Week 8 Summary, Updated Power Rankings, Mid Major Tidbits
As we move into the 8th week of the MVC season and into the first set of midweek and makeup games, two thoughts have emerged for me. For one, it is really difficult to play basketball in a pandemic. A ton of games have been cancelled/postponed and that will likely continue to happen. For two, three tiers of Valley teams have started to emerge. It is too early to lock these in of course, especially with the way the schedule plays out this year with unbalanced schedules. But for me I have Drake, Loyola, Bradley and Missouri State as tier one, with MSU as the team with the most to prove in that group. In tier two I have Southern Illinois, Indiana State and Evansville as teams with reasons to be excited but also reasons for concern. I expect two of those three to avoid Thursday. And in tier three I have UNI, Illinois State and Valpo as teams that can start probably planning for Thursday. Valpo still has sixteen MVC games to play (good luck with that) and UNI has mostly played the best teams in the league so far…..so there is still hope out there. But those are the tiers that are developing in this writer’s opinion.
Another thing to keep an eye on is the conference tournament. In an effort to save money, a number of leagues have already moved their tournament from a neutral NBA/NHL arena to a campus site. The Summit League Tournament which takes place in South Dakota, a state with some of the most lenient pandemic protocols, has already been relocated to a smaller arena and banned fans. Don’t be surprised if the MVC is moved out of Enterprise Center, doesn’t allow fans and/or omits the play-in games. Teams at the bottom of the standings should keep that in mind. The MVC and St. Louis have a strong relationship and I know it is important to the league to have a continuous event in the Loo, so you might see SLU’s Chaifetz Arena emerge as a possibility as well. It is also possible due to their relationship, the MVC might be able to swing a deal to keep the event at Enterprise without breaking the bank. Time will tell.
Anyway, here are my power rankings through week eight.
Week 8: MVC Power Rankings
1.) Drake, 13-0, 4-0, NET 12, BPI 50 (No Change): Drake sat out another week due to COVID restrictions and has now also cancelled their planned midweek game with UNI as well. If the Bulldogs’ planned contest with Missouri State on Tuesday the 26th does happen, it will have been 22 days since the Drake has played a game. Meanwhile, Missouri State has gotten a full head of steam with five straight wins. This sets this up to be a doozy of a series. Drake has five games to make up to complete their full schedule. Makeup dates have been announced if they and their opponents can stay healthy. It would be a 32 day stretch with 14 games if they do.
2.) Loyola, 10-3, 5-1, NET 41, BPI 27 (No Change): The Ramblers reclaimed their status as MVC elite with two blowout wins at home against UNI, improving their record to 5-1 in the league and 10-3 overall. Loyola has not played any games against the other teams in the top tier but has gone 4-0 with four blowout wins now in games against the cellar dwellers of UNI and Illinois State. UNI actually led the Ramblers with 12 minutes to go in game one before a 27-6 Loyola run including an eight-minute run where UNI scored just two points put the game away for the Jesuits. Cameron Krutwig was held in check by Austin Phyfe, scoring just 10 points and getting one rebound. But Tate Hall came off the bench to score 24 for Loyola to pull away. Game two was back and forth for about ten minutes when the defense again clamped down and Loyola took complete control. UNI made no baskets for the final 8 minutes of the first half as Loyola turned a 21-19 deficit into a 39-24 halftime lead. UNI opened the second half with a basket, but by the time they scored again they were down 25 points. In all, the Ramblers had a 38-8 run over 14 game minutes en route to an 88-46 win. Twelve Ramblers scored in the game, ten scored at least six points, and Tate Hall again led the scoring off the bench with 13. Loyola shot a scorching 55% from three and 62% overall. Style points matter for a team like Loyola who is back in the bubble discussion with a NET of 41 and a BPI of 27. The eye test is more important than ever this year, and the fact that Loyola is blowing teams out on the regular could come into play. The Ramblers will play Valpo on Wednesday, followed by a makeup series with Bradley over the weekend. If Loyola can sweep the week they may be back in the at-large discussion.
3.) Missouri State, 9-1, 5-1, NET 73, BPI 135 (No Change): Missouri State’s series with Drake was postponed, so the Bears tuned up with a nonconference game against Missouri S&T. The D2 Miners kept it a respectable 14-point deficit at halftime before the Bears exploded in the second half for an easy 94-49 win. I guess the Miners did figure out a way to keep Gaige Prim in check…limit his minutes by getting blown out. Isiaih Mosley still got his, though, as he scored 22 for his eighth consecutive 20+ point game. There’s not much else to say here except the Bears are on a roll as they (hopefully) head into a throwdown with Drake on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by Loyola on the following Sunday and Monday. We are about to find out just how good the Bears are.
