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SIU guard Armon Fletcher (22) shoots over Drake guard C.J. Rivers (0) in the second half at SIU Arena on Sunday. The Salukis went on to lose 70-67.

After about a fourth of the conference season, the team that was picked last in the preseason poll leads the Missouri Valley Conference with a 4-0 record.

Drake (10-7, 4-0 MVC) is off to its best start since 2007-08, the year it surprised everyone and won the Valley championship, behind Reed Timmer's strong start and the emergence of forward Nick McGlynn. Timmer, a preseason all-conference guard, averaged 23 points a game in the Bulldogs' wins over Illinois State and Indiana State and was the named the league's player of the week. McGlynn has more than doubled his scoring average from last season and is a tough matchup for teams as an undersized 5-man.

The league came in eighth in the latest RPI Monday. The Valley hasn't been that high in the season-ending RPI since 2013, but it is one of only three conferences in the country that has all of its members at 175 or better. The Big 12 and the SEC are the others.

Here are this week's power rankings:

1. Missouri State Bears (13-4, 3-1 MVC)

Previous rank: 1. Last week: Beat Northern Iowa 62-55, lost at Illinois State 72-68. This week: At Evansville Wednesday, 7 p.m. (ESPN3), Evansville, Ind., hosts Indiana State Sunday, 2 p.m. (ESPN3), Springfield, Mo. Notes: Forward Alize Johnson, the league's preseason player of the year, notched his 11th double-double of the season on Sunday against Illinois State. Johnson's 11 double-doubles are tied for the fifth-most of anyone in the NCAA. ... The Bears' reserves have outscored their opponents' subs 15 times this season. ... Guard Ronnie Rousseau had a season-high 16 points in the loss at Illinois State. In his 29 games with the Bears, they are 22-7.

2. Illinois State Redbirds (9-7, 3-1 MVC)

Previous rank: 2. Last week: Lost 87-62 at Drake, beat Missouri State 72-68. This week: Hosts Loyola Wednesday, 7 p.m. (ESPN3), Normal, at Southern Illinois Saturday, 5 p.m. (CBS Sports Network), Carbondale. Notes: Eight different players have started for the Redbirds this season. Illinois State's lineup against Missouri State Sunday was its seventh different starting five. ... Forward Phil Fayne averaged 16 points and five rebounds per game last week. Fayne made 11 of 17 from the field and 10 of 11 at the free-throw line. Forward Milik Yarbrough averaged 17 points, 5.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds a game last week. 

3. Drake Bulldogs (10-7, 4-0 MVC)

Previous rank: 6. Last week: Beat Illinois State 87-62, beat Indiana State 75-72. This week: At Valparaiso Wednesday, 7 p.m. (ESPN3), Valparaiso, Ind., hosts Evansville Saturday, 2 p.m. (ESPN3), Des Moines. Notes: Timmer moved into second place in school history with 1,677 career points. He is the Valley's active scoring leader. ... With four senior guards in the starting lineup, Drake's overall experience ranks seventh-best in the nation, according to The Bulldogs' average player has 2.47 years of college experience, second to Missouri State's 2.55. 

4. Bradley Braves (12-5, 2-2 MVC)

Previous rank: 4. Last week: Beat Valparaiso 80-71, lost at Evansville 68-44. This week: Hosts Southern Illinois Tuesday, 7 p.m. (ESPN3), Peoria, at Loyola Saturday, 3 p.m. (MVC-TV). Notes: Bradley is 10-1 with a halftime lead. ... The Braves are 8-0 at home this season but 4-5 away from Carver Arena. ... Senior forward Donte Thomas (6.3 rebounds per game) is trying to become just the ninth player in school history to lead the Braves off the glass three straight years. Seven of the previous eight are in the school's hall of fame.

