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No. 1 Missouri State Bears (12-3, 2-0 MVC) — Bears were picked to win the league because they're the deepest team and have the best player in forward Alize Johnson. So far, so good for the favorites, who have won three straight and 10 of their last 11. 

No. 2 Illinois State Redbirds (8-6, 2-0 MVC) — Even without leading scorer Keyshawn Evans, who hurt his knee in practice last week and is not expected to play against Drake Wednesday night, the Redbirds keep rolling. David Ndiaye, ISU's 7-footer, made his season debut against Indiana State after missing the first 13 games with a stress fracture. Illinois State has won a season-high four straight heading into Wednesday's game between league leaders. 

No. 3 Loyola Ramblers (11-3, 1-1 MVC) — Guard/forward Donte Ingram is on the verge of becoming the 19th player in Loyola history to accumulate 1,000 points and 500 rebounds. The Chicago native needs 26 points to reach 1,000, and has already grabbed his 500th board. 

No. 4 Bradley Braves (11-4, 1-1 MVC) — Bradley made 64.3 percent of its 3-pointers against Northern Iowa (9 of 14) in a 19-point win in Peoria. Sophomore point guard Darrell Brown had 24 points in that win, and is averaging 19.3 points per game in his last four games. 

No. 5 SIU Salukis (9-6, 1-1 MVC) — The Salukis got more bad news Wednesday before the game against Evansville, as backup forward Jonathan Wiley (torn ACL and MCL) and backup guard Eric McGill (hand) are both out for the rest of the season. SIU still has Kavion Pippen and a stable of guards, but will have to fight it out without two of its best forwards, preseason all-conference pick Thik Bol and Wiley.

No. 6 Drake Bulldogs (8-7, 2-0 MVC) — Bulldogs have begun to match their offense with some clutch defense during first 2-0 Valley start in 10 years. Drake has held its last three opponents to less than 40 percent shooting. Maryland Eastern Shore, Bradley and SIU combined to shoot 37.6 percent from the field and 27.1 percent from the 3-point line. 

No. 7 Northern Iowa Panthers (8-6, 0-2 MVC) — We've seen this movie before, but Northern Iowa has issues at both ends of the floor. Bradley scored 72 points in a 19-point win, and the Panthers haven't put up 68 points or more against a Division I opponent since Nov. 29. 

No. 8 Valparaiso Crusaders (9-6, 0-2 MVC) — Valparaiso has been through a tough stretch since second-leading scorer Joe Burton was suspended for "not meeting academic standards." Crusaders have lost six of seven, including consecutive games to start conference play for the first time this millennium. 

No. 9 Evansville Purple Aces (10-5, 0-2 MVC) — Aces are healthy for the first time in about a month after getting Ryan Taylor and Dru Smith back. Taylor averages 21.3 points per game, which would lead the MVC if he hadn't missed seven games. 

No. 10 Indiana State Sycamores (6-8, 1-1 MVC) — Sycamores could be a sleeping giant in the conference race. Indiana State has shooters (Brenton Scott became just the third player in school history to reach 200 career 3s) and a deep set of post players.


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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