4.) Bradley 9-4, 3-1, NET 113, BPI 74 (No Change): There were no surprises out of Peoria this week where Bradley collected two wins over the Evansville Purple Aces. The first game was a businesslike 69-60 win in which Bradley maintained a multiple possession lead for most of the second half. Evansville hung in, but Bradley always looked to be the winner. Elijah Childs shot 9-11 for 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds while Terry Nolan added 16. Game two was an easy 86-55 win that was a complete blowout from the start. Bradley went on a 31-5 run early in the first half that gave the Braves a 35-8 lead with nine minutes to go in the opening frame and they more-or-less maintained that cushion from there. As a UNI guy it was fascinating to see a team jump out to a big lead and then not slowly whittle it away over the next ten game minutes, but instead maintain that advantage for the remainder of the game. Bradley was nearly flawless offensively. They shot 49% from the floor and 50% from three (10-20) while making 20 of 23 free throws and only committing 6 turnovers. Ja’Shon Henry led the team with 16 points off the bench. It is a big week for BU as they will play their rivals Illinois State on Wednesday before hosting Loyola on Sunday and Monday. Between BU-LUC and DU-MSU, we’ll know a lot more about our league this time next week (if the games actually happen).
5.) Indiana State, 6-7, 3-5, NET 128, BPI 183 (Up One): The Trees showed what they were capable of when they weren’t forced to play one of the best teams in the MVC, and firmly entrenched themselves in the middle of the MVC pack with two road wins at Illinois State this weekend. The Sycamores’ 73-65 win on Saturday was not a blowout, but ISU Blue was in control for most of the second half as they maintained a multiple possession lead after a 13-2 run early in the half. The outcome was not in doubt in the waning moments. Tyreke Key was a major factor (as he usually is in InSU’s wins) scoring 13 points and nabbing 7 boards, while Tre Williams added a double-double with 12 points and 10 boards. The second game was similar, although the Redbirds were more competitive. Indiana State was up by multiple possessions throughout the second half, and pulled away with a late 11-0 run. Tyreke Key led the way with 18 points for the Sycamores who made a change in subbing in Tobias Howard for Julian Larry in the starting lineup. Indiana State is not going to compete for the league title, but with their win over Loyola last week and this weekend’s sweep they have shown they are probably not play-in round fodder either. That said, Indy has some big play-in avoidance games this week as they host SIU for two on Monday and Tuesday. Their game against Evansville has been postponed due to COVID issues at UE.
6.) Southern Illinois, 7-3, 1-3, NET 183, BPI 245 (Down One): The Salukis did not play for the second week in a row this week and their BPI jumped six spots while their NET dropped 12. A COVID outbreak in the program has forced SIU to sit and germinate in their current three-game losing streak. They’ll be anxious to return to the floor on Monday when they take on Indiana State in Terre Haute for a pair. If they get it done, it will the first of fourteen games in 34 days for SIU.
7.) Evansville, 6-8, 4-4, NET 265, BPI 292 (No Change): Despite two losses to Bradley, the Aces stay put at #7 on our list because the teams behind them also didn’t win any games this weekend. The Aces hung tough against a good BU team in game one, losing 69-60. Jawaun Newton kept UE afloat with 22 points on 9-14 shooting and 4-6 from deep. UE shot 34 three-pointers and made 14 of them, and limited turnovers to nine while forcing 16. But it wasn’t enough to overcome Bradley. The second game was a blowout loss from start to finish, ending in and 86-55 Bradley win. Iyen Enaruna scored 17 off the bench for UE who trailed 38-8 midway through the first half. Bradley got to the line 23 times and made 20 while UE only forced 6 turnovers. Still, after last season UE has to feel OK about their 4-4 start. They still have a very good chance to avoid Thursday. Their game against Indiana State, a big one in that respect, has been postponed due to COVID issues at UE. I am fairly certain now that this game has been postponed, every MVC team has had its league schedule impacted by COVID.
8.) Northern Iowa, 3-10, 2-6, NET 208, BPI 140 (No Change): It is still early, but it is getting to the point where maybe you can start to pencil the UNI Panthers into Thursday for just the second time in 18 seasons. UNI did their typical song and dance with long offensive droughts and big runs by their opponents (as well as the mystifying trend of ending halves poorly) costing them in two blowout losses to Loyola. UNI led Loyola with 12 minutes to go in game one before a 27-6 Loyola run put that game away and Loyola won 72-57. In game two, UNI played well for about ten minutes before going the entire last eight minutes of the first half without a basket in a run that eventually ended at 38-8 over 14 game minutes. The Panthers lost 88-46. This is probably the worst UNI team in years, as they struggle mightily both offensively and defensively. It is hard to imagine this group would have been title contenders even with AJ Green and Antwan Kimmons. UNI is playing four freshmen as well as two sophomores who played sparingly last year in their rotation. They’re also playing a senior transfer who didn’t expect to be eligible to play this year, and another senior who is trying his butt off but is really struggling. UNI does have Bradley, MSU and Loyola behind them and the schedule gets more manageable from here. After the midweek Drake game was postponed, they’ll have two weeks to try to regroup and figure out a plan moving forward. They scheduled games against D3 teams on Thursday and Monday and play at SIU in two Saturdays.
