Wichita State Shockers

Paul Suellentrop's Missouri Valley Conference report

Health is everything

Northern Iowa and Creighton tied for the MVC title last season and split two meetings. Northern Iowa returned five starters. Creighton, three. They started the season as the top picks in the conference.

Northern Iowa is cruising along at the top of the MVC. Creighton is struggling. There are many reasons, and the health of two players can't be discounted.

Panthers center Jordan Eglseder is having his best season as a senior. Entering Wednesday's games, he averaged 12.8 points and 8.2 rebounds, both up over his junior season. Coach Ben Jacobson says nagging injuries which hurt Eglseder's stamina in the past are history.

"He was healthy last spring, summer, fall," Jacobson said. "He's been able to work out that entire time. That's what he really missed the year before."

Carter, a 6-foot-4 senior forward, isn't so fortunate. He missed three games due to a knee injury. He missed practice Saturday with a foot injury before scoring 14 points in a win at Evansville. The season's been a struggle for Carter. He keyed Creighton's 11-game win streak late last season and averaged 9.1 points and 5.4 rebounds in MVC games. This season, he is averaging 7.6 points and 4.9 rebounds. Instead of improving his production, Carter is battling to remain even with his junior season.

Coach Dana Altman said Carter took off his knee brace on Jan. 1. He is still trying to make up for the conditioning he missed.

"That was the first step, getting that darned thing off," Altman said. "I think that he can get better. This month is really important for him to get himself back in shape and get a little confidence going."

Fast breaks

* With 11 non-conference games to play, the Valley is 75-32 (.701). That equals the winning percentage in 2005-06, the season four MVC teams made the NCAA Tournament. More impressive is the Valley's 18-14 record in road games. The Valley hasn't had a winning road record with the current 10-team membership (since 1996-97). The MVC went 17-18 in 2005-06 and 14-20 in 2004-05.

* Bradley needs to hold on during a difficult schedule. The Braves are the only MVC team to play four of its first six conference games on the road.

* The MVC entered Wednesday's games with four teams in the top 21 of the nation for free-throw accuracy. No. 7 Wichita State led at 77 percent, followed by No. 13 Indiana State (76.1), No. 17 Southern Illinois (75.5) and No. 21 Missouri State (74.9).

* Drake averaged 70.6 points and 9.4 threes in 12 non-conference games. In three MVC games, the Bulldogs averaged 47.7 points and 5.3 threes.

What to watch

Northern Iowa at Illinois State, 3 p.m., Saturday (ESPN2) _ Illinois State is 2-7 the past two seasons against eventual MVC champions _ 0-3 vs. Drake in 2007-08, 2-4 against UNI and Creighton (co-champions) last season. The Redbirds finished second in 2008 and third in 2009.

Keep an eye on

It will be a long season for Evansville. Aces fans do have freshman Colt Ryan to think about as a bright spot. Ryan scored 26 points against Creighton on Sunday, making 6 of 11 three-pointers. Entering Wednesday's games, Ryan averaged 14.6 points to lead the Aces and made 26 of 62 (41.9 percent) from three-point range.

In their words

"It's a weird feeling. I don't like seeing my friends lose,"

_ Indiana State coach Kevin McKenna, a former Creighton assistant and player, on defeating the Bluejays and former boss Dana Altman