Valley 10 is down to 2
In early January, it appeared Wichita State and Missouri State would run away from the rest of a mediocre conference. By late January, it appeared that view was incorrect, with Indiana State and Northern Iowa inserting more balance into the race.
We were right the first time. WSU and MSU wrapped up the top two seeds in the MVC Tournament with two games remaining. Both won Tuesday to remain tied for first place and the closest competitors are three games back.
WSU plays Creighton at home next Wednesday. Missouri State travels to Southern Illinois the same night. Neither game is a gimme. Should WSU conquer its demons at home and MSU survive the fully stocked Salukis _ it's winner-take-all time on Feb. 26 at JQH Arena.
WSU was involved the last time the MVC race went down the final day in one gym. Tulsa, WSU and Illinois State were tied on the final day of the 1984-85 season. WSU lost at Tulsa. Illinois State lost at Bradley. Tulsa won the regular-season title. WSU won the MVC Tournament, beating Tulsa on its home court. All three teams went to the NCAA Tournament.
There are three other races going on next week. Northern Iowa, Indiana State, Creighton and Evansville are trying to finish in the upper half. One of them will finish third. Indiana State visits Northern Iowa on Tuesday in a game that could decide third place.
Drake and Southern Illinois are trying to escape the play-in round in St. Louis. Illinois State and Bradley are doomed to ninth and 10th places. The Central Illinois neighbors play Tuesday at Redbird Arena.
* BracketBusters means different things to different schools. Above all, coaches are control freaks and they hate not controlling their schedule. Yes, they all complain about scheduling and BracketBusters helps scheduling. But it's not done on their terms, so coach are suspicious.
"I'm mixed on it," Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich said. "My gut feelings is it sometimes can hurt us. I'd have to see where it's helped us."
Most coaches feel most teams get little reward from the ESPN-arranged games. "It has the ability to help two or three of our teams in a given year," Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. "The rest of the league isn't going to be in that same position most years."
* Illinois State is a monumentally bad scoring team. No Redbird averages double figures. If that continues, it will be the second time in 41 seasons as an NCAA Division I school no player averages 10 or more points. It first happened in 2005-06, when Greg Dilligard led Illinois State with a 9.9 average.
* Indiana State guard Jake Kelly is out again, this time with mononucleosis. It's been a tough two seasons for Kelly. A knee injury limited him to 12 games in 2009-10. This season, a stress reaction in his foot cost him five games.
What to watch
Virginia Commonwealth at Wichita State , 6:05 p.m., Friday (ESPN2) _ Unfortunately, ESPN didn't pay attention to recent history and send George Mason to Koch Arena for a rematch of the 2006 BracketBusters classic. Since Jan. 31, when ESPN set opponents, Virginia Commonwealth and Northern Iowa are 2-3. WSU is 4-1. Mason is 5-0. Mason is rewarded with a trip to Cedar Falls and nobody gets the best matchups. ESPN does whatever it wants in college basketball _ why can't it swap opponents?
Keep an eye on
Bradley guard Dyricus Simms-Edwards is the prime reason Bradley is no longer a pushover. He scored a career-high 25 points in Saturday's win over Evansville. It is no longer up to Andrew Warren to do all of Bradley's scoring. Simms-Edwards scored 15 or more points four times in the past five games and the Braves won three of them.
In their words
"Our destiny lays in our own hands and that's a pretty good feeling." _ Missouri State junior Kyle Weems, in the Springfield News-Leader.