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January 7, 2009, 12:37 AM ET
The Missouri Valley: Suddenly Interesting!

by John Gasaway

I realize this will mark my second consecutive Unfiltered post about the Missouri Valley Conference, but there were some big doings Tuesday night. To make it worth your while I’ll also include a BONUS non-Tuesday-related thought….

Illinois State is no longer unbeaten, having lost at Bradley 56-52. Here’s a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse of the inner workings here at Basketball Prospectus: I’d resolved to do a piece on the Redbirds if they won this road game. Since they didn’t, I’m doing a bullet point instead. I was wary of trumpeting Tim Jankovich’s team too soon because they were shooting so many threes. Of course they were making them–that’s why they were undefeated. But that was bound to change sooner or later. Sure enough, it changed in Peoria Tuesday night. Osiris Eldridge was his usual productive self, scoring 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc. His teammates, however, were a combined 1-of-15 on their threes. Still, 14-1 is way ahead of where anyone thought ISU would be at this point. Even when their perimeter shooting is off, their excellent defense will keep them in most games, as indeed it did against the Braves. As for BU, they’re now 4-0 in-conference and have clearly been one of the three best teams coming out of the blocks, along with Illinois State and, well, next bullet:

What in the world’s gotten into Northern Iowa? The Panthers won at Creighton 69-66, as Johnny Moran hit 6-of-8 threes and scored 22 points. Northern Iowa lost their conference opener to Indiana State at home in double-overtime, but having won on the road against the preseason favorite Bluejays, Ben Jacobson’s team is in a surprisingly strong position. Credit the offense, which, as seen in the case of Moran, has been raining made threes on opponents: the Panthers have made 47 percent of their threes against Valley opponents. That will win you some games. That level of shooting won’t continue, of course, but then again it might drop off less than you think. Northern Iowa is one of the best free throw shooting teams in the nation. They should be able to hit threes as well.

BONUS non-Tuesday thought! Southern Illinois is but a shadow of its former self. The next time a coach is instantly criticized for leaving a Valley program to take a major-conference position, think of one coach who stayed: Chris Lowery. In the spring of 2007 Lowery was a hot property, widely considered to be in the mix for the openings at both Michigan and Iowa. In the end, however, he decided to stay put. If you were in his shoes back then, you would’ve probably thought these options would be open again and that there’s no need to jump at the first opportunity. Well, look now. The Salukis are off to an Edvard Munch-level horrific start and Lowery is where he is. Of course, for all I know he could be perfectly happy in Carbondale. But my point is simply that his options have certainly diminished–and that’s the danger when you stay. Anywhere you look, Southern Illinois is struggling. Their long-feared defense is in tatters, they’re fouling like crazy, and in Valley play they’re making just 33 percent of their twos (not a typo). Possession for possession, only Wichita State is off to a worse start in-conference.

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