Week 6 Summary, Updated Power Rankings, Mid Major Tidbits
It is looking like we might just find out who the best team in the MVC is next weekend in Des Moines. The story of the week is the Drake Bulldogs, who just laid the smackdown on a very good Southern Illinois team in consecutive games. They’ll host Loyola this weekend and it may just determine who takes the title this season (although Bradley will probably have something to say about it). In other news, two more sets of games were postponed. Both the Bradley and Valpo programs are on pause and neither has played a league game yet. Only 70% of the league’s scheduled games have been played by this point. It remains to be seen whether BU and Valpo will be able to make up their lost games or if their schedules will just be short.
Week 6: MVC Power Rankings
1.) Loyola, 7-2, 2-0, NET 58, BPI 44 (No Change): Loyola’s showdown with Bradley was postponed due to COVID issues in the Braves’ program. One would imagine that series would be a priority to be rescheduled as it may have significant league title implications. The Ramblers were able to salvage a nonconference game with North Texas (after their conference opener was also postponed due to a COVID issue with their opponent) which resulted in a solid but unspectacular win for Loyola, 57-49. Loyola only put up 22 first half points but held the Mean Green to 19, and it was the often overlooked Aher Uguak who carried the Ramblers. He scored 26 points and added 7 boards. Krutwig put up 12 and 6. Tate Hall went 0-7 from three and Braden Norris, Lucas Williamson and Keith Clemons all failed to make a basket. They are going to have to play a lot better than that next weekend in Des Moines against an absolutely scorching hot Drake team to keep the Valley title in sight. Both Sunday and Monday’s games will be on national TV with Sunday’s contest on ESPN2 and Monday’s on CBSSN.
2.) Drake, 13-0, 4-0, NET 16, BPI 55 (No Change): If you weren’t convinced already, let this weekend finally put any last doubts to bed. The Drake Bulldogs are good. They welcomed a solid Southern Illinois team to the Knapp Center this weekend for what was supposed to be their toughest test yet. Instead, they breezed through two more blowout victories. Drake is now 13-0 on the year and twelve of those wins have been by double digits. Game one was an easy 18-point win in which Drake expanded a nine-point halftime edge into an easy win. SIU had the Drake lead down to eight with seven minutes to go, but the Bulldogs outscored the Salukis 14-4 over the final seven minutes to secure an easy win (and hitting an #SCTop10 dunk during the run for good measure). Five Bulldogs were in double figures led by Shanquan Hemphill’s 17 points, 7 rebounds and 5 steals. If Sunday’s game was a blowout, I don’t know what to call Monday’s utter shellacking. Drake had already amassed a twenty-point halftime edge before cruising to an 86-55 win. This one included a 21-1 run over a nine-minute stretch in the second half. The sixteen players who suited up for Drake (none of whom played more than 25 minutes) shot 59.6% from the floor and 60% (9-15) from three. Those 86 points were spread over 11 players including 16 from Joseph Yesufu off the bench. Drake also held Saluki stud Marcus Domask to 18 total points over the two games. The Bulldogs, who got votes in both polls this week, ought to be ranked next week even with a split against Loyola, although it will probably take a sweep to do it. These Bulldogs are for real, but we’ll find out if that is “title contender” for real, or “NCAA Tournament run” for real this weekend.
3.) Bradley 6-3, 0-0, NET 106, BPI 83 (No Change): Bradley sat it out for the second consecutive weekend with COVID issues and have got to be chomping at the bit to get back out there and start their MVC season, especially after how their most recent game at #14 Mizzou ended. There has been a lot of talk about the Loyola-Drake game being for the league title, but the Braves have become the big wildcard in this equation. We will find out if their games against Valpo and Loyola will be made up. As it is, they are currently due to return to action Sunday and Monday at UNI. Stay tuned.
