MVC Basketball Notebook

December 19th, 2006

With many teams taking final exams this past week, the Valley schedule this past week was on the light side. Drake was the only team to play twice, going 2-0 in their two games, including a huge win over in-state rival Iowa. The Valley improved its overall non-conference record to 66-22, the third best non-conference record in Valley history. The MVC continues to be rated as the number two conference in the nation according to the Ratings Percentage Index behind only the ACC. Wichita State enters this week’s action with an RPI of 5, while SIU sits at 17 and Missouri State is 31 according to the Collegiate Basketball News RPI. Wichita State became only the third Valley team to start a season 10-0 since the 1984-85 season with their win Sunday and became one of only 6 remaining unbeaten teams in Division 1. Missouri State opened MVC play with a win over Indiana State on Saturday and Bradley beat Iowa State, becoming the third team in the league to hand the Cyclones a loss.

Wichita State continue to be recognized as one of the top teams in the country as they are now ranked # 8 in both the AP Poll and the ESPN / USA Today Coaches Poll. Missouri State received the next highest total for a #27 ranking in both polls and the Salukis of SIU were the only other MVC team to receive votes this week in both polls.

This week the Valley will be busy, as MVC teams will play 20 games in the next 6 days and of those 20 games only 7 will be played in Valley gyms. A lot more will be uncovered about the true strength of the conference after this week as a couple Valley teams go on the road for some huge match ups. Missouri State will travel to St. Louis and South Florida while Evansville will get its chance to upset a nationally ranked team when it faces Butler. Creighton and Drake will also being playing in tournaments this week, giving both teams a chance to add to their win totals. If the Valley is able to have good showing this week with so many games away from home, some valuable road wins could be accumulated that could make a big difference come March.

Game of the Week – Drake at Iowa

The Drake Bulldogs accomplished something they hadn’t done in 27 games against cross-state rival Iowa, when they beat the Hawkeyes Saturday night. Led by Ajay Calvin, who notched his second career double double with 21 points and 13 rebounds, the Bulldogs beat the Hawkeyes 75-59 in front of over 7,000 fans at the Knapp Center in Des Moines, Iowa. This was their first win over the Hawkeyes since Dec. 9, 1978. Nick Grant, who had just 3 points a year ago against Iowa, came up big for Drake matching his career high in points with 19. The Hawkeyes didn’t put up much of a fight as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 10-point halftime lead and shot over 50 percent in the second half and maintained a double digit lead for the final ten minutes of the game. The Bulldogs out rebounded the Hawkeyes 41-23. The win gave the Bulldogs a season sweep against both Iowa State and Iowa, the first time Drake has beaten both teams in the same season since 1978-79. Drake has won 6 consecutive games and is off to its best start since the 1983-84 team that opened that season 7-2 as well. This could be the type of win the Bulldogs need to inject them with confidence as the conference season looms just around the corner. Drake has now made the statement that they aren’t going to go down easy this year in the Valley.

Game of the Upcoming Week – Evansville at #18 Butler

The Purple Aces look to be the second Valley team this year to knock off the nation’s most surprising team of the season when they travel to Indianapolis to take on the nationally ranked Butler Bulldogs. Indiana State handed the Bulldogs their first loss of the season 2 weeks ago and Evansville will look to continue the Valley’s success against the Top 25. Although Evansville is off to a 7-3 start, the Purple Aces have yet to pick up a quality win and this game provides them an excellent chance to do so while helping bring more positive attention to the Valley. This game will also give their Valley comrades a better idea of how good the Purple Aces really are. If Evansville can follow the mode of the Sycamores and make the Bulldogs shoot from the outside, they should have a good chance of winning. However, it’s never easy to go on the road and this game will be very tough for the Aces to win. Look for Evansville to hang close with the Bulldogs and give them all they can handle. But in the end, the home crowd will be too much and the Bulldogs will squeak out the win.

