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  • Hunter Phillips

Be Blue Valley Preview

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

'Tis the season of Valley hoops!


Just days before the holiday weekend, most of the 12 teams comprising the Missouri Valley Conference put a bow on its non-conference schedule. Evansville and Valparaiso had to postpone its final non-conference games due to Mother Nature. Now the journey to Hoops in the Heartland truly begins. Starting on December 29, the 120-game league schedule officially gets underway.


Let's take one final glance at each of the programs Drake will compete against in the Valley.


 

Belmont Bruins

Destinee Wells (left) named MVC Preseason Player of the Year. (Belmont Athletics)

Non-Conference Record: 4-7

2021-22 Record: 23-8 (16-2 OVC)

Head Coach: Bart Brooks (127-41, 6th season)

Series History: 0-0 (First-Ever Meeting)


Following a dominant, 10-year stretch in the Ohio Valley Conference, the expectations are just as lofty for Belmont in its debut season in the Missouri Valley Conference. Tabbed as the league's preseason favorites in October, the Bruins recently finished its non-conference schedule with a 4-7 record. Opening the season with a home victory over Chattanooga, Belmont would drop its next four contests with three coming against ranked opponents (No. 7 Louisville, at No. 4 Iowa, No. 23 Villanova), and each being decided by nine points or less. Additionally, the Bruins would suffer setbacks to Georgia Tech (twice) and Georgia, while notching victories over cross-town rival Lipscomb and Troy.


Belmont returns three starters from last season's squad that made history. Defeating No. 5 Oregon in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament, Belmont became the second program in NCAA Division I women's basketball history to win a game at the 'Big Dance' in consecutive seasons as a No. 12 seed or lower. Leading the Bruins in his sixth season is Bart Brooks, who in 2021, became the third-fastest coach in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history to reach 100 wins.


By the Numbers & Players to Watch


Belmont ranks sixth in the Valley in both scoring offense (67.7 PPG) and scoring defense (70.1 PPG). The Bruins pace the league in three's made per game (8.5) while also ranking fifth nationally in percentage of total points from inside the arc (.441) according to Her Hoop Stats.


Preseason Player of the Year Destinee Wells leads the way in scoring and assists for Belmont, averaging 15.8 points (5th MVC) and 4.6 assists (4th MVC) per contest. Wells was named to the Nancy Lieberman Award Watch List. Graduate transfer Sydni Harvey is tied for the league lead in three-point field goal percentage (.441) and is second in three-point field goals made (30). Other notable returners for Belmont include: Tuti Jones, the 2021-22 OVC Defensive Player of the Year and First Team All-OVC selection Madison Bartley.


Series History


Drake and Belmont will meet for the very first time on January 6 in the Knapp Center. This meeting will also kick-off the 'Des Moines' Hometown Team Weekend'.

 

Bradley Braves

2021-22 Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year Caroline Waite (pictured). (The Bradley Scout)

Non-Conference Record: 3-8

2021-22 Record: 4-24 (1-17 MVC)

Head Coach: Kate Popovec-Goss (3-8, 1st season)

Series History: Drake leads 65-18


A new era has begun in Peoria. Following the conclusion of the 2021-22 season, Andrea Gorski announced her retirement after a six-year run at her alma mater. Taking over the reigns on the Hilltop is Kate Popovec-Goss, who previously spent the last five seasons on the coaching staff at Northwestern as its associate head coach and recruiting coordinator.


Finishing 3-8 in its 11-game non-conference schedule, the Braves lost three consecutive games (at Missouri, South Dakota, at Wisconsin) to open the season before picking up its first victory over McNeese State. Bradley's additional wins came against Missouri Baptist and Eastern Illinois, while coming up just short against the likes of Kansas City in overtime, Loyola (IL), and FIU.


By the Numbers & Players to Watch


Although Bradley sits at the bottom of the league in scoring offense (58.0 PPG) and are seventh in scoring defense (70.4 PPG), the Braves rank in the top-five in assists (13.8) and steals (7.7) per game.


2021-22 Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year Caroline Waite is ninth in the Valley in scoring, averaging 13.6 points per game, and leads the conference in three-pointers made (31). Iowa Western Community College transfer Ruba Abo Hashesh is sixth in assists per contest (4.2), and Old Dominion transfer Alex Rouse is tied for third in total steals (17).


