This is a big week for Missouri Valley basketball.
The league is off to a good start, having won 24 of its first 29 games with three of the five losses coming to top 25 teams. Six of the Valley’s 10 teams are still among the 80 Division I squads that have yet to lose.
But the competition ratchets up for several teams this week. Nationally ranked Creighton plays Wisconsin and either Arkansas or Arizona State at the Las Vegas Invitational. Northern Iowa’s first opponent in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas is No. 2 Louisville, and the field also includes ranked teams in Duke, Missouri and Memphis.
Drake plays California in its opener at the DirecTV Classic in Anaheim, and it could also face Georgia Tech, St. Mary’s or Xavier before returning home. Illinois State is competing at the South Padre Invitational and will play Alabama-Birmingham and either Northwestern or TCU. Wichita State is playing at the Cancun Classic and could face improved Iowa in the championship game.
“This is a big week for our conference, and we’ll be rooting for all the teams,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. “We have some opportunities against some good teams. Hopefully, at the end of the week, our league will have set itself up RPI-wise for the rest of the season to get multiple bids.”
The Valley placed Creighton and Wichita State in the 2012 NCAA tournament, breaking a string of four straight seasons when it advanced just its championship team to the 68-team field.
“People know how good the league is and how good it’s going to be,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “We’ve already had some big wins coming out of the gate, and I only think it’s going to continue.
“As long as people stay healthy, I think this whole preseason is going to show just how good the league is from top to bottom.”
Illinois State forward Jackie Carmichael is second in the league in scoring with an 18.7 average but has played just 22 minutes per game.
Told that Carmichael ranks 12th nationally in points per game per 40 minutes (33.9), Muller replied, “I’d hate to see the top 11.”
Aces pick up slack
Evansville went 2-2 while playing in the Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic but played most of its last three games without star guard Colt Ryan.
Ryan suffered a hip pointer seven minutes into the Purple Aces’ game against Buffalo, which they lost. The senior, who finished second in the league in scoring last season, did not play against Yale. He tried to play against Western Illinois but returned to the bench after seeing three minutes of action.
“He’s going to be day-to-day, depending on how he feels,” Evansville coach Marty Simmons said. “He felt drastically better before the Western Illinois game, but after he got in, he just wasn’t ready.
“We’re going to be cautious with him and do everything we can to get him healthy.”
Simmons was pleased with the way the other Evansville players stepped up to post wins over Yale and Western Illinois after the Purple Aces had lost their first two games.
“Our guys just kind of dug in without Colt,” Simmons said. “It’s going to take a little bit of time to adjust when you lose a guy that’s so important to you. It came down to who was going to step up and make plays with Colt out.”
Around the Valley
Carmichael was named the league’s player of the week after leading the Redbirds to wins over Drexel and Delaware State. Carmichael made two free throws with two seconds remaining to send the game against Drexel into overtime. Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early, who averaged 13.7 points in three wins, was named newcomer of the week. ... The Shockers’ win at VCU left them 20-3 on the road since the start of the 2010-11 season. Wichita State’s .870 winning percentage in road games in that span leads the nation, with Kansas (17-3) second. ... Rebuilding Southern Illinois is 2-0, but new coach Barry Hinson has no illusions of grandeur. “I told our guys after the last game that, with the exception of our game against New Orleans, we’re going to be underdogs in every game we play the rest of the season,” Hinson said.