When I first started this blog, it was my intention to cover the women’s games as well. When push came to shove, I just didn’t have the bandwidth for it. So, I focused on the men’s game with which I am more familiar. But I am still a women’s basketball fan, and the MVC is one of the best women’s basketball leagues in the country. According to the “Valley on the Big 550” podcast, the MVC was 8th in conference RPI last year behind only the power six and the Ivy League, and this year the league is 8th in NET behind the Power 6 and the American. The numbers do seem to be down a touch this year compared to last, and parity has cost the league a shot at multiple bids (ESPN’s bracketology only has one MVC team in the field). However, the league does have half its membership in the top 90 of the NET rankings and only two are below 200 making it the best mid-major league in the country. Let’s take a quick look at how the women’s side is panning out in the MVC so far this season. I’ll rank the teams in reverse NET order.
10.) Evansville (1-7, 5-8 NET 306): Last season, not only did the Evansville men’s basketball team finish league play 0-18, but the women did as well. On the men’s side the Aces have experienced a bit of a resurgence, but the women have continued to struggle. That said, they do have a league win, which they did not have last year, and their 5-8 overall record is already an improvement over their 3-26 record a season ago. The Aces are led in points (15.1) AND rebounds (7.7) by sophomore Abby Feit who is actually from Redbird territory in Normal. Feit led the team in both categories as a true freshman last season too. Senior Jada Poland and junior Anna Newman have made double-digit starts for UE. Their lone league win, their first since March 1, 2019, came in OT against Indiana State who they play again on February 24th. Evansville has won a total of 4 league games since the 16-17 season when they went 8-10. That was also the last season they weren’t the 10-seed in the league tournament. They have a shot to avoid the cellar this year as they are currently a half game up on Indiana State.
9.) Indiana State (1-8, 4-10, NET 268): Indiana State wasn’t much better than UE last year. They finished their conference slate 3-15 (their non-Evansville win came against UNI) with an overall record of 5-25. This year’s 4-10 mark comes after a 4-2 start that included three nonconference wins and a 15-point win at Loyola in the MVC opener. Since then, they’ve lost eight straight games (many by blowout). They lost to Illinois State by 30, Drake by 50 and 40, and UNI by 26 and 35……all in a row. Most recently, the Trees lost to Evansville which ended the Aces long league losing streak. Mercifully, their most recently scheduled games against Missouri State were cancelled due to COVID concerns. No Indiana State player averages double-figures, but their two best players are almost certainly sophomore Adrian Folks from the Detroit area and senior Jamyra McChristine from Chicago. Folks leads the team in scoring (9.4) and is second in rebounds (5.8). McChristine is first in rebounds (7.1) and is second in scoring (9.2). The biggest question left for Indiana State is will they be able to avoid the cellar, or will they jump into 9th and prolong Evansville’s basement streak? They have the advantage of having a win against a decent Valley team in Loyola and avoiding playing the MVC’s top team in Missouri State. But UE beat the Trees head-on. Based on both teams’ recent results it will likely come down to their February 24th matchup. Indiana State has not finished with a winning record in women’s basketball since the 2014-15 season.
8.) Southern Illinois (3-6. 6-8, NET 179): Moving up the ladder we have Southern Illinois who is just outside the top half of the nation in NET, coming in at 184. Coming off a respectable 16-13, 8-10 finish last season in which they finished 122nd in RPI, the Salukis have struggled a bit this year. They went 3-2 in the nonconference before starting league play with two 18-point wins over Evansville. Their losses have come against Bradley, Missouri State and Loyola who are currently in the top three in the MVC standings. So their record may be artificially low. The Salukis leading scorer (14.2) and rebounder (9.3) is a senior from Lincolnwood, Illinois, Abby Brockmeyer. She missed the Salukis two wins against Evansville but has been back in the fold for their five game losing streak. Their other double-digit scorer is also a senior, Makenzie Silvey (12.2), and their fourth-leading scorer is a senior as well. So the time is now for SIU (or….I guess…..next year depending on what they decide to do with their extra year eligibility). With Drake up next the schedule won’t get easier. But it does get more manageable after that with Indiana State and Valpo. It looks like the time is now for SIU if they want to make something of this season.
