Sports

Valley Deep, Mountain High: Checking in on Loyola MBB’s MVC Competitors

Steve Woltmann | Loyola AthleticsLoyola took down its first MVC competitor Indiana State 88-76 Dec. 1

The Loyola men’s basketball team (8-2, 1-0) finds itself once again at the top of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC). As of Dec. 7, the Ramblers are ranked No. 22 in the NET rankings and No. 28 in the KenPom rankings. 

Loyola will return to MVC play on the road against Southern Illinois University Jan. 2. Before then, the Phoenix has looked into how the rest of the Valley teams have been competing so far.

Drake University 

Drake (5-3, 1-0) was selected to finish first in the 2021-2022 MVC Preseason Poll after securing the program’s first NCAA tournament win in fifty years when it defeated Wichita State University during the First Four March 18. The Bulldogs are currently ranked No. 69 in the KenPom rankings and No. 89 in the NET rankings.

Two-time MVC Coach of the Year Darien DeVries welcomed back all five of last season’s starters, including All-MVC selections Roman Penn and ShanQuan Hemphill. Hemphill, who was named the 2021 MVC Newcomer of the Year, is averaging 10 points per contest so far this season.

Meanwhile, Penn was selected to the MVC Preseason First Team and is averaging 10 points and 3.5 assists per game. However, Penn will be out for the coming weeks after suffering a foot fracture. This could be a huge loss for the Bulldogs, as Penn has started in all but seven games over the last three seasons.

Drake fell in all three games of the ESPN Events Invitational, including a 71-80 loss to No. 9 University of Alabama. However, the Bulldogs were able to snap the three-game losing streak by defeating their first MVC competitor Valparaiso University 73-66 Dec. 2.

Southern Illinois University (SIU)

Southern Illinois (5-3, 1-0) found itself in the middle of the pack after being selected to finish fifth in the MVC Preseason Poll. The Salukis are returning all five of last season’s starters and welcome back 2020 MVC Freshman and Newcomer of the Year Marcus Domask.

Domask, who sat out the majority of the 2020-2021 season due to an injury, was selected to the MVC Preseason Second Team and is averaging 15.6 points per game. He is behind MVC Preseason Third Team selection Lance Jones, who leads the Salukis with 17.7 points per contest.

The team took its first win over a member of a Power 5 Conference when it defeated University of Colorado 67-63 during the Paradise Jam Nov. 19. The Salukis didn’t maintain their success in the tournament, losing back-to-back matches against Northeastern University and Creighton University Nov. 20 and 21.

SIU managed to snag its first conference win by defeating the University of Evansville 54-52 thanks to a jumper from Domask with less than a second on the clock. The Salukis moved to 5-3 for the season and can be found at No. 135 and 138 on the KenPom and NET rankings, respectively.

Illinois State University

Illinois State (4-5, 1-0) was slated to finish last in the MVC after finishing the 2020-2021 season last. The Redbirds also saw no appearances on the MVC Preseason Teams. 

Leading Illinois State and the MVC in scoring is Antonio Reeves, who brings in an average of 20.6 points per game. Meanwhile, Sy Chatman is contributing a team-high average of 7.4 rebounds and 2.1 rebounds per game.

Despite the inauspicious start, Illinois State managed to defeat Bucknell University 105-100 in overtime during the Cancun Challenge Nov. 20. The Redbirds didn’t win another game in the Challenge, but came back to upset Missouri State University in another overtime decision 79-74 Dec. 1.

With its 4-5 record, Illinois State is currently ranked No. 240 in the KenPom rankings and No. 272 in the NET rankings.

Bradley University

Bradley (4-6, 1-0) was selected to finish sixth out of the ten teams in the MVC Preseason Poll after finishing the 2020-2021 season eighth in the league. The Braves returned only two out of their five starters for the 2021-2022 season.

Also returning to the Braves roster is Ja’Shon Henry, who was selected to the MVC Preseason Third Team. Henry is second in scoring for Bradley, averaging 10.6 points per game. Meanwhile, fellow Third Team selection Rienk Mask is averaging 8.9 rebounds per game. 

Like Southern Illinois, Bradley also competed in the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the Braves fell in all three games to finish eighth out of eight teams competing. After the tournament, Bradley held a record of 1-4 for the season.

The Braves were able to rebound upon returning from the Paradise Jam, capturing all three of its next contests — including the 71-69 upset over Northern Iowa Dec. 6. With a losing record of 4-6, Bradley finds itself at No. 185 and 240 in the KenPoms and NET rankings, respectively.

