Ladies and gentlemen, we have rankage. Drake came in at #25 in both polls this week as they are now one of just three undefeated teams nationwide (the other two are #1 and #2). Loyola is not far behind them, sitting at 28th and 29th in votes. It would likely take some help, but it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that both teams could be ranked in time for next weekend’s showdown series between the two in Des Moines. Also, everyone played their games last weekend! We did it! High fives and hand pounds all around (actually, don’t do that…..we want everyone to play next weekend too). Here are the rankings and summaries for this week.
Week 10: MVC Power Rankings
1.) Drake, 17-0, 8-0, NET 12, BPI 49 (No Change): Drake remained undefeated by getting three wins since the last power rankings, picking up their first top 25 ranking since 2008 in the process. Their NET and BPI numbers improved slightly with the victories. ESPN’s BPI continues to hate on Drake due to their 327 SOS, but they retain a rock solid NET ranking. ESPN’s bracketology, fresh off the press today, has Drake as an 8-seed with a first-round matchup against North Carolina and Gonzaga next. That would be a rough draw, but also an outstanding opportunity. (Side note, I find it funny that ESPN has left the region locations in the margins for each part of the bracket on bracketology. They all say “Indianapolis”.) We had yet to cover the Bulldogs’ 78-73 win over Missouri State from last Wednesday. Drake built a double-digit lead in the second half only to see it disappear to the fired-up Bears who rallied to briefly pull ahead. Drake pulled away for a W behind Shanquan Hemphill’s 24 points and Darnell Brodie’s 14 rebounds (with Roman Penn adding 18 points). After putting MSU’s title hopes on life support, the Bulldogs survived a spirited Illinois State performance in their first game of the weekend. They got a bit lucky (quite frankly) to leave the Knapp Center with an OT W. Illinois State played a hell of a game, and Drake shot just 4-30 from deep. The Bulldogs held a 55-40 lead with 13:30 to go, only to see the lead slowly disappear over the remainder of the game. The ‘Dogs needed a missed Illinois State free throw in the final five seconds of regulation, and a missed layup in the final seconds of OT to get the W. Darnell Brodie, who typically averages less than eight points per game, scored 20 on 10-10 shooting while snagging ten rebounds. Monday’s game was a different story as Drake led from wire to wire in dominating the Redbirds 95-60. The freshly ranked Bulldogs got 30 points from Tremell Murphy who made six three pointers, while Shanquan Hemphill added 18, and Jonah Jackson added 12 off the bench. Drake played 16 players, 12 of whom scored. The Bulldogs head to Indiana for a pair with Valpo this weekend and will try to remain undefeated in advance of their showdown with Loyola the following weekend.
2.) Loyola, 15-3, 10-1, NET 14, BPI 14 (No Change): Loyola was the favorite to win the league at the beginning of the year (along with UNI, but we don’t need to talk about that). Recently they have been living up to the hype and then some. The Ramblers are just destroying MVC teams. Their 10-1 league record includes six 20-point wins and four 30-point wins. They went to Springfield this weekend to play the surprising league upstart MSU Bears who were hoping to put themselves into the league title race by beating the Ramblers. Instead, Loyola came away with two blowout wins and just missed getting ranked. Despite the lack of rankings, Loyola’s NET and BPI numbers rose and ESPN’s bracketology now has them in as a 10-seed and an at-large, jumping from “first four out” to being safely in the field (they aren’t even listed in the “last four byes”). In the first game, the Ramblers continued their recent trend of just destroying teams from the get-go, jumping out to a 22-2 lead in beating the Bears 72-46. Krutwig took this one over, scoring 18 points and grabbing 8 boards in 23 minutes of play. Loyola was able to get the blowout win despite making just 2 three-pointers (in 11 tries) by connecting on 26 of 42 shots inside the arc. The second game was similar. Loyola jumped out to a 14-2 lead before MSU made a bit of a rally getting within four. By halftime, though, Loyola had a sixteen-point lead and mostly maintained it from there en route to a 70-50 win. Krutwig again led the way with 19 points, while Aher Uguak added 12 and Lucas Williamson 11. Krutwig was named MVC Player of the Week for his efforts. Loyola will host a tricky Evansville team this weekend before their throwdown with Drake next weekend.
