Five Games in: Where is the MVC now?

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Five Games in: Where is the MVC now?

Southern Illinois junior guard Aaron Cook motions to a teammate on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018 during the first half of the Salukis matchup against the Murray State Racers.

Southern Illinois junior guard Aaron Cook motions to a teammate on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018 during the first half of the Salukis matchup against the Murray State Racers.

Brian Munoz

Southern Illinois junior guard Aaron Cook motions to a teammate on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018 during the first half of the Salukis matchup against the Murray State Racers.

Brian Munoz

Brian Munoz

Southern Illinois junior guard Aaron Cook motions to a teammate on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018 during the first half of the Salukis matchup against the Murray State Racers.

By Adam Warfel, Staff Editor

Five games into conference play in the Missouri Valley Conference and it has had surprises, a key injury and a buzzer beater.

1. Valparaiso (4-1)

The Crusaders entered conference play with a 7-6 record with their biggest win coming against UNLV (165). Valpo opened conference play with a win over Illinois State in which they were down ten points with less than two minutes to play and junior guard Markus Golder threw up a half court shot that went in to end the game with a one point win for the Crusaders.

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After the win at home, they traveled to Missouri State and won the game 82-66 over the Bears in a game in which Valpo never trailed. Going in to the third game the Crusaders were looking to stay in first place as Bradley was looking for their first conference win an 18-2 run late in the first half was enough for Valpo as they pulled away a 61-50 win at home.

The Crusaders then managed to pick up a victory in Carbondale over the Salukis, 65-61, in a game in which SIU lead by as many as seven.The Crusaders traveled to Loyola then to play the preseason conference favorite. It ended up being a game in which Valpo never led as they fell 71-54. Valparaiso has been one of the biggest surprises of conference play so far as they were picked to finish seventh in the preseason. In conference play, Golder has been one of the leaders has been averaging 11.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Aside from the Crusaders last game against Bradley, junior guard Ryan Fazekas has been the best scorer averaging 11.6 points per game.

2. Loyola (4-1)

The Ramblers were the preseason favorite to win the conference again this year after their final four run last season. A 7-6 record in non-conference play led some to believe that maybe Loyola would not win the conference. In the conference opener, Loyola beat Indiana State 79-44 in a game in which the Sycamores never led.

The Ramblers then traveled to Drake to play them in their first game without senior guard Nick Norton. In the game against the Bulldogs, Loyola was down by as many as 16 at one point, however a 21-5 run which tied the game and was then followed by an 11-0 run was enough for the Ramblers to win 85-74.

Loyola then traveled to Evansville and lost in a game in which they were down 32-20 at halftime and they were not able to recover. The Ramblers fell to the Purple Aces 67-48. After the loss to the Aces Loyola faced Illinois State and led 40-34 at halftime, free throws late in the second gave the Ramblers the victory 67-64. Loyola then faced conference leader Valparaiso and they led the whole game with six players scoring in double figures for a 71-54 win. Sophomore center Cameron Krutwig has been averaging 12.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in conference play. Senior guard Marques Townes has also played well averaging 17.4 points  per game in Valley play for Loyola.

3. Illinois State (3-2)

Despite a disappointing 7-6 record entering conference play, the Redbirds are beginning to show why they were picked to finish second in the preseason. Illinois State lost in their conference opener against Valparaiso, in which they led most of the game until the Crusaders made a last second shot in order to win the game. They followed the loss to Valpo up with a 58-46 victory over Evansville, a game in which senior forward Phil Fayne became a part of the 1,000 point club.

Illinois State then played a close game against Northern Iowa, a back and forth affair with 11 lead changes in the first half with the Redbirds coming out on top 70-69. The Redbirds then went on the road to play Loyola and after being ahead 5-4 early Loyola scored eight straight points for a 67-64 victory. Illinois State then played Southern Illinois at home and led by as many as 16 early in the second half, however the Salukis came back and a free throw by Fayne was enough to seal the 59-58 win. Fayne has continued to be the best player on the llinois State team averaging 14.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game in conference play. Senior guard Milik Yarbrough has also played well in the Valley averaging 14.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. 

4. Indiana State (2-2)

The Sycamores opened conference play with an 8-4 record, and had their conference opener against Loyola. Loyola beat Indiana State, 79-44 – a game in which the Sycamores never led. After a loss to Loyola, Indiana State played Bradley in hopes of rebounding from their loss.

