MVC Basketball Notebook

December 26th, 2006

Despite two losses by the Valley’s best team, Wichita State, and a controversial one-point loss by Missouri State that got the whole country talking about the MVC, the Valley still had a solid week going 15-5 in non-conference play. The Drake Bulldogs continue to be the hottest team in the Valley as they extending their winning streak to 8 games and in doing so won the Sun Bowl Tournament. The Valley improved their overall non-conference record to 81-27, good for a .750 winning percentage, the third best in league history with only an Indiana State match up with Purdue and the Bracketbuster games in February left to play on the Valley’s non-conference schedule. The MVC continues to be one of the best conferences in the country with every team still playing over .500 ball and the Valley is currently ranked third in the conference RPI rankings just behind the ACC and the Pac-10 according to RealTime RPI.

After losing their first two games of the year, the Wichita State Shockers took a hit in the latest polls dropping from 8 all the way to number 16 in both the AP and ESPN / USA Today Coaches Poll. Missouri State is still receiving votes in both polls along with Southern Illinois, but the Bears lost a few this week after their one point loss to Saint Louis on Monday. Despite these loses, the Valley is still playing exceptional basketball as a conference and wins over Wisconsin, LSU, Syracuse and Bulter prove the Valley can hang with the so-called “Big Boys.”

Conference play gets underway this week as every team in the Valley will be in action against a conference foe. The schedule is highlighted by UNI at Wichita State and Missouri State traveling to Creighton. The action is bound to heat up this week and we’ll get to know a lot about all the teams in the Valley. Here are some questions regarding the Valley that will surely be answered in the next couple of weeks. Is Drake for real? Can Wichita State continue to play at a high level and be ranked nationally? Who will be the surprise team of the league this year? Can the Missouri State Bears win their first regular season crown? Will SIU’s smothering defense lead them to another conference title? Will Nate Funk be the Nate Funk of old? The answers to these questions will unfold in coming weeks. Don’t forget to strap on your safety belts, this year’s Valley conference action is going to be one wild ride.

Game of the Week – Missouri State at aSaint Louis

This game had it all; a tip in at the buzzer, a blown 11-point second half lead, one of the nation’s best shooters being held scoreless and a controversial finish. In a game that is certainly still making Missouri State sick, the Bears blew a late 11-point second half lead to watch St. Louis’ Ian Vouyoukas tip in a missed shot at the buzzer to give the Billikens a 51-50 win. The officials called the shot no good but after further review of the television monitors the call was changed and the basket was awarded to SLU, giving them the 1-point win and snapping the Bears 5 game-winning streak. Thecontroversy really picked up two days later when a different broadcast of the game was shown to Bears coaches, showing that the tip in was actually 0.1 seconds late and the shot should not have counted. At the end of the game, the replay officials watched a Mediacom broadcast from Springfield, which was not properly set up with the official game clock on the overhead scoreboard and was actually 3 tenths of a second behind. Despite all the controversy, the Bears should not have been in position to lose the game after leading the entire second half. Blake Ahearn was held scoreless and even missed a free throw while the rest of the Bears made only one basket in the final 9 minutes of the game. The Bears did get 15 points from Deven Mitchell and 11 from Nathan Bilyeu but that wasn’t enough to hold off SLU. The Bears and their fans now must hope this game won’t come back to haunt them when the tournament selection committee sits down in March.

Game of the Upcoming Week – Northern Iowa at Wichita State

The Shockers will enter this game with a 2 game losing streak and they’ll be looking to get back on the winning track. The Panthers on the flip side have been flying under the radar so far this season and they will be looking to pick up the all important road win that comes in very handy in March. The game will be very entertaining as two of the best big men in the conference square off. The Shockers will rely on Kyle Wilson’s inside play while UNI will be looking to continue to get solid play from Eric Coleman. This game will be hard fought and should stay close throughout the first half, but look for the Shockers to pull away in the second half as they look to put their two losses from Vegas behind and move to 1-0 in conference play.

Prediction – Wichita State 82-70

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

Calvin, who repeats as player of the week, has now made a name for himself as one of the top players in the Valley. If he keeps playing at this high of a level and Drake continues to win, don’t be surprised if Calvin isn’t in the running for MVC Player of the Year. Calvin led his Drake Bulldogs to the Sun Bowl Tournament title this past weekend in which he averaged 18 points and 8.5 rebounds per game to go along with his All-Tournament honors. Calvin was nearly unstoppable in the tournament title game shooting 9-13 from the field and adding 2 assists, 2 steals and 1 blocked shot with his 19 points and 8 rebounds. Calvin has been a major reason behind the Bulldogs success this season and with Calvin playing at such a high level, the Bulldogs may have found the missing piece they have been sorely missing the last few years to be truly competitive in Valley play.

