Northern Iowa Villanova Basketball

Northern Iowa guard Juwan McCloud (13) drives to the basket during the final day of action Nov. 24 in the Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis NCAA college basketball tournament in Paradise Island, Bahamas.


As the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Conference Challenge opens up Tuesday night, two league teams are undefeated and three more have one loss.

Loyola (7-0) and Valparaiso (7-0) go for 8-0 Tuesday night, with the Ramblers on the road at Boise State and the Crusaders at home against Utah State. The Valley had its best run in the challenge series since 2009 last season, splitting the 10 games. Loyola is 1-1 all-time in the challenge series.

Here are this week's players of the week, as chosen by the league, followed by the rankings, chosen by me:

Player of the week: Donte Ingram, G, Loyola — Ingram averaged 14.7 points, 10 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game in wins over UNC-Wilmington and Kent State, two NCAA Tournament teams in 2017. Ingram made 15 of 29 from the field (51.7 percent) and 7 of 17 from the 3-point line (41.2 percent). 

Newcomer of the week: Tywhon Pickford, G, Northern Iowa — The freshman point guard averaged 12.7 points and 12.7 rebounds last week, as the Panthers took second at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. Northern Iowa lost to fifth-ranked Villanova 64-50 in the championship game.

1. Northern Iowa Panthers (5-2)

Last week: Lost to No. 5 Villanova 64-50 at Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, beat North Carolina State 64-60, beat SMU 61-58. This week: Hosts UNLV Wednesday 7 p.m., Cedar Falls, Iowa

Notes: Both of Northern Iowa's losses came against top 10 teams, at No. 9 North Carolina Nov. 10 in the opener and against the Wildcats in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. ... The Panthers have allowed 52.3 points per game since falling 86-69 at North Carolina. Opponents shot 33.5 percent from the field during that six-game stretch. ... Guard Wyatt Lohaus, a junior who was expected to compete for a starting spot, has still not played for the Panthers after injuring his toe before the season. Lohaus missed the 2016-17 season with a knee injury.

2. Loyola Ramblers (7-0)

Last week: Beat Mississippi Valley State 63-50, beat UNC-Wilmington 102-78, beat Kent State 75-60. This week: At Boise State Tuesday (Mountain West Network) 8 p.m., Boise, Idaho; host Illinois-Chicago Saturday, 3 p.m., Chicago (ESPN3)

Notes: Loyola is off to its best start since 2010-11, and if it beats Boise State, will have its best start since the 1962-63 season that began with 21 straight victories. ... Coach Porter Moser picked up his 200th career win as a collegiate head coach with the victory over UNC-Wilmington. He is four away from 100 wins at Loyola. ... The Ramblers have had five different players lead them in scoring or tie for the team lead.

3. Missouri State Bears (5-2)

Last week: Lost to Georgia Southern 74-73, beat Manhattan 69-65, beat Florida Atlantic 71-60, beat Evangel 80-48. This week: Hosts Colorado State Tuesday, 7 p.m. (ESPN3), Springfield, Mo.; vs. South Dakota State Saturday in Sioux Falls, S.D., 7 p.m.

Notes: Nearly 50 percent of the Bears' points this season have come in the paint. ... Ten players average more than 10 minutes a game. Seven average more than 20. ... Junior forward Obediah Church posted his second career double-double in Friday's win over NAIA Evangel with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Church also had five blocks, and has rejected 18 in seven games.

4. Valparaiso Crusaders (7-0)

Last week: Beat Samford 88-67, beat Kent State 77-67, beat UNC-Wilmington 79-70. This week: Hosts Utah State Tuesday, 7 p.m. (ESPN3), Valparaiso, Ind.

Notes: Valparaiso is off to its first 7-0 start since the 1966-67 season, when the Crusaders reached the national quarterfinals. It is the Crusaders' third 7-0 start in program history. ... In the last three-plus seasons, Valparaiso has won 89 games, the 10th-most in the nation. ... After facing zero Power Five conference teams in its first seven games, Valparaiso will play at Purdue and at Northwestern before Dec. 15.

5. Illinois State Redbirds (3-3) 

Last week: Beat Quincy 86-57, lost to Charleston Southern 64-62 in overtime. This week: At Nevada Wednesday, 9 p.m. (Mountain West Network), Reno, Nev.; hosts Tulsa Saturday, 3 p.m. (ESPN3), Normal.

