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MVC schedules: Good, bad and the SWAC

Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson assembled a schedule highlighted by North Carolina’s visit to Cedar Falls.
Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson assembled a schedule highlighted by North Carolina’s visit to Cedar Falls. The Wichita Eagle

▪  Bradley

Coach Brian Wardle gets a pass in his first season with eight freshmen and two seniors among his 11 scholarship players. With Arizona, Virginia, Mississippi, TCU and Boise State on the schedule, it won’t be pretty. Bradley, traditionally, plays one of the MVC’s better non-conference schedules. It will take Wardle at least two more seasons of spot-on recruiting to prepare for this level.

In MVC play, the Braves open at Northern Iowa and play host to Wichita State. Not cool, MVC, not cool.

▪  Drake

A home game against DePaul and the annual Big Four date vs. Iowa in Des Moines highlight what appears to be a reasonable schedule for Drake in coach Ray Giacoletti’s third season. Even potential RPI-killers such as Tulane and UMKC offer some hope for a bump.

The Bulldogs get a brutal start to MVC play — at WSU, home vs. Illinois State and Indiana State and then at UNI and Evansville. Wow. That’s five games against what will probably be five of the top six teams, three on the road.

▪  Evansville non-conference and MVC

The Aces play two non-Division I games, two against SWAC schools and one against the MEAC. I don’t see where an NCAA Tournament committee member would look favorably on that collection, unless Evansville is near-perfect in its other non-conference games. I’m fine with easy wins — every team needs them — but this is a season where the Aces needed to go all-in on assembling a schedule that gives them the best possible chance of an NCAA at-large or NIT spot.

The Aces play Arkansas, Murray State and Belmont. They play Providence in the Wooden Legacy, a tournament with a field that also includes Arizona, Boston College, Michigan State and Boise State. That’s a good effort, but it appears dates against Mississippi Valley State and Alabama A&M may undermine that work. Norfolk State may be a key piece. It is often a good bet to compile an RPI under 200. Aces fans should hope this is a peak season for that MEAC school.

In the MVC, a stretch in late January may tell us how seriously to take the Aces. They play at Indiana State and Southern Illinois before coming home to play the Shockers. Then it’s back on the road at UNI.

▪  Illinois State

Strong stuff by the Redbirds, who play at San Diego State, Maryland (in Cancun), at Kentucky, Murray State, UAB and at Saint Joseph’s. South Dakota State defeated Colorado State in the NIT last season and has finished with a top-100 RPI three of the past four seasons. A game against Rhode Island or TCU awaits in Cancun.

The right combination of wins could make the Redbirds an at-large candidate.

The schedule gives Illinois State a chance to start strong in the MVC. It doesn’t play Northern Iowa until late January and won’t see the Shockers until February. Before that, a Jan. 9 trip to Indiana State will give us an indication of how hard the Redbirds will push for the top of the MVC. The Sycamores swept the series last season, winning by a total of three points.

▪  Indiana State

The Sycamores usually do a solid job of assembling a schedule and they aren’t afraid of a challenge. This schedule seems to lack the sizzle of some recent ones, but it will do the job. The Paradise Jam is appealing with Tulsa a possible opponent, as well as Florida State, DePaul and South Carolina. Wyoming, Saint Louis, Butler, Valpo and Western Kentucky are good opponents and you can’t ding Indiana State for playing neighbors such as Ball State, Eastern Illinois and IUPUI.

The Sycamores can say a lot about how the top half of the Valley plays out with their early schedule. They open at Evansville and then play host to Loyola. A week later, Illinois State and Northern Iowa visit the Hulman Center, giving Indiana State a chance to shake up the preseason predictions.

▪  Loyola

A home game against Creighton — the final gasp of BracketBusters — and trips to New Mexico and Notre Dame are the bright spots. Another strong season from Toledo would help. They play on Nov. 21 and could face each other in the Great Alaska Shootout.

A January stretch will reveal something about the Ramblers, starting with roadies to UNI and Evansville and, after a home game vs. Drake, featuring a trip to Koch Arena.

And that’s not all. The Ramblers return home to face Indiana State and Illinois State.

▪  Missouri State

The Bears could use a resurgence by Oral Roberts, a team they play twice. MSU compiled a reasonable set of challenges with games against Tulsa, Utah State, Valpo and Oklahoma State. The Puerto Rico Tip-Off field is strong and the Bears open with Butler. MSU is a hard team to figure after last season upheaval. The roster features some experience and some talent. I’m sure coach Paul Lusk counted on more stability in his fifth season.

Maybe the Bears are good enough to pull some surprises, although a shoulder injury may sideline center Tyler McCullough for much of November and December.

In MVC play, the Bears are right there with Drake for a tough start. They open at Illinois State and play Evansville and UNI at home before a trip to Loyola and a visit by WSU.

▪  Northern Iowa

The Panthers can make themselves an at-large candidate. Colorado State, Stephen F. Austin, North Carolina (in Cedar Falls), Richmond, New Mexico and Iowa State are all loaded with quality possibilities. If the Panthers survive Hawaii in the Diamond Head Classic, a date with Oklahoma is likely.

UNI gets a favorable start to MVC play. It starts with four games it should win before a trip to Indiana State. Then Loyola and Wichita State visit Cedar Falls before the Panthers travel to Redbird Arena. The final five games of February, however, will push UNI — at WSU and at Loyola, Illinois State, Indiana State and at Evansville.

▪  Southern Illinois

While this represents an upgrade over last season (which featured a home and home with Tennessee State), we all thought coach Barry Hinson would have SIU in a better position in his fourth season. Seven home games should help SIU win and matchups with Saint Louis and Murray State make sense. A possible game against Colorado State in Texas would help.

SIU opens MVC play at Loyola and gets home games with UNI, WSU and Illinois State in its first five. That’s a tough intro for seven newcomers, several of whom need to contribute.

Reach Paul Suellentrop at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @paulsuellentrop.

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