Week 5 Summary, Updated Power Rankings, Mid Major Tidbits
The MVC season is underway, and there was a lot of action (if little drama) this week. Loyola and Drake cemented themselves as two of the top teams in the MVC, UNI began life without AJ Green, and Evansville got its first MVC win in 22 months. Below are my updated power rankings, summaries and mid-major tidbits.
Week 5: MVC Power Rankings
1.) Loyola, 6-2, 2-0, BPI 42 (No Change): The Ramblers showed why they are considered the class of the MVC with two absolutely dominating blowout wins over the Illinois State Redbirds. Loyola took game one 90-60, and game two 86-55. It is no surprise that the Ramblers swept this series. The games were held at Loyola’s Gentile Arena and the Ramblers are league favorites while Illinois State might be the Valley’s worst team. However, these games were utterly uncompetitive as both were effectively over before halftime. Loyola barely had to break a sweat in game one as no one played more than 20 minutes and twelve different Ramblers scored. Lucas Williamson scored 18 and Cam Krutwig 15 in limited action. The starters went longer in game two, but the result was largely the same as the maroon and gold held an 18 point halftime lead and extended it in the second half. Cameron Krutwig scored 22 points, hauled in 9 rebounds and notched 7 assists in the second game, showing why he is the Larry Bird Trophy favorite. You couldn’t ask for a better start from the league favorites. They’ll head to Peoria on Sunday and Monday for what will likely be two huge games in the MVC race. Unfortunate they couldn’t be later in the season.
2.) Drake, 11-0, 2-0, BPI 63 (No Change): The Bulldogs continued their impressive start to the season and cemented themselves as MVC title contenders as they picked up two road wins against a tough Indiana State team to start the MVC slate and remain undefeated. Drake’s performance against Indiana State was less dominant but perhaps even more impressive than Loyola’s performance against Illinois State as they played on the road against one of the MVC’s better teams on paper and came away with two wins. Game one was an easy 81-63 win in which DJ Wilkins scored 22 points for Drake. Game two was the Bulldogs’ first single digit win of the year, 73-66. Roman Penn led the Bulldogs with 21 points and six assists. Unfortunately for Drake, their rotten luck may have continued as Roman Penn went down with what appeared to be a possibly serious injury at the end of the game. Penn missing significant time would be a serious blow to an extremely promising season, which seems to be an unfortunate norm for Drake in the Darian Devries era. Drake will host SIU on Sunday and Monday in what will also likely be crucial contests in determining the league champion.
3.) Bradley, 6-3, 0-0, BPI 84 (Up One): The Braves move up a spot despite not playing any games due to a COVID situation with their scheduled opponent, Valparaiso. It remains to be seen whether the contests with the Crusaders will be rescheduled. It did give BU plenty of extra time to prepare for what could be a decisive pair of games with Loyola this weekend in Peoria. Both contests will be on national TV (ESPNU on Sunday, CBSSN on Monday) and could decide the league title. Only in COVID times can a team’s first two games determine the fate of their title hopes.
4.) Southern Illinois, 7-1, 1-1, BPI 236 (Down One): You never want to lose at home in the league, and you never want to be the team that puts an end to someone else’s losing streak. The Salukis’ were victims of both as they ended their undefeated season by splitting a pair with Evansville who won their first league game since March 2019. Evansville is clearly a touch better than originally thought, but SIU did not look like a team that will contend for a league title in either game this weekend. To be fair to SIU, they did control game one better than the 63-57 final indicated as they never trailed at any point. The usual suspects Lance Jones (19 points) and Marcus Domask (14 points) led SIU, who only hit two three-pointers in the game. In game two, the Salukis just ran into a buzz saw. You know when you’re watching a game, and there is a long losing streak on the line and it just seems like one team is destined to win? SIU was on the short end of that. It isn’t that they didn’t play well, at least on offense. They shot 49%, 10-22 from three and Marcus Domask scored 29 points. UE made 17 threes and shot nearly 60%. Samari Curtis came off the bench to make six threes and score 29 points. It was just one of those nights. I don’t know if I am willing to poo poo SIU too much because of this loss. They did not face your older brother’s Purple Aces today. They’ll need to flush this one quickly, though, because they’re headed to Des Moines for two big ones with Drake on Sunday and Monday.
