Chicago Colleges: Drake Bulldogs

Nonconference schedule analysis: MVC

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
2:10
PM CT
This week, ESPN.com is breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen of the nation's top leagues. On Monday, we began in the South with the ACC, SEC and C-USA. On Tuesday, we focused on the East with the A-10, Big East and CAA. Wednesday was all about the West with the Mountain West, Pac-12 and WCC. Today we focus on the Midwest with the Big Ten, Big 12, Missouri Valley and the best of the rest.

BRADLEY

Toughest: at South Florida (Nov. 20), Michigan (Dec. 1), Las Vegas Classic (Dec. 22-23)
Next-toughest: George Washington (Dec. 4)
The rest: Eastern Illinois (Nov. 9), Texas-Pan American (Nov. 12), at IUPUI (Nov. 17), Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 24), at Central Michigan (Nov. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- Considering it went 7-25 last season, Bradley certainly could’ve scheduled easier. South Florida will contend for a second-straight NCAA tournament berth and Michigan is a preseason top-10 team. The Braves will face Virginia Tech and either Colorado State or Portland in Vegas. George Washington won only 10 games a year ago but returns four starters.

CREIGHTON

Toughest: Las Vegas Invitational (Nov. 23-24), at Cal (Dec. 15), BracketBusters (TBA)
Next-toughest: North Texas (Nov. 9), Saint Joseph’s (Dec. 1), Akron (Dec. 9)
The rest: Presbyterian (Nov. 18), Longwood (Nov. 20), Boise State (Nov. 28), at Nebraska (Dec. 6), Tulsa (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Although it’s not as soft as last year’s, the Bluejays’ nonconference schedule is a bit underwhelming for a top-15-caliber team. They’ll be challenged by Wisconsin and either Arkansas or Arizona State in Las Vegas, and a trip to Cal won’t be easy. North Texas, Saint Joseph’s and Akron all will pose threats in Omaha and will help the RPI. But Creighton’s best nonconference game may be its BracketBusters showdown with a to-be-determined opponent in late February.

DRAKE

Toughest: DIRECTV Classic (Nov. 22-25), at Nevada (Nov. 30), Saint Mary’s (Dec. 5), vs. Iowa State (Dec. 15 in Des Moines)
Next-toughest: at Detroit (Nov. 17), BracketBusters (TBA)
The rest: William Jewell (Nov. 10), IPFW (Dec. 8), North Carolina Central (Dec. 19), Eastern Illinois (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Kudos to coach Mark Phelps for building one of the conference’s most challenging nonconference schedules. The Bulldogs travel to Horizon League favorite Detroit and will then face Cal and then either Georgia Tech or Rice in Anaheim. Nevada and Saint Mary’s are stiff tests from out West. The schedule could play huge dividends for Drake in MVC play.

EVANSVILLE

Toughest: at Notre Dame (Dec. 10), at Colorado State (Dec. 1), Murray State (Dec. 8), at Butler (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: Coaches vs. Cancer Classic (Nov. 15-17), at Tennessee Tech (Nov. 20)
The rest: Alabama A&M (Nov. 26), Miami-Ohio (Dec. 5), Alabama State (Dec. 15), Oakland City (Dec. 18)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- After opening on the road at Notre Dame -- an upper-echelon Big East team -- the Purple Aces play three straight home games in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. But that doesn’t mean the wins will come easy. Buffalo, Yale and Western Illinois all return three starters from winning teams. Colorado State, Butler and Murray State will all contend for NCAA tournament bids. This schedule gives an improving Evansville program a chance to take that “next step.”

ILLINOIS STATE

Toughest: at Drexel (Nov. 15), at Louisville (Dec. 1), at Dayton (Dec. 19)
Next-toughest: UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 12), South Padre Island Invitational (Nov. 23-24), Wyoming (Dec. 4)
The rest: Delaware State (Nov. 18), Fairleigh Dickinson (Nov. 20), Western Michigan (Dec. 8), Morgan State (Dec. 16), Austin Peay (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- For a fringe top-25 team hoping to earn its first NCAA berth since 1998, this is a relatively weak nonconference schedule. Louisville is an NCAA title contender, Drexel returns four starters from a 29-7 team and Dayton is a tough place to play. Otherwise, there are no marquee matchups on the slate. The South Padre Island Field is weak with UAB, TCU and Northwestern.

