After week one of the season, four Valley teams; Wichita State, Missouri State, Bradley and Southern Illinois have yet to taste defeat and UNI and Creighton each have one defeat, both to BCS league teams Washington and Nebraska respectively. Indiana State is off to a 2-1 start and Evansville is playing .500 ball at 2-2. Drake and Illinois State are the only two teams with losing records both sitting at 1-2.
Bradley, after losing two key contributors to the NBA, Patrick O’Bryant and Marcellus Sommerville, and playing without starter Daniel Ruffin, is the most surprising team so far, going 3-0.
The Valley will enter next week’s match-ups with a couple of teams taking on ranked opponents, including Missouri State’s match-up with Wisconsin and Wichita State traveling to Baton Rouge to take on LSU. If the Valley can get these two wins, the critics will definitely have to take notice and give the Valley the much-needed respect it deserves.
Game of the Week – Wichita State @ George Mason
Wichita State spoiled George Mason’s party and got revenge on the Patriots for beating them in last year’s Sweet 16. The largest crowd in George Mason history saw the Patriots raise their Final Four banner from last season but with only 2 starters back from last year’s squad they were unable to stop Kyle Wilson and the revenged minded Shockers as Wichita State beat the Patriots 72-66. The Shockers, who not only lost to Georgia Mason in last year’s tournament, also fell to the Patriots at home during last year’s Bracketbuster Saturday. But on Saturday it was the Shockers day to celebrate while showing the nation why they are one of the best mid-major teams in the country. Junior Sean Ogirri led the Shockers with 19 points and Wilson chipped in 16, along with senior Ryan Martin’s career high 16 points and 11 rebounds. The Shockers also put an end to the Patriots 12- game home winning streak, even though they only shot 44 percent from the field they were deadly from outside, hitting 10 of 23 three-point attempts. This win could become very beneficial for the Shockers come March.
Game of the Upcoming Week – Missouri State v. Wisconsin in the South Padre Island Invitational.
Missouri State is still bitter after having been left out of the NCAA tournament a year ago. The Bears will have a chance to make a big statement this week when they battle ninth-ranked Wisconsin Friday at the South Padre Island Invitational. Some said the Bears lacked a marquee win last year and a win Friday over the Badgers would be a great RPI boost come tournament time.
Player of the Week – Nate Funk, Sr., G – Creighton
Nate Funk certainly gave Valley teams something to take notice of with his 28 point effort in a 73-61 loss at Nebraska Saturday night. After coming off an injury-ridden season a year ago, Funk showed why, even after sitting out almost all of last year, he was still voted the pre-season Missouri Valley Conference player of the year. In the Bluejays 78-42 season opening win against Mississippi Valley State, Funk had 13 points and 5 rebounds and after two games is averaging 20.5 points a game and is shooting 69% from behind the arc (9 for 13). Funk was a huge factor this week in both of the Bluejays games and he nearly carried them to victory over instate rival Nebraska. If Creighton plans on having the successful season that everyone in Omaha has become accustomed to, Funk need to be a major factor major behind their success.
1. Wichita State (3-0, 0-0)
Wichita State got off to a strong start with 3 consecutive wins to open the season. The Shockers easily beat Rockhurst and Chicago State before avenging a Sweet Sixteen loss from a year ago by beating George Mason 72-66 on the road. The Shockers look to be in mid-season form already and Kyle Wilson is showing why he could contend for the league MVP by averaging 14.7 points per game in the early going. Guard Sean Ogirri is also off to a hot start averaging just over 14 points per game while shooting over 50 percent from three-point land. In their only game this week, the Shockers will most likely have their toughest test of the season when they play at seventh ranked LSU.
2. Missouri State (2-0, 0-0)
The Bears are 2-0 after beating preseason MAC West favorite Toledo 79-66 behind 22 points from preseason All-MVC pick Blake Ahearn.The Bears then sat idle for a week before beating Delaware State at home 77-54 in the opening round of the South Padre Island Invitational. The Bears were hot from start to finish against Delaware State, shooting 62 percent from the field, their best shooting effort since 2004. After facing Division II Lincoln University on Tuesday, the Bears will travel to South Padre where things will get a bit tougher. The Bears will play ninth-ranked Wisconsin Friday followed by a match up with either Oklahoma State or Auburn.