4.) Missouri State, 6-1, 3-1, NET 96, BPI 151 (Up One): The Bears started 2020-21 season late, but they have to be happy with the way things have gone so far. MSU played host to the Indiana State Sycamores this weekend and came away with two wins to improve to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the league. Mo State led from start to finish in the first game, holding a 20 point halftime lead before ultimately winning 84-74. Isiaih Mosley and Gaige Prim continued to rake for MSU scoring 23 and 22 points respectively. Prim added 11 rebounds for a double-double. Both are looking like possible MVC first-teamers. The second game was much closer as the teams went back-and-forth for most of the contest. In the end, though, Missouri State won again by a score of 70-66 to improve to 3-1. This time Prim was held somewhat in check, but Mosley went off yet again for 29 points. The sophomore is averaging 24.5 points in his four Valley contests and is emerging as a star after serving as more of a role player last year. I am not ready to call MSU title contenders quite yet, but this team is thriving under its two star players and looks significantly better than the highly touted bust we saw last year. Assuming Valpo has put their COVID issues behind them, MSU will head to northwest Indiana to take on the Crusaders on Friday and Saturday.
5.) Southern Illinois, 7-3, 1-3, NET 168, BPI 253 (Down One): The Salukis have developed the unfortunate habit of running into buzzsaws. Last week it was a determined Evansville team playing possibly their best game in months to get their first MVC win since March 2019. This week it was a Drake Bulldogs team that is scorching hot and on a mission. There isn’t much to say about SIU’s two blowout losses to Drake this weekend except that it was probably more about the Bulldogs than SIU who I still think are a solid team. Lance Jones and Ben Harvey did play well in game one, but that is about where the compliments end. The biggest task now will be to flush this performance down the drain and get prepared for a trip to Terre Haute to play an Indiana State team that has underperformed and is hungry for its first MVC win. They’ll do that Friday and Saturday.
6.) Evansville, 5-5, 3-1, NET 225, BPI 285 (Up Two): The biggest climbers on this list continue to be Evansville, who have climbed from tenth to sixth after three consecutive wins. The Aces went 44 league games without winning two consecutive and now they have won three. This week it was the hapless UNI Panthers that were the Aces’ victims by scores of 65-61 and 70-64. It didn’t really feel like UE pulled out a couple close ones either, as they controlled both games more easily than the score indicated, especially the second game. In game one, UE only turned the ball over 9 times to UNI’s 16 and made 11 threes in the win. Evan Kuhlman’s 21 points led UE, and Samari Curtis continued to be effective off the bench with 14. In game two, UE led by a significant amount almost from start to finish. This time it was Shamar Givance leading UE with 22 points, although Kuhlman made 4-6 from deep for 14 himself. The Aces again had a low turnover total of 8. Between their 3-1 start, UNI and Illinois State being down, Indiana State starting 0-4, and Valpo’s COVID issues it may not be crazy for UE to set their sights on Thursday avoidance. It may well happen and would be a great accomplishment for a team that went 0-18 last year. They have a chance to add more Ws to their ledger with Illinois State visiting on Friday and Saturday. It is not out of the realm of possibility for the Aces to be in first place by the this time next week.
7.) Indiana State, 3-6, 0-4, NET 172, BPI 225 (No Change): It has certainly been a rough start to MVC play for Indiana State, but it is still tough to judge them. They are not title contenders, but I don’t know if I am ready to pencil them into Thursday yet either. Their first two losses are looking more and more forgivable as Drake continues to shellack everyone they play, and ISU remains the only team that has kept them to a single digit win. Their trip to MSU was rough, especially the first game that they trailed by 20 at halftime and lost 84-74. The second game could have gone either way, much like their second game with Drake. In game one, Tyreke Key and Cooper Neese combined for 40 points but didn’t get a ton of help from the supporting cast. North Carolina Central transfer Randy Miller was the leading scorer in game 2 with 17, and Tyreke Key had a double-double (but still struggled a bit from the field). Neese, LaRavia and Williams were ineffective. The Sycamores got off to a late start and have yet to put it together. It remains to be seen whether they ever will, and they need to start getting some notches in the W column or this season will be lost. But I am not quite ready to write them off yet. They’ll have an opportunity against another team desperate to get back in the W column when they host SIU Saturday and Sunday. If they don’t at the very least split those, you can probably go ahead and write them off.