INDIANA STATE

Toughest: at UCLA (Nov. 9), New Mexico (Dec. 1), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25 in Honolulu)
Next-toughest: at Ball State (Nov. 2), BracketBusters (TBA)
The rest: Winthrop (Nov. 13), Truman State (Nov. 17), High Point (Nov. 25), at Morehead State (Dec. 8), IUPUI (Dec. 15)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- This slate provides plenty of challenges for a program that lost four starters from an 18-15 team. Opening on the road against UCLA looks to be an insurmountable feat, but the experience will pay off in the long run. The Sycamores will also faced a much-improved Ole Miss squad in the Diamond Head Classic, which also features San Diego State, Arizona and Miami.

MISSOURI STATE

Toughest: San Diego State (Nov. 17), at Oklahoma State (Dec. 8)
Next-toughest: Hoops for Hope Challenge (Nov. 24-25 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico), Oral Roberts (Dec. 1), Valparaiso (Dec. 15), at New Mexico State (Dec. 22)
The rest: Philander Smith (Nov. 9), Jacksonville (Nov. 19), Alcorn State (Nov. 21), at Tulsa (Dec. 5), at Alabama A&M (Dec. 18)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- The Bears will have plenty of chances to impress the NCAA tournament selection committee with this slate. The problem is that Missouri State will be loaded with new faces, making victories against postseason contenders such as San Diego State and Oklahoma State seem unlikely. A championship in the Hoops for Hope Challenge (where the Bears open against rebuilding South Carolina) would provide a nice confidence boost.

NORTHERN IOWA

Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 22-24), at UNLV (Dec. 19), Saint Mary’s (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: at George Mason (Dec. 8), vs. Iowa (Dec. 15 in Des Moines)
The rest: Wartburg (Nov. 10), Toledo (Nov. 14), North Dakota (Nov. 17), Milwaukee (Dec. 1), Northern Colorado (Dec. 5)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- The Panthers open play against Final Four favorite Louisville in the Battle 4 Atlantis, one of the most loaded tournaments in recent memory. Duke, Memphis, Missouri and Stanford are also in the field. UNLV will almost certainly be ranked in the preseason top 25, and Saint Mary’s -- last year’s WCC champion -- features one of the nation’s top point guards in Matthew Dellavedova. Iowa and George Mason will both contend for NCAA bids. What a schedule.

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS

Toughest: at Saint Louis (Nov. 24), at Western Kentucky (Dec. 5), World Vision Classic (Dec. 20-22 in Logan, Utah)
Next-toughest: Fresno State (Nov. 28), at Green Bay (Dec. 14), BracketBusters
The rest: at New Orleans (Nov. 12), Benedictine-Springfield (Nov. 17), at SIU (Nov. 20)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Other than Saint Louis, Barry Hinson won’t play many top-25 caliber teams in his first season at Southern Illinois. But the Salukis won’t face many patsies, either. One of the most difficult tests probably will come three days before Christmas, when Hinson’s squad squares off against host Utah State in the World Vision Classic.

WICHITA STATE

Toughest: at VCU (Nov. 13), at Tennessee (Dec. 13)
Next-toughest: Cancun Challenge (Nov. 20-21), vs. Southern Miss (at INTRUST Bank Arena in Wichita), BracketBusters
The rest: NC Central (Nov. 10), Western Carolina (Nov. 15), Howard (Nov. 17), Tulsa (Nov. 28), at Air Force (Dec. 2), Northern Colorado (Dec. 8), Charleston Southern (Dec. 20)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Victories at VCU or Tennessee could go a long way toward enhancing the Shockers’ NCAA tournament résumé, but there isn’t too much to get excited about on the rest of the slate. It’s a shame Wichita State couldn’t schedule at least one marquee opponent to play at home. To be fair, teams from major conferences probably aren’t too eager to face Gregg Marshall’s squad on the road. Koch Arena is an incredibly difficult place to play, especially when the Shockers are on a roll, which they have been in recent years.

Nonconference schedule analysis: MVC

October, 12, 2011
10/12/11
11:08
PM CT
All week, ESPN.com has been breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen different leagues. On Tuesday, we began with the ACC, SEC and C-USA. On Wednesday, we continued with the Big East, Atlantic 10 and Colonial.

