Illinois State slipped from MVC contention when its stockpile of point guards slipped. Coach Tim Jankovich took over the Redbirds for the 2007-08 season and took his teams to three straight National Invitation Tournaments.
Last season, the Redbirds went 12-19 and finished in a tie for ninth in the MVC. Illinois State couldn't score, in part because it missed guards such as Boo Richardson, Lloyd Phillips and Dom Johnson. Even scorer Osiris Eldridge handled the ball and helped Jankovich fill the court with players who could drive and shoot.
"Our first three years here, we basically played with two point guards at the same time," Jankovich said. "We kind of like that."
Jankovich is leaning on freshman Nic Moore to bring back that feeling. Moore, from Winona Lake, Ind., teams with junior Anthony Cousin, who struggled last season as the primary point guard. Moore is making the adjustment to college look easy. Before Wednesday's game, he ranked fifth in the MVC with an average of 3.8 assists. Cousin ranked 10th at 3.2 and Illinois State and Creighton are the only teams with two players in the top 10. Moore also ranked sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.8, one spot behind Cousin (1.9).
Never miss a local story.
With those two running the offense and creating, Illinois State is averaging almost seven points more than it did a season ago.
" (Moore) is a very confident kid," Jankovich said. "You have to have that. He's going to be a lot of fun to coach the next four years."
Missouri State also desperately needed a point guard and hit big on the recruiting trail. The Bears landed senior Michael Bizoukas, who transferred from DePaul after graduating and became eligible immediately. He ranked third in the MVC before Wednesday's games with an average of 5.9 assists. His 2.9 assist-to-turnover ratio led the conference, along with Creighton's Grant Gibbs.
MSU coach Paul Lusk took over for Cuonzo Martin last spring and replaced four starters, including guards Nafis Ricks and Adam Leonard.
"We needed a stabilizing force, especially with all the new guys coming in," MSU coach Paul Lusk said. "He's a pass-first guy. He can make threes, though."
* The injury watch continues at Drake, which has done an admirable job without junior center Seth VanDeest. VanDeest, who started as a freshman and sophomore, is recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He is working out, but isn't ready for contact, according to coach Mark Phelps. A redshirt season is a growing possibility. "We're nearing the point where it makes less and less sense for him to participate this year," Phelps said. Forward Reece Uhlenhopp (stress fracture) returned for the MVC opener only to suffer pain in his right foot and did not play in Tuesday's loss at Creighton.
* Creighton's defensive revival continued in its 76-59 win over the Bulldogs in Omaha. Creighton held Drake to a season-low 38.6-percent shooting. On Saturday, Creighton held Wichita State to a season-low 33.3-percent.
* Indiana State guard Jake Odum is playing through plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Coach Greg Lansing said the injury will likely bother Odum all season. "He's out there every day wanting to practice and not wanting to rest," Lansing said. "He gives me a dirty look every time I tell him to take a break. We're going to have give him rest, probably days after games."
* Missouri State senior Kyle Weems started MVC play by scoring 53 points and making 5 of 6 threes against Creighton and Drake. Offense didn't come so easily in non-conference play for the defending Valley Player of the Year. Lusk believes Weems worked through an adjustment period.
"Obviously we're a new staff and do some things differently," Lusk said. "Most importantly, everyone on the floor with him was new guys. It took him a while to get some things figured out and get comfortable. Now he found his rhythm."
* How important is a good start to the MVC schedule? Of the past 17 champions or co-champions, 16 won their first two conference games.
What to watch
Missouri State at Indiana State, noon, Saturday (no TV) —Missouri State already owns a big road win over Creighton. Win at the Hulman Center and Missouri State is in great shape.
Keep an eye on
Missouri State guard Anthony Downing, from Atchison, went 11 for 14 from the field in a win at Creighton, scoring 26 points. He followed that with 11 points against Drake. Downing, a 6-foot-1 guard, is a transfer from Independence Community College.
In their words
"I started him tonight."
Creighton coach Greg McDermott, in the Omaha World-Herald, on his birthday present for son Doug after Tuesday's win over Drake. McDermott, the MVC's leading scorer, turned 20.