Series History


A series that got its start in 1984, Drake and Bradley will meet for the 84th time on New Year's Day at the Renaissance Coliseum. The Bulldogs have won five of the last seven encounters with the Braves, including three-straight. Bradley's last victory in the series came on March 14, 2021 against a short-handed Drake squad in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title game. In Peoria, the Bulldogs hold a 27-11 series lead. In Des Moines, an impressive 34-6 advantage.


 

Evansville Purple Aces

Abby Feit (left) was a First Team All-MVC honoree in 2021-22. (Evansville Athletics)

Non-Conference Record: 5-3

2021-22 Record: 8-22 (2-16 MVC)

Head Coach: Robyn Scherr-Wells (13-25, 2nd season)

Series History: Drake leads 50-14


Things are continuing to trend upward in the River City. Evansville won three of its first four games, defeating Roosevelt University (IL), Eastern Kentucky, and Chicago State during that stretch. Its first two losses of the 2022-23 campaign came on the road against Big Ten opponents (No. 4 Iowa, Illinois). The Purple Aces would follow that by winning three of its next four, tallying victories against Miami (OH), Morehead State, and Southeast Missouri State. Led by second-year head coach Robyn Scherr-Wells, the Purple Aces finished with an above .500 non-conference record for the first time since the 2008-09 campaign.


By the Numbers & Players to Watch


Evansville is fourth in the Valley in scoring offense (70.4 PPG) and 10th in defense (74.5 PPG), while ranking in the top-five in blocks (3.6) and steals (8.9) per contest. Per Her Hoop Stats, the Purple Aces lead the nation in percentage of points from the free throw line, where 29.3 percent of its total points originate.


2021-22 First Team All-MVC selection Abby Feit is averaging close to a double-double at 14.8 points (7th MVC) and 9.0 (t-1st MVC) rebounds per contest. Feit is one of seven active players in the MVC to reach the 1,000 point club. Myia Clark (11.1 PPG) and A'Niah Griffin (11.1 PPG) round out the double digit scoring efforts for the Purple Aces. FIU transfer Barbora Tomancova leads the Valley in free throw percentage (.929), and senior Anna Newman is eighth in assists (3.9) per game.


Series History


On National Girls and Women in Sports Day (Feb. 4, 2023), Drake and Evansville will meet for the 65th time. A series that got its start in 1995, Drake has won 50 of the previous 64 matchups, including 15-straight. The Bulldogs are 22-6 when hosting the Purple Aces in Des Moines. This will be the lone regular season meeting between the two programs.

 

UIC Flames


Josie Filer (middle) leads UIC in scoring. (UIC Athletics)

Non-Conference Record: 8-3

2021-22 Record: 2-25 (1-20 Horizon)

Head Coach: Ashleen Bracey (8-3, 1st season)

Series History: Drake leads 5-1


A new conference, and a new coach, has ignited UIC to begin its 2022-23 campaign. The Flames tied its best start in program history by going 8-1 through its first nine games. Winning five-straight from November 22 to December 4, it matched the programs' longest win streak since the 2008-09 season. During that stretch, UIC would earn victories over Davidson, Austin Peay, St. Thomas (MN), Loyola (IL), and Cincinnati before losing a hard-fought affair with Northwestern at home.


Leading the Flames in its first season as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference is Ashleen Bracey. No stranger to the league, Bracey starred at Illinois State from 2006-10. Bracey had spent the previous six seasons as an assistant coach at Missouri.


By the Numbers & Players to Watch


The Flames have set the tone on defense, surrendering just 56.3 points per contest, which ranks 32nd nationally and is tops in the MVC. Taking care of the glass, UIC has allowed its opponents to bring down a mere 28.5 boards per game, fourth-best in the country according to Her Hoop Stats.


Graduate transfer Josie Filer has made an immediate impact in the Windy City, averaging a team-high 12.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per contest, and is fifth in the Valley in field goal percentage (.543). Ky Dempsey-Toney (10.9 PPG) and Jaida McCloud (10.0 PPG) provide additional scoring depth for the Flames. Junior Kristian Young is fifth in the league in assists (4.2).


Series History


Drake and UIC will meet for the seventh time on January 19, and the first as conference opponents. It will end an 11-year hiatus, as the two programs last met on November 18, 2012. UIC's lone victory in the series came on November 12, 2011 in Chicago.

