January 14, 2009 1:02 pm ET by Kyle Whelliston
Drake at Illinois State (Missouri Valley)
Redbird Arena - Normal, IL
8:05 PM EST
There's a lot of relativity, onion-peeling and head-shaking involved in mid-major analysis. It's generally accepted that the Missouri Valley is headed to a second consecutive one-bid year, because there isn't the kind of high-powered team, or the nonconference wins, that Selection Committees like to see... but there are six MVC teams in the RPI top 100, the most since the 2005-06 season that yielded four bids. Unfortunately, none reside in the top 50 of that generally discredited chart, and the conference leaders have a rap video. You figure it out.
Illinois State had been making a case for inclusion in The Conversationâ„¢ lately, with 14 straight wins to start the season, but the grind of the conference season has caught up in a big way over the past week. The Redbirds (14-2, 3-2) have lost two straight contests in their red road uniforms, garments that generally collected mothballs during November and December, during which ISU racked up a healthy 8-0 record against a weak schedule. Against Bradley and Indiana State, the shooting went cold and the generally reliable Osiris Eldridge-Champ Oguchi twin-turbine engine broke down, with each having a horrible game during the road trip. But now they're back home, hoping that coming out of their own tunnel and rubbing the Redbird statue will help cure their recent ills. Besides, Illinois State is 2-0 in Valley G!O!T!N! contests this season -- that's got to count for something.
The opponent tonight is defending double-champion Drake, which super-surprisingly is in solid position to repeat. The Bulldogs are a stealth 13-4 overall (4-1 MVC), and are on a four-game Valley win streak that includes a recent home sweep of those Redbird-beatin' Trees and Wichita State. It's a different team makeup -- no more hardnosed MVC MVP Adam Emmenecker -- and it's a different coach since national COY Keno Davis left for Providence after the 2007-08 season. Despite all that, Mark Phelps is using the same winning formula: make your free throws (77.0 percent) and don't turn the ball over (12.2 topg). Josh Young, who gets about an eighth of the pub he deserves, is leading his team and conference in scoring for the second straight year at 17.4 ppg -- this despite increased defensive attention. Sure, plenty of people figured Eldridge was the POY, but if Drake can pull off the improbably possible two years in a row, why not this guy?
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