▪ On Feb. 26, 2011, Missouri State won its first Missouri Valley Conference title by defeating Wichita State 69-64 at JQH Arena. That game signaled a high point for the Bears, who packed their new 11,000-seat arena with fans and appeared to be a program on the rise.
Five seasons later, that potential is unrealized and the MVC suffered as three important programs declined. With MSU, Bradley and Southern Illinois weakened, the Valley slipped and this season sits at No. 14 in the warrennolan.com RPI.
By history, resources and attendance, those are three programs that should provide stability to the MVC.
The problem with the MVC isn’t that Drake and Loyola are struggling. Those programs are what they are and their contributions — such as Drake’s 2008 title — should be viewed as bonuses.
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The problem is that MSU, Bradley and SIU aren’t what they can be.
For most of the past 25 seasons, they provided the Valley a solid upper-to-middle class. SIU dominated for two stretches. Bradley and Missouri State enjoyed significant moments, while largely remaining good programs within shouting distance of something better.
From 1992-2011, those three programs combined to finish in the top 100 of the RPI 51.6 percent of the time and the top 150 78.3 percent of the time.
From 2012-2015, the three combined to compiled a top-100 RPI once — MSU’s 93 in 2014.
In those 20 seasons, Bradley averaged an RPI of 123. In the past four, it averages 247.
MSU dropped from 95 to 164.
SIU dropped from 88 to 278.
1992-2011 RPI average
2012- 2015 RPI
Most recent NCAA bid
It is at this point where it is fair to point out this is difficult and things are cyclical. Each school comes with its own set of obstacles and life isn’t getting easier for schools outside the Power 5. Creighton’s departure for the Big East in 2013 heightens the issue.
Wichita State weighed down the MVC for the 1990s. Creighton didn’t crack the top 100 in the RPI from 1992-97.
MSU appeared headed in the right direction after 2014. Injuries and defections ruined that plan for coach Paul Lusk. At Bradley, former coach Geno Ford’s program appeared to make progress in 2013 before slipping back. New coach Brian Wardle is rebuilding with 10 freshmen. At SIU, coach Barry Hinson has the Salukis at 15-3 this season and No. 113 in the RPI.
On Saturday, fans packed SIU Arena for its first sellout since 2014. The Shockers acted excited to play in that atmosphere and coach Gregg Marshall and senior Fred VanVleet spoke about how it was good for the MVC.
MVC officials would agree. The conference needs SIU, as well as Bradley and MSU, to return to their past standards. SIU and Bradley fans are crucial to attendance in St. Louis at the MVC Tournament.
That is a good start. The MVC needs more of those scenes from those three programs.
▪ Missouri State is selling discount tickets and it will honor the 2015 baseball team at halftime. Give the Bears credit for doing what they can to pump up the rivalry.
▪ Lusk has again assembled some promising young players. Sophomore forward Chris Kendrix (back spasms) won’t play. I’m interested to see freshman forward Obediah Church, who is the MVC’s top rookie rebounder. But the Bears are one of the nation’s worst scoring teams and injuries to Kendrix and three others don’t help.
They have won two in a row, stunning Northern Iowa 59-58 and winning at Loyola 56-54.
MSU held the Panthers to 11 of 31 shooting from two-point range and it made 58.1 percent of its two-pointers. Against Loyola, the Bears trailed by 10 points in the first half. It made 5 of 13 threes and held the Ramblers to 2-of-13 shooting from outside the arc.
They also won at Oklahoma State (64-63), making 7 of 17 threes and out-rebounding the Cowboys by 10.
The Bears, due to talent and depth, absolutely can’t run with WSU. They’re going to be deliberate and hope to hold off a Shockers run as long as possible.
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