7.) Loyola (5-4, 7-6, NET 152): Despite a lower NET ranking than several teams, the Loyola women’s basketball squad currently has five league wins. This is a significant improvement over last season when they finished ahead of only Indiana State and Evansville (although they did have a respectable 15-14 overall record). Loyola started the season by splitting with last-place Indiana State. Since then, the Ramblers have beaten Valpo, split with Bradley and swept Southern Illinois. It has been the middle-of-the-pack type teams that Loyola has been able to handle, and that represents improvement for a school that has finished with more than six league wins and avoided the playin round only once in its seven years in the Valley (and that was five years ago). Loyola has a balanced scoring attack, with four players that average between 8.6 and 10.8 points per game. The lone Rambler in double-figures is Allison Day, a junior from Russellville, Ohio. As is often the case, it seems, she also leads the team in rebounding. The three other top scorers include a freshman and two seniors. The Ramblers are two wins away from their best MVC season in five years and five wins away from matching their best MVC season yet. They still have games against some of the league’s top teams in Missouri State and Illinois State, so it will be a tough road to get to ten wins but two seems manageable, if not likely.
6.) Valparaiso (3-6, 7-9, NET 121): The rest of the league is in the top third of the nation in NET ranking, starting with a Valpo Crusaders team that is currently near the bottom of the MVC standings with a 2-5 record but still clocks in in the top third of the nation in NET. Despite their MVC struggles, the Crusaders nonconference includes wins over the likes of Illinois, Purdue and Xavier (and an OT loss to Wisconsin). The have faced a tough league schedule as well, which may account for their 2-5 record. They haven’t played anyone below them on this list yet except for one game against Loyola which they lost. But the rest of their games have come against some of the league’s better teams in MSU, UNI and BU. Last year was by far Valpo’s best in their three MVC seasons. They finished with a 9-9 record to avoid the play-in round of the tournament, or would have avoided it had there been a tournament. They had more league wins than their first two MVC years combined, and it was the first time they finished with more than 6 league wins in any conference since the 2008-09 season (which is still the last time they had a winning league record). The Crusaders’ leading scorer (but not rebounder) is Carie Weinman (14.8 ppg), a junior from the Chicago suburbs. Their leading rebounder (who also scores in double-figures) is senior guard Grace White (5.8 rpg). Valpo’s remaining schedule includes seven games (out of nine) against teams lower than them on this list, so expect that win total to increase and for Valpo to be in the running to avoid the bottom four.
5.) Bradley (7-4, 11-7, NET 90): We are now getting into the teams that have it in them to make a run at the MVC Tournament. Half of the MVC is in the top 100 of the NET rankings on the women’s side. The league’s numbers look similar to what the American has been able to do on the men’s side. The first (or last, I guess) of these top 100 teams is Bradley, whose profile has them in the running for a WNIT bid should that event happen this year. The Braves are coming off an outstanding year that saw them finish third in the league with a 13-5 record, a 22-8 overall record and a top 50 RPI. They were a bubble caliber team last year heading into the MVC Tournament. Obviously we’ll never know what would have happened, but BU is not likely to get an at-large bid this year. Still, they’ve had a good league run against a strong schedule that includes a split with Drake, a sweep of SIU, and a split with Loyola. Bradley’s top scorer is one of the best players in the league: junior guard Lasha Petree from Detroit. She averages 19.3 PPG. Gabi Haack, a senior from Elk River, Minnesota, is another high-volume scorer (16 ppg). She is also the team’s top rebounder (7.3 rpg). Their remaining schedule includes should-be-wins against Indiana State, toss ups against UNI, and a tough set at MSU. They’re at the point where they are positioning themselves for Hoops in the Heartland and a possible WNIT backup plan.
4.) Illinois State (6-4, 9-4, NET 76): While they are coming off a strong season in which the Redbirds finished fourth with a league record of 11-7, an overall record of 20-11, and an RPI of 55 I have to say I can’t quite figure out what has them ranked so highly this season. Illinois State’s three nonconference wins are over a non-DI and two TERRIBLE Summit League teams. In the league Illinois State has been swept by UNI, and four of their five league wins have come against bottom feeders Indiana State and Evansville. Despite this weirdly high rating the Redbirds still have a lot of work to do if they want to be in good position for Hoops in the Heartland and be in the discussion for the postseason. Illinois State’s best player is leading scorer (14.2) AND rebounder….there it is again (6.2) Juliunn Redmond, a senior from Chicago. Sophomore guard Mary Crompton form Iowa City adds 12.1 ppg, and Kansas City junior Terrion Moore scores 10.3 ppg. While Illinois State hasn’t played a tough schedule yet, there is an opportunity there to really boost their numbers against the likes of Missouri State and Drake at home. It is all right in front of them. It could work out, or it could end up being a rough go.
