How can anyone vote against the Bluejays right now? Creighton is 10-1 heading into the start of league play, with the ‘1’ coming on the road against a better-than-you-think St. Joe’s team. The Bluejays have size up front and shooting on the perimeter, but more than anything they have the guy that is one of the current front runners for Player of the Year — National, not Missouri Valley — Doug McDermott. Creighton is going to be able to score this season, the question mark with this group lies on the defensive end of the floor: are they going to be able to get enough stops to win the bare-knuckle brawls that make up MVC conference games?
– And-1: I would be remiss if I didn’t have Wichita State listed somewhere near favorite territory for the Valley. The Shockers — and not Creighton — are currently the highest ranked MVC team. Where Creighton does it with the scoring ability of McDermott, Wichita State thrives on their balance. Five players average double figures and a sixth sits at 9.4 ppg. Three more players average double-figures in minutes. Wichita State can hurt you in so many different ways, whether its the 31 points that Joe Ragland had in the win over UNLV or the six players that reached double-figures in a win over Tulsa, defenses aren’t going to be able to focus on slowing down one player on the Shockers. And that’s why they are so dangerous.
Biggest Surprise: Northern Iowa
Let’s forget, for a second, that UNI just lost to Ohio at home by 17 points. A loss to Ohio, as good as they are this season, at home by 17 points is a far cry from being a “good loss”. Because once you get past that game, you see that the Panthers have actually had a very strong non-conference season. they’ve won at Iowa State and Old Dominion. They beat Colorado State, Providence and Iowa. Their only loss on the season came during the 2am tip of Marathon Madness out in Moraga, CA, against St. Mary’s. Even when you factor in the loss to Ohio, its very difficult to ignore the kind of success that UNI has had early on this season. This wasn’t supposed to happen until next year, but with Anthony James and Jake Koch both playing at an all-league level, UNI is going to continue to win games.
Biggest Disappointment: Missouri State
Yeah, I know, its a bit unfair to call the Bears a disappointment this season given what they lost from last year’s team (literally everyone — players and coaches — other than Kyle Weems). And, to be honest, the fact that they are 7-5 in non-conference play is actually probably a good start for them considering. The issue, however, is that Missouri State could be in better shape. They lost a game in OT to West Virginia after leading by five with 45 seconds left in regulation. They lost games to Oklahoma State and Oral Roberts due to poor late-game execution. The biggest issue? That all of this has happened while Kyle Weems has played some of the worst basketball of his career. His shooting is down and his scoring is down, and while much of that can be explained by the fact that defenses are focusing on him, it only makes you wonder where the Bears would be right now if Weems was playing well.
Something left to prove: Indiana State
The Sycamores were a trendy sleeper pick in this league coming into the season, and that pick certainly hasn’t disappointed. Jake Odum has been a terrific leader of a balanced attack that has been good enough to go into Nashville and beat Vanderbilt. ISU is about as stereotypically Valley as you can get: they are undersized, they don’t rebound well on the offensive end of the floor but they pound the defensive glass, they don’t turn the ball over and they shoot the ball well from three. The problem is that they don’t really have a go-to scorer, which is something that could end up coming back to bite them late in the year. ISU will be competitive, but just how competitive is something that remains to be seen.
Who’s dancing?: Creighton, Wichita State, Northern Iowa
Wrong side of the bubble?: Missouri State, Indiana State
Player of the Year: Doug McDermott, Creighton
– POY: Doug McDermott, Creighton
– G: Jake Odum, Indiana State
– G: Joe Ragland, Wichita State
– G: Colt Ryan, Evansville
– G: Rayvonte Rice, Drake
– F: Jake Koch, Northern Iowa
2. Wichita State
3. Northern Iowa
4. Indiana State
5. Missouri State
6. Illinois State
10. Southern Illinois
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.