With the first week of college basketball play behind us, we’ll take a look at how things shook out last week and update the power rankings. At this point the rankings are partially based on preseason expectations and partially based on results on the court, but things will swing more and more towards the latter as the season continues. With each ranking I’ll summarize the week that was for each MVC school. In addition, we’ll throw in a nod to the biggest stories around the world of mid-major basketball. This is the first of what I expect to be a weekly feature.
WEEK 1 MVC POWER RANKINGS
1.) Loyola, 0-0 (Up One): The Ramblers did not play this week and don’t have any non-conference games scheduled as the program appears to still be on a COVID-19 pause that began two weeks ago. Despite this, Loyola moves up one spot to #1 in our rankings due to UNI’s terrible opening weekend.
2.) Bradley, 2-1 (Up One): Bradley played three games at the Xavier Invitational this weekend and suffered the biggest swing of positive to negative clutch performance since UNI’s 2016 NCAA Tournament run. The Braves opened the weekend with a 61-59 comeback win over a strong Toledo program that was capped off by a snazzy last second winner by George Washington transfer Terry Nolan Jr. He nearly did it again the next day, as he hit a contested 3 to give Bradley the lead in the final 15 seconds, only to see Xavier answer with a basket of their own on a fortuitous roll. Unfortunately, Nolan missed the front end of a one-and-one with half a second to go to seal the win for Xavier 51-50. They ended the weekend with a drama free 74-60 win over Oakland. It was a very good weekend for the Braves who might have claimed the #1 spot had they held on against Xavier. Either way they look like they are for real. Just to top it off Hersey Hawkins was named to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, and Elijah Childs was the MVC Player of the Week. The Braves will tune up with Judson on Tuesday.
3.) Drake, 2-0 (Up One): The Bulldogs also had a good showing at the Little Apple Classic at Kansas State, starting with a ten-point win over the Big 12 outfit, 80-70. Kansas State isn’t supposed to be the strongest team in the Big 12 this year, but a true road win against a Power Six team is never something to scoff at. The ‘Dogs backed up that performance with an easy 16-point win over South Dakota, a strong mid-major program. Drake had a very balanced attack, and Garrett Sturtz emerged as the weekend’s leading scorer and rebounder for DU. Ten Bulldogs played double-digit minutes, led by Sturtz who averaged 31.5. This looks to be a strong, balanced squad early on. They’ll play Omaha and St. Ambrose this week.
4.) Northern Iowa, 0-3 (Down Three): The Panthers will now take their place among the recent highly touted MVC teams to disappoint in the nonconference. UNI was missing one of their three stars, Trae Berhow, but the strongest part of his game is his shooting and that was the one thing the Panthers did well last week. Northern Iowa made 41 three pointers over the three losses to Western Kentucky, St. Mary’s and Utah State. Unfortunately, they were out rebounded 115-89 and allowed an average of over 80 points a game. Among the issues for the Panthers in Sioux Falls were the ineffectiveness of Austin Phyfe, the inability to hold a lead and turnovers, But the biggest issue was the defense. The 93 points allowed against WKU was the most UNI allowed in a regulation game since the Clinton administration. The Panthers were unable to control the pace and things got out of control, especially in the second half. UNI will try to work out their kinks against St. Ambrose on Friday before they continue their difficult nonconference schedule.
5.) Indiana State, 0-0 (No Movement): The Trees stay put at #5 after being forced to withdraw from the Gulf Coast Showcase due to COVID concerns. Indiana State will be idle again this week before finally taking the floor on December 8th against Truman State. We’ll get our first sign of what they’re really made of that Saturday when they take on Purdue.
6.) Missouri State, 0-0 (No Movement): MSU, saddled with COVID issues of their own, was forced to cancel two games against lower division opponents. It is doubtful we would have learned much about the Bears in games against Evangel and Ecclesia anyway. We might have gleaned something from scheduled games against Central Arkansas, Mississippi Valley State and Southeastern Louisiana coming up over the next two weeks……but those have been officially cancelled too. As it stands, our first look at the Bears won’t happen for three more weeks.
7.) Southern Illinois, 0-0 (No Movement): The Salukis also sat out the week as they are on the backend of a COVID related program pause that forced them to miss a tournament in Louisville. They are still scheduled to start play this week against Southeast Missouri and Southern Miss.
8.) Valparaiso, 0-1 (Up One): Valpo moves up one spot in the rankings despite losing their opener to Vanderbilt, 77-71. A Commodore rally helped them pull out a game that Valpo led most of the second half. Vandy is not going to be good this year, but a road game to a P6 is always an important benchmark for an MVC team. It was good to see a lightly regarded Crusader team go toe-to-toe with the SEC foe for most of the game. The guys you hoped would step up for Valpo (Clay, McMillan, Krikke, Sackey) were able to do so, and that is the good news moving forward. VU will face old Horizon League foe UIC, as well as Purdue and Judson this week.
9.) Illinois State, 1-1 (Down One): It is probably a bit harsh to move the Redbirds down after a 1-1 week that includes a loss to a ranked team, but it is more about how competitive Valpo was than anything Illinois State did. Illinois State got knocked around pretty good against Ohio State on opening day (94-67 final), but that shouldn’t be too surprising for a young team. They regrouped for a strong win, 82-72 over a UMass Lowell team that began the year with a win over San Francisco (who went on to beat Virginia). Josiah Strong led the Redbird attack and garnered “Newcomer of the Week” honors. His early emergence is a good sign for the Redbirds. They’ll face Greenville this week.
10.) Evansville, 0-2 (No Movement): Coach Lickliter is still looking for that first W after week one. There was no surprise in the opener as the Purple Aces predictably struggled against a good Louisville team out of the ACC, losing 79-44. The loss to Prairie View A&M was more of a disappointment. Wearing what appeared to be practice jerseys, Noah Frederking stepped up for 20 points (which you like to see) but the Aces still couldn’t get in the W column. They’ll try again this week against UT-Martin and IUPUI.
MID MAJOR & MVC TIDBITS
A rundown of notable mid-major results from week 1 is below
-Atlantic-10: Saint Louis is one of the better teams in the country this year so their win over LSU, 85-81 shouldn’t be a big surprise. Richmond is also highly regarded this year, but their win over #10 Kentucky should be a surprise. They have a wounded UNI coming up on the schedule, although they recently put the program on a COVID pause.
-Mountain West: San Diego State started their quest to prove last season’s strong showing was not a fluke with a 73-58 win over #22 UCLA to start the year. Elsewhere Nevada handled Nebraska, 69-66.
-Northeast Conference: St. Francis (PA) stunned the Pitt Panthers 80-70 (then followed it up with a 15 point loss to UMBC). This might speak more to the Panthers’ ineptitude than St. Francis’ strength. It was their first win over an ACC team since 1975.
-Southern Conference: Mercer handed Georgia Tech, who also lost to Georgia State this weekend, 83-73.
-Sun Belt: Georgia State outlasted Georgia Tech 123-120 in 4 OTs, which basically means they played an extra half. Georgia Tech isn’t good.
-West Coast Conference: It is debatable whether you can call Gonzaga a mid-major. No matter what you call them, they’re very good. They handled #6 Kansas and Auburn with ease this weekend. The story of the week out of the West Coast was San Francisco’s win over #4 Virginia despite not scoring for the final 2:12 of the game.
-Also: Incarnate Word beat Our Lady of the Lake, 84-71. There are people who actually attend a college named “Our Lady of the Lake”. In case anyone is wondering they’re NAIA, located in San Antonio, and called the Saints.