Don’t look now, but the Missouri Valley is at it again. Since 2016-17, the league’s Big Dance representative has five wins (yes thanks to Loyola-Chicago’s run to the Final Four). This season, the top of the league is as strong as it has been in years. The top three teams in the conference, Drake, Loyola-Chicago, and Missouri State, have a combined record of 33-5. The team to last represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament, Bradley, is nipping on their heels.
Drake Bulldogs 13-0, 4-0
Drake is atop the Missouri Valley with an 8-0 conference mark and 13-0 overall. They are not ranked in the top 25, but outside of Gonzaga, few teams playing in a mid-major conference have played better this season. Head coach Darian DeVries has things cooking in Des Moines in his third season. This is the school’s best team since 2008 when Adam Emmenecker led the Bulldogs to a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The polls aren’t showing Drake the love, but the metrics used by the selection committee are. Through Thursday, Drake ranks 11th in the NCAA’s NET rankings as well as 60th at KenPom. Offensively, they are 47th in the country, led by a 53.5% field-goal percentage that is 3rd best in the sport.
Loyola-Chicago Ramblers 11-3, 6-1
Porter Moser’s Loyola-Chicago Ramblers sitting at 11-3 and 6-1 in the conference right behind Drake. Since their final four-run, the Ramblers made the NIT and were upset in the conference quarterfinals in overtime. They have won eight of their last nine entering a key four-game road stretch. Their next four games against reigning conference tournament champion Bradley and Missouri State.
In a conference known for its defense, there are three teams in the top 27 nationally. The Ramblers allow just 57.3 points per game which ranks them 3rd in all of college basketball. The Ramblers aren’t flashy, but they are efficient and rank 30th in the NET, 24th at KenPom, and in the top 49 in both efficiencies.
Missouri State Bears 9-1, 5-1
Like DeVries, Missouri State head coach Dana Ford is in his third season. After two 16-win seasons, his Bears were picked to finish sixth in the conference and find themselves at 9-1 and 5-1 in the conference. They now head into the crux of their remaining schedule hosting Drake and Loyola-Chicago over their next four.
The team has been led offensively by a pair of forwards in sophomore Isiaih Mosely and senior Gage Prim. The 6-5 Mosely has been an absolute stud for the Bears, averaging 23.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.4 assists. The sophomore is shooting 59.5% from the field and 44% from deep. Prim is second on the team in scoring with 16.7 and leads the team in rebounds and assists with 8.8 and 3.7, respectively.
Bradley Braves 9-5, 3-2
The Bradley Braves are the two-time defending conference tournament champions, and Brian Wardle’s team is perennially one of the best defensive teams in the country. The Braves currently give up 62 points per game; their defensive field-goal percentage of 37.3% is 3rd best in the country. Six of their remaining games coming against the top-three teams in the conference. The adage in basketball that defense travels will be tested the Braves will be heard from again before the season ends.