With about a month left in the regular season for men’s basketball, let’s take a quick look at some of the top contenders in the Missouri Valley Conference:
1. Missouri State
(9-1 in MVC, 17-4 overall)
The Bears have been surprisingly steady this season after finishing seventh in the Valley last year. Its young squad has taken the next step into a contender this season on the back of junior Kyle Weems, who is averaging 16.5 points per game and 6.9 rebounds, which rank second and fifth in the league, respectively. Weems is a strong contender to win MVC player of the year honors. Drake nearly knocked off Missouri State at the Knapp Center on Jan. 25, dropping a 73-70 decision. The Bears’ only loss came against Indiana State on the road. History is also on Missouri State’s side, as all 28 teams who have led at the half-way point of the conference season has reached postseason play, and 23 went on to play in the NCAA tournament.
2. Wichita State
(9-2 in MVC, 18-4 overall)
The Shockers were the hot pick to win the Valley before the season, based on its second-place finish last year and returning loads of talent. Wichita State has lived up to the hype for the most part, but this group will not be satisfied without a conference title and an NCAA tournament bid. Wichita State has a balanced squad, with senior J.T. Durley leading the team in scoring with 11.9 points per game. The Shockers splashed onto the national radar in the Maui Invitational tournament earlier this season, almost defeating Connecticut, which was ranked among the top 10 teams in the country last week.
3. Northern Iowa
(7-3 in MVC, 16-6 overall)
Last year’s Cinderella story during March Madness and two-time defending MVC regular-season and tournament champions have had a more difficult path to travel this season, but the Panthers are still one of the league’s most dangerous teams. Northern Iowa plays stifling defense, is one of the smartest teams in the country, and takes care of the ball. The team relies on veteran leadership, turning to seniors Kwadzo Ahelegbe (sixth in Valley at 13.4 points per game) and Lucas O’Rear (12th with 5.5 rebounds per game).