The Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) women’s basketball season is nine games old and the picture is starting to become clearer.
The conference is in a strong place this year, according to Ryan Davis, MVC Assistant Commissioner for Communications.
“I think we have a lot of good, young players in this league that are going to be key,” Davis said.
Drake University is a perfect 9-0 in conference play, one year after winning the MVC championship and reaching the NCAA tournament.
The Bulldogs lost two, first-team All-MVC players from last year — Caitlin Ingle and Lizzy Wendell — but have been able to fill the holes, according to Davis.
“They lost two tremendous players last year so clearly they were going to have some sort of transition,” Davis said. “Their core group this year is starting to get their feet back under them. They played a tough schedule in non-conference.”
Loyola’s program is far from the national rankings and tournament appearances Drake has earned in the past two years; but, in 2013, the Bulldogs finished with a 6-14 conference record and improved every year since.
Drake’s successful rebuilding is encouraging for Loyola women’s basketball head coach Kate Achter. Drake has set themselves apart from the rest of the conference, according to Achter. Drake’s a talented team and is a good example of what the goal for Achter’s program is, she said.
“When [Drake head coach] Jennie [Baranczyk] took over she had a similar situation to what we did,” Achter said. “She recruited three straight classes of freshman of the year and that has set them apart. Jenny has done it with young kids which is similar to what we’re trying to do.”
Southern Illinois University (SIU) sits in a tie with Missouri State University for second place with a 7-2 record. The Salukis’ Abby Brockmeyer is one of the best first-years in the conference, according to Davis. Brockmeyer has won MVC Newcomer of the Week three times this year.
Loyola lost its first game against SIU 72-46. Achter said she believes the Salukis program is similar to her own.
“I don’t think our programs are very different right now,” Achter said. “I was a little disappointed in the way our kids competed in the second half against them but position for position we’re not that far off with them.”
Missouri State University (MSU) is tied with SIU in second place. The Bears had a tough non-conference schedule, according to Davis. The team’s non-league strength of schedule — which includes No. 3 Baylor University — was the 12th hardest in the country.
The Ramblers were beat up by the Bears 75-36, which Achter attributed to MSU’s offense.
“They’d rather outscore you than defend,” Achter said. “Their offensive firepower, I believe, is better than Drake’s.”
University of Northern Iowa (UNI) is in third place in the MVC with a 6-3 record. The Panthers got off to a rough start in their season after earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament last season.
Loyola lost to the Panthers 71-40 Dec. 29. Achter said UNI is defensively versatile and hard to attack.
“UNI is good as well. They’re very good at mixing up defenses so they keep you off balance,” Achter said. “When you’re unsure on the road it puts you in a bad spot.”
Indiana State University is in fourth place with a 5-4 conference record. Loyola lost to Indiana State 73-65 Jan. 26. The Sycamores were on a seven game losing streak when head coach Joey Wells resigned Jan. 2. Since Josh Keister has taken over as interim head coach, the team has gone 3-2. The Sycamores offense comes from every player on the floor, according to Davis.
“They have some players that have been there awhile … so they’re a pretty balanced team,” Davis said. “They don’t score a ton of points so they are definitely defensive focused.”
Bradley University is in fifth place with a 4-5 record. The Ramblers lost 59-57 to the Braves; Achter said her team had one mental lapse that cost them the game.
“We should’ve [beat] Bradley. I don’t want to discredit the things that they’ve done or their conference wins, but we put ourselves in a position to win a basketball game at home and one defensive rebound took the momentum away at the end,” Achter said. “They’ve done a good job the last two years of putting themselves in a position to compete for an MVC championship.”
Valparaiso University is in sixth place in the MVC with a 3-6 record in its first season in the conference. There have been some growing pains in the transition, but Davis said he believes the Crusaders will figure it out.
Loyola lost to Valparaiso 76-60 Jan. 12. Achter said she thought her team competed well against them and made some immature mistakes.
“I thought we laid a little bit of an egg against Valparaiso,” Achter said. “We weren’t disciplined enough to defend well on the road which has kind of been an Achilles heel for us.”
Illinois State University (ISU) is tied for seventh place with Loyola with a 2-7 record. ISU is top five nationally in scoring defense and defensive field goal percentage. The Redbirds have a new head coach this season and are in a similar place as Loyola, according to Davis.
“Very defensive focused, they have one of the top defenses in the country,” Davis said. “Scoring the ball has been an issue for them.”
The Ramblers beat the Redbirds Jan. 7 62-59. Achter said she thinks her team was fortunate to end up with a win against ISU.
“[We were] lucky enough to come away with a win even though I think we made some mistakes,” Achter said. “That’s another program that’s in the rebuilding process.”
Loyola has made some slight progress in Achter’s second season with the team. Last season, the team won two games, one of which was a conference game. This year, the team has won four games and has won two conference games so far.
Davis said he thinks Loyola’s rebuild is on the right track, but it’s going to take time.