Photo: Connor McCourtney
The Bulldogs continue to hold on to a middle-of-the-road ranking in the Missouri Valley Conference as the season nears the final stretch of conference play.
Drake, now 6-7 in the MVC and an even 12-12 overall, brought home a close 67-65 win against Bradley on the road last Thursday. But the Bulldogs were unable to shake up conference leader UNI Saturday, falling 74-55.
“I think we have some positive momentum going right now,” senior guard Kristin Turk said. “We’ve had three good weeks of practice now, and we’ve won three out of our last four games. We want to be playing our best basketball at the end of the season, and I think we are on our way there.”
The MVC received nods in Tuesday’s USA Today ESPN Top 25 Coaches’ Poll, when Northern Iowa got four votes, propelling them to No. 33 in the poll.
In the computer-generated ratings percentage index, the MVC also had two teams in the top 50—but not in the order you’d expect.
UNI sat at No. 50 in the latest RPI rankings, while the Valley’s fourth-place team, Missouri State, earned No. 45 from the NCAA.
The RPI is generated from a range of team statistical categories, such as wins and strength of schedule.
Northern Iowa: Valley Leader
The Panthers currently lead the Valley with a 12-1 record in conference play and a 19-5 record overall and have held three opponents to under 40 points in recent weeks. In matchups against Bradley, Southern Illinois and Evansville, UNI has allowed no more than 40 points. The fewest points scored on the Panthers this season were Bradley’s 34 points.
UNI has also racked up 11 straight wins, which ranks 10th in the country among winning streaks.
Creighton and Illinois State: The Challengers
While Creighton (10-3, 16-8) and Illinois State (9-3, 17-6) trail close behind the Panthers, both teams had players honored as MVC Players of the Week last week.
Illinois State’s Emily Hanley earned her second MVC Player of the Week honor this week as she led the Redbirds to two victories. Both Wichita State and Missouri State fell to Illinois State as it reached its 12th home-court win. Hanley averaged 18.5 points and 6.5 rebounds during the two-game stretch.
The Redbirds have heated up in the past three weeks of conference play and currently hold a seven-game win streak.
Creighton’s freshman Carli Tritz is a serial MVC Newcomer of the Week, earning her seventh honor for her efforts against UNI and Bradley. Tritz averaged 14 points and 4.5 rebounds in the games.
The Bluejays’ head coach Jim Flanery also reached a milestone this weekend, winning his 100th MVC game in a 50-48 overtime victory against Wichita State.
Missouri State: The Underappreciated
The Bears’ (8-5, 17-8) were ranked higher Monday in the RPI than any other team in the Missouri Valley Conference. Their defense and raw talent are the influencing factors in that phenomenon.
Defensively, Missouri State shuts down its opponents, earning the fifth-place ranking for blocks per game in the nation.
In terms of individual performances for the Bears, junior guard Casey Garrison is by far a standout player in the Valley. Her free throw percentage ranks second in the nation at 92.6 percent, sinking 113 of 122 shots from the line this season.
Garrison trails behind only one fellow MVC player as the conference’s top scorer—Drake’s Turk. If Garrison ousts Turk for the top spot by the season’s end, she’ll earn the honor for the second year in a row.
Missouri State sophomore Tia Mays also holds a national ranking for the Bears, earning the sixth-place spot for individual blocks with an average of 3.6 per game.
Drake: A Contender
Sitting at their usual position in the middle of the Valley, the Bulldogs have kept a steady hold on the fifth or sixth spot in the conference all season.
Turk continues to be a force on the court for the Bulldogs. She maintains the conference’s leading scorer spot, averaging 19.8 points per game. If Turk manages to bring up that average by 0.2, she’ll be the first MVC player in five years to break a 20-point average.
“We have to finish the rest of the season strong and be playing our best basketball in March,” Turk added. “We have good chemistry and we are getting better and better at putting full games together. We are on our way to peaking at the right time.”
Northern Iowa – The Valley leaders are now 12-1 in conference play and are riding an 11-game winning streak, which is tied for the 10th longest in Division I this season. The Panthers are third in the nation in fewest turnovers per game and outscore opponents by an average of 12.3 points a night.
Illinois State – The third-place Redbirds are winners in 12 of their last 15 games and are undefeated at home this season (12-0). They currently hold a seven-game winning streak. The Redbirds will be a scary team during the MVC tournament because of their resiliency; they have five double-digit comeback victories this season.
Southern Illinois – An obvious but necessary pick, the 2-21 Salukis have had a season they quickly want to forget. Southern Illinois is still winless in conference (0-12). The Salukis still face Northern Iowa, Illinois State and Missouri State, but the team’s best chance for its first MVC win might come this Saturday when the team hosts Bradley.
Bradley – The Braves are 4-9 in the MVC and 11-13 overall, but are in the midst of a three-game losing streak. Drake delivered one of those three losses, and it was a tough loss for Bradley. The Braves owned a 15-point lead in the second half and a 10-point lead with under four minutes left, but dropped a 67-65 decision.