3.) Missouri State, 9-5, 5-5, NET 104, BPI 94 (No Change): Eight days ago, Missouri State fancied themselves MVC title contenders. Four home losses later and it has become very clear the Bears were just not quite championship caliber. Additionally concerning for MSU in their weekend series with Loyola was how the Ramblers were able to limit the Bears’ stars Isiaih Mosley and Gaige Prim. MSU finished its series with Drake with a heartbreaking 78-73 loss last week. Mosley (23 and 11) and Prim (20 and 14) were themselves, but it wasn’t enough to nip Drake in Springfield. The Bears rallied from down double-digits with a 15-0 run with 6:18 to go, but Drake calmly responded, outscoring the Bears 12-6 over the last 5 minutes to win the game 78-73. MSU moved on to face Loyola with their title hopes on life support, and the first game was over before it started. The Bears didn’t make their second shot from the floor until the 8:20 mark in the first half. By that point MSU trailed 26-7 and it never got any better. Loyola was finally able to put a stop to Isiaih Mosley….kind of (8 points, 10 rebounds) and Gaige Prim (2 points, 8 rebounds) as the latter found himself in foul trouble. MSU shot just 27% for the game, which ended as a 72-46 loss. Game two was only slightly better for MSU. They fell behind 14-2 early on, and briefly got within four but Loyola blew the game open before halftime. The final score was 70-50 and while Mosley played OK (16 and 7), Prim was again held in check (4 and 3) while getting in foul trouble. Demarcus Sharp dropped 21 for MSU, which was probably their biggest bright spot of the series. So the Bears run at a title was definitively shot down, but there is still quite a bit to play for. They’ll have to turn their focus to winning the “best of the rest” and getting the 3-seed for Arch Madness, positioning themselves for another shot at the Ramblers or Bulldogs in the semifinals. MSU has a manageable schedule down the stretch that begins this weekend when they hit the road for a pair against Illinois State.
4.) Indiana State, 10-7, 7-5, NET 111, BPI 165 (No Change): Indiana State extended their winning streak to six with a sweep of Bradley. The Trees are absolutely rolling right now, have the toughest part of their schedule well behind them, and are on pace to finish in the top four of the league. I considered moving them ahead of MSU, but their sweep at the hands of the Bears has kept them in the #4 spot for now. However, ISU has certainly looked better than the Bears in the last two weeks. The weekend started with a 60-57 win in game one against Bradley in Terre Haute. ISU led for most of the second half, at one point extending their lead to ten, but never quite pulled away. Bradley slowly battled back, at one point taking the lead with 2:37 to go but didn’t score for the remainder of the game as ISU held on to win. Tyreke Key and Jake LaRavia were nearly twinsies. Each scored 12 points and Key added 8 rebounds to LaRavia’s 9. Key was just 3-13 from the floor, while LaRavia struggled to 3-8 from the line. In game two, ISU never trailed and pulled away over the final 10 minutes for an easy 67-55 win. It was another businesslike performance for Indiana State as Tyreke Key scored 19 points. I wish I had more to say about possibly the hottest team in the league that isn’t Drake or Loyola. They just keep getting it done in a very businesslike fashion. With just UNI, Evansville and Valpo left on their ledger they are looking very good for a top half, probably top four finish and a favorable seed at Arch Madness. In short, they’re killing it. They’ll head to Cedar Falls (currently living up to its nickname Frostbite Falls) this weekend to play UNI.
