NORMAL -- Only three games have been played in the Missouri Valley Conference basketball race. It's much too early to count out Bradley and Creighton just yet.
However, the Braves and Bluejays already are 1-2 in the league and two games behind Northern Iowa. They can't afford to fall much further back.
"We've had moments where we've played well, but we haven't played a full game," said Bradley coach Jim Les, whose team is 6-7 and lost five of its last six games.
Bradley, which entertains Indiana State (10-4, 2-1) tonight, has endured a up-and-down season. Senior guard Dodie Dunson, a Bloomington High School graduate, was lost to a season-ending knee injury in the second game. The Braves upset Illinois in Las Vegas at Thanksgiving, but parted ways with assistant coach Steve Merfeld in early December.
Then, on Sunday, sophomore forward Taylor Brown was on the bench in a loss at Wichita State. It was the third game this season that Brown hasn't played because of a coach's decision. Brown, an athletic 6-foot-6 performer, is second in the league in scoring (15.3 points per game) and sixth in rebounding (6.0).
"I have a policy about not commenting on player availability due to injury or otherwise," said Les about Brown's status for tonight during Tuesday's Valley coaches' teleconference. "I'll defer on that. We'll kind of wait and see."
Creighton (6-8) lost its first two Valley games for only the second time in Dana Altman's 16-year coaching tenure before winning at Evansville, 72-64, on Sunday. That ties for the worst start to a Creighton season since Altman's first campaign in the 1994-95 season.
"We've had ourselves in position a number of times and haven't been able to close them out," said Altman. "Closing one out was definitely good for our ball team."
Creighton is home tonight to face struggling Drake before going to Wichita State on Saturday. The latter game could tell whether the Bluejays will be a contender.
Not enjoyable win: Indiana State coach Kevin McKenna couldn't really celebrate last Friday's 70-64 victory over Creighton.
Altman was coming over to the McKenna house for dinner afterwards.
McKenna, a Creighton alum, served two stints on Altman's staff before taking the Indiana State job three years ago. Beating the Bluejays is a "weird feeling" for McKenna, who is 2-3 versus Creighton.
"I don't like to see my friends lose, and I definitely don't like to lose," he said. "My kids came to the game wearing Indiana State stuff and rooting for their dad, but they felt weird too. They jumped in the car two days later and put Creighton shirts on to watch them play Evansville."
Eglseder coming up big: Northern Iowa's biggest improvement this season has come from its biggest player.
Jordan Eglseder, a 7-foot, 280-pound senior, is averaging 12.8 points and 8.2 rebounds for the Panthers (12-1), who take an 11-game winning streak to Southern Illinois tonight. Eglseder battled an ankle injury for much of last season.
"He had a great offseason," said UNI coach Ben Jacobson. "He's healthy and really went to work. He spent a ton of time working on his conditioning and strength. Because of those things he's playing with confidence."
UNI comes to Redbird Arena on Saturday to face Illinois State. The 3 p.m. game will be on ESPN2.