Drake Iowa Basketball

Drake guard De'Antae McMurray, center, chases a loose ball against Iowa's Nicholas Baer, left, and Isaiah Moss during a nonconference game last month. McMurray is part of a four-guard lineup that has helped Drake take the Missouri Valley Conference lead with a 4-0 start. 

Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press

NORMAL — The last time Drake started 4-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Bulldogs rode that momentum to league regular-season and tournament titles in 2008.

Could the same thing be happening again under another first-year Bulldog basketball coach?

Ten years ago, Keno Davis took over for his father, Tom, as Drake's coach and surprised everyone by leading the Bulldogs to the top of the MVC. Fast forward to 2018 and Niko Medved's four-guard lineup is alone in first place in the league heading into Wednesday's road game at Valparaiso.

That's quite a turnaround for a program that has finished last in the league the previous two years and gone 23-70 the last three seasons.

"It's a long conference season and you have your ups and downs. This group of seniors and juniors, they know what the other side feels like and have gone through the losing," said Medved during Monday's MVC coaches teleconference.

"We don't have to sell to these guys how hard it is to win in this league. They know that. It's been fairly easy to keep these guys on an even keel."

Drake (10-7) showed it was a different team in the preseason. The Bulldogs beat Wake Forest in the Paradise Jam and lost by a point at Minnesota.

Senior guard Reed Timmer, who could become Drake's all-time leading scorer by season's end, paces the Valley with a 19.4 scoring average. Timmer averaged 23.0 points last week and Monday was named MVC Player of the Week after victories over Illinois State (87-62) and Indiana State (75-72).

Medved, who came from Furman, decided early after getting to Des Moines to use a four-guard lineup. It has helped Drake lead the Valley in scoring with a 78.4 mark. Four players average in double figures as the Bulldogs are shooting 40.4 percent outside the arc.

"That's the kind of style I like to play and we played at Furman," said Medved, whose team won last year's Southern Conference regular-season title. "You just look at what's going to be the opportunity to get our best players on the floor. We were small to begin with a lot of guards and some bigs."

While this Drake team might have a difficult time matching the Bulldogs' 13-0 MVC start in 2008, the Bulldogs could be battling for the title on the last weekend and then in St. Louis. 

"We've got some guys who can spread the floor and shoot it a little bit," said Medved.

UNI sits in last: Drake isn't the only surprise in the MVC. Northern Iowa, which was picked second in the preseason league poll, is 0-4 in Valley play and the only team without a conference win. 

The Panthers (8-8) have started slowly the last two years before finishing tied for third last season and tied for fourth in 2016. But making this start more shocking is UNI played well in the nonconference with wins over SMU, North Carolina State and UNLV.  

"We've got to get some things going better offensively," said UNI coach Ben Jacobson, whose team fell to Loyola, 56-50, at home Sunday. "(Against Loyola) we played a little better game than the first three conference games ... we executed a little bit better."

Lusk praises Yarbrough: Count Missouri State coach Paul Lusk as a big fan of ISU junior forward Milik Yarbrough.

Yarbrough's 23 points, four assists and four steals helped ISU down the Bears, 72-68, on Sunday at Redbird Arena. Missouri State (13-4) and the Redbirds (9-7) are tied for second in the league at 3-1.

"Yarbrough is as talented a guy as I've seen in this league," said Lusk, who is in his seventh year with the Bears. "He does so many things for their team and is so difficult to guard. If you swarm him and send a double (team), he's a great passer and very unselfish.

"I thought we did a pretty good job of getting to him in transition and not letting him get from coast to coast. But other than that, he really hurt us."

Missouri State stayed in Normal on Sunday night before busing to Evansville for a game Wednesday. ISU entertains Loyola (12-4, 2-2) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Redbird Arena.

Burton done at Valpo: Valparaiso's first season in the Valley got a little bit tougher Monday when the Crusaders (10-7, 1-3) announced 6-6 junior swingman Joe Burton is no longer enrolled in school.

Burton, a transfer from Oklahoma State, started the Crusaders' first 10 games. He was their second-leading scorer with an 11.5 average while shooting 37.8 percent from 3-point range. 

Before its game at UC Riverside on Dec. 20, Valpo announced Burton was suspended immediately for failing "to meet university academic standards." 

League No. 8 in RPI: The Valley ranks No. 8 among 33 conferences in the RPI rankings. The league hasn't finish a season as high as No. 8 since 2012-13.

The MVC joins the Big 12 and Southeastern conferences as the only leagues this year with all its teams better than 175 in the RPI. Missouri State (69) and ISU (71) lead the Valley in the RPI.

Follow Jim Benson on Twitter: @Pg_Benson


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Sports Writer for The Pantagraph.

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