Valparaiso University

Valparaiso (5-5, 0-1) was picked to finish the 2021-2022 season lower than it ended the 2020-2021 season. Although the Beacons ended last season tied for fifth place, they were slated to finish seventh in the conference for the current season.

Four players have joined the Beacons roster after transferring from Big 10 competitors, including three from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Beacons also return MVC Preseason Second Team selection Ben Krikke, who is averaging 15.8 points per contest. 

Valparaiso traveled to the Bahamas to compete in the Nassau Championship, where the Beacons came out in third place after defeating Jacksonville State University Nov. 22 and Tulane University Nov. 24.

The Beacons are currently ranked No. 214 and No. 219 in the KenPom and NET rankings, respectively. Despite its success in the Nassau Championship, Valparaiso wasn’t able to keep up the momentum against Drake, falling to the Bulldogs 66-73 Dec. 2.

Missouri State University

Missouri State (4-4, 0-1) was tabbed to finish fourth in the MVC and is the first team to have two Preseason First Team selections since 2015 — Gaige Prim and Isiaih Mosley. The Bears are currently placed at No. 78 and No. 129 in the KenPom and NET rankings, respectively.

Prim, who is averaging 19.6 points per game — the most of any player in the MVC — led the conference in rebounds last season with 9.1 rebounds per game. Meanwhile, Mosley ended the 2020-2021 season as the league’s top scorer after contributing an average of 19.8 points per game.

Missouri State played in the Naples Invitational Nov. 22-24, taking third place out of the eight teams competing after defeating George Washington University 72-54 Nov. 24. During the contest, Prim contributed 20 points off 17 field goal attempts.

The Bears weren’t as successful upon their return to Springfield, Missouri as Illinois State University handed them their first MVC loss 74-79 Dec. 1. Missouri State went on to lose to No. 24 Brigham Young University 68-74 Dec. 4.

Indiana State University

Indiana State (4-5, 0-1) was selected to finish ninth in the conference, a significant drop from its fourth place finish for the 2020-2021 season. The Sycamores welcomed first-year head coach Josh Schertz to the squad and returned three of its five starters from the previous season.

However, Indiana State has faced a roadblock with the announcement that MVC Preseason First Team selection Tyreke Key would be sitting out of the 2021-2022 season due to a shoulder injury. Cooper Neese has stepped up in Key’s absence, averaging 15.4 points per contest.

The Sycamores fell to in-state rival Ball State University 75-97 Nov. 27 despite Ball State being lower than Indiana State in the NET rankings at No. 202. Meanwhile, Indiana State is ranked at No. 147 in the NET rankings and No. 179 in the KenPom rankings.

Despite a strong offensive effort from the Sycamores on the road against Loyola, Indiana State fell in its first conference competition 76-88 Dec. 1.

University of Evansville

Evansville (4-7, 0-1) found itself selected eighth in the MVC Preseason Poll after finishing the 2020-2021 season tied with Valparaiso for fifth place. The Purple Aces returned four of its five starters for the 2021-2022 season.

One of those starters is Shamar Givance, who is leading Evansville in scoring and steals by averaging 15 points and 1.6 steals per game. Givance was the only member of the Purple Aces roster to receive preseason accolades after being named to the MVC Preseason Third Team.

The Purple Aces fell in all three games of the Gulf Coast Showcase Nov. 22-24, but managed to push Rice University into triple overtime before falling to the Owls 104-109 Nov. 22. Evansville went on to lose against SIU during its MVC opener Dec. 1.

With its 4-7 record, Evansville is currently ranked No. 228 in the KenPoms rankings and No. 279 in the NET rankings.

University of Northern Iowa (UNI)

Northern Iowa (2-5, 0-1) came in behind Loyola to place third on the MVC preseason poll, a slight drop from its first place selection for the 2020-2021 season. The Panthers are currently ranked No. 129 in the KenPom rankings and No. 247 in the NET rankings, but are dead last in the MVC standings.

The Panthers do have a not-so-secret weapon on their side — back-to-back MVC Preseason Play of the Year AJ Green, who is averaging 16.4 points per game. Green returned to the court for Northern Iowa after sitting most of the 2020-2021 season due to a hip injury.

Despite its losing record, UNI managed to pull a 90-80 upset on the road against St. Bonaventure University, who was ranked No. 16 in the AP Top 25 Poll at the time. Green put up 35 points against the Bonnies to lead the Panthers to victory Nov. 27.

Even though the team came into conference play with a win, Northern Iowa wasn’t able to maintain a streak. Despite 20 points from Green, the Panthers lost to Bradley University 69-71 on the road Dec. 6.

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