansville will have one final tune-up before they kick off the Valley season Saturday against Illinois State when they host Valparaiso Tuesday night.

10. Drake (3-2, 0-0) Last Week: 10th

Drake became the second Valley team this week to defeat the Big 12’s Iowa State Cyclones as the Bulldogs went on the road to Ames and escaped with an 80-78 victory. Al Stewart scored on a driving lay up with 4 seconds left and the Bulldogs then held their breath as a Cyclone three at the buzzer was waved off. Ajay Calvin continues to assert himself as one of the top players in the league as he dropped in 22 points for the Bulldogs. Calvin currently leads the league in scoring. This win, probably one of the biggest wins for Drake in quite sometime, could propel them to make a jump in the Valley this season. The Bulldogs will play host for the Drake Regency Challenge this weekend. Drake will play Troy in the tournament’s second semifinal game Friday night and will play either Northern Illinois / Georgia Southern on Saturday.