9.) Illinois State, 4-8, 1-5, NET 268, BPI 276 (No Change): Illinois State hosted Indiana State for two this weekend and it did not go very well. Both games were similar. The Redbirds hung in there, but trailed by multiple possessions for most of the second half in 73-65 and 74-68 losses. In game one, Dusan Mahorcic nearly got a double-double and the Redbirds forced 19 turnovers, but they were undone by 7-26 shooting from deep and 10-17 from the charity stripe. Mahorcic got his double-double (12 points and 11 rebounds) in game two, but the result was the same. This time it was ISU Red who committed a ton of turnovers (16) and they continued to struggle from the line going 11-20. Dedric Boyd scored 19 off the bench. Illinois State is who they are at this point. You can probably pencil them into the play-in round. They’ll host Bradley Wednesday and Valpo Saturday and Sunday.
10.) Valparaiso, 3-8, 0-2, NET 264, BPI 256 (No Change): It is probably too quick to write off Valpo as a Thursday team since they have only played two MVC games, but the early returns are not good. With their games postponed this weekend due to COVID at SIU, the Crusaders went to DePaul to play their old buddy JFL and the Blue Demons. While JFL only scored 7 points, it was still not a great day for VU who trialed 41-26 at halftime and lost 77-58. Valpo was just 3-15 from deep and turned it over 16 times. Eron Gordon led the team with 12 points. It hard to judge an MVC team based on how they do against a Big East team (even a bad one like DePaul). But the returns haven’t looked good. According to their schedule, Valpo plans to cram 16 MVC games into 38 days starting with a Wednesday game against Loyola and a trip to Illinois State on the 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
-A-10: Another week has gone by and still Saint Louis (BPI 24, NET 13) has not played a game since before Christmas. They are supposed to start again on Wednesday. We’ll see. It will be fascinating to see how the committee views them if they put up a good A10 season. This season exacerbates why they really ought to be in the MVC (he said for the third week in a row). VCU remained 46th in NET and 73rd in BPI, they beat GW five days ago. Richmond (54/40) is on the outside of the bubble but hasn’t played since January 9th. They had a game against VCU postponed. Saint Bonaventure (59/61) got two easy wins over Fordham and Duquesne. Davidson (71/43) got wins over La Salle and Saint Josephs last week and got a big NET boost. Rhode Island (66/64) lost to UMass and beat George Mason. Dayton (84) and Duquesne (93) are also in the top 100 of BPI but aint sniffin’ the postseason.
-West Coast: Gonzaga is still the best. BYU (32/41) remains on the bubble after wins at Saint Mary’s and San Francisco by ten and nine points respectively. A strong second place WCC finish likely gets the Cougars into the dance. Saint Mary’s (76/102) is probably out of contention after losing to BYU and Gonzaga this week. Pacific is 75th in NET but nowhere near the NCAA cut line (158 in BPI). San Francisco (89/94) is also having a good year but is not going to be in the dance and lost by 23 to Gonzaga.
-Mountain West: San Diego State (43/36) put their NCAA status in serious jeopardy after getting swept at Utah State. They now have three league losses and probably can’t take many more if they want to continue to be considered. Boise State (16/37) is now the favorite in the MWC and helped their cause with a pair of 20+ point wins over Wyoming. Their 8-0 record has been established against the four worst teams in the MWC, so we’ll see what they’re really made of eventually. They end the year with USU and SDSU. After their sweep of SDSU, Utah State (45/57) now needs to be talked about. They had built a 6-0 league record by beating MWC also-rans but now have two legit wins over SDSU and have to be considered contenders. They have big ones against Colorado State (53/82) this week. The Rams also need to be talked about now as they are 7-1 just behind USU and BSU, and already have a split with SDSU. They’ve also played some bad teams, but their next four are against USU and BSU. Things are heating up right now in the Mountain West.
-Conference USA: Same thing as before. Unless one team steps out and dominates, the C-USA will only be getting one bid. Top squads include UAB (67/80), Marshall (86/72), Western Kentucky (88/79) and North Texas (98/85). Whoever ends up coming out of this league will probably be a decent seed and have a shot to do some damage.
-Other Interesting Squads: Winthrop of the Big South (49/96) is remains on track to finish the season undefeated. Furman (50/81) got two more wins to remain on the bubble outskirts with only close losses at Cincinnati (by 5) and Alabama (by 3) and a 16-point loss to Winthrop on their resume. Colgate remains weirdly #22 in NET with a 5-1 record out of the Patriot League. Their entire schedule is against Army (4-2), Boston U (1-5), and Holy Cross (2-4) so I am forced to assume they hacked the system. The computer still prefers Toledo in the MAC (63/75). Belmont (99/110) is now 14-1 in the OVC and another team that will be a weird one to possibly seed in the NCAA Tournament. Georgia State (62/77) in the Sun Belt also deserves mention.
-Our Lady of the Lake Update: The Saints were supposed to start the NAIA schedule this week against Texas A&M Texarkana, but then they didn’t and now only have four games on their schedule starting with Louisiana State Shreveport on Saturday. Neither OLOTL’s website, nor a Google search came up with any information as to why. The games just disappeared. Spooooky.