 

Illinois State Redbirds

Paige Robinson (right) is the leading scorer in the Missouri Valley Conference. (Illinois State Athletics)

Non-Conference Record: 6-4

2021-22 Record: 19-14 (12-6 MVC)

Head Coach: Kristen Gillespie (93-65, 6th season)

Series History: Drake leads 49-38


Fresh off its first Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title since 2008, Illinois State is poised for another big run, returning four starters and adding key newcomers/transfers. The Redbirds won its first five games of the season, topping Dayton, St. Thomas (MN), Wisconsin, UC San Diego, and Louisiana Tech in the process. Its victory over Wisconsin was the programs' first against a Big Ten opponent since 2012. Illinois State would proceed to lose four of its next five, falling to UNLV, Saint Louis, Purdue, and Green Bay. Now in her sixth season in Normal, Kristen Gillespie has guided the Redbirds to two consecutive postseason appearances.


By the Numbers & Players to Watch


Consistently a scrappy, hard-nosed squad, Illinois State is third in the Valley in scoring defense (62.4 PPG). Offensively, the Redbirds are third in three-point field goal percentage (.345), second in free throw percentage (.729), and lead the conference in turnover margin (+3.9).


Graduate transfer Paige Robinson is making an early case for MVC Newcomer of the Year honors. The 2020-21 NCAA Division II Player of the Year is pacing the league in scoring, averaging 19.9 points per game. 2021-22 First Team All-MVC selection DeAnna Wilson is sixth in the Valley in rebounding (7.7), while graduate senior Mary Crompton, Illinois State's career leader in three-pointers made, is tied for first in three-point field goal percentage (.441).


Series History


A highly competitive series since the beginning in 1981, Drake and Illinois State will open the Valley schedule against one another in Normal on December 30. The Redbirds have won three of the last four meetings against the Bulldogs. Drake won 15 consecutive matchups from 2014-2020. At CEFCU Arena, Illinois State is 24-18 when protecting home court against Drake. In Des Moines, the Bulldogs have the upper hand at 26-13.


 

Indiana State Sycamores


Del'Janae Williams (pictured) was an MVC All-Defensive Team selection in 2021-22. (Indiana State Athletics)

Non-Conference Record: 5-4

2021-22 Record: 11-20 (5-13 MVC)

Head Coach: Chad Killinger (16-24, 2nd season)

Series History: Drake leads 62-24


Similar to its fellow travel partner, Evansville, Indiana State is thriving in year two under new leadership. The Sycamores split its first four games, defeating Saint Louis and Central Michigan, and dropping contests to Purdue in West Lafayette and at home to Ohio. Indiana State would win three of its next five to close the non-conference, cashing-in victories over Chicago State, Purdue Fort Wayne, and Detroit Mercy. Its losses were to Western Michigan and Western Kentucky. In his first season in Terre Haute, Chad Killinger compiled more wins (11) than the previous two seasons combined (10).


Notes & Players to Watch


Playing sound, aggressive defense has been the calling card for Chad Killinger since his arrival. Indiana State is fourth in the conference in scoring defense, surrendering 64.8 points per contest, and fourth in field goal percentage defense (.396). The Sycamores have swiped the second-most steals of any team in the league, averaging 9.1 per game.


Senior Del'Janae Williams is the top scorer for the Sycamores at 12.5 points per game. Nicholls State transfer Chelsea Cain averages 10.2 points per contest. Fellow senior Anna McKendree leads the Valley in steals, nabbing 3.0 per contest, and leads the team in rebounding (4.1 RPG).


Series History


On January 14, Drake and Indiana State meet on the hardwood for the 87th time. Winning 11 of the last 12 matchups, the Bulldogs are 22-17 when facing the Sycamores at the Hulman Center. The two programs will face each other once during the regular season.

 

Missouri State Lady Bears


Sydney Wilson (center) is the lone returning starter from 2021-22 for Missouri State. (Missouri State Athletics)

Non-Conference Record: 5-4

2021-22 Record: 25-8 (14-4 MVC)

Head Coach: Beth Cunningham (5-4)

Series History: Missouri State leads 50-44


It's the start of a new era in Springfield. After three incredible years with Amaka Agugua-Hamilton, the Lady Bears turn to Beth Cunningham to continue its winning tradition. Compiling an impressive coaching resume, Cunningham spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach on Kara Lawson's staff at Duke. Prior to her time in Durham, Cunningham was an assistant coach at Notre Dame from 2012-20 and was the head coach at VCU from 2003-12.


Missouri State split its first four games to begin the season, with wins over Saint Louis and UTSA and losses to Missouri and Oklahoma State. Following a tough loss at Toledo, the Lady Bears would end its non-conference on three-game win streak (at TCU, UT Martin, Little Rock).