8.) Northern Iowa, 2-7, 1-3, NET 208, BPI 109 (Down Two): Hoo boy. UNI went to Evansville and took two Ls to become just the third MVC team to get swept by UE since the Aces’ runner-up season in 2016 (the other two were both Valpo in their first two years in the league). UNI is now 2-7 with just one DI win and is really struggling. Both games were relatively close (65-61 and 70-64), but UE led for a vast majority of both games and had a significant lead for much of game two. The Panthers’ offense looked slick at times, with nice passes and cuts to get good looks in the paint (Phyfe finished a combined 17-25 for 36 points over the two games), but looked completely hapless at other times going through long dry stretches which have become sadly commonplace for UNI. The Panthers’ 20 year 3-pointer streak ended in game one when UNI went 0-11 from deep, but they shot it better from deep in game two and Phyfe had a double-double. UNI looks about as consistent as you would expect from a mid-major team starting two true freshmen (and playing two more redshirt freshmen), while also playing two true sophomores and another newcomer. Of UNI’s ten players in their rotation, only Berhow, Phyfe and Pickford have significant experience at UNI. The good news is that this is not the first time UNI has gotten off to an ugly start in league play, and Jake usually has them playing their best ball at the end of February. If there is any UNI team with a good excuse to have a slow start it is this one, and they have all the hallmarks of a team primed to improve as the season continues. Whether it will be enough to avoid Thursday remains to be seen. Their next five games are against Bradley (x2), @ Loyola (x2) and vs. Drake. If they can come out of that stretch with the top six still in reach, they will have a good chance. It starts this Sunday and Monday when they host Bradley.
9.) Valparaiso, 3-5, 0-0, NET 227, BPI 235 (No Change): Valpo has not played a game since December 19th due to a COVID issue in their program. They have yet to play an MVC contest, so they are very tough to evaluate. It appears they intend on starting things back up this Saturday and Sunday hosting Missouri State at the ARC. We should get a good barometer of where they stand in the league with this pair of games, as MSU is a solid middle-of-the-road MVC team. Not much else to say about this team that has been on a three-week hiatus. Welcome back? Hopefully?
10.) Illinois State, 3-5, 0-2, NET 279, BPI 256 (No Change): Unfortunately for Illinois State their games against Valpo this weekend were cancelled and they were left to percolate on their butt whoopings they took at Loyola two weeks ago. Unlike Loyola, whose games were also cancelled due to their opponent’s COVID issues, Illinois State was unable to find a replacement game. Their trip to Evansville this weekend on Saturday and Sunday should be telling in a lot of ways. It could tell us if Illinois State is really as bad as the Loyola weekend made them look, and it could tell us if Evansville’s non-crappiness is for real. It isn’t really fair to judge the Birds on one tough weekend on the road against the league favorites, so hopefully I will no longer have to after this weekend.
MID MAJOR TIDBITS
A rundown of last week’s notable results from some of the nation’s top mid-majors is below.
-A-10: Saint Louis comes in with a typically-mid-major hating BPI of 32, but a NET of 10 this week and is one of the best mid-majors in the country. Their games were cancelled due to COVID this week. Feels like in post-COVID economic times it would sure make sense for SLU to travel to Chicago, Des Moines and Springfield rather than Rhode Island and Massachusetts amirite? VCU settles in at 28 in the NET, although BPI has them in the 70s. They won their league opener over a woeful St Joes. Richmond (BPI 39, NET 69 (Nice)) won a huge one over Davidson but lost an equally big one to Saint Bonaventure. The Spiders, Davidson (BPI 39, NET 90), and Saint Bonaventure (BPI 77, NET 59) are likely to spend the season on the soft side of the bubble and looking the NIT if there is one. Duquesne (BPI 58, NET 154), Rhode Island (BPI 82, NET 59) and Dayton (BPI 91, NET 111) are also in the BPI top 100 giving the league eight total (the Valley has 3).
