January 1, 2021 

MVC check-in: Southern Illinois, Bradley feats represent new-look Valley

Salukis' Abby Brockmeyer looks to join teammate Makenzie Silvey in 1,000-point club as conference play begins Friday

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Southern Illinois’ Makenzie Silvey is one of five active MVC players to have reached 1,000 career points. (Southern Illinois Athletics)

The entry point to much of the change in the Missouri Valley Conference these days can be summed up thusly: Drake did it in a recent season, but now, someone else is doing it.

This time, though, it isn’t something obvious. There hasn’t been an undefeated team in conference play since Drake’s 47-game MVC winning streak that included two straight 18-0 seasons. Missouri State won the most recent conference tournament, sure, but it’s not as if the Bulldogs weren’t right in the conversation last season before the 2020 edition was canceled.

But during the 2018-19 season, Drake eventually boasted four career 1,000-point scorers: seniors Sammie Bachrodt and Maddy Dean, and juniors Becca Hittner and Sara Rhine. Last season, Hittner and Rhine added to their totals and became 2,000-point scorers.

No Valley player is within 700 points of 2,000 right now, but five have reached the 1,000-point milestone: Bradley’s Gabi Haack and Lasha Petree, UNI’s Karli Rucker, Missouri State’s Brice Calip and Southern Illinois’ Makenzie Silvey. Soon enough, No. 6 will join them — Southern Illinois’ Abby Brockmeyer is just 16 points away.

Of course, having multiple 1,000-point scorers from the same school is a bit of a tradition. Last season, in addition to Drake’s Rhine and Hittner, Bradley’s Haack and Chelsea Brackmann also hit 1,000, and even Southern Illinois had both Silvey and Nicole Martin there. But this time, that company won’t include Drake — which says perhaps as much about the strength of the conference as it does about one team’s rebuilding process.

Bradley is coming off one of its best seasons in program history, and though reaching the 20-win mark for a third straight season may be as difficult for it as for any team this season (considering how difficult it is to get in a consistent schedule), the bones are there for another big run. Petree and Haack are two of the conference’s top four biggest scorers, while Tatum Koenig has the conference’s best assist-to-turnover ratio. Lasha Petree’s younger sister Mahri is holding her own as the team’s fourth-best scorer in her sophomore season. As a team, the Braves come third in the conference in points per game and rebounds per game.

Last season, Southern Illinois’ big highlight came in a home win against Missouri State, when it held the Lady Bears to what was then their lowest scoring mark in Valley play at 68 points. This season, that defensive prowess is on display again, as the Salukis’ opponents have averaged just 63.4 points across five games — the third-best mark in the conference. Accordingly, Brockmeyer is the conference’s second-leading rebounder, but Southern Illinois is good at taking care of the ball, too: Payton McCallister comes in right behind Bradley’s Koenig in assist-to-turnover ratio, and as a team, it registers the third-best turnover margin. Scorers like Silvey and Brockmeyer are an excellent complement to that kind of consistent output.

Looking only at their placements in the preseason poll — Bradley came in second, Southern Illinois sixth — it might be hard to see where there’s much overlap. In any conference, being picked to finish second means being right in title contention. Sixth? Well, landing in the top half by the end of the season would be great. But teams across the country transcend their preseason rankings every season, they pick up unlikely wins and get hot at just the right time. And in the Valley, this is practically a week-to-week ordeal.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, and again, and again: On any given night, practically any Valley team could beat any other. The conference’s parity is increasing, and it’s not coming at the expense of the top teams — everyone is simply raising their games. With 16 more points, Brockmeyer’s milestone will be the latest flash of greatness.

Postponements immediately affect scheduling

Tier I personnel (which includes students, coaches, managers and staff) at both Missouri State and Valparaiso have contracted COVID-19, meaning that their opening series at UNI and against Illinois State, respectively, will not take place this weekend.

Instead, Illinois State will visit UNI to begin Valley play, and both originally-scheduled series will take place the weekend of Jan. 14-16. Since Missouri State and Valparaiso were slated to play each other that weekend, that series will be rescheduled.

Around the Valley

  • Evansville has matched its best start since 2008-09, a season that ended with the Purple Aces winning the MVC Tournament. Its 4-1 record also includes a four-game winning streak, the best current such streak in the conference. The team is led by sophomore Abby Feit, who was Player of the Week for the week of Dec. 21 and ranks in the top two in the conference in scoring, rebounding, shooting percentage and blocks.

  • With that kind of success, the Purple Aces still have a big goal to shoot for this weekend when they take on Southern Illinois, who owns a seven-game winning streak in conference openers. Another win could bode well for the Salukis’ prospects, as very few teams in recent Valley history have won a regular-season title without winning their opener.

  • It’s a weird season, where the number of games two different teams have played could vary widely thanks to postponements, cancellations and general issues scheduling games. But for Illinois State, three games is enough — at 3-0 in those contests, the Redbirds are one of just 26 teams who have played as many games to not have lost yet.

  • Neither UNI nor Drake could get past their latest big opponents, with the Panthers falling at South Dakota State and the Bulldogs losing at Texas and Iowa State. The Iowa pair are scheduled to play each other for the first time on Jan. 27.

  • Young players have dominated the last two weeks of MVC weekly awards, with sophomore Maggie Bair of Drake being named this week’s Player of the Week just after Evansville’s Abby Feit, noted above, earned the same accolade last week.

See complete results from the Valley’s recent games here.

Follow (most) teams’ opening games

Subject to change. All times CT. The complete schedule can be found at the link above.

Friday, Jan. 1 and Saturday, Jan. 2

  • Indiana State (3-2) at Loyola (2-2) — 12 p.m. (Fri.) and 1 p.m. (Sat.), ESPN+

  • Illinois State (3-0) at UNI (3-4) — 2 p.m. (both days), ESPN3

  • Bradley (4-3) at Drake (2-5) — 2 p.m. (Fri.) and 12 p.m. (Sat.), ESPN+

  • Evansville (4-1) at Southern Illinois (3-2) — 3 p.m. (both days), ESPN3/ESPN+

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