Missouri Valley thriving despite loss of Wichita State
The Missouri Valley Conference was supposed to be devastated by the loss of Wichita State. So far, the league has shown it might have been vastly underrated for 2017-18.
Nearly every team in the Valley is off to a strong start, boosting the conference’s reputation in a season many thought could be the start of an inevitable transition toward a future as a one-bid league.
League teams are 46-16, the best combined start for the Valley since 1962-63.
Loyola (Chicago) and newcomer Valparaiso are 7-0. Northern Iowa is 5-2 — with its losses coming against No. 13 North Carolina and No. 4 Villanova — and six other Valley teams are at .500 or better.
The only team that with a losing record is Indiana State. But even the Sycamores (2-4) have a marquee win, opening the Archie Miller era at Indiana with a 21-point blowout in Bloomington.
The league’s bullish start has been headlined by Loyola and Valpo — who are only in the Valley because Wichita followed Creighton out the door in the offseason.
The Ramblers have won their first seven games for just the fifth time in the last seven decades entering Tuesday’s showdown at Boise State (5-1).
The Crusaders are 7-0 for the first time in 51 years behind the strong play of senior Tevonn Walker. He’s averaging 16.1 points and 4.6 rebounds for a team so deep that 12 players are averaging at least 10 minutes a game.
“We have a lot of guys, and there’s probably going to be a different player (stepping up) every night,” Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said.
The Panthers have been contenders in the Valley for nearly two decades, though they slipped to 14-16 and 9-9 in the league in 2016-17.
Northern Iowa has bounced back this year largely because of a dynamic young backcourt.
Freshman Tywhon Pickford had a breakout game in a win over N.C. State in the Bahamas, scoring 18 points with 18 rebounds, and sophomore point guard Juwan McCloud has scored in double figures in five of his last six games (12.7 points per game.)
Northern Iowa hosts UNLV on Wednesday, faces Iowa State on a neutral floor on Dec. 16 and hosts No. 21 Xavier on Dec. 22. With a strong showing in those three games, the Panthers might be in line for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament should they need one.
“Each year it looks a bit different. But we’re going to fit it to our personnel,” coach Ben Jacobson said. “The whole key for us is having young guys that...have a good understanding and a good feeling for how to play.”
Bradley (6-1) and Evansville (5-1) have also gotten off to impressive starts. But perhaps no team in the league has been more surprising than Drake (4-1).
The Bulldogs let popular interim coach Jett Rutter go after last season, when they lost their last 10 games and finished 7-24, and hired Niko Medved from Furman.
Drake was picked to finish last in the league. But the Bulldogs haven’t looked like a cellar dweller just yet.
Drake stunned Wake Forest 77-74 in its first game against a Division I opponent, lost to Colorado by just five and beat Drexel in double overtime 90-88.
Junior guard Reed Timmer has been consistent so far this season, averaging 23.6 points on 50.8 percent shooting from the field and 56.3 percent on 3s.
Timmer had 32 points on Sunday in a 79-67 win over Chicago State.
“Reed has been just phenomenal so far. He’s a guy that, if they’re going to give him looks, he’s going to knock it down,” Medved said.