Prediction – Butler 74 - 67

Player of the Week – Ajay Calvin, Sr., F - Drake

Ajay Calvin continues to be one of the best players in the Valley and one that many people outside of the Valley have probably not heard of. In the Bulldogs two wins this week, Calvin shot 64 percent from the field scoring 16 points against UC-Irvine and 21 points in the Bulldogs win against Iowa. Calvin has not just been a scorer this season, as he had 22 rebounds in the two games including 13 against Iowa, helping to give him his second career double double. Calvin currently leads the Valley in scoring with a 19.3 point per game average while averaging 7 rebounds a game. Calvin has been one of the chief reasons the Bulldogs are capturing early season success and if Drake looks to be competitive once Valley play begins, they’ll need Calvin to continue to what he has done thus far this season, and that is to put up solid numbers night in and night out.

Team Capsules

1. Wichita State (8-0, 0-0) Last Week: 1st

The Shockers continue to roll as they had no trouble with Maryland – Eastern Shore, beating the Hawks on Sunday 102-46. PJ Couisnard became the first Shocker player this season to score over 20 points as he led the team with 21 while 5 other Shockers were in double figures. Karon Bradley added 14 points and Kyle Wilson had 12 points and 8 rebounds for the Shockers who posted the third most lopsided win in school history in the first round of the Las Vegas Holiday Classic. The Shockers will look to match their school record 9-0 start from 2 seasons ago when they take on Kennesaw State Tuesday in the second round of tournament action. Look for a similar beat down Tuesday night, as the Shockers should have no trouble humiliating Kennesaw State. The Shockers will then move on to play in Sin City with a Friday match up against New Mexico. Mark Turgeon has done a wonderful job with his squad, as the Shockers clearly are the best team in the Valley and one of the best teams in the nation.

2. Missouri State (9-1, 1-0) Last Week: 2nd

The Bears showed they are for real Saturday night in Springfield as they dispatched Indiana State 80-60 in their first MVC game of the year. Missouri State, who is looking to win their first MVC regular season title, got 19 points from sharp shooter Blake Ahearn and Tyler Chaney added 17 points as the Bears easily beat the Sycamores. The Bears shot 54 percent from the field while holding Indiana State to just 35 percent shooting as the Bears, who had a 9-point halftime lead, opened the second half on an 11-3 run and never let the Sycamores get within single digits again. The Bears will see what they are made of this week as they travel to St. Louis on Monday night and head to South Florida for a match up with the Bulls on Friday evening. If the Bears can win these two very tough road games, look for Missouri State to crack the Top 25 for the first time this season.

3. Southern Illinois (7-2, 0-0) Last Week: 4th

The Salukis were rolling, having won their previous 5 games, but when they went into Bloomington, Indiana on Sunday evening they saw that winning streak come to an end. Jamal Tatum was the only Saluki in double figures with 17 points as Indiana beat SIU 57-47. The 47 points was a season low for the Salukis as they turned the ball over 19 times while shooting 45 percent from the floor. SIU will host Central Michigan on Wednesday before traveling to St. Mary’s Saturday; both games the Salukis should have no trouble winning while improving to 9-2.

4. Bradley (7-3, 0-0) Last Week: 6th

The Braves were red hot in the first half, shooting 63 percent from the field, as they beat Iowa State 76-66 in the Mediacom Cyclone Capital Classic in Des Moines. Will Franklin had a career-high 26 points, as the Braves became the third Valley team this season to defeat the Cyclones. The Braves also got 17 points and 10 rebounds from Matt Salley with Zach Andrews adding 10 points as the Braves built a 13-point first half lead and never had to look over their shoulders as the Cyclones would never regain the lead. The win, Bradley’s second in a row, will set up a game the Braves need to win Tuesday night when they host a very good Loyola Chicago. The Braves will then go on the road Saturday to take on a very solid Southern Mississippi team in their second game of the week. Bradley will learn a lot about itself this week as it will be playing two very tough games.

5. Northern Iowa (8-2, 0-0) Last Week: 3rd

The Panthers, who came into Saturday’s game with Loyola Chicago manning a 6 game winning streak, looked to add to their win column and continue their stellar play under first year head coach Ben Jacobson. However, that streak came to an end as the Ramblers handed UNI a 76-67 loss, the Panthers first defeat since a 9-point loss to then #17 Washington on Nov. 14. Brooks McKowen had 18 points and Eric Coleman continued to be a force down low with 12 points and 15 rebounds. Loyola opened the game on a 15-5 run to start the game and never trailed as they beat UNI for the first time in 5 meetings. The Panthers will play their final non-conference game Wednesday against Wartburg before opening conference play against Bradley on Dec. 27.

