It's going to take heroics like those shown by senior post Will Creekmore for Missouri State to wrap up a conference championship. There are no cakewalks in the Valley.
It’s been a couple of days now, but I wanted to share some thoughts on Missouri State’s close shave at Drake. The Bears – tell me if this sounds familiar – struggled, and actually trailed a good portion of the game, before rallying to win. The final score was 73-70.
Not the result a lot of people expected considering Drake entered the game 3-6 in Missouri Valley Conference play. But the Bulldogs were scrappy, fed their hot hands and found ways to stay in the game.
Get used to it, Bears fans. This is the new normal.
Conference play is By Any Means Necessary time, and the Valley is no different. In fact, the Valley is even tougher, considering its conference tournament is one of the first played each year. That means the teams pack 18 league games into just a couple of months. Missouri State will play its slate in just 60 days, averaging a league game every 3.3 days. The Bears have four days off between the win at Drake and a home game with defending Valley champ Northern Iowa, their biggest break since they had six days off between games with Arkansas State and UNI in December.
It’s a grind, and everyone is subjected to the same schedule. Winning down the stretch is just as much about grit and determination as it is talent. The Bears are now 4-1 in Valley games decided by 3 points or less, a testament to their grit.
There’s also the bulls-eye factor. Missouri State is in first place. They’re getting Top 25 votes. They’re being mentioned as a potential at-large team. They are the team to beat. Nobody in the Valley will hit the floor in awe of the Bears and they will all step it up a notch to try and beat the league leaders.
One more thing that will play a role down the stretch is something I haven’t heard much in the local media: There are no secrets at this point in the season. This is what happens in conference play: I know what you’re gonna do, you know what I’m gonna do, so let’s go see who does it better. There are no surprises right now. Opponents have a scouting report on every Bear – even the freshman – by now and know how they like to shoot, catch, dribble, defend, etc. Like Chuck D of Public Enemy said, “It’s not a matter of skills, but a battle of wills.”
The win is the thing from now on for Missouri State. Be it three points or 30, they just need the W.
Mighty MO State is closing in on its first-ever Valley regular season title, still leading second place Wichita State by one game with eight to play. Indiana State has faltered recently, losing at WSU in multiple OTs before letting a big lead slip away in a home loss to Evansville. The Trees are now two games back, as is always-dangerous Northern Iowa. Here’s a look at the contenders and what they have left.
1. Missouri State (9-1): The Bears still have schedule on their side. MO State plays five of its last eight league games at home, with trips to Evansville (5-5), Illinois State (2-8) and Southern Illinois (4-6) remaining. That’s not a UNI-WSU-CU swing by any stretch of the imagination, but there are also no nights off. MSU is in the enviable position of controlling its own destiny. All they need to do is win.
2. Wichita State (8-2): It’s been pointed out that the Shockers, the preseason Valley favorite, may have lost some of their edge at home. WSU is perfect on the road in league play, but lost to both MO State and UNI in The Roundhouse and needed triple overtime to stop Indiana State. WSU has four home games and four road games left, including trips to UNI, Indiana State, and Missouri State. In other words, the Shockers can help themselves on the court.
3. Indiana State (7-3): Is the magic starting to fade for the Sycamores? They gave the Shockers all they wanted before finally succumbing, but followed that up with a puzzling home loss to Evansville. The Sycamores need a win – fast – or their momentum might be gone. Easier said then done. The Sycs have five road games left to play, visiting Creighton, Illinois State, Missouri State, Southern Illinois and UNI. They also have a visit from Wichita State so they, like the Shockers, can help themselves in the race for first place.
4. Northern Iowa (7-3): The Panthers worry me as much as any of these other teams (and I would throw Southern Illinois into that group). The Panthers have toiled quietly in the shadow of Indiana State’s hot start and, after a 1-3 start, have won six straight league games. True, four of those games were at home, but they got a great road win at Wichita State. The Panthers are well coached and talented, and their game this Sunday, Jan. 30, at Missouri State could be epic. A win for Mighty MO State puts them on step closer to wrapping up the title. A loss? Then it’s Katy Bar the Door.