5.) Evansville, 8-8, 6-4, NET 244, BPI 281 (Up Two): We are midway through the season and Evansville and UNI are on opposite ends of the standings just like we all predicted. Take a look folks, as of this writing the Aces are in third place despite being 8th in the league in NET and last in BPI. UE swept the Valpo Crusaders to get into this position. and no matter what happens from here on out their season has to be considered a success and a step forward for the program under Todd Lickliter. They have about as difficult a schedule as a team could have remaining, as they play pairs of games against the league’s top four teams with more away games than home. It can be seen as a great opportunity, but it could also be their undoing. For now, the Aces are easily a top half Valley team. UE controlled the first game against Valpo more-or-less from start to finish in their 70-52 win. The Crusaders kept it within a few possessions in the first half, but UE led by as many as 21 midway through the second half and cruised to an easy victory. Shamar Givance, Jawaun Newton and Samari Curtis (Evansville’s usual suspects) led the way with 19, 19 and 17 respectively. The trio was a combined 22-33 shooting. Newton also grabbed eight rebounds. The second game played out differently, but led to the same result. It looked for awhile that Valpo was going to get a split. They led by as many as 16 in the first half and nine at halftime. But Evansville slowly chipped away and took their first lead with four minutes to go. UE outscored VU 31-14 over the final 17 minutes and 16-6 over the final 7 to get the win and the sweep. A balanced effort saw four Aces score between 10 and 12 points. UE will have multiple opportunities to prove how great they are (or are not) over the next month starting with a series this weekend at Loyola.
6.) Southern Illinois, 8-6, 2-6, NET 204, BPI 248 (No Change): This pick may be somewhat controversial but take a look at the current MVC standings and tell me how I am supposed to rank the bottom five teams. I put the Salukis here above four MVC teams because of the uncertainty of Marcus Domask. If he is able to return soon, SIU is a different team and so I am giving them the benefit of the doubt. Southern Illinois was able to put an end to their losing streak and Lance Jones stepped up in Marcus Domask’s absence, but this was not a banner weekend for SIU in their home split with UNI. The weekend’s first game was ugly for SIU, especially the not nice second half when they allowed UNI to shoot 69%. SIU looked listless at times without Domask and were just 12-25 from the free throw line. Their leading scorer was Ben Harvey with 11 on 2-8 shooting, while Lance Jones was MIA with just 7 points and 1 rebound while dealing with foul trouble. SIU lost 74-62. The second game was much better, but there were still some concerns for the Salukis. The most positive sign, especially if Domask is going to miss any more time, was how Lance Jones stepped up. The sophomore played all forty minutes, scoring 27 points on 10-15 shooting, making 7 of 11 three-pointers. SIU held a 13-point halftime lead and led by 12 with 12 minutes to go. But they still had to hang on for dear life at the end of the game as UNI had a 3-ball in the air that would have given them the lead in the final two minutes. They missed and Steve Verplacncken and Lance Jones hit back to back 3-balls to put the game away, 71-68. There is definite concern for SIU as they struggled at home against one of the MVCs worst road teams, who was playing with three freshmen on the floor and without Austin Phyfe throughout the second half of game two. They also still have to play a pair at Bradley, at/vs MSU and at Loyola. On the flip side, Domask could return soon and the Salukis obviously play at a higher level with him on the floor. We’ll see how this develops as SIU heads to Bradley this Saturday and Sunday to try and start a new winning streak.
7.) Valparaiso, 6-11, 3-5, NET 265, BPI 272 (Up One): Valpo’s week started off great, with a double-OT win over Bradley at home. But then the Crusaders struggled to two losses to Evansville over the weekend, blowing a large lead in the final contest. Due to the ineptitude at the bottom of this list, the 1-2 week was enough to move up a spot in these rankings. The midweek game against Bradley at the ARC was a candidate for MVC game of the year, one the Crusaders ended up pulling out 91-85 in double-OT. After trailing most of the first half (by as many as 14 points), Valpo rallied and took a 9-point lead with just over 5 minutes to go. They did not score for the next 5ish minutes as Bradley slowly chipped away, ultimately taking the lead, 62-61 with 49 second to go. Valpo tied it with a Steven Helm free throw and the game went to OT. Again, Valpo held the led multiple times in OT only for Bradley to respond. A desperation heave and a turnaround jumper by Elijah Childs tied the game at the buzzer and sent it to a second OT. With leading scorers Donovan Clay and Ben Krikke fouled out, freshman Sheldon Edwards took over in the second OT. He hit a pair of crucial 3-pointers in the final 90 seconds, as well as the last two free throws to seal the win for VU. Things didn’t go as swimmingly on Saturday when the Crusaders visited Evansville. VU never led as the Aces were in command from wire-to-wire, ultimately opening a 20-point lead midway into the second half. Krikke scored 18 points on 7-9 shooting, but it was not nearly enough. Evansville won 70-52. In game two, Valpo looked like they were going to recover to earn a road split. With just over five minutes left in the first half, the Crusaders held a 28-12 lead. Unfortunately for VU, they were outscored 46-23 from that point forward. The lead was cut to nine by halftime, and UE took their first lead with four minutes to go. Valpo scored just two points over the final 3 and a half minutes to lose 58-51. Donovan Clay’s 14 points was the only standout performance for a lackluster Crusaders. Valpo will try to spoil Drake’s perfect season with a pair of games at the ARC this weekend.
