Indiana State, ignored by all in November and much of December, pushed its way into the Missouri Valley Conference spotlight this week.
With two wins in Hawaii, the Sycamores punched up the MVC’s non-conference resume and announced themselves as a bigger threat than previously believed. Indiana State (7-4) finished third in the Diamond Head Classic, beating Mississippi and Miami (Fla.) and losing to No. 17 San Diego State. The win over Miami, which is No. 18 in the power rankings (RPI) complied by warrennolan.com, ranks as the best win by an MVC school. The win over No. 56 Mississippi also helped the Sycamores move from No. 83 in the RPI to No. 54.
“You beat an SEC team … and an ACC team picked in the top of their league,” Indiana State coach Gregg Lansing told the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. “Our conference is awfully good, too, so you’re going to see teams like that all year long. It’s a very positive note for us to go back home now, because we have the gauntlet coming up in the first week of conference, coming off this travel.”
Indiana State’s rise in the RPI provided a buzzer-beater for the MVC, which begins its conference schedule with two games Saturday. With all non-conference play finished except 10 BracketBusters games in February, the Valley needed a boost.
It started November strong with wins by Wichita State (over Virginia Commonwealth) and Creighton (Wisconsin). Close losses by Drake (to California) and Northern Iowa (Louisville) didn’t pay off as both teams missed opportunities at other eye-catching wins. Illinois State, expected to contend near the top of the conference, lost three straight games, including an 81-67 blowout to Wyoming at home, before righting itself with wins over Western Michigan and at Dayton.
The MVC’s RPI ranks ninth among the nation’s 32 conferences, barely behind the SEC. It owns four teams in the top 60 of the RPI — No. 13 WSU, No. 16 Creighton, No. 40 Illinois State and the 54th-ranked Sycamores. Last season, the MVC ranked eighth and finished with two teams (No. 18 WSU and No. 23 Creighton) in the top 50 and two more in the top 100 (No. 72 Northern Iowa and No. 99 Illinois State).
MVC schools with NCAA and NIT aspirations should be able to improve their resumes with the top-50 and top-100 wins the NCAA selection committee values. It also notable that four of the MVC’s five top-50 wins came at road or neutral venues.
Indiana State’s performance in Hawaii makes that 18-game Valley round-robin look tougher for everyone. No. 16 Creighton is a power, as expected, and improved on defense. WSU, even while hit hard by injuries, is beating expectations after losing its top five scorers.
Bradley and Southern Illinois, both coming off miserable seasons, are pleasant surprises with winning records against weak schedules. Only Missouri State, 2-10 with no NCAA Division I wins, is below 500.
“We play everybody twice in this league, which is great,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. “It’s a true regular-season champion. Tough venues. Tough opponents. It’s certainly a grind.”