Notes: Guard Keyshawn Evans (23 points per game) and forward Phil Fayne (16.8 points per game) give the Redbirds the highest-scoring duo in the Valley. Evans is second in the league, while Fayne is fourth. ... Evans' 27 3-pointers this season are the third-most in the country. Only Campbell's Marcus Burk (31) and North Florida's J.T. Escobar (28) have more. ... Illinois State doesn't have back-to-back road games until playing at Indiana State Jan. 20, 2018, and at Northern Iowa Jan. 24.

6. SIU Salukis (2-2)

Last week: Lost at 18th-ranked Louisville 84-42, lost at Murray State 81-73. This week: Hosts SIU-Edwardsville (1-4) Wednesday, 7 p.m. (ESPN3), Carbondale; hosts San Jose State (2-3) Saturday, 3 p.m. (ESPN3), Carbondale.

Notes: Starting point guard Marcus Bartley, who has missed the first four games with a broken bone in his shooting hand/wrist, has started working out with his left hand and could start dribbling with his right this week. It is not known if he will return this week or next week. ... Junior college transfers Kavion Pippen (12 points and seven rebounds per game) and Eric McGill (team-best six 3-pointers) have made big impacts. Pippen is SIU's leading scorer and rebounder and has scored in double figures in all four games thus far.

7. Bradley Braves (6-1)

Last week: Beat Missouri S&T 79-47, beat Georgia Southern 62-57. This week: Hosts Eastern Illinois Friday, 7 p.m. (ESPN3),Peoria; at San Diego State Sunday, 5 p.m. (Mountain West Network), San Diego, Calif.

Notes: The Braves' only loss this season is to America East Conference favorite Vermont, 65-64, at the Island of the Bahamas Showcase Nov. 17. ... Bradley owns the nation's 11th-best scoring defense at 58.3 points allowed per game. Only three of their seven opponents have broken 60 points. ... The Braves are outboarding their opponents by an average of 10.3 per game. Three players average seven or more rebounds, center Koch Bar and forwards Donte Thomas and Elijah Childs.

8. Drake Bulldogs (4-1)

Last week: Beat Chicago State 79-67. This week: At Omaha Wednesday, 7 p.m., Omaha; at Wyoming Saturday, 5 p.m. (Mountain West Network), Laramie, Wyo.

Notes: Drake is off to its best start in four years after defeating Coe College, Wake Forest on a neutral floor, Drexel and Chicago State. The Bulldogs' only loss so far is an 86-81 decision against Colorado on a neutral floor. ... Guard Reed Timmer scored a career-high 32 points in the win over Chicago State. The senior also has two other 20-point games. ... Drake is averaging a Valley-best 85.6 points per game.

9. Evansville Purple Aces (5-1)

Last week: Beat Fresno State 59-57, lost to Louisiana Tech 63-61. This week: At New Mexico Wednesday, 8 p.m. (AT&T Sports Network), Albuquerque, N.M.; hosts Oakland City Saturday, 1 p.m. (ESPN3), Evansville, Ind.

Notes: Guards Ryan Taylor and Blake Simmons made the all-tournament team at the Cancun Challenge. Taylor, the Valley's third-leading scorer at 21.3 points per game, averaged 19 per game in Evansville's 1-1 record south of the border. Simmons, back from a knee injury that cost him the 2016-17 season, averaged 10.8 points per game. ... The Aces are a league-best 47.8 percent from the 3-point line this season (43 of 90). Taylor, Simmons and sophomore guard Dru Smith, who are all shooting over 47 percent from behind the arc, have 40 of the team's 43 triples.

10. Indiana State Sycamores (2-4)

Last week: Beat Missouri-St. Louis 75-58, lost to Ball State 93-85. This week: Hosts Air Force Wednesday, 6 p.m. (ESPN3), Terre Haute, Ind.

Notes: The Sycamores opened the season with one of the Valley's best wins, a 90-69 demolition of Indiana in coach Archie Miller's first game there, but then dropped three straight at the Charleston (S.C.) Classic. Indiana State lost its third straight game there in four overtimes to Ohio, 96-94. ... Guard Brenton Scott became just the third Sycamore to ever record 200 or more 3-pointers last week. He has 218 career triples. Michael Menser (1997-2001) holds the school record with 283 3-pointers.


On Twitter: @THefferman


Sports reporter

Todd Hefferman has covered SIU athletics since 2008. A University of Iowa grad, he is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and a Heisman Trophy voter.

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