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Forget Grease. Parity is the word – at least in the Missouri Valley Conference this season.

It took just three league games to whittle down the number of undefeated MVC teams to one. After Saturday’s victory at SIU, Valparaiso stands at 4-0. Yet, with less than a quarter of the season in the books, it’s difficult to declare the Crusaders a favorite.

After SIU’s 75-70 league-opening win over Missouri State, SIU coach Barry Hinson warned that virtually every league game would be a nail-biter. There have been a few exceptions, but, in general, Hinson was/is correct.

Is that good or bad?

On a nightly basis, it’s outstanding. Every game is a potential win … and a potential loss.

There was a time in the MVC that playing on the road meant almost certain defeat – ask Wichita State and Creighton what it was like coming to the SIU Arena in the first decade of this century. There was a time when it took a miracle for an MVC team to leave Carbondale with a win.

Conversely, there have been times when the Valley was divided into haves and have nots. While the Salukis were virtually invincible in Carbondale in the early part of the century, SIU also experienced a doormat period.

There were years when any loss to SIU, at home or on the road was a bad loss. The same can be said about Evansville, Indiana State, Illinois State, Bradley and virtually every team in the league.

A coach, player or fan could look at the schedule and mark specific games with a “W” or an “L” and at the end of the year find their prognostications to be amazingly accurate. That’s not the case this year.

It is still early, but looking at results in the first three weeks of the season it’s easy to see that the top three teams in the league could have six or seven losses. That makes the conference season fascinating for fans and ulcer-inducing for coaches.

You cannot honestly look at the league standings and feel like a game is an easy “W”.

If the parity holds through the regular season, the MVC tournament has the potential to be amazing. This could be a year when a Thursday night entry could make some noise.

Then, of course, there is the downside.

If every Valley team finishes the year on equal footing, the MVC will be a one-bid league.

Last year Loyola separated itself from the pack. The Ramblers more than likely would have gotten a bid if they had been upset in the tournament – hindsight certainly suggests they should have been. By stepping up, the Ramblers created an opportunity for another MVC team to slip into the tournament.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

(Disclaimer: This is all subject to change in the next month. As noted above, the MVC is unpredictable.)

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LES WINKELER is the sports editor for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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