For the first time this season, Wichita State and Illinois State need help to decide the Missouri Valley Conference standings.
Wichita State and Illinois State are tied (11-1) with six games to play. They don’t play again, so the RPI tiebreaker (from rpiforecast.com on Feb. 26) for the conference tournament’s top seed may come into play.
To get sole ownership, one team needs an upset. Ken Pomeroy projects both the Redbirds and Shockers to win out. His statistical projections judge Illinois State with two games (at Northern Iowa, at Missouri State) as closer calls than any game remaining for WSU.
Three teams, two of them peaking and one slumping, are in the best position to influence the championship race.
▪ Northern Iowa, winner of six of its past seven, plays at WSU on Feb. 18. Illinois State visits Cedar Falls on Feb. 25.
The Panthers are riding defense during their roll. They held five of their past seven opponents under 40-percent shooting and all under 44 percent.
▪ Southern Illinois is alone in third with a three-game win streak. The Salukis play the Shockers at home (Feb. 15) and at Illinois State on Feb. 22.
Recent games are rewarding coach Barry Hinson’s faith in his team’s shooting. The Salukis made 50 percent or more of their shots in the past three games, their best stretch this season.
Missouri State visits Koch Arena on Thursday. The rematch is Feb. 25. The Bears play host to Illinois State on Feb. 15.
The Bears, losers of three of four, won’t stay in the race for third if they can’t win close games. Two of those losses came in overtime. On Saturday, last-place Evansville outscored MSU 17-7 in the final five minutes to win 74-66.
Valley teams last shared the title in 2009, when Northern Iowa and Creighton went 14-4.
▪ Wichita State guard Conner Frankamp earned MVC player of the week honors on Monday. Frankamp, a junior, scored a career-high 18 points in Saturday’s win over first-place Illinois State. He scored 16 in Wednesday’s win at Drake. Southern Illinois center Thik Bol was named newcomer of the week.
▪ Wichita State’s win over Illinois State paid off with an ESPN game to finish the regular season. The MVC announced that WSU’s game at Missouri State on Feb. 25 will tip at 11 a.m., on ESPN or ESPN2. The Illinois State-Northern Iowa game is at 1 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.
▪ Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson enjoyed seeing quarterback Kurt Warner, who played at UNI, in the 2017 class for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Warner joined the Panthers for their NCAA Tournament trips the past two seasons.
“He’s spent the entire time with our guys, so we have been very fortunate to spend a lot of time with him,” Jacobson said. “He’s been absolutely awesome and it’s been a lot of fun to get to know him.”
▪ Evansville guard Jaylon Brown is a few more big games from giving the Aces a fourth consecutive MVC scoring title.
He averaged 25 points in two games last week to up his average to 20.8 points. He made 23 of 24 foul shots. D.J. Balentine led the MVC in scoring the previous three seasons.
Indiana State’s Brenton Scott is second at 16.9 points.
From 1987-91, Bradley’s Hersey Hawkins (twice), Anthony Manuel and Curtis Stuckey (twice) won the scoring title.
Southern Illinois forward Sean O’Brien is playing like a senior who wants to carry his team into March. He averages 18 points on 23-of-30 shooting during a three-game win streak. He can also make defenses pay for double-teaming him, as his 14 assists and four turnovers in that span show.
Drake guard De’Antae Murray is mired in a hard-to-explain stretch. He carried the Bulldogs with 28 points, making 5 of 10 three-pointers and 7 of 8 free throws, in last week’s 77-69 loss to Wichita State. In his four other recent games, he is 4 of 18 from three-point range with 14 total points and no attempts from the foul line.
Get to know an MVC neighbor
Q: Southern Illinois is commemorating the 50th anniversary of its 1967 NIT title this weekend with a dinner, panel discussion and halftime introduction. Which teams did the Salukis beat during that run in Madison Square Garden?
A: SIU, led by future NBA players Walt Frazier and Dick Garrett, defeated Saint Peter’s, Duke and Rutgers on its way to the final. It knocked off Marquette 71-56 in the title game. Jack Hartman, who moved to Kansas State in 1970, coached SIU.
One to watch
Illinois State (19-5, 11-1) at Drake (7-17, 5-7), 7 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN3.com) — Drake isn’t as scary as it looked two weeks ago after home losses to Northern Iowa and Wichita State. The short-handed Redbirds can’t let Saturday’s loss to the Shockers linger. It is Illinois State’s fourth game in 10 days, three on the road.