Team Capsules

1. Missouri State (10-2, 1-0) Last Week: 2nd

Despite the buzzer beater and controversial 51-50 loss to Saint Louis last Monday, the Bears are still one of the top teams in the Valley. Missouri State didn’t let the heartache of that loss last too long as they bounced back on the road to beat South Florida 81-69. Tyler Chaney nearly had a triple double for the Bears with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists as the Bears shot 50 % from the three point line to beat the South Florida Bulls from the Big East. Blake Ahearn wasn’t about to be held scoreless for two consecutive games as he added 17 points for the Bears, who became the second Valley team this season to win 10 games. The Bears continue to play solid basketball and if they can continue to play this way they will be in the running for their first ever MVC regular season crown. The Bears will travel to Omaha on Saturday for a nationally televised game against Creighton. Both teams will get to show the nation, an ESPN 2 audience, just how good they are and how good the Valley is as a whole. Tip off is set for 3:05 p.m.

2. Wichita State (10-2, 0-0) Last Week: 1st

The Shockers rose all the way to #8 in the national rankings and were off to a 9-0 start but things took a turn in the opposite direction when Mark Turgeon’s club traveled to Sin City for the Las Vegas Classic. Playing without star guard PJ Couisnard, the Shockers lost their first game of the year Friday, a 71-68 setback to New Mexico. The Shockers found out right before game time that Couisnard, the team’s second leading scorer, would be unavailable due to a stomach virus and the Shockers were unable to come back from a 14-point halftime deficit despite getting 23 points and 9 rebounds from Kyle Wilson. Things didn’t get better when the Shockers took the court for the consolation game against USC and even with Cousinard in the lineup the Shockers lost their second game of the year, losing to the Trojans 60-56. Despite the hit the Shockers took in the latest rankings, falling to 16th in both polls, they are still one the best teams in the country. Wichita State will hope there is no place like home as they’ll return to Wichita this week looking to get back on the winning track when they open conference play against Northern Iowa on Saturday.

3. Southern Illinois (9-2, 0-0) Last Week: 3rd

The Salukis rebounded from their loss last week to Indiana winning their two games this past week without any real problems. SIU easily beat Central Michigan 74-61 on Wednesday behind 25 points from Matt Shaw and 18 points from Jamal Tatum as they jumped out 15-point halftime lead and forced the Chippewas into 21 turnovers. SIU then beat St. Marys on the road Saturday behind a huge game from Randal Faulker who had 23 points and 11 rebounds as SIU won their 9th game of the year. The Salukis will open conference play on the road when they travel to Normal, Illinois to battle the Illinois State Redbirds. Look for SIU to open MVC play with a “W.”

4. Northern Iowa (9-2, 0-0) Last Week: 5th

The Panthers didn’t have any trouble this week in their only match up against Wartburg, winning 83-61. The Panthers got 16 points from Adam Viet and 12 points and 7 rebounds from Grant Stout as UNI was deadly from the three point line, going 15-of-27. The Panthers never looked to be threatened as they jumped out to a 19-point halftime lead. Things will get a bit tougher this week for the Panthers as they open conference play at home against Bradley on Thursday and then travel to Wichita for a Saturday match up with the nationally ranked Shockers. A 2-0 conference start won’t be easy for the Panthers.

5. Bradley (9-2, 0-0) Last Week: 4th

The Braves extended their winning streak to four games this week beating Loyola Chicago and Southern Mississippi. Bradley got 19 points and 7 assists from Daniel Ruffin and 21 points from Jeremy Crouch, as the Braves had no trouble with Loyola – Chicago, taking the game 82-73. The Braves then welcomed the Golden Eagles of Southern Miss on Saturday and beat them with relative ease 83-73. Bradley got 25 points from Crouch along with 22 points from Will Franklin. Ruffin added 16 points as the Braves improved to 9-2 on the season. The Braves open conference play on the road at Northern Iowa Wednesday night in Cedar Falls before returning home to entertain the Purple Aces of Evansville Saturday. Look for the Braves to open conference play 1-1 with a loss coming at the hands of UNI.

