The rock-paper-scissors match of wins and losses among the top five teams in the Missouri Valley Conference continues!
At 12-4, Northern Iowa went from a collapse against Loyola-Chicago to start the week to dropping 95 points on Missouri State. Loyola went from walloping UNI to a near loss against Valparaiso and a home loss against Drake. Missouri State went from comfortable wins against Valpo and Indiana State to being beat by 20 by Northern Iowa.
In this week of surprises, perhaps the biggest one is that Loyola Chicago has potentially found itself without its at-large safety net.
Loyola’s week started with a dominating 27-point victory over Northern Iowa. It seemed like the Ramblers would keep the momentum going, only to barely survive their game at Valparaiso. A 71-69 win wasn’t the dominant outing Loyola was looking for. The Ramblers’ woes continued as Drake handed them a seven-point loss in their much-anticipated rematch in Chicago.
Even more notable than a wide margin of victory? Drake held the Ramblers scoreless for nearly two and a half minutes. That’s no easy feat in a packed Gentile Arena. The Ramblers entered halftime with a 12-point deficit. Despite outscoring Drake 45-40 in the second half, they just couldn’t put together a strong enough run to catch up. It might be viewed by the selection committee as the straw that broke the camel’s back, in terms of an at-large argument.
The Ramblers will end their season with a home game against Evansville Wednesday evening and Northern Iowa on Saturday. How they perform against the Panthers will likely decide whether they enter the tournament as the coveted top seed. It remains to be seen if the tough losses will cause Loyola to fight harder, or if the mistakes will continue to snowball.
As for the Drake Bulldogs, don’t let their 10-5 record fool you. They’re proving themselves to be a dangerous team at exactly the right time. The trio of Tucker DeVries, Garrett Sturtz, and Roman Penn all delivered double-digit scoring performances against Loyola. Tremell Murphy contributed another nine. With their remaining games being against Valpo and SIU, it’s safe to say the hardest part is behind them.
The biggest question for Drake moving forward: with key players like Roman Penn practice time limited due to injuries, how will the brutal back-to-back schedule of Arch Madness factor in?
UNI didn’t seem the likely candidate to sit atop the rankings as the week started. Loyola beat the Panthers by 27 points Sunday afternoon and they couldn’t buy a bucket while the struggling defense couldn’t stop the hot-handed Rambler offense.
Their woes nearly continued against Illinois State. The Redbirds played aggressively, likely due to the abrupt announcement that head coach Dan Muller had reneged on his promise to finish the season with the team despite being fired. Still looking off-kilter from the Loyola game two days prior, the Panthers escaped by the skin of their teeth.
Northern Iowa bounced back from a trouncing by the Ramblers to drop 95 points on a scary Missouri State team. Five Panthers recorded double figures: AJ Green, Noah Carter, Trae Berhow, Nate Heise and Bowen Born. Carter also made big plays on the defensive end, along with Tywhon Pickford and Austin Phyfe. The 20-point win showcased that their bench is deeper than ever.
Missouri State’s defense was mismatched from the beginning, with UNI taking off on an 8-0 run to start the game. From there it jumped to an 11-point lead by the Panthers. UNI never relinquished its hold on the lead.
Frustration seemed to boil over for Gaige Prim in particular. He racked up four fouls, with his fifth coming as a technical foul. It did more than hand the Panthers another opportunity for uncontested points — it was the final nail in the coffin for a Bears comeback.
The Bears are back in action against Bradley on Wednesday, and they’ll end the regular season at Evansville on Saturday.
Current top five:
- Northern Iowa (12-4; +2)
- Loyola Chicago (11-4; -1)
- Missouri State (11-5; -2)
- Drake (11-5; +1)
- Bradley (10-6; -1)
Bottom line: Prepare yourselves for a week of chaos in the Valley as the top five look to secure a good seed.