To be sure, there's still plenty of basketball still to be played, but this far into the season we've had enough games to form some general opinions about how the Missouri Valley is shaping up. So far the MVC seems to be shaping up how we thought it would. However, I am hesitant to overreact to the results for most of the teams because most of the important non-conference games have yet to take place, so I will be refraining for creating a power ranking at this point.
While I will not be "power ranking" the Valley teams here like in the conference preview, here's a recap of how the Valley seems to look so far in order from who is looking good and, well, not so good.
Wichita State Shockers
Notable Wins: Western Kentucky
Apart from a shaky start in their game against Tennessee State (which ended up being an 11 point win for the Shockers), WSU has looked about as good as expected if not a little better. While this has been the easiest stretch Wichita State has in its schedule, they've played the part of Final Four contender by winning their first five games by an average margin of 22.8 points. Dominating decent teams is a good sign, but next up they play DePaul tonight, followed by potential match up with either Texas or BYU. After that they have a stretch including games against SLU, Tennessee, and Alabama.
Indiana State Sycamores
Notable Wins: Notre Dame
After their close loss to a good Belmont squad Indiana State was probably already eying their December 28th rematch with the Bruins. However, the Sycamores had to have felt good when Belmont turned around and also beat UNC, and even better when they upset Notre Dame themselves. Frankly, Indiana State has already displayed the talent and potential that they will need if they want to take the Valley from WSU. Up next ISU plays the Tulsa Hurricanes (0-4) who have already had the unfortunate opportunity to get beat down the Shockers, Mo State Bears, and former Valley member Creighton.
Missouri State Bears
Notable Wins: Old Dominion
So far the Bears have beat a quality Old Dominion team, a Tulsa team who is better than their winless record indicates, and two teams they should have beat. While this may not be incredibly impressive to a casual observer, the vast improvement over last season is already evident. Last year's Bears team was 2-4 at this point last season, and those wins were against a D-II and an NAIA opponent. The fact that Missouri State beat the Hampton Pirates this season is enough to elicit relative optimism. Up next is Liberty, shortly followed by a game against Texas A&M where they should be each others' first test of the season.
Evansville Purple Aces
Notable Wins: Mercer, Valparaiso
Okay, so maybe Evansville hasn't really entered into the hard part of their schedule yet, but Evansville has passed the eye test so far (or, more specifically, D.J. Balentine's 29.6 ppg has passed the eye test). The fact that the Purple Aces have beat tough fellow mid-major opponents with their young team is impressive in of itself. They have a road swing coming up where they travel to Indiana, Ohio U, and Murray State, so the mettle of this team is going to be tested, but I expect that win or lose they will enjoy making a game of it up the road in Bloomington.
Notable Wins: N/A
Like I said, most teams are looking about how we expected. However, Drake is the one team that is looking better than I thought. Admittedly, the quality of their wins so far are suspect, but their improvement may be better represented by their one loss. Drake played closely against a very good St. Mary's team and showed that if nothing else, their defense may keep them in games when it comes to conference play. Up next are games against Fresno State and Northern Arizona.
Northern Iowa Panthers
Notable Wins: Loyola Marymount
On the other hand, the Panthers are the one Valley team that has looked a lot worse than I expected them to. While they played good games against Ohio and George Mason, the fact is that they came up short. The Paradise Jam tournament has been a mixed bag so far, as UNI did beat Loyola Marymount in an excellent game, but then lost to Maryland. The Panthers have the opportunity to play tonight for third place against another underachiever, La Salle. The problem isn't that the Panthers have lost games to good teams, but that they still have preseason games against Iowa State, VCU, Virginia, and Iona. If Northern Iowa can pull out some solid wins then they may be able to redeem themselves, but it also means that they still have a very difficult road before the conference slate begins.
Notable Wins: N/A
The Braves are difficult to judge at this point. While they started off well against teams like Central Michigan and Chicago State, they proceeded to lose badly to Illinois and Arizona State. Mind you, I don't hold it against Bradley that they lost to two quality basketball teams, but the problem is that the Illini and Sun Devils are the only true challenges on their preseason schedule, and the Braves looked really bad in those two games. I'm not trying to sell Pacific and South Florida short, because they're perfectly fine teams that I am sure will play good games against BU, but they aren't exactly teams you build resumes around. Texas-Pan American and IUPUI are the next two opponents for Bradley.
Notable Wins: N/A
At this point the Ramblers are a team that hasn't looked either really bad or really good against any of the teams they've played. In games against D-I opponents they haven't won by more than 4, but they haven't lost by more than 5 either. When it comes down to it they look like a middle of the pack Horizon League team (at least they already beat Milwaukee of the HL), which will put them somewhere near the bottom of the Missouri Valley. Next up is Loyola's biggest non-conference opponent, Mississippi State, and then they will play cross-town rival UI-Chicago.
Illinois State Redbirds
Notable Wins: Northwestern
This is a good reason why these are not power rankings. At this point the Redbirds have beat the team from the "major" conference, Northwestern, but managed to lose to three quality teams (VCU, Drexel, and Manhattan). While I expect Illinois State to be at the bottom of the Valley anyways, many other teams in the Valley would have had a problem being over .500 at this point of the Redbirds' schedule as well. Maybe we'll learn a little bit more about ISU when they play Vermont, Sonoma State, and San Francisco in a span of four days.
Southern Illinois Salukis
Notable Wins: N/A
The Salukis are still unquestionably the worst team in the Valley. While nobody can blame them for losing to the University of Missouri-Columbia and St. Louis, their one win is against a D-II opponent. Desmar Jackson has continued to be an excellent player, but there's little else to be happy about for SIU right now. The post scoring is just as bad as expected, but one pleasant surprise is that the Saluki guards are rebounding rather well. St. Bonaventure is visiting tonight and Chicago State is next after that.