While the Missouri Valley Conference stumbled to an 8-6 record in college basketball’s opening weekend, the newcomers made their presence known, as rookies and transfers injected some youth into the second-oldest conference in Division I.
Wichita State, Loyola, and Missouri State swept weekend games and Northern Iowa won its only contest. Bradley split a pair of weekend tilts, but the other five league members dropped their openers.
Wichita State’s two easy wins over teams picked win their respective conferences (South Carolina State and Long Beach State) were impressive enough on their own merit, but head coach Gregg Marshall gave minutes to everyone on the roster, and newcomers Landry Shamet, Darral Willis, Austin Reaves, and Daishon Smith all stood out.
Shamet was with the team last year, but redshirted after an injury derailed what would have been his freshman season. The 6’4 guard scored 19 points in the two Shocker wins. The junior transfer Willis scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Reaves flashed the ability to shoot from long range and became the first Shocker freshman in 20 years to record three steals in his debut. Smith gave a glimpse of his point guard skills by handing out seven assists in just 16 minutes of play.
Smith told goshockers.com that he is enjoying his new teammates.
“Going to Canada was big for me to see what college basketball was like early,” said Smith. “I have to understand when I can go by a defender and when to pull back. I’m trying to raise my IQ. We are a family and we love one another. Guys are not selfish; we’re thinking to pass the ball first. We understand if one wins, we all win. It’s not about individual stats.”
Loyola’s two wins were against lesser competition, but featured something of a coming out party for Iowa State transfer Clayton Custer, who averaged 16 points while knocking down five of nine shots from long distance. Fellow transfer Aundre Jackson led the Ramblers in rebounding with 13 in two games and scored 25 points. The 6’5 junior also went 11 of 15 from the floor.
Missouri State’s competition was light as well, but the Bears handled Alabama A&M and Jacksonville State easily, topping the 90-point mark in both games. Transfer Alize Johnson had a monster weekend. The 6’9 transfer averaged 18 points and eight rebounds in the two Bear victories. Austin Ruder missed virtually all of last season due to a hip injury, and the 6’3 junior announced his return by burying 10 three-pointers during the successful weekend. Transfer Ronnie Rousseau handed out 12 assists in the lopsided victories.
Bears head coach Paul Lusk told missouristatebears.com that it was great to have Ruder back in the lineup.
“It’s good to have Austin back,” said Lusk. “He’s a smart player. He understands what’s going on and I think it’s going on every time he shoots it.”
Illinois State and Indiana State both lost narrowly on the road, to Northern Illinois and Murray State respectively.
There are key resume builders on the Valley’s schedule this week. Monday night Southern Illinois (0-1) plays at Arkansas, Indiana State (0-1) travels to Mid-American Conference favorite Ball State on Tuesday, Northern Iowa (1-0) opens the Puerto Rico Tip-Off against Arizona State on Thursday, and Loyola (2-0) tangles with St. Joseph’s in the Paradise Jam on Friday.