5.) Missouri State, 4-1, 1-1, BPI 150 (No Change): The Bears went on the road and got a split with UNI, a result they likely would have taken before the start of the weekend. I was ready to bump MSU up into the top four after their dominant 79-59 win over UNI to start the weekend. They looked every bit a contender as Isaiah Mosley went for 26 and Gage Prim went for 16 and 9. They took a huge lead, saw UNI come back to tie it, and then finished the game on a 28-8 run for a blowout road win. They shot 51.6% and 11-25 from deep. They came back down to Earth a bit in game two, however, as UNI jumped out to a 16-0 lead and extended it to 37-11 later on in the first half. The Bears showed sticktuitivness, though, in going on a 29-8 run over the next eleven game minutes to get the Panther lead down to 5. The rally ran out of gas, but MSU impressed in many ways even in an ugly performance. Mosley scored 20 points for the second straight night and Prim went for 20 and 9. The thing that really struck me watching MSU closely for the first time was the passion with which Gage Prim plays. I think it got in his way at times in game two, as his anger made him lose focus a bit. But when he uses it positively it gives him a superpower. An interesting note about this pair of games it that there were 27 fouls called in game one, and 27 fouls called just on UNI in game two (with 21 called on MSU for a total of 48). MSU returns home to face Indiana State on Saturday and Sunday.
6.) Northern Iowa, 2-5, 1-1, BPI 99 (Up One): UNI started the post-AJ Green era (not counting the Richmond game) by splitting a pair of home games against Missouri State and claiming their first DI win of the 2020-21 season. I will admit, after watching them lose the first one 79-59, things were looking pretty sticky. Austin Phyfe was nowhere to be found, the three-point shooting abandoned them (4-20) and Tywhon flippin Pickford was running the offense for large portions of the game. UNI fell behind big, fought back to tie it, and then went into hibernation for the final ten minutes as MSU ended it on a 28-8 run. Fortunately for Panther fans, UNI executed the biggest turnaround in performance between games one and two of any team in the league. Phyfe showed why he was a first-teamer with 21 points and he led five Panthers in double-figures. UNI jumped out to a 16-0 lead with a very hot shooting start. They did go through a typical Panther lull, allowing MSU to go on a 29-8 run over an 11 minute stretch, but they regrouped and came away with a huge, confidence building win for this team that now starts two true freshmen. UNI has nine scholarship players available and is currently using a ten-man rotation that includes four freshmen (two as starters), two sophomores, a junior and three seniors (one of which is a newcomer). UNI will play at Evansville on Saturday and Sunday.
7.) Indiana State, 3-4, 0-2, BPI 222 (Down 1): If you lose at home, you’re gonna have a bad time. Indiana State started the MVC season with two home losses. Drake is a very good team so there is no inherent shame in losing to the Bulldogs. And the effect of homecourt advantage is lessened this year due to, you know, no people. But Indiana State fancies itself a top half MVC team and they are now down two home games two dates into the season. The first game wasn’t close. Stars Jake LaRavia and Tyreke Key struggled to 6-17 shooting and one three pointer between them, and Drake won 81-63. Game two was better. LaRavia scored 20 points on 8-11 shooting (Key was held to a pedestrian 11 on three shots) and ISU shot 50%. The game was close throughout, but Drake still won 73-66. Down two home games already, InSU will likely need to get something out of this weekend’s trip to Springfield to face Mo State Saturday and Sunday. Two more losses would put them in quite a hole.
8.) Evansville, 3-5, 1-1, BPI 305 (Up Two): Another week, another W for an Evansville team that all-of-a-sudden doesn’t look like the worst team in the MVC. The Purple Aces split a pair with SIU in Carbondale for their first league win since March 2019. UE now has three Division I wins. You know who can’t say that? Illinois State, Valpo, Indiana State and UNI. UE was competitive in both away games this weekend, losing 63-57 in game one before winning in game two. In game one, Jawaun Newton led a balanced Aces attack with 14 points as UE hung around but never seriously threatened SIU. The second game was a different story as UE played probably their best game of the calendar year, shooting 17-29 from three and over 55% overall. Nebraska transfer Samari Curtis came off the bench to score 29 points (making 6/8 threes) en route to an 84-72 victory. It was one of those games where whenever SIU made a big shot or went on a little run, UE always seemed to have an answer. And the answer was usually Samari Curtis. It will be interesting to see if his role expands or if this was a flash in the pan. Most importantly, Evansville is starting to gel together into a competent team. UE will host UNI on Saturday and Sunday.
