TERRE HAUTE —
The nonconference portion of the college basketball season serves several purposes.
It’s a time to get the freshmen and new players acclimated. It’s a chance to test your team against programs both above and below your own caliber. It’s a chance to make some coin with a guarantee game or two.
But really, it’s a litmus test to find out how a team stacks up as it enters the real meat of its season — its conference schedule.
So what have we learned about Indiana State as Missouri Valley Conference play begins next Wednesday?
Not a whole lot, to be honest. That’s a good thing and a bad thing.
The Sycamores are 5-6, a disappointing record for those who had preseason visions of MVC contention dancing in their heads. Moreover, ISU’s performances in some of its losses have been supremely disheartening.
In my mind, MVC contention was a long-shot possibility at best. ISU always stacked up as a mid-level Valley team. I picked them fifth in the preseason poll. I see no reason why that isn’t still a realistic goal for the Sycamores. On the other hand, given ISU’s inconsistency, I’d be surprised if they exceeded it.
In other words, ISU is exactly what I thought they’d be — the Sycamores just didn’t take the path I thought they’d take to get there.
ISU’s efforts in losses to excellent high-major teams Notre Dame and Purdue would have been good enough to win against most Valley teams, home or away. On the other hand, the hugely disappointing efforts in losses to Eastern Kentucky, Ball State and Wyoming wouldn’t have beaten any Valley team, home or away.
The only two nonconference games that simulated a Valley contest were ISU’s game at Oral Roberts and its home game against DePaul — a Big East school with low-to-mid-MVC-caliber talent. To the Sycamores’ credit, they won them both, gutting out a tough one on the road at ORU and crushing the Blue Demons at home.
Hope among ISU fans going into the season rested in the fact that ISU has two legitimate All-Valley-caliber players in Dwayne Lathan and Jake Kelly. And the Sycamore pair has shown signs of brilliance.
They’ve also shown disturbing signs of not knowing when to mesh with their teammates and each other, trying to take over games to the detriment of the team and themselves.
ISU’s other players have been a mixed bag. Freshman guard Jake Odum has played well and has the excellent court vision most expected him to have. He’s going to be good.
Carl Richard has been a force on the boards and, if he can keep his back spasms in control, could be a revelation in the conference. Myles Walker, though not an immediate scoring threat, has also given ISU far more brawn on the boards in the paint than ISU had last season at the center spot.
Past that, no one else has been consistent. The 3-point scoring ISU has had in abundance in recent seasons has largely dried up. Part of it is that Jordan Printy has been hurt, but other shooters such as Aaron Carter and Koang Doluony have been cold throughout the season.
ISU’s saving grace in the Valley’s pecking order is that no other Valley team has really exceeded preseason expectations either.
There’s a reason for that — nearly every team has been equally mediocre so far.
The conference is suffering through its worst down year in a decade. At this writing, the Missouri Valley Conference is 13th among Division I conferences in the realtimerpi.com standings, looking up at conferences it normally surpasses by a wide margin, including the Ivy League.
Over the past several seasons, the MVC has typically been in the lower half of the top 10 by this point.
There are long-term ramifications for this down year — the biggest being that the MVC’s television contracts with ESPN and Fox Sports are up at the end of the season, and a down year doesn’t put the conference in a position of strength to re-negotiate.
But short-term, it means that teams — no matter how mediocre they’ve been in the nonconference — have hope going into the Valley season. No team has proven to be unbeatable.
And in a way, that should give ISU fans some comfort — even if the nonconference season provided little but a sense of uncertainty.
• Brown MVP of Texas tournament — ISU recruit Devonte Brown, currently playing his senior season at Killeen (Texas) Ellison High School, got a nice feather in his cap earlier this month.
Brown, a 6-foot-3 guard, won MVP of the Pflugerville (Texas) Tournament. In a 74-71 championship game win over the state-ranked host school, Brown scored 26 points.
