The top dog
Southern Illinois senior Desmar Jackson might be the most valuable player in the Missouri Valley Conference. With him, the Salukis are competitive, winning at Loyola when he scored 31 points and beating Northern Iowa thanks to his 19 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
Without him? SIU coach Barry Hinson knows his absence would be a ticket to 10th place. There isn’t a player in the conference who carries a bigger burden. While Wichita State or Indiana State might survive an off night from its top scorer, SIU cannot.
How much recognition Jackson, a 6-foot-5 guard, receives is another matter. He survived academic and maturity issues last season, even though Hinson threatened to buy him a bus ticket home at semester break. He is on solid ground this season and his game is improving.
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This season, Jackson is a star on the offensive end. He averaged 20.4 points and 5.4 rebounds entering Wednesday’s game against Drake. He is shooting 49.6 percent from the field and shooting almost seven free throws a game.
“As Desmar goes, so go the Salukis,” Hinson said. “He is our stock-market ticker.”
His challenge — and what may keep from earning All-MVC honors — is defense. It is never easy for a player on a bottom-level team to make the All-MVC team. It is even harder for one who isn‘t seen as an all-around threat. Jackson at his best scorched Loyola for six assists (two turnovers) and four steals in addition to his 12-of-19 shooting. When Jackson isn’t locked in, he floats on offense, as he did against Wichita State, and watches the action. Or he commits six turnovers as he did in a loss at Bradley.
“If he’ll figure out that he can dominate a game for us defensively and distributing the ball, we’re a lot better basketball team,” Hinson said. “It’s not about him scoring.”
• Injuries annually cause teams to adjust on the fly. Missouri State is hit hardest this season, losing leading scorer Marcus Marshall (knee) and star defender Keith Pickens (shin). Marshall won’t return this season. Pickens is a maybe.
With those two out, junior transfer Ron Mvouika moved from sixth man to starter with a bang. He scored 28 points in his first start, making 10 of 13 shots and all six of his three-pointers in an 94-89 loss to Northern Iowa. He cooled off in Tuesday’s 64-61 win over Evanville, scoring six points and grabbing five rebounds. For the season, he is 14 of 33 (42.4 percent) from three-point range.
Early in the season, Mvouika, coach Paul Lusk said, played well in the first half of games. In the second half, Lusk often played more experienced players.
“We know that he is a guy that can score,” Lusk said. “We were bringing him along slowly. He’s really learning on the defensive end.”
Now the Bears need him. With Marshall and Pickens out, the Bears are weak defending the perimeter and lack a stopper.
“We have to play him,” Lusk said. “He’s got the right attitude.”
• Drake coach Ray Giacolleti emphasizes rebounding as much as any coach. Early in the season, the Bulldogs rebounded well and are 10-0, entering Wednesday’s game, when out-rebounding their opponent. During a five-game losing streak, opponents out-rebounded them by an average of six a game. In a four-game win streak that preceded the slump, Drake out-rebounded its opponents by almost eight a game.
“It's hard to put your finger on right now why we had success with the rebounding piece early in the year and now it's such a gap right now for us,” Giacoletti said.
• Wichita State entered Wednesday’s game at Illinois State with an average margin of victory of 15.4 points in 19 games. The largest margin over a season is 14.7, by the 2012 Shockers. Third is Creighton’s 2003 average of 14.3.
In their words
“I think they’re every bit as good, and probably a little better (than the 2013 team). I’m not trying to put any pressure on them, but they’re really good. It’s Wichita and everybody else in the league.” — Indiana State coach Greg Lansing.
Illinois State at Indiana State, 5:05 p.m. Saturday — The young Redbirds at the experienced Sycamores. The Redbirds can shake up the standings with a win in the Hulman Center.