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.

AP

MVC Power Rankings — Dec. 28, 2017

1. Northern Iowa (8-4) — Panthers have played toughest schedule in the Valley, but only one true road game. Forward Bennett Koch playing like a player of the year candidate.

2. Missouri State (11-3, 1-0 MVC) — Bears are still the deepest team, and possibly the most talented, too, with Alize Johnson. Opponents are averaging 61.2 points per game in Missouri State's 11 victories and 62.6 points per game, overall.

3. Illinois State (7-6, 1-0 MVC) — The Redbirds have won a season-high three straight after topping Evansville on the road, 72-66. The trio of Keyshawn Evans (18.5 points per game), Milik Yarbrough (17.2) and forward Phil Fayne (16.8) combine for more than 52 points per game. 

4. Bradley (10-3) — The Braves' schedule hasn't been great, but their 3-1 mark in games decided by six points or less shows they know how to win. Jayden Hodgson (57.1 percent from 3) and Luuk van Bree (53.6 percent from 3) have two of the best marks in the country behind the arc. Now we'll see what Bradley is made of.

5. Loyola (10-3, 0-1 MVC) — Ramblers are treading water until guards Ben Richardson and Clayton Custer return, but still have a formidable team to defend with Aundre Jackson and Donte Ingram. Loyola will try to avoid its third straight 0-2 start to league play when it hosts Evansville Saturday.

6. Southern Illinois (8-5) — Salukis could be 11-2 going into league play, but also could be 5-8. Injuries continue to hurt SIU's efforts, but team is much improved, defensively, and deeper than last season. Now if it could only get starters Thik Bol, Marcus Bartley and Jonathan Wiley close to 100 percent. 

7. Valparaiso (9-4) — Crusaders have dropped four of last five games and now lost second-leading scorer Joe Burton for the rest of the season to academics. Valparaiso expected to get Tevonn Walker back soon, possibly at Indiana State Thursday night, and are used to winning. 

8. Evansville (10-4, 0-1 MVC) — Purple Aces have played better than expected with some new pieces and endured injuries to Ryan Taylor and Dru Smith. Taylor returned against Illinois State, while Smith may miss a few more weeks. Aces face tough road at Loyola, at SIU and home against Bradley and Missouri State.

9. Drake (6-7) — Bulldogs still have their best start in four seasons despite a losing record. Drake can shoot it, with 11 3-pointers in six different games this season, but still struggle at defensive end. Bulldogs have allowed 80 or more six times, and are 1-5 in those games (beat Drexel 90-88 in two overtimes). 

10. Indiana State (5-7) — Sophomore guard Jordan Barnes has been a bright spot for Sycamores so far, averaging a team-best 17.1 points per game with 51 assists and 31 turnovers in 12 starts. Barnes is shooting 42.5 percent from the field, including 49 percent from the 3-point line (49 of 100), and 84.2 percent at the free-throw line (32 of 36). As a team, Sycamores average 15.6 turnovers a game, tied for the second-most in the league with Valparaiso. Only Bradley (15.8 per game) average more.

todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com

618-351-5087

On Twitter: @THefferman

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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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