NORMAL -- Missouri Valley Conference coaches are confident the team yelling "We're No. 1!" in St. Louis on March 7 won't be the one and only Valley school in the NCAA tourney.
After two straight years of one Valley team in the NCAA field, Northern Iowa and Wichita State seem to have positioned themselves for possible at-large bids should they fail to win the league's automatic berth by winning the Valley tourney.
UNI is 17-2 and leading the Valley with an 8-1 mark at the midway point of the league race, while Wichita State (17-4, 6-3) is right behind the Panthers.
"Those two teams have really good players who can play anywhere in the country, and with that they're winning at a high level," said Drake coach Mark Phelps, a former assistant at North Carolina State and Arizona State. "Those two have a great resume going and, certainly, there is time for other teams in the league who had early success to be there as well, namely Illinois State."
ISU (14-6) and the other five teams who are 5-4 or 4-5 in the league likely would need to win almost every game and go far in the Valley tourney to warrant any at-large consideration. The Valley is No. 9 among 32 conferences in the RPI rankings.
Southern Illinois' victory over Western Kentucky on Monday gave the Valley a 75-32 record against nonconference opponents. Last year, the league's nonconference record was 82-51 counting postseason play. All 10 Valley teams have a nonconference game left in the ESPNU BracketBusters next month.
"The league is much better than it was a year ago. It's much deeper and much more experienced," said UNI coach Ben Jacobson. "Our league is in much better position this year than to get just the automatic."
Stinnett future in doubt? There are many around the Valley who believe junior guard P'Allen Stinnett has played his last game in a Creighton uniform.
Stinnett was suspended indefinitely Monday by Coach Dana Altman for "conduct not acceptable to the team." Stinnett, a preseason all-Valley first-team selection who is averaging 9.2 points, received his ninth career technical foul in Sunday's victory over Missouri State.
Altman didn't shed any more light on Stinnett's suspension during Tuesday's Valley coaches teleconference. Creighton (10-10, 5-4) faces Bradley (10-9, 5-4) tonight in Peoria.
Lathan still ‘day to day': Indiana State has been hit harder by injuries than any Valley team. Jake Kelly was lost in late December with a season-ending knee injury. Leading scorer Dwayne Lathan has been out the last five games with a lower leg strain.
"He's day to day. He hasn't practiced full yet," said Indiana State coach Kevin McKenna. "He's not close."
The Sycamores (11-9, 3-6) have lost four straight, dropping to ninth in the league ahead of Thursday's home game against Southern Illinois. Illinois State still has to play the Sycamores twice -- Feb. 3 in Terre Haute and Feb. 24 in Normal.
Valley tourney update: There were 5,913 all-session tickets sold through league schools before Jan. 1 for the Valley Tournament, which will be held March 4-7 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. That was down from last year's figure of 6,624. Most of the drop-off came from Creighton, which fell from 1,550 to about 1,000.
BracketBusters announcement: Pairings for the ESPNU BracketBusters, which will be held Feb. 19 or 20, will be made Monday. ISU will have a home game.