8.) Bradley 9-10, 3-7, NET 145, BPI 109 (Down Three): Do I really think Bradley is just the 8th best team in the MVC? No. But their recent six game losing streak hasn’t given me much choice in their ranking. The Braves have taken Ls to (fellow) bottom feeders Valpo, UNI and Illinois State with just a pair of wins over UE and a close win at UNI to speak of. There simply isn’t much there in the way of results, and this week didn’t help matters. First, they lost a midweek thriller at Valpo. The double-OT game seemed to be going the Braves’ way in the first half, as they led by as many as 14 at one point. Valpo took the lead in the second half, going up by nine with five minutes to go. Bradley did not allow a basket for the remainder of regulation. BU went on a 10-0 run over five minutes to take the lead, only for Valpo to tie it with a free throw. The OT period was back and forth, as Valpo took the lead several times only for Bradley to answer. An Elijah Childs jumper with 30 seconds left gave BU a one-point lead but Valpo rallied to lead by 2 with 3 seconds to go. A baseball pass down the court to Childs who heroically hit a turnaround jumper to tie it sent it to a second OT. Valpo’s freshman Sheldon Edwards took over in the second OT to lead Valpo to the 91-85 win. Elijah Childs scored 27 and Terry Nolan added 20 for BU who only made four threes in the 50-minute game, and were just 9-17 from the line. They extended their losing streak to five with a 60-57 loss in game one at Indiana State. The Braves rallied from a 45-35 deficit with 13:54 to go, slowly chipping away until a Ja’Shon Henry basket put them ahead 57-56 with 2:37 to go. Indiana State was only able to score four points from then on, but Bradley failed to score ANY more points so the Sycamores secured the W. Ville Tahvanainen (17) and Ja’Shon Henry (14) were Bradley’s leading scorers off the bench while freshman Rienk Mast scored 12 and nabbed 9 rebounds. The losing streak extended further to six as they lost the second game to the Sycamroes, 67-55. Although the Trees led for most of the game, it was close until midway through the second half. Indiana State outscored the Braves 18-10 over the final 9:16 to win the game. Reink Mast scored 17 and Elijah Childs scored 11 and added 12 boards, but it was not enough to stop the bleeding. Now BU has to shift its focus from being conference title contenders to just avoiding the play-in game as they host SIU for a pair this weekend. BU still has a series at Mo State and vs. Drake to contend with on their schedule.
