With a Month Left, Missouri State and the MVC are Worth Your Attention

There is a month left in the regular season, and the Missouri State Bears are in the hunt for the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title. That may not sound like much, but this is the first year of the tenure of head coach Dana Ford.

The Bears currently sit at 5-4 in conference play after having rattled off three-straight wins. Their defense has been on-point during this stretch of success, holding MVC front-runner-of-the-moment Loyola Chicago to their lowest point total (35) for the year, and then allowing a total of 91 points to Bradley and Valparaiso. MSU is just a pair of games behind Loyola for that top spot.

Now Coach Ford and the Bears see a path to the top. Three of their next four matchups are against teams below them in the standings, with that one against Illinois State. The Redbirds are a game ahead of the Bears for second place.

Meanwhile, those above the Missouri State will be battling each other. Loyola takes on Illinois State, this Saturday, followed by Drake (ahead of Missouri State only by overall record). The key will be the Redbirds. While they face the Ramblers this Saturday and the Bears next Sunday, the rest of their schedule is filled with the bottom half of the MVC. Missouri State will need to beat Illinois State in their matchup, and hope for a few surprises from the likes of Evansville or Indiana State.

Moving forward, the Missouri Valley Conference will be fun to watch. The difference between last place and first place is four games. Should the Redbirds beat the Ramblers in Normal, this Saturday on ESPN2, seven teams will be within two games of first place. While all 10 teams play in the conference tournament, the bottom four seeds have to play on Thursday of the tournament, with all other teams getting a single-bye.

Missouri State has a simplistic formula, moving forward. In all their conference games, if they hold their opponent to less than 70, they’re undefeated. They lose every game their opponent scores 70 or more, though. So, if the Bears just hold their opponent to less than 70, they’ll win the MVC and go to the NCAA Tournament. Sounds easy, right? We’ll see.

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Ford Era, Bears off to Roaring Start

So, like I mentioned in my preview of this season, I cover Cincinnati sports, but I really like following this up-and-coming coach out in Missouri. The Missouri State Bears (1-0) got their first victory of the Dana Ford era and it was a thorough dismantling of Oral Roberts (0-1) by a score of 84-50. Get ready for the Bears, if Tuesday is any indication, this is going to be a good year in Springfield.

Jarred Dixon led the charge for the Bears with a career-high 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting. The senior displayed his catch-and-shoot ability, but also showed his talent of creating shots, giving MSU as dynamic scorer to lean on in any situation. He led four Bears who scored at least 11. Ryan Kreklow put up 13 points, off the bench, Keandre Cook added 12, and Kabir Mohammed pitched in 11.

The Bears played Dana-ball, beating the Golden Eagles on the boards and causing as many turnovers as MSU had assists (21). Senior forward Obediah Church stuffed the stat sheet with six points, seven rebounds, four blocks, and three assists. Coach Ford also has his point guard in Josh Webster. The senior finished the game with nine assists, seven of which came in the first half. Webster will be one to watch, heading into the weekend, though, as he looked to have injured his left ankle, early in the second half. He did return and finish the game, though, so it may be minor.

ORU put up a fight, but it didn’t last much past the halfway point of the first half. Five and a half minutes into the opening frame, the Bears took the lead, for good, at 15-14.

Coach Ford and the Bears will turn their focus to Robert Morris (Friday) and Stetson (Sunday), this weekend.

Other Area teams:

Kentucky suffered its worst loss of the John Calipari era, Tuesday, as Duke thrashed em 118-84. UK will need to get it’s defense in shape, though these early November games tend to mean very little, come March. This will be plenty of fuel to the practice fires that Calipari will be stoking all year. I can still see that game being a championship preview.

Xavier took care of business with IUPUI, winning 82-69. Were it not for a rash of turnovers by the Jaguars, late, this may have been a lot closer. Xavier struggled to pull away for much of the game. They’re still building an identity under Travis Steele, but it’s nice to see a one in the win column, rather than the loss column.

NKU beat Wilmington College. Nothing really to see here.

Who’s Next:

At 6 pm, The Bearcats re-open Fifth-Third Arena tonight with the Buckeyes. I’m looking forward to sitting down with a few cold ones and taking this one in.

Dayton also hosts North Florida and Wright State welcomes Western Carolina to town. Both of those games tip at 7 pm.

Thinking about College Basketball in September

It’s late September and baseball is transitioning into the post season, football season is building up some steam, and I want to talk college basketball. What? Yeah. I know, it’s a bit early, but I took a look at whats up on the hardwood today.

First thing I noticed is a familiar face (to me) in a new place. I once traveled with the Tennessee State men’s basketball team as their media relations point of contact. That was the 2014-2015 season, the first for head coach Dana Ford. He was the youngest coach in the country, that season, having just turned 30 that year.

In his first season, the Tigers won just five games. He was able to transform that team into a 20-11 team the very next year, earning conference coach of the year. Fast forward to March of this year. Ford accepts the offer to become the head coach of Missouri State. I’d kept tabs on him at TSU and now look forward to watching him move through the Missouri Valley Conference. 

Ford takes over a team who finished in the bottom half of the conference where Sister Mary, aka Loyola-Chicago, hails from. He’s got just two returning players who saw playing time for the Bears last year. He’s also got a former Xavier player in redshirt-freshman Jarred Ridder. I’ll keep my eye on Missouri State and Coach Ford, this year, and may even tell you a little bit about em, on this space.

The other thing I noticed was the ticket prices for Cincinnati’s home opener, the re-opening of Fifth-Third Arena, against Ohio State. My go-to app for tickets, Gametime, has the cheapest ticket for that game currently going for $94. UC is advertising this coming basketball season, heavily, at football games. People are excited to see the new arena, and excited to see how the Bearcats follow up last year. 

I’ll write more about this in the days to come, but I’m looking forward to Kyle Washington, Jaron Cumberland, and the rest of the team picking up where they left off.

As someone who constantly has sports on the television, I am enjoying my football and baseball, but am looking forward to some hoops. Without having looked at it, I’d say the top five for the preseason rankings are Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Villanova, and Michigan State, in some kind of order.