Paper Thin Difference
(St. Louis, MO) – What is the difference between winning and losing during Missouri Valley Conference games? In this tightest of Missouri Valley races, conference coaches tell me the difference between victory and defeat is paper thin.
Three teams are tied for third place, two games out of first place. Those three teams are also two games out of eighth place. All ten teams have won at least 11 games, a Valley feat accomplished only nine other times in the 111 year league history.
Preseason favorite Missouri State (16-10, 6-7) is tied for sixth place. Preseason cellar dweller Drake (13-12, 7-5) is tied for third. Every Valley team has an RPI of 187 or better and most of the teams dominate at home, so road success could be the determining factor in this year’s race.
MVC coaches say the smallest of issues can make the largest difference. Only first place Loyola has a scoring margin of greater than 2.8 points per game, and only last place Northern Iowa is has a negative scoring margin of at least five points. Compared to the Ohio Valley Conference where four teams have greater scoring margin of 3.4 points or more and five teams have a negative scoring margin of 5.4 or more.
Indiana State coach Greg Lansing says the depth of preparation by Valley coaches and the strength of each program makes it difficult to win games during league play.
While some onlookers are calling this one of the most competitive seasons in years, Evansville coach Marty Simmons says, it’s always like this in the Valley.
Bradley (17-8, 7-5) is one of the ascending programs and has increased its win total every year under head coach Brian Wardle. The Braves won four straight games prior to Saturday’s first home loss of the season to the surprising Bulldogs.
Wardle says sometimes players start to get complacent and they forget to listen. Wardle hopes the Drake loss is a valuable lesson for his young team.
Drake’s Niko Medved says a break up with a girl friend, a tough test or any other distraction can upset the rhythm of young and impressionable athletes. Medved says some times the ball just bounces the right way.
Ilinois State’s unpredictable team has been a hard group of players for coach Dan Muller to understand. He says his players work hard and want to be coached, but they’ve lacked a competitive, killer instinct.
There are six games left in the conference season (Missouri State and Indiana State have five). Southern Illinois’ Barry Hinson predicted at the preseason media day, that the final weekend of the season will determine virtually every spot in the final standings.
Most teams have an even split between home and road games, but Bradley plays just two of their final six at home and Indiana State has just two of five on the road.
Injuries will play a major role in determining the final standings. Illinois State’s Keyshawn Evans is out for the next one to three weeks with a bone bruise in his left knee. Evansville is probably two weeks away from getting Dru Smith back and Missouri State is anxiously awaiting the return of Reggie Scurry.