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Indiana State makes Missouri Valley schedule look more rigorous

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, at 5 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, at 6:44 p.m.

MVC non-conference review

Records: Creighton 11-1, Wichita State 11-1, Illinois State 9-3, Bradley 8-4, Indiana State 7-4, Southern Illinois 7-4, Evansville 7-5, Northern Iowa 7-5, Drake 6-5, Missouri State 2-10

RPI: WSU 13, Creighton 16, Illinois State 40, Indiana State 54, UNI 118, Evansville 161, SIU 165, Drake 178, Bradley 186, Missouri State 331

Projections

NCAA teams: Creighton, WSU

NIT: Illinois State, Indiana State

MVP: Creighton’s Doug McDermott is a lock for this award, averaging 23.1 points and 6.8 rebounds. He is shooting 54.9 percent from the field and 50.9 percent from three-point range. Illinois State’s Jackie Carmichael (18.3 points, 8 rebounds) is the leader for second. WSU’s Carl Hall (13.9 points, 7.6 rebounds) made a strong case before a broken thumb sidelined him.

All-MVC: McDermott, Hall, Carmichael, Indiana State’s Jake Odum, Illinois State’s Tyler Brown

Newcomer of the Year: SIU guard Desmar Jackson, a transfer from Wyoming, averages 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds. He scored 29 in a loss at Utah State, making 11 of 16 shots and 5 of 7 threes. He is the best of a strong field of transfers that includes Bradley’s Tyshon Pickett, WSU’s Cleanthony Early and Indiana State’s Manny Arop.

Freshman of the Year: Evansville guard D.J. Balentine helped the Aces survive an injury to Colt Ryan. He averages 10.9 points and is making 43.9 percent of his threes. His challengers are Illinois State guard Kaza Keane, second in the MVC in assists (5.3), and Missouri State guard Marcus Marshall (9.8 points).

Bests and worsts

Best win: Hard to choose between WSU winning at VCU and Indiana State’s win over Miami (Fla.) in Hawaii. Give a slight edge to the Shockers for winning on the road. Wins by Creighton (at California, Wisconsin) and Illinois State (at Dayton) also stand out.

Worst loss: While Wyoming is unbeaten, Illinois State’s 81-67 home loss to the Cowboys is a black mark. That is the kind of loss — location and margin — that separates an NCAA team from an NIT team.

Biggest surprise: Bradley’s recovery from last season’s 7-25 record is moving more quickly than many expected. The Braves, in coach Geno Ford’s second season, are 8-4 with two road wins and admirable efforts in losses to Michigan (74-66) and Virginia Tech (66-65). Honorable mention to SIU and first-season coach Barry Hinson.

Biggest disappointment: Nobody expected much from Missouri State in coach Paul Lusk’s second season. However, fans expected more than this. The Bears are 0-10 against NCAA Division I schools and lost at Alabama A&M. Drake deserves a frown for going 0-4 against RPI top-100 teams without playing one on the opponents’ home floor.

Best December/January games:

•  Illinois State at Indiana State (Sunday): Teams often struggle after returning from Hawaii. The Sycamores can’t afford a home loss.

•  Creighton at Illinois State (Jan. 2): The Redbirds can shine up their NCAA resume.

•  Indiana State at Creighton (Jan. 5): The Sycamores start MVC play with a rough road. They play at Northern Iowa in between Illinois State and Creighton.

•  Illinois State at Wichita State (Jan. 16): WSU’s defense will be tested by MVC’s top scoring team.

•  Creighton at Wichita State (Jan. 19): Will the Shockers still be short-handed?

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.”

Check Paul Suellentrop’s Shocker blog at blogs.kansas.com/shockwaves. Reach him at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com.

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