6. Creighton (4-3, 0-0) Last Week: 5th

After upsetting nationally ranked Xavier one week ago, the Creighton Bluejays took a step in the wrong direction last week as they fell on the road to Fresno State 69-54. The Bluejays fell victim to some hot shooting by the Bulldogs and some excellent defense as Fresno State hit 13 three-point attempts and blocked 10 Bluejay shots. On the bright side for the Bluejays, Anthony Tolliver and Dane Watts both had double doubles. Tolliver finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds while Watts had 10 points and 12 boards. CU trailed by 9 at the half and moved within 5 points with just under 12 minutes to play but poor shooting kept the Bluejays from victory. Creighton finished the game 4-of-24 from three point land and 0-for-13 in the second half. The Bluejays will open tournament play Thursday in the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii against Valparaiso and will then play two more games Friday and Saturday. The Bluejays will need to work out their kinks this weekend before they open Valley play against Missouri State on Dec. 30.

7. Drake (7-2, 0-0) Last Week: 10th

The Bulldogs just may be the most underrated team in the Valley as they improved to 7-2 on the season with wins over UC-Irvine and Iowa this past week. The Bulldogs got 20 points and 7 rebounds from Klayton Korver as they rallied from an 18 point second half deficit to beat UC-Irvine 76-73 Wednesday night. Ajay Calvin added 16 points and Nick Grant had 14 for Drake, who went on a 19-4 run to end the game in picking up their sixth win of the year. The Bulldogs then picked up one of their biggest wins in school history as the Bulldogs dominated Iowa from start to finish and beat the Hawkeyes for the first time in 27 meetings. Calvin had 21 points for the Bulldogs who have won 6 consecutive games since starting the season 1-2. Drake will travel to El Paso, Texas this week to take part in the State Farm Sun Bowl Tournament. The Bulldogs will play Toledo Friday night and then play either Jackson State or UTEP on Saturday. If the Bulldogs can win this tournament and enter conference play 9-2, they will definitely be a team to keep your eyes out for as a possible spoiler.

8. Evansville (7-3, 1-0) Last Week: 8th

In their only game this week, the Evansville Purple Aces got revenge on Lipscomb, a team that handed EU a 67-64 loss in their season opener. Matt Webster set a school record with 20 free throw made and scored a career high 33 points to lead the Purple Aces to a 80-73 victory. Webster added 9 rebounds and Kyle Anslinger had 15 points as the Purple Aces won their third consecutive game. The Purple Aces were held without a field goal for the final 10 minutes of the game, but hit 25 free throws in that span to overcome a 2-point deficit with under 5 minutes to play. Evansville will spend this week on the road as they travel to Austin Peay Monday and then will have a chance to pull off an upset against a Top 25 team Friday when they take on #18 Butler.

9. Illinois State (6-4, 0-1) Last Week: 9th

The Redbirds were anxious to take the court again this week after they lost in their conference opener to Evansville by 28, but things didn’t get much better for ISU this week. Illinois State traveled to Western Michigan and lost a close, hard fought game to the Broncos 65-57. The Redbirds got within 3 with just under 3 minutes to go but went scoreless the rest of the way, including three missed three-point attempts that sealed the Redbird’s fate as they lost for the second straight time. Roberto Fortes was the Redbirds only player in double figures with 15 points as the team only shot 39 percent from the floor including a terrible 17 percent from three point land. The Redbirds play two winnable games this week as they host Lewis on Tuesday night and travel to Illinois-Chicago on Saturday before opening conference play Dec. 29 against Southern Illinois.

10. Indiana State (5-4, 0-1) Last Week: 7th

One week after picking up their biggest win of the season, an 8 point win over then #15 Butler, the Indiana State Sycamores forgot to take that momentum with them to Springfield as they got run off the floor by the Bears and lost 80-60. The Sycamores got 17 points from Marcio Stinson and 10 points apiece from Adam Arnold and Gabe Moore as they fell to 0-1 in MVC play. Indiana State fell to 0-17 all-time at the Hammons Student Center in Springfield. ISU is the only Valley team never to have beaten the Bears on their home floor. Indiana State should get back on the winning track as they take on Wagner Thursday night in their only action of the week.