9.) Northern Iowa, 5-11, 3-7, NET 196, BPI 157 (No Change): UNI still looks like one of the more flawed teams in the Valley, and the status of star center Austin Phyfe is uncertain after an injury that severely limited his action in the second game. Despite all that, there were a lot of positives from their weekend in Carbondale. For one, UNI got its first road win of the year. For two, they got a new player! The Panthers played the series even more shorthanded than usual as Tywhon Pickford, James Betz and preferred walkon Evan Gauger were unavailable (although Betz and Pickford played a tiny bit in an emergency capacity). However, freshman Ty Anderson made his debut for UNI and he looked like a guy with a solid future. Not including Betz and Pickford, UNI had only eight scholarship players available this weekend, four of which were freshmen, and they were effectively down to seven by the end of the second game without Phyfe. In game one, we saw what UNI can do when they are clicking, as they played one of their nicest halves of the year shooting 69% in the second half of a 74-62 win. Noah Carter had one of his days, scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Bowen Born added 17 and Trae Berhow scored 16. The Panthers could not shake off a slow start in the second game, trailing by double-digits until midway through the second half. They rallied, though, even while playing without Phyfe. They had three freshmen and a sophomore on the floor for most of the second half (and neither of their reigning first-teamers), and had a chance to take the lead on a three pointer with less than two minutes to go. They ultimately lost, making just 9-21 FTs, but the experience these freshmen are getting could be huge moving into next year and beyond. The thing about teams that play a lot of freshmen is they tend to get better as the year goes on, and UNI has a lot of room to improve. They’ll host Indiana State for a pair this weekend.
10.) Illinois State, 5-12, 2-9, NET 258, BPI 267 (No Change): Illinois State had the unenviable task of going to Des Moines to face the undefeated Drake Bulldogs this weekend, and really gave the Drake a ride (at least in the first game). The Redbirds gave Drake everything they could possibly handle on Saturday in a road performance that might have been good enough to beat several bubble teams. ISU could have given up when their deficit reached 55-40 early on in the second half. Instead, they rallied behind 27 points from Austin Reaves and were matching Drake basket for basket down the stretch. ISU had a chance to win the game late, but a free throw by Dusan Mahorcic rimmed out and the game went to OT. ISU reclaimed the lead in OT until midway through the frame, and had a chance to tie it at the buzzer despite only getting scoring five points total in bonus time. The final was 78-76 Drake. The second game against the newly ranked Bulldogs followed more closely to the script. Drake scored early and often, jumping out to a 15-point halftime lead, ultimately beating the Redbirds 95-60. Illinois State will host the reeling Missouri State Bears this weekend.
MID MAJOR TIDBITS
A rundown of last week’s notable results from some of the nation’s top mid-majors is below. If numbers are in parenthesis it is their NET Rankings/BPI Ranking
-American: I don’t really consider the American a mid-major. It is more of a league that hovers somewhere in betwixt the power 6 and the mid majors. But right now, according to Bracketology, the American has just one bid to the MVC’s two. So they’re behaving like a mid for this season. Houston (4/4) is a candidate for a 1-seed, but beyond that there is a lot of miscellaneous mediocrity. SMU (60/52) is having a decent year and will probably be a strong NIT candidate, but just missed their chance against Houston (losing by 22) and isn’t even listed on the first eight teams out of bracketology right now. Same for Memphis (62/53) who got a split at SMU last week, but still has two shots against Houston to get a quality W. Wichita State (70/111), and Tulsa (87/95) are on the NIT bubble but not in the NCAA race. What a shame.
-A-10: Saint Louis (36/39) played their first game in over a month, lost it, and then had their Friday game with Richmond cancelled. SLU has only played one game in 2021. They are going to be an interesting case if they get put on the bubble. Right now they are the sixth-to-last team in according to bracketology. They have a big one this week against Saint Bonaventure (36/51) who is currently winning the A-10 and listed as a 12-seed on bracketology. VCU (44/72) and Richmond (52/45) are both listed among the “first four out”. VCU lost to Saint Bonaventure but still has two games with Richmond and a game with SLU on the schedule. Richmond also lost to the Bonnies but has two games with VCU and a game with SLU on the schedule. Further off the beaten path is Davidson (65/48) who is on the outer edges of the bubble and more likely an NIT candidate. Their only solid chances to improve their lot are a pair with VCU. Rhode Island (76/73) is an NIT candidate and can still be a decent win for teams. Same with Dayton (84/84).