By the Numbers & Players to Watch


Missouri State ranks 10th in the MVC in scoring offense (62.3 PPG) and is fifth in scoring defense (66.9). Limiting its opponents from beyond the arc, the Lady Bears are second in the league in three-point field goal defense (.273) and also rank second in total rebounds (42.6).


Sydney Wilson is the lone returning starter from Missouri State's NCAA Tournament qualifying team from a year ago. The senior forward is averaging 9.6 points per game. Kansas transfer Aniya Thomas paces the Lady Bears in scoring at 11.1 points and 5.0 assists (2nd MVC) per contest. Moberly Area Community College transfer Indya Green is third in the league in rebounding (8.6 RPG), and freshman Jade Masogayo is second in total blocks (17).


Series History


Two of the blue bloods of Valley hoops, Drake and Missouri State will meet for the 95th time on January 28. The Lady Bears have won eight consecutive games against the Bulldogs dating back to Hoops in the Heartland in 2019. Drake's last victory in the series came on March 3, 2019. When hosting Drake, Missouri State is 31-18. When the roles reverse, the Bulldogs are 25-15 in Des Moines against the Lady Bears.


 

Murray State Racers


2021-22 OVC Player of the Year Katelyn Young (left). (Murray State Athletics)

Non-Conference Record: 7-2

2021-22 Record: 22-10 (13-5 OVC)

Head Coach: Rechelle Turner (83-75, 6th season)

Series History: 0-0 (First-Ever Meeting)


Murray State joined Belmont to make the transition from the Ohio Valley Conference to the Missouri Valley Conference. Hailing from Murray, Kentucky, the Racers return nine players from last seasons squad that earned a bid to the WNIT for the first time since the 2008-09 campaign. Murray State galloped to its best non-conference record since the 1987-88 season by going 7-2. Winning six of its last seven, the Racers would compile victories over Chattanooga, Alabama A&M, UT Martin, Southern Indiana, Kentucky, and Bellarmine during that stretch. Its win at Kentucky was the program's first since 1973. At the helm for her sixth season at Murray State is Rechelle Turner, who has guided her alma mater to a 45-23 record in the last two-plus years.


By the Numbers & Players to Watch


Murray State is nestled in the top five of the conference in both scoring offense (68.2 PPG) and scoring defense (57.9 PPG). The Racers pace the conference in three-point field goal percentage (.353) and free throw percentage (.794), and rank third in assists per game (16.1).


Junior Katelyn Young is building off an impressive sophomore season with the Racers. The 2021-22 OVC Player of the Year is second in the league in scoring (19.4 PPG), eighth in rebounding (7.3), and sixth in field goal percentage (.528). Macey Turley is averaging 12.1 points per game and is second in the Valley in assist/turnover ratio (2.2)


Series History


January 8 will be the first-ever meeting between Drake and Murray State. This matchup will also take place during the 'Des Moines' Hometown Team Weekend'.


 

Southern Illinois Salukis

Quierra Love (right) leads the Missouri Valley Conference in assists. (Southern Illinois Athletics)

Non-Conference Record: 3-6

2021-22 Record: 21-10 (15-3 MVC)

Head Coach: Kelly Bond-White (3-6, 1st season)

Series History: Drake leads 65-30


Following a magical 2021-22 campaign that saw the Salukis claim its first Missouri Valley Conference regular season title since 2007, a new era has arrived at Southern Illinois. A seismic offseason saw the retirement of head coach Cindy Stein and the graduation(s) of Abby Brockmeyer, the 2021-22 MVC Player of the Year, Makenzie Silvey, SIU's career scoring leader, and Gabby Walker. After a 19-year tenure on the coaching staff at Texas A&M, including 13 seasons as an associate head coach, Kelly Bond-White is now in charge in Carbondale.


Southern Illinois started the season 0-4 (Middle Tennessee State, IUPUI, at Northwestern, Memphis) before notching its first victory against Lehigh. The Salukis would split its final four games of the non-conference, scoring 100 points or more in wins over Chicago State and Tennessee State, while coming up shy against the likes of Kent State and Saint Louis.


By the Numbers & Players to Watch


Southern Illinois averages the second-most points per game in the league (78.4), while ranking at the bottom in scoring defense (78.1 PPG). Additionally, the Salukis lead the Valley in steals per game (10.6) and assist/turnover ratio (1.09).


