We’ve “technically” “finished” four rounds of conference play in the MVC. That includes the random opening week in December. (That, by the way, is something we may need to get used to with the league reportedly expanding to a 20-game schedule. Especially if we stick with an odd number of teams. But I digress.) The catch is that only four teams have played the full four games, as COVID cost us five of the fifteen games that were scheduled to be played this week. The league is looking to reschedule the games, and in some cases already has, but it seems unlikely each team will make it through their full 18-game schedule this year. Just another byproduct of this unique period of history.
I have also been sick (but not with COVID, of which I am vaxxed and boosted and tested negative), and that has kept me from writing but has allowed me to watch all this weekend’s games while home sick from work. I am feeling a bit better today, so I thought I’d dip my toe back in with an updated power rating. This will be a quick hitter, straight up ranking with no additional gimmick like “each team’s best haircut” or something. Although, looking at their roster Gage Bobe would definitely win that for Evansville. Just look at it!
LOOK AT IT!!!
Up until now I have been placing Belmont, unrated, in the spot I thought they’d fit in the ratings. But both Murray and Belmont will likely beat beating the crap out of the OVC for the remainder of the season while the Valley will be beating up on each other. I don’t know that I think it is a fair comparison anymore. So, I’ll be sticking them at the beginning now.
X.) Murray State (12-2, 2-0 OVC, KenPom: 77): Welcome to the Missouri Valley, Murray State! If you have followed me at all, you know that I have been a huge proponent of adding the Racers to the league and I am thrilled that it is finally happening. I think they’re going to be great from both a business perspective and fan’s perspective. I immediately started getting flu symptoms literally minutes after I first saw the news that it was happening, which ya know, isn’t great. But I am looking forward to seeing the Racer fans in St. Louis in a couple years. After their first two games of 2022 were postponed due to COVID, Murray won at SIUE this weekend. They’re set to face Tennessee State this week before the first of two throwdowns with Belmont (this one in Nashville) on Saturday.
X.) Belmont (12-3, 2-0 OVC, KenPom: 42): The Bruins didn’t even get to play a league game before they were already old news. The league’s other new addition also had two OVC games postponed. They picked up two wins this week, though, and won both in dominant fashion. They beat SEMO by 40 and followed that with a 26-point win at UT-Martin. The Bruins are set to host Austin Peay on Thursday and Murray on Saturday in a game that this blogger will certainly have his eye on.
10.) Evansville (4-10, 0-3, KenPom: 244, Last: 10): There are a lot of tough calls on where to place teams on this list, but this is not one of them. The Aces are the only team without a league win and have by far the worst overall record and computer ranking. It looks like it could be another long year at the Ford Center. That would be a bummer for a veteran team led by several seniors coming off a resurgent season in which they won 7 games league games and finished with the 5-seed at Arch Madness (after going 0-18 and finishing in a hard dead last two years ago). With that in mind, it is way too early to give up on Evansville. While they did get beat badly in a midweek game at UNI (in their first game in weeks after a COVID break), they had every opportunity to beat Drake at home yesterday. They had the ball down one in the final seconds and despite several tries just couldn’t get it to go into the hoop. But Drake is a good team, and I think it would be folly to write the Aces off just yet. It won’t get any easier this week as Evansville heads to Bradley midweek and hosts Loyola on the weekend.
9.) Valparaiso (8-8, 1-3, KenPom: 212, Last: 4): I came in hot on Valpo, ranking them 4th in my last power rankings before league play. So now, please allow me to overreact in the other direction. The Beacons did hang on for an overtime victory at home over Illinois State last Sunday. However, they got beat soundly at UNI during the week, allowing 92 points to a Panther team that effectively didn’t have Austin Phyfe and only got 9 points from AJ Green. Then Valpo failed to protect their home court against SIU on Saturday, losing 63-60. They rallied from down 16 with eight minutes to go, only to miss their last five shots and lose in front of their hair pulingly frustrated (I assume) home crowd. Valpo has the pieces, but this week they didn’t look like the strong, dynamic, talented team I envisioned. A tough week at Loyola and vs. Missouri State awaits.
