Paul Suellentrop

Valley hopes take one on the chin

The temptation is to get overly dramatic about Wednesday's Missouri Valley Conference men's basketball scores.

Give in.

Wednesday's results gave the conference a panic attack. It was the day the MVC removed itself from national relevancy this season. Wednesday's scores were so discouraging, most MVC fans should make plans for plenty of games in the tournaments less prestigious than the NIT.

UNLV embarrassed Illinois State 82-51 at Redbird Arena. Brigham Young handled Creighton 77-65 in Omaha, and coach Greg McDermott basically called his team soft. New Mexico led Southern Illinois by 10 or more points the final 13 minutes of a 74-59 win at SIU Arena.

That's three of the MVC's better programs of the decade playing largely non-competitive basketball at home.

At home.

The MVC loves to point out that it can't get good teams to play on its courts. Wednesday, it didn't matter.

"I'm not sure BYU is that much more talented than we are, but I'm pretty sure they are a lot tougher than we are,'' McDermott told the Omaha World-Herald. "That's disheartening."

McDermott just summed up November and early December for the MVC.

Drake also lost at Colorado State on Wednesday, not a surprise after its 48-point loss at Iowa State and a 43-point loss to St. John's in Alaska. Northern Iowa did beat Iowa State to salvage something on a miserable night.

You can make all kind of excuses — Creighton will improve when center Greg Echenique is eligible; Illinois State is rebuilding after losing two All-MVC seniors; SIU is not supposed to contend. However, Wednesday's results continue a trend of recent seasons. The multiple-bid power from the 2006 and 2007 seasons is no more.

Wednesday's results should concern MVC and school administrators. After three seasons producing one NCAA Tournament-worthy team, this season was supposed to be different. Last season, the MVC won 69.8 percent of its non-conference games and didn't impress anybody with a list of big wins. Entering Saturday, the MVC stood 38-27.

The MVC gets 10 (perhaps 11 depending on a tournament) more shots at Bowl Championship Series schools. Unfortunately, most of those games are either against bottom-feeders (DePaul, Iowa) or heavyweights (Duke, North Carolina).

It's almost impossible to see MVC schools repairing the damage done by the early weeks of the season. Wednesday's dramatic results confirmed that sad reality.

What's scary is that there isn't an easy answer to these problems. Everyone wants Valley teams to schedule better. That's easier said than done, unless you want your favorite team to turn into a Chicago State-style road show. In the aftermath of 2006, MVC schools invested in salaries for coaches. Most schools play in new or renovated arenas. Television exposure continues to grow.

MVC schools are doing what they can to keep up. As Wednesday showed, it continues to be an uphill battle.

New look on the hill — Eck Stadium will look different for hitters this spring. A batter's eye — 36 feet by 72 feet — is being installed on the grass behind center field.

Coach Gene Stephenson thinks it will provide a better background for hitters than the pine trees that previously served as a background. Those trees, Stephenson said, were diseased and needed to be cut down.

WSU will install four cameras, one on the new batter's eye, for a video training system called RightView Pro. Cameras will also be positioned on each dugout with one behind home plate. Players can go into the locker room during the game to watch a previous at-bat on a computer.

"It's going to be a great training tool," Stephenson said.

Rolling rookie — Evansville's Colt Ryan led MVC Freshman of the Year polling from wire to wire last season. Creighton forward Doug McDermott may do the same thing.

McDermott (6-foot-7) won MVC newcomer of the week honors the past three weeks and is averaging 15.1 points and 5.9 rebounds. He could win another one after scoring 20 points and grabbing 12 rebounds against BYU on Wednesday. The Bluejays play at Nebraska today.

He ranks third in the MVC in scoring and 11th in rebounding and is the only freshman among the conference's top 15 in both. His shooting percentage of 52.4 ranks 10th, and he leads the MVC in free throws, making 14 of 14.

Drake guard Rayvonte Rice is the lone freshman in McDermott's neighborhood. Rice, the Illinois high school Gatorade Player of the Year in 2010, averages 12.3 points, 3.0 assists and a conference-leading 1.7 steals.

McDermott is the son of Creighton coach Greg McDermott. He orally committed to Northern Iowa before switching to Creighton when the school hired his father to coach.