9.) Valparaiso, 3-5, 0-0, BPI 234 (Down One): It doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing Valpo in league action any time soon. Not only was their week one pair of games with Bradley cancelled due to a COVID outbreak in their program, but their pair of games with Illinois State scheduled for this upcoming weekend has also already been cancelled. No word yet on when/if these games will be made up. It is too bad too, as this weekend’s games could have been big for both teams to help them get back on track.
10.) Illinois State, 3-5, 0-2, BPI 257 (Down One): Two Redbird blowout losses to Loyola coupled with Evansville’s win at SIU means it is time to welcome the Redbirds to the cellar. It was not a good week for ISU. Yes, they were dealt a tough draw with a trip to Chicago to face league favorites Loyola. But they were not competitive, at all, in either game. Dan Muller mixed things up on game one, having DJ Horne come off the bench for the first time. The tactic didn’t seem to have an impact as ISU lost 90-60 (although Horne did lead the team with 18 points and was second in minutes played). The Redbirds were down 16 at half, and no ISU starter scored more than 5 points. Horne was back in the starting lineup for game two, but the result was largely the same. ISU trailed by 18 at half and lost by 31 despite 21 from Josiah Strong and 15 from Horne. It was an ugly performance for ISU and they’re going to have to stew in it for an extra week as their games against Valpo this weekend have been postponed. They’ll return to action at UE in two weeks.
MID MAJOR TIDBITS
A rundown of notable results from some of the nation’s top mid-majors is below.
-A-10: With wins over LSU and NC State (and Indiana State FWIW), a BPI of 37, and just a lone blemish by 8 against Minnesota on the road the Saint Louis Billikens are one of the A-10’s (and mid major basketball in general) best shot at an at-large bid. Saint Lou beat Kansas City last week and will open A-10 play this week. Another BPI favorite is Richmond at 36 who beat Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Loyola but lost to Hofstra (and West Virginia). They’ll open A-10 play with another at-large candidate in Davidson. They sit at 40 in BPI despite a 5-3 record with losses to Texas, Providence and Charlotte. Dayton’s BPI is a lackluster 86 due to a weak schedule, but they beat both Mississippi P5 schools. They are going to be A10 contenders as well. Duquesne (1-1, 54), Saint Bonaventure (2-0, 87) and VCU (7-2, 88) are also highly thought of A-10 programs. It’ll be very interesting to see what happens when this league gets going. Also, Fordham is still 0-0 but does still plan to play basketball at some point.
-West Coast: It is debatable whether Gonzaga can be considered a mid-major, but either way they are one of the best, if not the best teams in the country. But the WCC brings more than just the Zags to the table. BYU has a BPI of 38, as well as wins over the likes of San Diego State, Utah and St. Johns. Beyond that Saint Mary’s is 8-2 with losses only to Memphis and San Diego State, San Franciso has wins over Virginia and Nevada, Portland beat Oregon State and is 6-2 and Santa Clara is 6-1. Seven of the WCC’s ten teams are rated at 108th or better in the BPI (the MVC can only claim four such squads).
-Mountain West: San Diego State is coming off an historic season in which they would have been a one or two seed in the NCAA Tournament. They are following it up with another solid year. The Aztecs are 6-1 with a BPI of 24 and wins over UCLA, Arizona State and Saint Mary’s. They are a bonafide at-large team. Boise State is also a highly talented and touted team at 6-1 with a BPI of 60. The two squads will meet on the final week of the season in games that could decide the MWC title.
-Conference USA: C-USA has four top-80 BPI squads but Western Kentucky at 65 is definitely the most interesting. The Hilltoppers have wins over the likes of Memphis, Alabama and Rhode Island while they were competitive in a loss to West Virginia (and got blown out by Louisville). No one else’s resume jumps out as being particularly noteworthy although Marshall, North Texas and UAB are all in the top 80 of BPI.
-Other Interesting Squads: Winthrop is 5-0 out of the Big South and projected to finish undefeated. Belmont is 8-1 but is still 38 BPI spots behind 4-3 Murray State in the OVC (90 vs 128). The Southern Conference had been among the best mid major leagues the last few years but has been disappointing thus far with its best teams (Furman and UNC Greensboro) only being average, and an inflated Chattanooga at 9-0. Other mids in the BPI top 100 that haven’t been mentioned include #71 Georgia State (7-1 out of the Sun Belt), #92 Liberty (8-3 out of the A-Sun) and that is it.
-Our Lady of the Lake Update: No action for the Saints this week as their game against UTEP was cancelled. No word yet on whether they would have decided it counted or not.