-West Coast: The WCC is still the home to the nation’s best team, Gonzaga (BPI 4, NET 1), who opened league play with a dominant win over San Francisco. Beyond the obvious, the WCC boasts four more teams in the BPI top 100, although three are 88 or above. The best is BYU with a BPI of 38 and a NET of 51 and a win over San Diego State (as well as power 6ers Utah and St Johns). Saint Mary’s has a BPI of 88 and a NET of 53 and has no great wins but no bad losses. They’ll get a chance to play their way onto the bubble against Gonzaga and BYU. San Francisco (BPI 94, NET 93) is a fringe candidate with their win over Virginia under their belts and opportunities against Gonzaga (although they already lost at home by 23), BYU and Saint Marys. Loyola Marymount is (BPI 99, NET 125) is also in the BPI top 100.
-Mountain West: San Diego State is rocking a BPI of 28 and NET of 38 but split a pair at home against Colorado State this weekend, blowing a 26-point lead in their loss. That might come back to bite them given the razor thin margin mid-majors must navigate, but they are still an at-large team as it stands with their wins over Arizona State, UCLA and Saint Mary’s. Boise (BPI 50, NET 13) is the conference’s other great team, and they are off to a 4-0 start in the league with four wins over hapless New Mexico and San Jose State. They beat the Lobos by 24 and 37 before beating SJSU by 52 and then by….um….one the next day. That is odd, but with only a loss to Houston on their ledger the Broncos are set to possibly make the MWC a two-bid league. BSU is scheduled to play SDSU on the final weekend of the season. Utah State (BPI 85, NET 87) and Colorado State (BPI 92, NET 44) are also in the BPI top 100. There is a pretty big drop-off from there.
-Conference USA: C-USA is looking like my high school cross country team, several very solid players but no superstar. This has also been the Valley’s issue more-often-than-not recently. Four teams (Marshall 63, Western Kentucky 69 nice, UAB 74, and North Texas 76) sit in the BPI top 80, but there is a steep drop from there and probably not enough to propel any of them into at-large consideration unless one just dominates. All but North Texas sit in the 60-86 range for NET as well. It is just good enough to see the bubble, but not good enough to be on it.
-Other Interesting Squads: I don’t know how the BPI and NET are calculated, but I suspect preseason expectations are still being reflected in the BPI in some way. That is why we get rankings like NET 16, BPI 55 for Drake and NET 208, BPI 109 for UNI. I could be completely wrong about that. But for that reason, NET seems to be nicer (in general) to mid majors. Take Winthrop who is 7-0, picked to finish undefeated, ranked second in the mid-major top 25 (which does not include the A10, Mountain West and CUSA) and 13th in Mid Major Madness’ “Other Top 25” (which does). Their NET ranking is 37 while their BPI is 86. The Southern Conference has Furman at 88 in the BPI and 56 in NET. In the OVC, Murray State and Belmont are 101 and 111 in BPI but 240 and 100 in NET…..OK that was a bad example. Other mids who are having standout seasons according to NET are Colgate who are 46th, Akron at 67, Georgia State at 68, Liberty at 71, Toledo at 73, Abeline Christian at 74, and Wright State at 78.
-Our Lady of the Lake Update: The Saints have been on a hiatus after losing to UTSA 102-70 on December 20th. They’re scheduled to return to action against Texas A&M* on January 14th, followed by a tilt with LSU** on January 21st. *Texas A&M-Texarkana **LSU-Shreveport