6. Drake (9-2, 0-0) Last Week: 7th

The Drake Bulldogs are the hottest team in the league, having won 8 consecutive games for the first time since the 1970-71 season and this past week saw the Bulldogs win their second tourney of the year, the Sun Bowl Tournament in El Paso, Texas. Drake had no trouble in their first game beating Toledo 70-52 behind Ajay Calvin’s 17 points and 9 rebounds. Drake, however, was in for a much tougher game in the tournament championship match and fell behind by 7 at the break to Jackson State. The Bulldogs got a lay-up and free throw from Nick Grant with just over a minute to play to break a 68-68 tie and the Bulldogs would go on to win the tournament 71-70. Calvin once again led the Bulldogs with 19 and Jonathan Cox came off the bench to add 12 points and 6 rebounds for the Bulldogs. The Valley will find out how good this year’s Bulldogs really are, as they’ll travel to Evansville and Indiana State this week in their first two MVC games of the year. Drake shouldn’t have trouble winning these two games, but road games can always be an adventure.

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

The Bluejays came up just short in their quest for the tournament championship at the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii. Creighton made it all the way to the championship after beating Valparaiso 68-43 in the tournament opener behind 22 from Nate Funk and advanced to the championship with an 80-72 win over Houston. Dane Watts led the Bluejays with 21 points in their win over the Cougars. The Bluejays, however, were unable to win three games in three days, falling to Hawaii in the tournament final, 76-60. The Bluejays ran into a hot shooting Warriors team, who got 33 points from Matt Lojeski, and had to settle for second place. Nate Funk was again huge for the Bluejays, scoring 25 points in a losing effort. If Funk can get back on track, the Bluejays could make some noise in conference play but right now the Bluejays appear to be searching for an identity. Creighton will open conference play against a solid Missouri State team Saturday at home.

8. Evansville (8-4, 1-0) Last Week: 8th

Evansville opened last week with a hard fought 80-75 road win at Austin Peay behind 26 points and 8 rebounds from Kyle Anslinger as the Aces won their fourth consecutive game. However, the winning streak ended Friday as Evansville fell to nationally ranked Butler 76-65. In a rather misleading box score the Aces out shot the Bulldogs from the field, the three-point line and the charity stripe, but the difference was rebounding and fouling as the Aces were out rebounded and committed 9 more fouls than Butler. Evansville played tough but just didn’t quite have enough to pull off a victory. But, this game is their type of game and one the Aces can build on with conference play just around the corner. It won’t be easy for the Purple Aces to keep their undefeated conference record intake as they play two very tough games this seek that they’ll have trouble winning. The Aces host Drake on Thursday before traveling to Bradley on Saturday. The Aces most likely will play tough but fall to 1-2 in conference play.

9. Illinois State (8-4, 0-1) Last Week: 9th

After dropping two games last week, the Illinois State Redbirds got back on the winning track this week convincingly beating Lewis 85-66 on Tuesday night. The Redbirds got 22 points from Anthony Slack and Boo Richardson added 20 points as ISU cruised to their 7th victory of the season. It’s never easy to win on the road but the Redbirds picked up the always tough road win when the beat Illinois Chicago 77-69 Saturday night. Richardson had 17 points along with 7 rebounds and 7 assists as the Redbirds improved to 8-4 on the season. The Redbirds will travel to Carbondale on Friday to open conference play against Southern Illinois. This game won’t be easy for the Redbirds, but if they can somehow manage to leave with a victory, they will have a lot of confidence as they continue into with conference action.

10. Indiana State (6-4, 0-1) Last Week: 10th

Things weren’t easy this week for Indiana State but they did come out on the winning end in their only game against Wagner. The Sycamores got a career high 29 points and 8 assists from Gabriel Moore and Jay Tunnell added 17 points and 11 rebounds as Indiana State beat Wagner 92-86 in overtime. Tunnell hit a lay up with four seconds left to send the game into OT and the Sycamores outscored the Seahawks 14 to 8 in the extra frame. Wagner shot the ball exceptionally well, at over 60 percent for the game, but ISU was able to force them into 21 turnovers and hold on for the win. The Sycamores will play the conferences final non-conference game of the season (not including the Bracketbuster games in late February) when they host Purdue. Next, ISU will the play their second conference game of the year when Drake comes to town Saturday. Pulling out two wins this week will show the league the Sycamores are not willing to be written off as an easy win when they appear on an opponent’s schedule.