3. Northern Iowa (3-1, 0-0)
The Panthers opened their 2006 campaign with three games on the road in Seattle at the Basketball Travelers Classic. The Panthers had no trouble getting to the championship game after beating Nichols State and Pepperdine. UNI almost pulled off the first upset for a Valley team this season, but fell just short, losing to 17th ranked Washington 70-61 in the tournament championship game. The Panthers closed out the week with their home opener at the new McLeod Center beating UW-Milwaukee 69-58. The Panthers have one game next week at home against South Dakota State.
4. Creighton (1-1, 0-0)
Creighton came into the season ranked 25th in the nation but that ranking was short lived. After beating Mississippi Valley State in their opener by 36, the Bluejays fell to Nebraska on the road 73-61. The Bluejays however, should not have a sour taste in their mouth as they did beat the Huskers a season ago and road wins are hard to come by. The Bluejays will look to be the second Valley team this year to beat Final Four participant George Mason as they host the Patriots in Omaha Saturday.
5. Bradley (3-0, 0-0)
Fresh off a Sweet Sixteen appearance last season the Bradley Braves are off to a 3-0 start and don’t seem to be missing Patrick O’Bryant who left early for the NBA after a solid season a year ago. Bradley beat DePaul by 20 in their opener and then beat Division II SIU-Edwardsville to improve to 2-0. The Braves then began play in the Illinois Chicago Challenge Invitational and beat Illinois-Chicago 81-72 in the first round. Jeremy Crouch is averaging 21 points per game and Zach Andrews, after scoring 26 points and grabbing 15 rebounds against the Flames, is averaging a double -double per game. The Braves continue tournament play Tuesday when they take on Florida A&M and will then travel to Illinois over the weekend to battle Rutgers Friday night and either Illinois or Miami (OH) on Saturday in tournament play.
6. Southern Illinois (2-0, 0-0)
The Salukis are off to a 2-0 start, but they have yet to be tested. After beating Division II Washington (MO) in their opener, the Salukis beat a solid Murray State team 62-46 Sunday. All-MVC pick Jamal Tatum made his debut after serving a one-game suspension in the Salukis win over the Racers. Tatum scored 20 points and guard Tony Young averaged 16.5 points in SIU’s two victories. Up next for the Salukis is a Thanksgiving Day match up against Arkansas.
7. Indiana State (2-1, 0-0)
The Sycamores started 2-1 after beating Western Michigan and IPFW. The Sycamores however, lost to in-state rival Indiana 73-66. Indiana State hung close with the favored Hoosiers but a 15-1 run by ISU was still not enough and Indiana held on for the seven-point win. Trent Wurtz is averaging nearly a double-double with 13 points and 8 rebounds a game after he had a team high 21 points against IPFW. The Sycamores only game next week is a home game in Terra Haute against Tulane.
8. Evansville (2-2, 0-0)
After falling to 0-2 after loses to Lipscomb and Miami (FL), Evansville rebounded to beat Cleveland State and Buffalo to win the America’s Youth Classic. After losing to Miami, the Purple Aces found themselves 0-1 in the 4 team round robin event but after beating CSU and crushing Buffalo 74-44, Evansville ended the tournament 2-1 and took home their first tournament championship since 1993. Matt Webster scored 57 points in three games to take home the tournament MVP and Kyle Anslinger joined Webster on the all-tourney team. The Purple Aces will have a lot of time to rest after 3 games in 3 days as they are off until a Nov. 27th game against Southeast Missouri State.
9. Illinois State (1-2, 0-0)
The Redbirds opened the 2006 season taking part in the Colonial Classic in Tallahassee, Florida and going 1-2. After losing to SMU 57-55 by a tip in at the buzzer, the Redbirds then lost to host Florida State 73-59. The Redbirds however, were not about to go home winless as they beat McNeese St. by 17 for their first win of the season. Junior College transfer Dom Johnson was named to the all-tournament team after he scored 50 points in three games including a tourney high 32 against FSU. The Redbirds will host CSU Northridge on Monday and travel to St. Johns Saturday.
10. Drake (1-2, 0-0)
Drake traveled to Fairbanks, Alaska to open their 2006 season by taking part in the Top of the World Classic. Things more than likely didn’t go the way coach Tom Davis had hoped as Drake lost 2 of 3 games and took home fourth place in the tournament. After beating Southeast Missouri State in their opener, Drake fell to Utah State by 18 and lost to Troy on Sunday in the third place game. Troy scored 14 unanswered points in the last three minutes to erase a 9-point Drake lead to win the game 80-75. Senior Ajay Calvin is off to a hot start for the Bulldogs averaging 18 points per game in Drake’s first three contests. The Bulldogs only game this upcoming week is a home game against Waldorf.