Entering 2009-10, word had spread that the Missouri Valley Conference was deep and would have a chance of earning multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament. MVC coaches voted Northern Iowa as the top team, but No. 2 Creighton and No. 3 Illinois State were expected to construct scintillating resumes as well.
With conference play right around the corner, it appears the Valley's coaches and the rest of the college basketball world underestimated the depth and power of what has emerged as the nation's premier mid-major conference.
The league is so deep that its leading contenders for at-large bids might hinder each other's chances.
Here's a look at the conference's five best teams and why they all have tournament potential.
Wichita State 11-1
Slated at No. 5 by MVC coaches, the Shockers have been, well, rather shocking. Their only loss was by 13 points at Pitt. However, they were without their senior floor general, Clevin Hannah.
Aside from an impressive two-point win over No. 20 Texas Tech and the Pitt loss, Wichita State has beaten every opponent by at least 12 points.
Averaging 74.8 points and 37.2 rebounds per game, Wichita State is possibly the Valley's most well-rounded team. Almost two out of every three baskets are created by an assist.
They shoot for high percentages all over the floor and are also effective on defense, forcing 17.6 turnovers per game.
Hannah's their leader, but, like the conference, they are very deep.
Missouri State 10-1
Valley coaches really missed the boat on the Bears. Possibly the most surprising mid-major, Missouri State has proved it is far better than No. 9 in the MVC.
The Bears beat Auburn by 11, a tough Tulsa team by eight, and a decent Saint Louis team by 10 en route to a 10-0 start. A week ago, they nearly defeated Arkansas on the road before falling in overtime.
Led by Kyle Weems and Adam Leonard, Missouri State can own teams from the perimeter. The Bears are shooting 39.3 percent from deep and are averaging seven makes per game.
Missouri State also plays exceptional defense, holding opponents to 39.6 percent field goal shooting and forcing 16.6 turnovers per game.
Northern Iowa 9-1
Besides an embarrassing eight-point loss vs. DePaul, Northern Iowa has been unbeatable. Boston College, Iowa State, Iowa, Siena, and the Sun Belt leading Denver Pioneers are all victims of the Panthers.
The Panthers have a balanced, reliable attack. Kwadzo Ahelegbe is their current scoring leader with 13.8 ppg, but Adam Koch, Jordan Eglseder, and Ali Farokhmanesh are all in double-figures.
The trey is UNI's offensive strength. The Panthers are averaging 7.5 threes per game and are shooting 40.3 percent from deep.
Illinois State 9-2
The Redbirds have not endured a tough schedule like their conference-mates, but, minus a two-game skid, they have been effective.
Senior Osiris Eldridge is averaging a career-high 18.5 ppg, Dinma Odiakosa is averaging a career-high 8.3 rebounds per game, and the team is posting 75.2 ppg.
Their defense is mediocre, but they are leading the MVC with 4.2 blocks per game.
Southern Illinois 7-2
The Salukis played UNLV close and prevailed in two nail-biters against San Diego and San Francisco in the Holiday Hoops Classic.
With three scorers in double-figures, Southern Illinois is leading the MVC with 76 ppg on 47.2 percent from the floor. They can shoot the three (37.2 percent), but they can't defend it (36.3 percent).
Sophomore Kevin Dillard is a rising star. The point guard is leading the Salukis with 15.9 ppg and 5.9 assists per game.
Further proving the league's depth, Indiana State is 8-3 and Bradley upset No. 21 Illinois. Creighton might be 5-6, but all six losses are to strong power or mid-major programs. Don't sleep on the coaches' preseason No. 2.
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