Brown averaged 21 points in a four-wins-in-five-days span. The tournament victory lifted Ellison, which struggled early in its season, into the Texas state rankings.
Todd Golden is the sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his blog at blogs.tribstar.
The Missouri Valley Conference has had a down year in its nonconference slate. The MVC currently ranks 13th in the conference RPI standings, a far cry below its usual spot in the lower half of the top 10.
With the nonconference portion of the MVC‚s season nearly over, here‚s how MVC teams stack up in comparison to preseason predictions.
1. Wichita State (9-2) — The Shockers were widely considered to be the conference’s best team and nothing the Shockers did in their nonconference schedule did much to change that perception. Included were wins over Virginia, LSU and Tulsa.
Rising, falling or about the same as everyone thought? The Shockers are about the same, but since they started on top, that’s a good thing.
2. Missouri State (8-3) — The Bears’ losses were road defeats at Tennessee, Tulsa and Oklahoma State. They’ve beaten every other team they’ve played, but they haven’t played anyone else in the RPI top 100.
Rising, falling or about the same as everyone thought? The Bears are about the same, though they’ve done nothing to stifle reservations I have about a team vaulting to second from seventh a year ago.
3. Northern Iowa (8-3) — After struggling early on, the two-time defending conference champion Panthers have come on with a vengeance. UNI defeated Indiana and New Mexico to win the Las Vegas Classic on Thursday. Any team with championship experience is dangerous.
Rising, falling or about the same as everyone thought? The Panthers, my own preseason pick for second, are rising. They have a better resume than Missouri State at this point.
4. Creighton (8-4) — The Bluejays are hard to figure. They’ve lost to every high-level team they’ve played and haven’t played many teams in the RPI top 100, struggling against many of them. On the other hand, Rutgers transfer center Gregory Echenique has played well since he became eligible.
Rising, falling or about the same as everyone thought? The Bluejays are falling slightly in my estimation. There’s not much evidence to suggest a rise.
5. Bradley (6-5) — The Braves are the one team that has an excuse for their mediocre showing. Bradley lost starters Taylor Brown and Sam Maniscalco for the season and have struggled without them.
Rising, falling or about the same as everyone thought? Injuries have Bradley falling, perhaps down into the play-in zone.
6. Illinois State (8-3) — The Redbirds’ nonconference record is misleading, built thanks to an incredibly weak schedule, rated 311th overall. Illinois State has only played four teams in the RPI top 150, going 1-3. The Redbirds were annihilated at home by the one good team (UNLV) they played.
Rising, falling or about the same as everyone thought? Falling. There’s no way a schedule that weak justifies anything else.
7. Indiana State (5-6) — The Sycamores are the anti-Illinois State, building a mediocre record against the Valley’s second-best strength of schedule. ISU has been wildly inconsistent, though, so the Sycamores are as hard to figure as any other MVC team.
Rising, falling or about the same as everyone thought? About the same for me (I picked ISU fifth), but rising slightly based on the MVC preseason poll, though it would be no surprise if ISU finished seventh.
8. Drake (5-6) — The Bulldogs have no wins of consequence, have a pair of 40-plus point losses and haven’t built any momentum to speak of.
Rising, falling or about the same as everyone thought? Falling. Drake’s preseason form might be the worst of all. The Bulldogs are a young team that might struggle to avoid the cellar if they don’t get turned around.
9. Southern Illinois (6-5) — After cratering a year ago with dissension, departures, etc., the Salukis have been a bit more solid this season. There’s no quality wins to speak of, though, and nothing that separates the Salukis from the rest of the pack.
Rising, falling or about the same as everyone thought? Rising, if ever so slightly.
10. Evansville (6-4) — Only five of Evansville’s victories are against Division I competition, though one of them was a win against Butler.
Rising, falling or about the same as everyone thought? The Aces have probably been better than Drake, so technically, they’re rising, just not very far.