Junior Quierra Love paces the conference in assists, averaging 5.9 per contest. Graduate transfer Ashley Jones leads the Salukis in scoring, totaling 15.3 points per game (6th MVC). Fellow Mississippi State transfer, Promise Taylor, is second in the Valley in field goal percentage (.615) and tied for third in blocks (14).


Series History


Southern Illinois swept Drake in 2021-22. The Salukis' win on January 13, 2022 snapped a 12-game win streak for the Bulldogs in the series. Tied with UNI as the longest-running Missouri Valley Conference series for Drake, the meeting on January 26 will mark the 96th contest between the programs. The Bulldogs are 37-8 when playing the Salukis in Des Moines, and are 23-21 in Carbondale.

 

UNI Panthers

Grace Boffeli (pictured) leads UNI in scoring and rebounding. (The Des Moines Register)

Non-Conference Record: 5-4

2021-22 Record: 23-11 (13-5 MVC)

Head Coach: Tanya Warren (288-205, 15th season)

Series History: Drake leads 70-25


An exciting, new-look squad has provided early flashes in Cedar Falls. The graduation(s) of Karli Rucker, who finished second all-time in career scoring at Northern Iowa, Nicole Kroeger, and Bre Gunnels opened the door for a list of up-and-coming players. Starting the season at 2-2, UNI would collect wins over St. Thomas (MN) and Saint Louis before dropping a close one to No. 7 Iowa State, and a double-digit setback to No. 20 Creighton. Winning its pair of games at the Cancun Challenge (Tulane, Vanderbilt), the Panthers would fall at South Dakota State, get back in the win column at home against North Dakota State, and finish its non-conference with a loss at No. 12 Iowa. Leading the Panthers is the longest tenured coach in the Valley, Tanya Warren. Under Warren's leadership UNI has made 11 postseason appearances, three in the NCAA Tournament.


By the Numbers & Players to Watch


UNI is third in the conference in scoring (73.6 PPG), third in field goal percentage (.435), and second in three-pointers made per game (8.2). While the Panthers are top-five in field goal percentage defense (.396), they place ninth in scoring defense, allowing 71.4 points per contest.


2021-22 Missouri Valley Conference All-Honorable Mention honoree Grace Boffeli ranks fourth in the league in scoring (15.9 PPG), rebounding (7.9 RPG), and is third in field goal percentage (.584). Maya McDermott averages 13.9 points per game, ranking eighth in the Valley, and leads UNI in assists (2.6 APG). Senior Kam Finley became the most recent active player in the conference to reach the 1,000 point club, and is averaging 10.4 points per game.


Series History


The in-state rivals will meet for the 96th time on January 11 in Des Moines. Drake has won 15 of the last 16 meetings, with a steady number of those encounters taking place in the MVC Tournament and the WNIT. In Iowa's capital city, the Bulldogs are 39-8 against the Panthers. In Cedar Falls, a 26-17.


 

Valparaiso Beacons

Leah Earnest (center) is the leading scorer and rebounder for Valparaiso. (Valparaiso Athletics)

Non-Conference Record: 2-6

2021-22 Record: 11-19 (9-9 MVC)

Head Coach: Mary Evans (50-74, 5th season)

Series History: Drake leads 13-2


A revamped roster in Valparaiso is looking to make noise once again in the Valley. Losing its top three scorers from last years team that recorded its best record and finish (9-9, 6th) as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, has allowed a combination of veterans and newcomers to make its own imprint. The Beacons pair of wins came at the beginning of the year, jumping to 2-0 after rolling past Central Michigan and Southern Miss. Following a home loss to Eastern Illinois on November 16, Valpo dropped five-straight (UAB, at Northwestern, Bowling Green, Western Michigan, at Western Illinois). Leading Valparaiso in her fifth season is Mary Evans.


By the Numbers & Players to Watch


Valparaiso ranks seventh in the Valley in scoring offense (66.0 PPG) and 11th in scoring defense (76.1). The Beacons are in the top-five in field goal percentage (.428) and three-pointers made per game (7.8).


Junior Leah Earnest tops Valpo in scoring (13.0 PPG) and rebounding (9.0 RPG). Earnest's 9.0 boards per game is tied for first in the Valley. The Beacons have also received steady contributions from freshman Ali Saunders who scores 12.3 points per contest.


Series History


Valparaiso collected its first win(s) against Drake in the 2021-22 campaign. The Bulldogs had won the prior 13 meetings with the Beacons. Since joining the Missouri Valley Conference in 2017, Drake is 11-2 against Valparaiso.

 

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