Nick Knacks

Column: Don’t Panic About The Valley Just Yet

Nick Schultz | The PhoenixLoyola men's basketball coach Porter Moser celebrates with fans after a victory.

Remember when Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play got started with that crazy opening night Jan. 2 and it looked like the league would be turned upside down? That was a fun night. Did you actually think the league would sort itself out after that?

If you did, I have four words for you: Welcome to The Valley.

We’re one-third of the way through the conference slate, and the league standings still haven’t calmed down. Did anyone actually pick Valparaiso University to start 5-1 after going 6-12 last year? How about Bradley University starting 1-5 after being picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll? Come on, someone had to peg fourth and ninth place to be separated by just one game.

If you predicted even one of those, stop what you’re doing and go buy a lottery ticket. Then, help this poor, starving college student study for tests this semester because either you can see into the future or you’re a better guesser than I am.

It’s been another crazy first six games for the MVC. It seems to be a common tale for the nation’s second-oldest conference. Last year at this point, Drake University was in first place at 5-1 while Loyola and Missouri State University were tied for second at 4-2. Second place and ninth place were separated by just two games. Four teams had identical 3-3 records. 

To quote the late, great Yogi Berra: ”It feels like deja vu all over again.”

Loyola is off to its best start since joining the conference with a 5-1 MVC record and sits in a tie for first with … Valparaiso? Illinois State University is in third at 4-2, but a single game separates fourth place and ninth place.

Just like we drew it up, right?

If last season taught us anything, it’s that the first six games aren’t quite an accurate picture for how the league will finish out. I don’t think I have to remind anyone that Loyola won with a 15-3 record, but I will remind you that Drake finished 10-8 and Missouri State finished 7-11. Don’t forget Southern Illinois finished with an 11-7 record after going 3-3 through the first third of the conference season.

The MVC picture is still out of focus. Even Photoshop can’t clear it up just yet. But with 12 games left to play, that autofocus is going to kick in soon. 

For right now, the standings are going to look like they’ve been shuffled like a deck of cards. 

The league is still wide open. Loyola’s been playing well lately, but bad nights are always possible. Valparaiso continues to open eyes atop the standings, but remember how Drake started last year. Illinois State University’s not far behind in third place at 4-2.

As a whole, college basketball’s unpredictable. That’s why “March Madness” is always exciting to watch. But the MVC’s a different kind of unpredictable now that perennial powerhouse Wichita State University is out of the picture. There’s no clear-cut favorite anymore, despite Loyola’s success last year and into this year. 

To give you an idea of how crazy the league can be, I picked Missouri State to win last season and the Bears finished seventh (Thanks again for the advice, Porter Moser). This year, I picked Loyola, Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Bradley as my top four. See how well that’s working out, so far?

But that’s the nature of the MVC. Any team can win on any given night. Sure, it’s one of the most-used cliches in the history of cliches, but it’s true. Need proof? Look what happened opening night.

It’s still fun to speculate what can happen. That’s why we have Twitter. But there’s certainly no need to panic about where your favorite team ranks in the standings just yet.

Now, if you’re a Bradley fan and the Braves are still in the cellar after another few games, then you might be able to make a case for hitting the panic button. But the other nine teams — outside of maybe Loyola if the Ramblers can create some separation — are almost certain to move around at some point.

Remember: it’s The Valley. Anything can happen.

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