Indiana State was able to beat Bradley by forcing 17 turnovers and turning them into 12 points in a 65-60 win. After the win against Bradley, Indiana State played Missouri State. The Sycamores were able to work their way back from a nine point deficit early in the second half, however it was not enough as they lost 72-57. Indiana State then traveled to Evansville who only had only one loss at home this season. The Sycamore defense forced 19 turnovers on the Purple Aces and were able to score 24 points off the turnovers, for a 72-66 overtime victory. Sophomore guard Tyreke Key has averaged 13.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in conference play as the most consistent threat for the Sycamores.

5. Evansville (2-2)

The Purple Aces have been a surprise entering conference play with a 6-7 record, but have been able to win at home. Their first win came against Drake in a game that went into double overtime, this game featured 25 points by junior guard KJ Riley and a season ending knee injury to Drake senior guard Nick Norton for an Aces 82-77 win. Evansville then followed up their double overtime win with a 58-46 loss at Illinois State.

The Purple Aces then beat preseason favorite Loyola at home 67-48 led by 15 points from Riley for Evansville’s eighth win at home this year.  The Purple Aces followed up their win against Loyola with a game against Indiana State. What was a back and forth game against the Sycamores went into overtime after senior guard Shea Feehan scored five points in 15 seconds. Indiana State was able to close it out in overtime for the 72-66 loss for Evansville.

Evansville was picked to finish last in the conference in the preseason, however if they continue to win at home and find a way to win on the road they could be a dark horse in the conference race. Riley has helped propel the Aces to their fast start in the Valley. He is averaging 13.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, Senior guard Marty Hill has also been a contributor averaging 15 points per game.

6. Northern Iowa (2-2)

The Panthers entered conference play with an 4-8 record in non-conference play.UNI opened conference play against Bradley. In the game against the Braves the Panthers had a 34-24 lead at halftime, and they never relinquished their lead for a 65-47 victory. Southern then came to Cedar Falls for the next game for Northern Iowa. In the game against the Salukis, the Panthers were held to 21 percent from behind the three point line in the first half. As they trailed 26-24 at halftime eight unanswered points in the second half gave UNI the lead. SIU was able to reclaim the lead with 8:41 remaining as the Panthers fell to the Salukis 58-51 for their first conference loss.

Northern Iowa then travelled to Illinois State to attempt to pick up two wins in the conference.The game against the Redbirds was back and forth but the Panthers were able enter halftime with a one point lead.Illinois State then outscored Northern Iowa 12-4 to begin the second half. UNI fought back but ultimately fell 70-69 at Illinois State. UNI then hosted in state conference rival Drake. The Panthers held Drake scoreless for eight minutes to push out a 29-23 lead at halftime. In the second half Northern Iowa pushed their lead to 11 but Drake chipped away and free throws at the end was enough for the Panthers to win 57-54. Freshman guard AJ Green played well for the Panthers in non-conference play. So for he has averaged 14 points per game in conference play for UNI.

7. Missouri State (2-2)

Missouri State entered conference play with a 6-7 record in head coach Dana Ford’s first year. The Bears opened conference play with a loss to Southern Illinois 75-70, where they were able to stay close with the Salukis but unable to pull ahead. Missouri State then played Valparaiso, when a 30-6 run by the Crusaders was too much for the Bears to overcome in a 82-66 loss. After opening the Valley with two straight losses, Missouri State travelled to Indiana State. The Bears forced 22 turnovers on the Sycamores and picked up their first road win on the season 72-57. Missouri State then went back home to play Bradley.

The Bears have played their best basketball in Springfield as they only have one loss at home so far this season. Missouri State was down 14 points in the second half to the Braves, but they were able to slowly come back and score the last nine points of the game for a 69-64 win. Senior guard Jarred Dixon and junior guard Keandre Cook have played the best for the Bears in conference play. Dixon has been averaging 12 points per game in conference play. Cook is averaging 10.25 points per game in conference play.