5. Southern Illinois Salukis (10-7, 2-2 MVC)

Previous rank: 5. Last week: Beat Evansville 65-63, lost at Valparaiso 83-72. This week: At Bradley Tuesday, 7 p.m. (ESPN3), Peoria, hosts Illinois State Saturday, 5 p.m. (CBS Sports Network), Carbondale. Notes: Southern Illinois is 10-0 when holding teams to 69 points or less, and 0-7 when giving up 70 or more. ... Since moving to the hybrid forward spot in mid-December against Jackson State, junior Armon Fletcher is averaging 15.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. He is shooting 50 percent from the field since the change, and comes off a career-high 32-point effort at Valparaiso Saturday. ... The Salukis have lost a combined 35 games to injuries. Forwards Thik Bol (knee) and Jonathan Wiley (knee) are out for the season, and guard Eric McGill (hand) is also out for the year. 

6. Loyola Ramblers (12-4, 2-2 MVC)

Previous rank: 3. Last week: Lost to Indiana State 61-57, won at Northern Iowa 56-50. This week: At Illinois State Wednesday, 7 p.m. (ESPN3), Normal, hosts Bradley Saturday, 3 p.m. (MVC-TV), Chicago. Notes: Junior guard Clayton Custer returned to action Sunday at Northern Iowa after missing five games with an ankle injury. The Ramblers are 10-1 with him in the lineup, including a win over fifth-ranked Florida. ... Five of Loyola's next seven games are in Illinois. The Ramblers play in Normal, Chicago, Valparaiso, Indiana, which is about an hour from downtown Chicago, Des Moines and Peoria  the rest of the month. 

7. Valparaiso Crusaders (10-7, 1-3 MVC)

Previous rank: 8. Last week: Lost 80-71 at Bradley, beat Southern Illinois 83-72. This week: Hosts Drake Wednesday, 7 p.m. (ESPN3), Valparaiso, Ind., at Northern Iowa Saturday, 7 p.m. (ESPN3), Cedar Falls, Iowa. Notes: Guard Tevonn Walker moved into 19th place on the Crusaders' all-time scoring list last week. He has 1,198 points, 49 away from 18th place. ... Valparaiso announced Monday guard Joe Burton, the team's second-leading scorer, is no longer enrolled in the school. ... Derrik Smits and Jaume Sorrolla, the Crusaders' two 7-footers, combined for 28 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday's win over Southern Illinois. The two averaged less than 12 points and eight rebounds per game, combined, their first 16 games this season. 

8. Evansville Purple Aces (11-6, 1-3 MVC)

Previous rank: 9. Last week: Lost at Southern Illinois 65-63, beat Bradley 68-44. This week: Hosts Missouri State Wednesday, 7 p.m. (ESPN3), Evansville, Ind., at Drake Saturday, 2 p.m. (ESPN3), Des Moines. Notes: Since returning from his foot injury, guard Ryan Taylor has averaged 21 points per game and shot 47.7 percent from the field. He leads the Valley at 21.2 points per game. ... Evansville had 23 assists on 25 baskets against Bradley. The win snapped a four-game losing streak. 

9. Northern Iowa Panthers (8-8, 0-4 MVC)

Previous rank: 7. Last week: Lost at Missouri State 62-55, lost to Loyola 56-50. This week: At Indiana State Wednesday, 6 p.m. (MVC-TV), Terre Haute, Ind., hosts Valparaiso Saturday, 7 p.m. (ESPN2), Cedar Falls, Iowa. Notes: Northern Iowa lost its first five conference games last season before finishing 9-9 to tie for third place with Southern Illinois. ... The Panthers have lost three straight games at the McLeod Center for only the third time since the building opened in 2006. ... Freshman guard Tywhon Pickford has registered four double-doubles this season, the most of any MVC freshmen. 

10. Indiana State Sycamores (7-9, 2-2 MVC)

Previous rank: 10. Last week: Won at Loyola 61-57, lost to Drake 75-72. This week: Hosts Northern Iowa Wednesday, 6 p.m. (MVC-TV), Terre Haute, Ind., at Missouri State Sunday, 2 p.m. (ESPN3), Springfield, Mo. Notes: Guard Brenton Scott's 1,548 career points are the second-most of active players in the Valley. Only Drake's Reed Timmer has more (1,677). ... The Sycamores outscored Loyola 7-0 to end the game in their win Jan. 3. ... Indiana State plays five of its next seven games in Indiana. The Sycamores host Northern Iowa, play at Evansville Jan. 17, hosts Illinois State and Bradley, and play at Valparaiso Jan. 31.


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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