We devoted Thursday to the West, with the Pac-12, WCC and Mountain West. Friday is all about the Midwest. Let's begin with a look at the Missouri Valley...

BRADLEY

Toughest: Chicago Invitational Challenge (Nov. 25-26), at Michigan (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: at George Washington (Dec. 15), at Drexel (Dec. 17), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: UMKC (Nov. 13), Southeast Missouri State (Nov. 16), North Dakota (Nov. 19), Wofford (Nov. 22), at Wyoming (Dec. 3), Northeastern (Dec. 6), Western Carolina (Dec. 20)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The Braves get the boost from their Chicago Invitational opponent -- Wisconsin -- giving coach Geno Ford at least two top-25 opponents (Michigan being the other) in his first year at Bradley. The I-95 corridor trip to George Washington and Drexel also should be good tests, and the BracketBuster looms in February.

CREIGHTON

Toughest: at San Diego State (Nov. 30), Northwestern (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: at Iowa (Nov. 20), Nebraska (Dec. 4), at Saint Joseph’s (Dec. 10), at Tulsa (Dec. 19), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: Dale Howard Classic (Nov. 11-13), Campbell (Nov. 25), Houston Baptist (Dec. 17)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- The Bluejays will be a hot sleeper pick this season, but they haven’t exactly built a schedule to match their reputation. There are no games here that will test how this team compares with its BCS brethren. Creighton, in fact, ought to be favored against the likes of Iowa and Nebraska. Northwestern is a decent test and the road trip to SDSU is part of the MWC/MVC Challenge. The BracketBuster could be entertaining, but even that lacks huge punch as the Bluejays drew a home game. The Dale Howard isn’t exactly classic, either -- with North Carolina A&T and Chicago State as the early opponents.

DRAKE

Toughest: Iowa State (Nov. 15), Paradise Jam (Nov. 18-21)
Next-toughest: Air Force (Dec. 3), at Iowa (Dec. 17), at BracketBusters
The rest: Cal State Northridge (Nov. 26), at Boise State (Nov. 30), Eastern Michigan (Dec. 8), Central Arkansas (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- With Ole Miss in the first game of the Paradise Jam and perhaps Marquette next, this schedule at least has potential. An improving Iowa State team adds some meat, as does a BracketBuster game on the road.

EVANSVILLE

Toughest: Butler (Nov. 12), at North Carolina (Dec. 6)
Next-toughest: Indiana (Nov. 16), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: Oakland City (Nov. 19), at Illinois Chicago (Nov. 23), Alabama State (Nov. 29), TCU (Dec. 3), North Carolina A&T (Dec. 10), Tennessee Tech (Dec. 17), at Miami (Ohio) (Dec. 20)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- The Purple Aces open their new downtown arena in style, bringing Butler to town. It doesn’t get any easier after that, with a much-improved Indiana team in town four days later. And then there’s that little December trip to Chapel Hill. That’s a pretty nice schedule for an Evansville team that returns eight of its top players but still won just 16 games a season ago.

ILLINOIS STATE

Toughest: Cancun Challenge (Nov. 17-23)
Next-toughest: at Morehead State (Dec. 7), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: at Fresno State (Nov. 11), Bethune-Cookman (Nov. 27), Chicago State (Nov. 30), UNC-Wilmington (Dec. 3), Norfolk State (Dec. 18), Arkansas-Little Rock (Dec. 20)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- Granted, the Redbirds are still in growing-pain mode, but this isn’t going to do much to impress anyone. The Cancun Challenge -- with Rutgers in the first game in Mexico and either Richmond or Illinois after -- is decent. Otherwise, a home BracketBuster is really the only big game on Illinois State’s slate.

INDIANA STATE

Toughest: Old Spice Classic (Nov. 24-27), at Vanderbilt (Dec. 17)
Next-toughest: Ball State (Nov. 18), at BracketBusters
The rest: Eastern Illinois (Nov. 11), at Louisiana-Monroe (Nov. 14), Green Bay (Nov. 21), at Boise State (Dec. 3), Maryville (Dec. 10), Louisiana-Monroe (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The Sycamores upset their way into the NCAA tournament last season. They could earn their way in this season, particularly with a good showing at the Old Spice in Orlando. Indiana State gets Texas Tech in the first round there, with a potential strength-of-schedule pop from Minnesota in the next game. Going to Vanderbilt and a road BracketBuster will only improve their reputation. The lone question mark: a home-and-home with Louisiana-Monroe. Really?

