MoSt Definitely A Team to Watch Out for in March
We have hit mid-December, which could mean only one thing: we’re nearing the end of the non-conference schedule. Soon, we’ll be captivated with exciting match-ups like North Carolina-Duke, Villinova-UConn, Illinois-Michigan State, and Northern Iowa-Missouri State. What? One of these doesn’t belong? Well apparently you haven’t been introduced to the Missouri Valley Conference.
Many have heard about UNI’s early success this season, and some can remember their run at Wisconsin during the 2005 NCAA tournament first round. But the “other” MVC team seems to be slowly creating some noise, and a lot of excitement in Springfield, Missouri.
Missouri State (formerly Southwest Missouri State, or “SMS”) wasn’t picked to finish in the top three of the Valley standings. While over the years the conference has been gaining strength and respect, a fourth place finish in the Valley would only earn a berth in the NIT. Last year, the Valley advanced five teams to the postseason. Southern Illinois, Creighton and UNI all made the NCAA’s, while MoSt and Wichita State both won games in the NIT.
Most of the “experts” predicted before the season that things wouldn’t change much. The same three Valley teams would advance to the NCAA, while the same two would go to the NIT. Early in the season, it appears MoSt will do all they can to buck that trend. Currently the Bears are 6-1, with a margin of victory average of 24 points.
While the Bears do not have eye-opening wins in their non-conference play on the level of UNI over Iowa or Indiana State over Indiana, they have a number of quality wins to date. The Bears will likely get some pretty good mileage out of their road win over Oral Roberts on Selection Sunday. When all is said and done this season, it may come as a surprise for many that the Bears’ biggest win early on could be their home opener versus Northern Illinois. Northern Illinois, if you recall, lost to MoSt by 36 in Springfield. Northern Illinois has beaten DePaul, and the Blue Demons are currently 18th in the RPI, but it’s too early in the season to rely on the RPI to see how the Huskies will finish in the Mid-American Conference.
While the Bears do have wins over ORU, Northern Illinois and Detroit, the most surprising element of the Bears’ season thus far is their ability to shoot the ball. MoSt is currently second in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage at 45.9% and averages nearly 90 points per game. They’re shooting almost 51% from the field overall.
The Bears are led by Blake Ahearn, a junior from St. Louis. Ahearn is averaging 20.4 points and has the Bears in scoring in all but one of their games this season. Ahearn, the MVP of the Price Cutter Classic—held on the Missouri State campus, hasn’t been without help. Currently, four Bears are averaging double figures, with three more averaging more than nine points per game.
Following a hard-fought loss to Arkansas on Thursday night in Fayetteville, the Bears seem to be rejuvenated. Just after the game in which MoSt overcame a 13 point halftime deficit, only to fall 79-75, Ahearn said, “It’s back to work.”
The Bears will be tested quickly when they open up their conference in Omaha against Creighton on Dec. 28. Last year the Bears took the two regular season games against Creighton by a total of 17 points. The Blue Jays got the last laugh, however, defeating the Bears in the MVC championship 75-57. It was the second straight MVC championship loss for MoSt, as they lost to UNI 74-79 in double overtime the previous year.
With The Valley as loaded as it has ever been, wins will be tough to come by for any team. Opportunities for key wins will be plentiful, though, as the Bears will have two games each against the Valley’s potential post-season teams. Games to watch will be against Creighton, UNI, Southern Illinois, Bradley, Wichita State and Indiana State.
Regardless, this is a team, and a conference, to watch out for in March.