Thursday, December 29, 2011

Missouri State upsets No. 19 Creighton in the Valley opener

You want an idea of why the Missouri Valley is always going to be one of the most entertaining conferences to follow?

Just take a look at what happened last night.

Missouri State, a team that lost literally everyone from the program outside of Kyle Weems last season -- six of their seven rotational player were seniors, head coach Cuonzo Martin took over at Tennessee -- and had fairly low expectations coming into the year, went into Omaha, NE, and knocked off league favorite Creighton 77-65. Throw in the fact that Drake beat Indiana State, who was expected to finish in the top four of that conference race, by 15 points and the Valley doors have swung wide open.

The loss puts Creighton on the ropes immediately. Their next game? At Wichita State, a team most consider to be Creighton's main competition when it comes to winning the Valley regular season title. Lose that game, and all of a sudden Creighton is sitting at 0-2 in the league, two games behind the Shockers. That's a tough hole to try and dig yourself out of. In a conference as tough and competitive as the Valley is on a nightly basis, having your margin for error taken away in the first week of the conference season is not ideal.

The question that a lot of folks were asking after this performance is whether or not this should be qualified as an upset. Missouri State is the reigning MVC champ. They do have the reigning MVC Player of the Year on their roster. They did beat Creighton three times last season.

But this is a different Creighton team this season. And its also a different Bear team.

Coming into the game, the Bears were considered by most to be, at best, the fourth-best team in the Valley, and that depended on how you viewed Indiana State, a team with three fewer losses than the Bears and a win at Vanderbilt. Weems was struggling to find the rhythm that made him a hot commodity on the transfer market over the summer and the Bears were struggling to beat quality competition as Paul Lusk tried to build this program back up.

This is a rebuilding season for Missouri State, yet they still went into Omaha and knocked off Creighton.

If Maryland went into Cameron Indoor and knocked off Duke, would you call that an upset?

What We Learned

Missouri State:

- It seems all Kyle Weem needed was the proper motivation. After seeing Doug McDermott lap up all the preseason hype heading into the season and emerge as a potential National Player of the Year candidate once the season started, Weems had to have gotten frustrated. I mean, he is the reigning MVC Player of the Year. And on Wednesday night, he played like it. Weems finished with 31 points, including a second half where he scored 25 and carried the Bears to this win. Dominant doesn't begin to describe this performance.

Making it all the more impressive, Weems also spent quite a bit of time guarding McDermott, who finished with 19 points and 12 boards but was as much of a non-factor as you can be when going for 19 and 12. McDermott faded down the stretch, as he allowed his teammates to shoot themselves out of the game while he passively watched from the block while Weems hit big shot after big shot. It is going to take quite a few more performances like this for Weems to legitimately be considered a contender for Valley Player of the Year this season. But don't think we didn't notice, Kyle.

- What a performance from Anthony Downing. In his previous four games, the JuCo transfer had all of 24 points and shot 8-26 from the floor with more turnovers than assists. Against Creighton, he had 26 points on 11-14 shooting to go along with five assists and four rebounds. Downing also hit a huge three with a minute left that put the Bears up 71-65.

- Missouri State got absolutely nothing out of Caleb Patterson, who spent much of the game in foul trouble. The Bears will be even better when he is in the lineup and playing well.

- Michael Bizoukas probably deserves to be mentioned on any list that discusses the most underrated players in the country. He averages 6.2 apg and just 2.2 t/o's and is a very good playmaker. He's not much of a scorer, but he can hit an open jumper.


- Where was Doug McDermott down the stretch? He hit a three with 10:39 left in the game to push Crieghton ahead 51-50, but from that point on he managed to get just three looks from the floor despite the fact that Missouri State had begun to pull away. Part of the issue is that plays weren't being run for him, but he also wasn't demanding the ball, seeming content to watch his teammates try to bring them back. I want to see more assertiveness out of McDermott. He has to be the guy that carries the Bluejays down the stretch.

- Antoine Young is a good player for Creighton, but he has to make better decisions with the ball. Young finished 3-13 from the floor, missing a number of tough, contested shots. Creighton can't afford to have him try and shoot his way into a rhythm, especially in a game of this magnitude.

- Greg Echinique needs to make his presence more known. Missouri State didn't have an answer for him inside, but he still managed just four points and two field goal attempts. I know that there are some matchup issues, but Echinique was a double-figure scorer in the Big East. He can play. Make yourself known.

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