MISSOURI STATE

Toughest: at New Mexico (Dec. 3), Oklahoma State (Dec. 7), Las Vegas Classic (Dec. 22-23)
Next-toughest: at Nevada (Nov. 11), at Arkansas State (Nov. 15), Tulsa (Nov. 26), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: Emporia State (Nov. 19), at Oral Roberts (Nov. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Kyle Weems will certainly have plenty of opportunities to showcase his talent, particularly in Las Vegas, where the Bears face West Virginia and Saint Mary’s. Traveling to The Pit is never fun, and will be even less so this season with the loaded Lobos and Drew Gordon. Nevada and Arkansas State could finish atop their leagues, too.

NORTHERN IOWA

Toughest: at Saint Mary’s (Nov. 15), at Iowa State (Nov. 30)
Next-toughest: at Old Dominion (Nov. 12), Iowa (Dec. 6), at BracketBusters
The rest: South Padre Island Invitational (Nov. 20-26), Colorado State (Dec. 3), Milwaukee (Dec. 10), Loras (Dec. 19), Ohio (Dec. 20)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The Panthers get a higher grade here for the sheer logistical tap dance they’ll perform to open the season. Northern Iowa travels to Norfolk to face Blaine Taylor’s always-reliable Old Dominion team, then hopscotches the country for a 2 a.m. ET tilt against Saint Mary’s in the Tip-Off Marathon. And it’s not like the Panthers are traveling from Chicago. Getting anywhere from Cedar Falls isn’t easy. The South Padre Island Invitational lacks a little luster -- with Northern Colorado, Western Carolina, Rice and Providence making up the field -- but an away BracketBuster could be huge for a team expected to challenge in the Valley.

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS

Toughest: at Western Michigan (Dec. 11), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25)
Next-toughest: Saint Louis (Nov. 15), at BracketBusters
The rest: Ohio Dominican (Nov. 12), at Northeastern (Nov. 19), Chicago State (Nov. 25), Western Kentucky (Dec. 7), at Northern Illinois (Dec. 17), Southern Illinois-Edwardsville (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The pressure is on the Salukis to get back to their glory days. Some wins here would surely help. Diamond Head offers some good head-turning opportunities, with SIU opening against Kansas State and getting either Clemson or UTEP in the next game. Western Michigan is loaded, and Rick Majerus finally has a full roster at SLU.

WICHITA STATE

Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 17-20), UNLV (Dec. 4)
Next-toughest: UAB (Nov. 25), at Tulsa (Dec. 7), at BracketBusters
The rest: Charleston Southern (Nov. 13), Cal State Fullerton (Dec. 1), Utah State (Dec. 10), Chicago State (Dec. 14), Newman University (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- This isn’t a bad schedule but for the Shockers, NIT winners a season ago and potential top-25 team this season, but it’s a little light. The Puerto Rico Tip-Off could help. Wichita State gets to go after a BCS scalp in Colorado to start and a game against either Maryland or Alabama will give a real pop to the strength-of-schedule rating. UNLV at home provides a great opportunity to turn some heads, and a road BracketBuster game could be huge.

MVC: Five Things I Can't Wait To See

October, 12, 2011
10/12/11
11:08
PM CT
Here are five questions I can't wait to see answered in the Missouri Valley this season:

1. Is this the year the Valley returns to the glory years?

Before Butler ushered in the new power era of the mid-major, there was the Missouri Valley. In 2006, four conference teams earned NCAA tournament bids and two -- Bradley and Wichita State -- went to the Sweet 16. A year later, Southern Illinois rode a No. 4 seed to regional semifinals as well.

Ever since, the Valley has slipped, falling to the ranks of the one-bid leagues. There have been highlights, of course -- the name Ali Farokhmanesh still sends shivers down the spines of Kansas Jayhawk fans -- but the standard has dipped.

Until perhaps this season. The cyclical nature of basketball is turning in the Valley’s favor thanks to rosters heavy with talented upperclassmen. Creighton and defending NIT champion Wichita State both could make a case for a top-25 preseason ranking. Then there is Indiana State, the Valley’s NCAA rep a year ago. The Sycamores have stockpiled their nonconference schedule with enough meaty games to turn a few heads.

