MTEs have not been kind to the Valley, and it was a rough Thanksgiving week. But we have league openers coming up! The random single December conference game is an odd but necessary element of the schedule this year, and we may see it more often if the Valley expands. Especially if we go to an 11-team, 20 game schedule model, we’ll need to work 22 league gamedays into the schedule (more than the 18 we currently need). That will likely require a mixture of weeks with two midweek games, and a couple early December scheduled conference games to pull off. As you all probably know, we are currently sitting at our standard ten members moving into next year. But expansion seems to be a possibility, so Valley fans should look at this week as a test drive for what may become a regular part of the future of the league.
Check out my quick hitter featuring updated power rankings and a preview of the opening slate of Valley games below.
10.) Bradley (2-5, LW: 10): The Braves picked up their first DI win in the time since my last power rating and did so in dominant fashion, beating Maine 71-39. It wasn’t enough to get them out of the cellar, though, as the other teams on this part of the list also won and Maine does not have a DI win. Still, it is a positive sign for a team that has played some decent teams close but hadn’t been able to get over the hump and get that first W. As bad as their record looks, Bradley is probably not the worst team in the league. As I said, they’ve been competitive and are due to break out a bit. A win over UNI tomorrow would certainly see the Braves move up the list.
9.) Evansville (3-6, LW: 9): The Aces also picked up a win in the time since my last list was created, 70-54 over Eastern Illinois. While it came against a squad without a DI victory, the win was a dominant performance by the Aces and one to build on after snapping a four-game losing streak. They’ll get a chance to get off to a good start in league play when they host SIU tomorrow.
8.) Illinois State (3-4, LW:7): Illinois State drops down a spot despite the win, although it was more about what one of the squads behind them did than anything they didn’t do. The Redbirds only beat D2 Purdue Northwest by 10, but they were in control the entire game and the outcome was not in doubt. Nothing to worry about here. They host Mo State on Wednesday.
7.) Indiana State (3-4, LW: 5): The Trees have now lost three straight after a 3-1 start, and all three were not very competitive losses. That said, they were all against good teams, and a dominant win over Old Dominion cannot be ignored. A 22-point loss to Ball State in the time since the last power rankings (plus good performances by some teams that were behind them on this list) saw them drop a couple spots. Trees will get their trip to Rogers Park out of the way in December when they visit Loyola tomorrow.
6.) Northern Iowa (2-3, LW:8): The Panthers are the toughest team to rank on this list as they only have one DI win, but it is probably the league’s best win of the year. After an abysmal first week in which they lost at home to Nicholls and Vermont, UNI has looked more like we expected in their last two performances. They led at 16th ranked Arkansas into the final four minutes before losing, and then won at 16th ranked St. Bonaventure on Saturday. After a rusty start, AJ Green returned in a big way against the Bonnies, scoring 35 points and making nine threes. I can’t ignore those two early losses, but if UNI can consistently play closer to how they did against SBU, they will Valley contenders again. They’re at Bradley tomorrow.
5.) Valparaiso (3-4, LW:6): The Beacons dominated the Trinity Trolls in a matchup of two teams with…..unique…..nicknames. Valpo is just 3-4, but other than a 14-point loss at Stanford have been in every game they’ve played down to the wire. They are also 3-1 since the return of Ben Krikke who clearly makes them a better team. A win at a reeling Drake on Thursday would be an astronomical start to league play for them.
4.) Southern Illinois (3-3, LW:4): The Salukis escaped with a win at Alcorn State and I mean escaped. They were getting torched well into the second half, rallied, nearly blew it, and came away with a hugely clutch win. It was a game that should not have been close, but SIU did find a way to get it done and that is what is most important. Southern Illinois has been up and down this year with rough losses to mediocre Northeastern and Little Rock teams, a big win against Colorado, and near misses against Creighton (heartbreaking L) and Alcorn (lucky W). Hard to say what this team’s deal is so far. A trip to Evansville tomorrow may help reveal it.