-West Coast: Gonzaga (2/2) is still the best. BYU’s (38/40) chances took a major hit with a loss at Pepperdine. The Cougars are still safely in the field, according to Joe Lunardi who as them as a nine-seed. But they probably have little margin for error moving forward. No other WCC teams are serious contenders. Saint Mary’s (64/92) is still sitting at 2-3 in the league after three straight games were postponed. San Francisco (82/89) has now taken four league losses and will struggle to even make the NIT at this point, despite their win over Virginia.
-Mountain West: League leaders Boise State (19/43) took their first league loss in a split at Colorado State this week, but are still in control of the league. They’re a loss ahead of second place Utah State (53/50) who took a pretty bad loss in splitting with UNLV. Bracketology has Boise as a 9-seed right now, as they face a pair of tricky road games at Nevada this week. Utah State is one of the first four out in bracketology, as they will play a tricky pair at Fresno. But these are not the only two MWC teams in the hunt. Colorado State (45/69) nice, fresh off their split with first place Boise is now 12-4 and has three of the league’s four worst teams (as well as middling Nevada) on their schedule to finish. They split with each of the league’s three best teams, two of which were gotten on the road. If they finish strong with one or fewer losses, they’ll have a great shot to get in. Lundardi has them as his last team in right now. Finally, San Diego State (20/28) is actually the favorite MWC team of the computers. They remain in 4th place after sweeping Wyoming last week. They split with CSU and got swept by Utah State, but have the most impressive noncon resume of any MWC school (including wins over Arizona State and UCLA). They’ll play league also rans for the next three weeks before hosting Boise State on the last week of the season. Lunardi has them as a 9-seed right now.
-Conference USA: All year I have been spouting about how the CUSA is a good league with some solid teams, but none are sniffing the NCAAs. Well, it appears Joe Lunardi doesn’t agree with me. While he does only have the one requisite C-USA rep currently in the field, he has Western Kentucky (77/80) in his “next four out” category. That qualifies as “sniffing” the field I would say. The Hilltoppers losses are to West Virginia, Louisville, Charlotte and Louisiana Tech, while they carry wins over the likes of Memphis and Alabama. Their most likely path for them is still winning the CUSA Tournament, but it appears their noncon gives them hope. UAB (68/82) is listed as the CUSA autobid right now, and as a 13-seed it looks like the wouldn’t be an at-large contender at this time. Marshall (67/67) is 3-3 in the league but the favorite CUSA team of the computers and would be an NIT team most likely at this point. North Texas (78/81) and Louisiana Tech (109/99) are also decent C-USA teams.
-Other Interesting Squads: Winthrop (79/99) became substantially less interesting when they took an L at home to UNC-Asheville to fall from the ranks of the undefeateds. Lunardi still has them as a 12-seed autobid which would put them on the same seed line as the last teams in (this was the same seed line they were on before they lost). Furman (69/94) currently sits in 4th in the SoCon but is the most computer friendly team in their league. Greensboro (98/88) is the next computer friendly SoCon team. But it is Wofford (94/102) who currently leads the league and is listed as a 14-seed by Lunardi. Colgate (16/64) out of the Patriot League remains an unsolvable enigma with their NET ranking. They aren’t even currently listed as the Patriot League’s auto bid due to being half a game behind Navy (listed as a 14 seed). Toledo (54/70) is emerging as a mid-major dandy out of the MAC and is currently listed as a 12-seed autobid by bracketology. Kent State (72/108) and Akron (92/104) also have decent MACtion. Belmont (86/94) is now 18-1 in the OVC and another team that will be a weird one to possibly seed in the NCAA Tournament (currently listed as a 13-seed). In the Big West UC Santa Barbara (55/75) has good computer numbers but it is actually first-place UC-Irvine (101/112) who listed as the Big West’s rep in bracketology (13-seed). Wright State (63/63) is technically a game behind Cleveland State (165/200) in the Horizon, which has the Vikings listed as a 15-seed by Lunardi. Abilene Christian (73/101) would also get a decent seed should they get in out of the Southland (but Sam Houston State is the current SLC autobid holder by record).
-Our Lady of the Lake Update: The Saints are eagerly looking forward to their final two scheduled games on February 17 and 18 against Jarvis Christian College.