8.) Bradley (7-9, 1-3, KenPom: 133, Last: 6): The 8-spot seems to be the “I Don’t Really Think You’re This Bad but Your Results So Far Don’t Give Me Much of a Choice” spot. Perhaps eighth is the lucky place to be as UNI was there last week before proceeding to go 3-0 this week. It seemed like Bradley had gotten quite lucky last Sunday when Indiana State had to play at home against the Braves without three starters due to COVID protocol. Instead, the Trees put on an inspired performance with five guys playing all but 9 total minutes in beating BU. Bradley next hosted Missouri State midweek and rallied from 18 down in the second half, only for Isiaih Mosley to hit a step back three to win it at the buzzer. On Saturday, the Braves nearly pulled off the upset of the year at Loyola, but again came up short. After building a lead as big as 16 in the second half and leading by six with two and a half minutes to go, the Braves could not hang on and lost in OT. A rough week to be sure, but Bradley was right there against two very tough opponents in Mo State and Loyola. One would have to assume the ball would start bouncing their way soon. A home contest against Evansville midweek could be the cure for what ails them, before a trip to Normal to face archrival Illinois State next weekend.
7.) Illinois State (8-7, 1-1, KenPom: 203, Last: 7): The Birds missed their last two contests with COVID issues, so we only got one new data point for them since our last rankings. That contest was a hard-fought overtime loss at Valpo. There is no shame in that, but it was an opportunity to pick up a road win that was missed. Reeves, Chatman and Strong combined to score 62 of the ‘Birds’ 76 points in that game which showed both the strength and weakness of this team. The three headed monster is as good as anyone, but the depth still needs to step up in places. Still, it is hard to say my opinion of them has changed much with just one OT loss on the road, so their ranking remains the same. Assuming they are back on their feet, the Redbirds are set to play at Drake and at home against Bradley this week.
6.) Indiana State (8-6, 1-1, KenPom: 167, Last: 9): You might think this is a big jump for a team that only played one (home) game in the time since the last rankings, and you’d be right. Good job detective. However, this ranking is as much about what the guys behind ISU Blue didn’t do, than what the Sycamores did do. That said, while ISU only played one game, it was a memorable performance. A home win over Bradley wouldn’t typically move the needle too much, except this was not an ordinary home W. Indiana State was without three starters due to COVID protocol, but they still had the minimum eight players required to play. So, they took the floor extremely shorthanded. Three guys played 40 minutes (Zach Hobbs, Micah Thomas and Julian Larry), another (Cooper Neese) played 38, and a fifth (Kai Stephens) played 33. They got the job done with a 71-66 win. No word on whether the Terre Haute Five Guys gave them their hard-earned spoils. They were unable to play their next two contests so that is the last we’ve seen of the Trees. Indiana State is scheduled to return to the court, COVID willing, on Tuesday at UNI and then back home on Saturday against the Ramblers.
5.) Northern Iowa (7-7, 3-1, KenPom: 104, Last: 8): It was a very good week for UNI, who was in desperate need of one. Their three wins between last Sunday and this Saturday represent half their DI wins on the entire season. UNI looked more like the team that was picked to finish 3rd in the Valley than they have at any point this season. They opened with a 22-point home win over Evansville that they controlled from the start. They followed that with a 27-point home win over Valpo in which they scored 92 points while only getting a total of 9 from AJ Green and Austin Phyfe combined. On Saturday, the Panthers went on the road for their biggest win of the trio, hitting several free throws down the stretch to seal an 85-84 victory over Missouri State. We finally saw a glimpse of the team Panther fans thought they were getting this year, and it’s got this UNI alum excited. They’ll look to keep it rolling at home against Indiana State and at Southern Illinois this week.