3.) Missouri State (4-2, LW:3): The Bears haven’t played since my last power rankings on Friday, so their trip to Normal will be their first game since then. They have been OK overall, but have a couple of head scratching losses. They’ve also got four DI wins by 18 or more points. I think they’ll be fine in the end, but they’d like to have those two losses to ETSU and SEMO back.
2.) Drake (3-3, LW:1): Ooofta. It was a rough week for the Bulldogs. After getting the big win against Richmond last week, the ‘Dogs went into their MTE with a lot of confidence and a chance to pick up a couple big, resume building wins. Instead, they are looking at a rough road to an at-large after an 0-3 finish in the tournament. They missed opportunities against Belmont and Alabama before a surprising 57-54 loss to North Texas left them in last place in the tournament. That is a bummer. It doesn’t mean Drake is a bad team, but they’ve left themselves almost no room for error and the idea of getting multiple bids this season for the MVC is slowly starting to drift away. They’ll look to regroup at home against Valpo on Thursday.
X.) Belmont (5-3, LW:3): An argument could be made that the Bruins deserve the top spot after finishing second in the very tournament that Drake finished last. They beat the Bulldogs and Iona before falling by two to Dayton in the title game. But I am going to be real with you all, I am not putting Belmont at the top of this list unless I have absolutely no other option. They aren’t in the MVC yet! But we look forward to your arrival nonetheless, Bruins.
1.) Loyola (5-2, LW: 2): The Ramblers missed an opportunity last week in their MTE as well, although they salvaged something with a win in their final game. A golden chance slipped through their fingers with a loss to Michigan State in the opener, followed by a 9-point loss to 19th ranked Auburn. They did rebound for an 18-point win over Arizona State to salvage some at-large hopes, but they’ll need to beat Indiana State tomorrow to keep those hopes realistically alive.
LEAGUE OPENERS PREVIEW
That is it for this week’s power ratings. I am going to take a very quick look at this week’s random MVC openers below. All times Central. All games on Wednesday unless otherwise noted.
-Southern Illinois (3-3) @ Evansville (3-6) – 6pm – ESPN3: SIU is off to a Jeckyl and Hyde start to the season with very good performances against the likes of Colorado and Creighton, but rough games against the likes of Northeastern and Alcorn State. Evansville’s start has been mostly rough. I think this will come down to which SIU team shows up as I think we know what to expect from UE.
-Northern Iowa (2-3) @ Bradley (2-5) – 7pm – ESPN+: There was a chance that neither of these teams would have a DI win coming into this one. But Bradley handled Maine and UNI got a big win against 16th ranked St. Bonaventure. Both teams will hope to carry that momentum into this one. UNI got off to a surprisingly rough start to the nonconference season but will hope to do better in their second chance in league play. Bradley can say the same.
-Missouri State (4-2) @ Illinois State (3-4) – 7pm – ESPN+: The Bears have been OK, but maybe slightly worse than we were hoping. ISU has been OK and maybe slightly better than we thought? I expect this to be an OK game that either team could win, especially as it takes place in Normal. But I would lean toward Mo State, who had little issue with the teams below them in the standings last year (home or away), to get the win.
-Indiana State (3-4) @ Loyola (5-2) – 7pm – ESPN+: If I had to pick one game I was confident about the result, it would probably be this one. The favorites are at home, and so far they’ve been the best team in the league. They’re the only squad with a decent chance at an at-large still, and they can’t afford a loss here. Indiana State is still finding itself but has been surprisingly competitive without Tyreke Key.
-Valparaiso (3-4) @ Drake (3-3) – 8pm (Thursday) – ESPNU: This one will be broadcast on actual TV from Des Moines where the Bulldogs will be hoping to shake off the disappointment from their performance at their MTE in Florida. Valpo is 3-1 since the return of Ben Krikke and has been very competitive this season. I might go as far as saying this is the game to watch amongst the Valley opener slate. Though I would still favor the Bulldogs at home.
And that is it. You’ll start to see more basketball content soon as the football season winds down. Best of luck to everyone in their league openers. GO VALLEY.