A look at the new teams in action
All three new entries to the league open their Missouri Valley Conference history with home games.
Missouri State (3-3) at Illinois Chicago (5-2) – Wednesday 7 pm – ESPN+
Missouri State has a completely new roster and the Bears’ play reflects that. They are playing outstanding defense and hitting three-point shots, but can’t make free throws. MSU’s three wins have come by double digits but two of their three losses have come by the narrowest of margins.
This talented team will keep getting better as the season progresses, but right now they are finding their way. Arkansas transfer Chance Moore comes off the bench to lead the Bears in scoring.
Illinois Chicago hangs its hat on defense and taking care of the ball. UIC leads the Valley in turnover margin, blocked shots, and steals. The Flames haven’t played the same level of competition as the Bears, but they’ve been effective so far. Tre Anderson, Jace Carter, and Toby Okani are the Flames’ leading scorers.
Illinois State (2-5) at Murray State (3-3) – Thursday 7 pm – ESPN+
Both of these teams have a new coach and a revamped roster and the results have been predictably mixed. Murray State defeated then No. 24 Texas A&M, but lost close games they could have easily won against Massachusetts and at Chattanooga.
Division 2 transfer Jamari Smith leads five Racers who score in double figures for coach Steve Prohm.
Illinois State is having trouble scoring. They are yet to reach the 70-point plateau and twice they’ve been held to under 60 points, but they do defend. Only three times have they allowed more than 70 points.
Kendall Lewis (12.7 ppg) is the Valley’s second-leading rebounder (8.6).
Valparaiso (3-4) at Belmont (4-3) – Thursday 7 pm – ESPN+
After a slow start, Belmont has won three straight and versatile and valuable guard Keishawn Davidson just played in his first game of the year. The Bruins seem to be rounding into shape. Belmont’s defense hasn’t been up to speed and that is a death sentence in the Valley, but in two of their last three games, they seem to be coming together defensively.
Ben Sheppard (20.3 ppg) leads four Bruin double-digit scorers and is second only to Drake’s DeVries in the league’s individual scoring race.
Valpo seems to alternate solid performances with poor ones. The constant for the Beacons has been the play of ‘K-Squared’. Ben Krikke and Kobe King combine to score almost 37 points per game. The rest of the team is scoring 30. Valpo is eleventh in the 12-team Valley in scoring defense. Belmont is twelfth.
With so much transition in the Missouri Valley Conference, everything is on the line as conference play begins.