Some conferences ease into their post-holiday schedules. Not the Missouri Valley Conference.
MVC teams played their fifth conference game Wednesday. Compare that to the ACC, where many teams play their second tonight. Or the Atlantic-10, where teams play their third game this week. Same with the Big 12. The Wichita State women played Sunday and don’t play again until Saturday. The women’s tournament starts on March 8.
The MVC picks up speed this week, cramming in three games in six days — Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. It is necessary because BracketBusters eats up one weekend and the conference tournament begins March 1, earlier than most high-level conferences. Coaches are used to the grind.
“It’s just business as usual,” Evansville’s Marty Simmons said. “We’re not going to go at it any differently.”
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The busy week doesn’t change plans dramatically. Coaches don’t plan to rest their starters, unless the situation calls for it. Some coaches will cut practice time, perhaps skipping individual skill work to get quickly into the guts of team practice.
“You can’t go too long and too intense with a window like this,” Drake coach Mark Phelps said.
No team plays three road games this week. Wichita State, perhaps the MVC’s deepest team, plays the most favorable schedule. It is the only team to play at home Tuesday and Friday. The Shockers travel to Indiana State on Sunday.
Every team that travels on Friday is home on Sunday. Four teams, however, play two road games – Northern Iowa, Evansville, Southern Illinois and Illinois State.
That, at least, is some relief to Bradley coach Geno Ford. The Braves are the only team that plays its first two on the road. On Tuesday, Drake handed them their eighth straight loss. On Friday, they come to Koch Arena.
“So far, one game a week has been a challenge for us,” he said.
• Ticket sales for the MVC Tournament are up over last season. The 10 schools combined to sell 5,066 tickets before Jan. 1. That is an increase over the 2010-11 total of 4,695 before Jan. 1. Creighton (2,305) leads the way. WSU (1,168) is second. Evansville brings up the rear with 88. Creighton had sold 950 at this time a year ago. WSU dropped from 1,468 a year ago.
• Drake coach Mark Phelps announced that center Seth Van Deest and forward Reece Uhlenhopp will not play this season. Van Deest, a starter, has not played this season after shoulder surgery in July. Uhlenhopp, a forward, played one minute in one game trying to return from a stress fracture. Phelps told the Des Moines Register both will seek a redshirt season.
• Creighton forward Grant Gibbs averages 4.6 assists in MVC play. People are noticing how important he is to Creighton’s offense, which is no surprise to coach Greg McDermott. “Doug (McDermott) ought to be taking him out to eat every night, where he wants to go,” Greg McDermott said. “The scorer has to do very little, because he creates that angle with his pass.”
• Doug McDermott remains second nationally in scoring with an average of 24.5 points. Evansville’s Colt Ryan is seventh at 21.
• Missouri State center Caleb Patterson returned after missing two games with a concussion on Tuesday. He scored 15 points in a 77-65 win over Southern Illinois.
What to watch
Creighton at Illinois State (8 p.m., Friday) — Close losses, well, they’re not much fun. Illinois State’s rally against WSU — finally losing 65-62 — means more if it can follow up with a win over Creighton. Freshman point guard Nic Moore gets another challenge from a senior when he faces Creighton’s Antoine Young.
Keep an eye on
Missouri State junior forward Jamar Gulley, a transfer from Highland Community College, is fitting in perfectly as a scoring complement to Kyle Weems. Gulley scored 18 points in Tuesday’s win over Southern Illinois and averages 11.6. He has reached double figures in seven games in a row.
In their words
“I had a feeling going in that they were going to try to make Antoine beat them. And Antoine beat them.”
Creighton coach Greg McDermott, in the Omaha World-Herald, after Antoine Young scored 21 points in Tuesday’s 63-60 win over Northern Iowa