4.) Southern Illinois (9-5, 2-0, KenPom: 133, Last: 5): Due to COVID issues, SIU did not play their first game of 2022 until Saturday. They did not look rusty, though, as they came out of the gates strong at Valpo. They built a 16-point lead midway through the second half, but then saw it nearly evaporate. However, Valpo couldn’t finish on any of its final three possessions and SIU escaped with a 63-60 win. The Salukis are now 2-0 in the league, and one of only two squads that hasn’t lost a league game yet. Both of their wins have come on the road as well, which is a difficult task in the MVC. On the other hand, the wins were by a combined total of five points against the likes of Valpo and Evansville. Still, I’ll take two road MVC Ws any day of the week. SIU has talent and promise. They’ve had some great performances so far, and some not-so-good outings. To me, this might be the hardest team in the league to peg at the moment. There is still a lot to prove for SIU, one way or the other. With games at Missouri State and vs. UNI this week (followed by Drake next week), they’ll get their chance to make a splash soon.
3.) Drake (11-5, 2-1, KenPom: 93, Last: 2): Drake is another squad that will want to go ahead and put this week’s performances behind them. It wasn’t a disaster, although it could have been. The week opened with a 61-56 road loss to Missouri State. Nothing to be ashamed of there, but the ‘Dogs had a chance to win that game. They just could not buy a basket, going 1-16 from behind the arc. The good news for DU was Roman Penn returned to action for that contest. His return could be crucial for the Bulldogs’ season. He was in the lineup for Drake’s road tilt with Evansville on Saturday as well. Drake won the game, but not until Evansville missed three shots on their final possession (and a free throw on their second-to-last) to allow the ‘Dogs to escape 60-59. Bottom line: the Bulldogs don’t look like the team we signed up for. Not yet. Now we are nowhere near pushing the panic button. They still got a road win in one game and played one of the best teams in the league tough on the road in another. That they could do that while not playing their A-game tells you how good this team is. But they still haven’t quite put it together the way we expected.
2.) Missouri State (11-6, 2-2, KenPom: 81, Last: 3): Feels odd moving a squad up a notch to #2 right after watching them lose a home game. But someone has to sit in this spot, and based on their body of work I think it should be the Bears….at least for now. MSU opened the week with an ugly, but important, home win over Drake by a score of 61-56. It didn’t seem like either team was at the top of their game in that contest, but it will likely be a crucial game for the Bears at the end of the year (and one they failed to get in two tries at home…..and a third in St. Louis…. last year). MSU then got a good road win at Bradley. They built up a big lead, blew it late, and won it on a step back three at the buzzer by Isiaih Mosley in what is probably the play of the year in the MVC so far this season. The Bears’ perfect week was stopped just short with an 85-84 home loss to UNI on Saturday. It sucks to lose at home, but this was not like the Drake game. Both teams played at a high level, and Isiaih Mosley scored 43 points (3rd most in a game in program history) in the losing effort. In all, a one-point loss isn’t enough to put this team behind Drake or SIU (who both had their struggles as well), or even UNI who is still just .500 overall. The Bears are still on track for a very good season. They’re set to host SIU and visit Valpo this week.
1.) Loyola (11-2, 2-0, KenPom: 23, Last: 1): The middle eight schools on this list may be debatable, but just as there is no debate who should be on the bottom right now, there is also no debate as to who should be on the top. Loyola had both of their first two games of 2022 cancelled, along with a hastily scheduled replacement game against a local small school. That made it five cancelled games in a row by my count, all of which were the fault of the Rambers’ opponents. So, they got resourceful and used the opening to schedule an impromptu contest against another very good mid-major. The U of San Francisco took on the Ramblers at a neutral site in Salt Lake City. Loyola took advantage of the opportunity to strengthen their at-large resume with a win over the previously 13-1 squad from the West Coast Conference. It was an impressive performance considering they hadn’t played in nearly a month. They seemingly saved the rust for their Saturday contest at home against Bradley. Loyola trailed by as many as 16 in the second half, and six with under three minutes to go. But they went on a late 8-0 run (including a game-tying four point play) to force OT. From there they eventually prevailed and kept their league home winning streak alive. The Ramblers are scheduled to host Valpo and visit ISU Blue this week.
That turned out longer than I expected (that’s what she said). Here’s to everyone getting to play their games as scheduled this week, eh? GO VALLEY!