8. Southern Illinois (2-3)

Missouri State entered conference play with a 6-7 record in head coach Dana Ford’s first year. The Bears opened conference play with a loss to Southern Illinois 75-70, where they were able to stay close with the Salukis but unable to pull ahead. Missouri State then played Valparaiso, when a 30-6 run by the Crusaders was too much for the Bears to overcome in a 82-66 loss. After opening the Valley with two straight losses, Missouri State travelled to Indiana State. The Bears forced 22 turnovers on the Sycamores and picked up their first road win on the season 72-57.

Missouri State then went back home to play Bradley. The Bears have played their best basketball in Springfield as they only have one loss at home so far this season. Missouri State was down 14 points in the second half to the Braves, but they were able to slowly come back and score the last nine points of the game for a 69-64 win. Senior guard Jarred Dixon and junior guard Keandre Cook have played the best for the Bears in conference play. Dixon has been averaging 12 points per game in conference play. Cook is averaging 10.25 points per game in conference play.

The Salukis entered conference play with a 7-6 record after three straight losses to Murray State, Buffalo and Winthrop. Southern started conference play with a 75-70 win against Missouri State at SIU Arena, in a game that the Salukis never led by more than ten. After the win SIU traveled to Northern Iowa, where the Salukis limited the Panthers to 27.6 percent shooting in the first half, resulting in a 58-51 victory.

Southern then went to Drake for their swing through Iowa. SIU fell into a ten-to-nothing hole less than four minutes into the game and the Salukis were unable to recover as they fell 82-70 for their first conference loss. SIU then played conference leader Valparaiso at SIU Arena. The Crusader defense limited the Salukis to 38.5 percent shooting in the game, although Southern grabbed 22 offensive rebounds in the 65-61 loss.

Southern traveled to Illinois State where they had 13 turnovers in the first half. The Salukis were able to push back and even ahead late in the second half, but ultimately fell 59-58 Senior forward Kavion Pippen and junior guard Aaron Cook have been cogs for Southern in conference play. Pippen is averaging 16.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in Valley play. Cook is averaging ten points per game in conference play for the Salukis. 

9. Drake (1-3)

Drake entered conference play with an 11-2 record and lost their first two games in conference play before defeating Southern Illinois. The Bulldogs lost their conference opener in double overtime 82-77 to Evansville in a game in which senior guard Nick Norton injured his knee, which resulted in a season ending injury. Drake then faced Loyola in their next game and they pushed to a 16 point lead which was quickly erased by halftime. Once Loyola tied the game, the Bulldogs were unable to recover in a 85-74 loss.

Drake picked up their first conference win over Southern Illinois behind sophomore guard Noah Thomas’s career high 24 points,in an 82-70 win.  Drake then traveled to their in state conference rival, Northern Iowa. The Bulldogs were down 29-23 at halftime and as many as 11 points in the second half, however they ultimately fell 57-54. Senior forward Nick McGlynn and senior guard Brady Ellingson have been the best players for Drake in conference play. McGlynn is averaging 17.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in Valley conference play. Ellingson is averaging 12.5 points and two rebounds per game in the four games.

10. Bradley (0-4)

As much as Valparaiso being at the top of the conference has been a surprise, Bradley being in last is more surprising. The Braves entered conference play with a 8-4 and were picked to finish 4th in the conference in the preseason. Bradley opened up Valley play against Northern Iowa, where a 14-2 run late in the first half was enough for the Panthers to defeat the Braves 64-47. Bradley then traveled to Indiana State, and played tight with the Sycamores in the first half with no team leading by more than five points.

Bradley pulled within one point in the second half but the Sycamores used three straight free throws at the end of the game as the Braves lost 65-60. Bradley then traveled to Valparaiso where the Crusaders led by as many as 17, but the Braves scored eight straight points late in the second half to pull within five, but it was not enough as Bradley fell 61-50. Bradley then came home to face Missouri State, as the Braves were still in search of their first conference win.

It was a close first half for Bradley against Missouri State as the Braves took a 32-30 lead to halftime. Bradley opened up the second half with a 16-4 run, but Missouri State answered that with 12-3 run of their own, as Bradley fell to 0-4 in conference play with a 69-64 loss. Junior guard Darrel Brown and sophomore forward Elijah Childs have played best for the Braves in their four conference games. Brown is averaging 15 points. Childs is averaging 8.25 points and 4.75 rebounds per game.

Sports editor Adam Warfel can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at
@warfel_adam.

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