3.) Northern Iowa (5-4, 8-8, NET 71): Due to some Jekyll-and-Hyde results UNI is currently sitting in 6th place of the MVC standings with four losses. However, due to their challenging schedule the computers still seem to love the Panthers who are a top-75 NET team. Last season was a bit disappointing for UNI as they finished 5th in the league with a 10-8 record, but they still had a solid 77 RPI. This year with a very experienced team returning, Tanya Warren’s squad was hoping for some big results. That hasn’t materialized to the level they were expecting. UNI has wins over Creighton and at Wichita. They beat a top-25 South Dakota State team by 17 points and gave Iowa State a strong run. UNI’s 5-4 league record does include two losses to league leaders Missouri State (they gave the Bears a run in the second game) and a loss to second place Drake, with a sweep over Illinois State in the books. Unless you include Indiana State, there has not been a single cupcake on the Panthers’ schedule. Four Panthers have started all 16 of their contests led by leading scorer (13.7 ppg) senior Karli Rucker. UNI’s top three scorers are all seniors (including 3rd leading scorer and top rebounder Bre Gunnels), and all four of their regular starters are seniors. Decisions about extra eligibility years are going to have a significant impact on UNI women’s basketball’s immediate future. With the exception of one game against Drake, the entirety of UNI’s remaining schedule is against teams below them on this list and six of the eight are against teams in the bottom four. There are going to be opportunities for UNI to move up and position themselves well for Hoops in the Heartland, or failing that, the WNIT.
2.) Drake (8-3, 10-8, NET 45): Despite a decent NET rating, the Bulldogs are not considered one of the first eight teams out of the dance and on the bubble in bracketology. This is probably due to their mediocre overall record of 8-8. Their NET is better than five of the eight teams considered “just out” by bracketology, sometimes quite a bit better. They are also coming off a season in which they finished second in the league at 14-4, with a 24-8 overall record and an RPI of 22. They were looking good to get into the dance with an at-large if they didn’t win the league tournament. Obviously we’ll never know what would have happened now. What we do know, is that Drake is pretty good this year despite what ‘ol Charlie Creme might tell you. They did not back down in the nonconference and their 2-5 nonleague record includes losses to Iowa State, Texas, top 25 South Dakota State, Iowa (by 6) and WBB mid-major power Green Bay (by 8). All of those games were on the road except Iowa. They got wins at Creighton and at Minnesota. Their 6-3 league slate includes a split with Bradley and wins over UE, Indy State and UNI. Unfortunately for them, they also have already been swept by Missouri State (on the road….losing the first game by just one point). That was probably their best chance to make a splash. Drake has three players that average double-figures led by Indianola, Iowa native Grace Berg (16.7 ppg). She is followed by senior Maddie Monahan (13.7 ppg) and junior Kierra Collier (12.3ppg) Sophomore Maggie Blair leads the team in rebounds with 6.1 per game. While they don’t have many more chances to make an impression on the committee, the remainder of their games are winnable (although none are gimmies). They are probably the best chance the MVC has for someone to knock off Mo State and get two teams in the tournament. Otherwise, they’ll be a WNIT team (if there is one).
1.) Missouri State (7-0, 11-2, NET 26): The crown jewel of the 2020-21 MVC women’s basketball season has been Missouri State. They got a win over Maryland in the season’s opening weekend. They also have a road win at Missouri on their ledger. Their losses are to Wake Forest and top 25 South Dakota State. In league play, they already have sweeps of UNI, Drake and Valpo. The Bears have been ranked in the top 25 of the coaches poll all season long, and although they dropped out of the AP poll around the new year, they are currently the next team out. This is an extension of last season when MSU finished the year as outright MVC champions at 16-2, 26-5 and finished 12th in RPI . The Bears best scorer (at 15.2 ppg) is senior Brice Calip from Sapulpa, Oklahoma, and their top rebounder (9.1 rpg) and second leading scorer is junior Jasmine Frankline out of Fayetteville, Arkansas. As long as MSU can navigate the remainder of their schedule (a trip to Illinois State is the toughest obstacle) it looks as though MSU is a lock for the dance whether they win the MVC Tournament or not. The bigger question is can they go on a run when they get there? Right now, bracketology has the Bears as a 5-seed facing Delaware with a possible second round matchup with Tennessee and a sweet 16 meeting with top-seeded Louisville. The Valley’s best shot for two bids is probably MSU winning out and then losing at the MVC Tournament. But I doubt that is the goal for the Bears.
And there you have it. The women’s side of the MVC is representing the league well. It will be interesting to see how this pans out, and if MSU can make a long run at the NCAA Tournament. They are still the most recent mid-major squad to make the women’s Final Four (which they did in 2001).