It all should make for an interesting conference battle and perhaps a richer March for the Missouri Valley.

[+] EnlargeChris Lowery
Jeff Curry/US PresswireChris Lowery's Salukis are just 58-67 since the 2007 Sweet 16.
2. Can Chris Lowery jump off the hot seat?

When Southern Illinois inked Lowery to a seven-year extension in 2007, it was smart business. On the heels of a Sweet 16 berth and three incredibly successful seasons, Lowery ranked among the hottest "it" coaches in the country. Now with that deal down to its final three years, Lowery is fighting to save his job. The once-powerful Salukis are just 58-67 since that Sweet 16 run.

Whether this is the year to turn things around remains to be seen. Mamadou Seck, the Valleys’ leading rebounder a season ago, is back and SIU has a strong recruiting class to bolster its roster. But the Salukis need to rediscover their identity in order to succeed. In those first three years when everything was going so well, Southern Illinois allowed just 57.5 points per game. Ever since, the Salukis have given up 64.6.

3. Can McDermott & Son steal March?

Getting Greg McDermott to return to his Missouri Valley roots -- he led Northern Iowa to three NCAA tournament berths -- was huge for Creighton. Getting Greg’s son, Doug, to follow dear old dad to Omaha was even bigger.

The younger McDermott was a stud freshman and is coming off an excellent summer with Team USA. And he's not the only standout for the Bluejays. Antoine Young and Gregory Echenique give Creighton three of the league’s best players and the reason for the early expectations.

But you know how March goes. It’s about great storylines and the father-son tandem taking Creighton back to the tournament would make for a heckuva tale.

4. How will following in Cuonzo Martin’s footsteps pay off for Paul Lusk?

Following in Martin’s wake already has paid off quite well for Lusk. Three years ago, Martin left Purdue to become head coach at Missouri State, making room for Lusk’s job bump to associate head coach. This past offseason when Martin left for Tennessee, Lusk grabbed the opportunity by taking over the Bears.

[+] Enlarge Kyle Weems
AP Photo/Wade PayneKyle Weems is the reigning Missouri Valley Player of the Year.
He inherits a team with both question marks and bonus points -- the bonus coming in the form of returning Valley player of the year Kyle Weems. The conference’s most versatile player, Weems averaged 16 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. His supporting cast is gone, though. The loss of four starters means there is work to be done for Lusk, but in Weems the new coach at least has a good foundation.

5. Who will be the Valley player of the year?

Certainly not as interesting q question as who will win the league, but this race could be equally tight. Weems earned the honors last season and he’s back in the fold, which should give him an early edge on the competition. But Weems will be playing for a retooling Missouri State team, which could either help or hurt his numbers.

Creighton's McDermott, Young and Echenique are three of the league's nine leading returning scorers. Together they could lead the Bluejays to special things this season, but they also could split the POY vote. Jake Odum, point guard extraordinaire, will have to play especially well for Indiana State to return to the NCAA tournament, but confidence is one thing Odum doesn’t lack.

And don’t discount a few sleepers: Mamadou Seck will have to put up big numbers if Southern Illinois is going to regroup, and at Evansville, Colt Ryan already has 125 3-pointers in just two seasons. The Purple Aces, who return the majority of their team and debut a new downtown arena, are on the uptick.
Before we get to the Blue Ribbon team-by-team previews for the Missouri Valley, here is Dana O'Neil's wind sprint through the league:



Blue Ribbon's in-depth previews of all 10 MVC teams: Insider

Bradley
Creighton
Drake
Evansville
Illinois State
Indiana State
Missouri State
Northern Iowa Insider Free
Southern Illinois
Wichita State

More Missouri Valley content:

-- Dana O'Neil with Five Things I Can't Wait To See in the MVC.
-- Jay Bilas examines five burning questions in the league.
-- New Faces, New Places: O'Neil on Bradley coach Geno Ford and Diamond Leung on Missouri State coach Paul Lusk.
-- Andy Katz thinks Creighton is primed for a return to its glory years.
-- Creighton and Wichita State are the favorites, but Katz says we shouldn't forget about Indiana State in the MVC race.
-- Reggie Rankin gives us the recruiting picture in the Missouri Valley.
-- Let's take a team-by-team look at the league's nonconference schedules.
-- For more coverage of the Valley in the Nation blog, click here.

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