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NORMAL — Tuesday was a red-letter day in Missouri Valley Conference men's basketball circles.

The league moved into an all-time high No. 2 national ranking in the Collegiate Basketball News RPI. The Valley moved ahead of the Big East and trails only the Big Ten Conference.

Undefeated Indiana State, which entertains Illinois State in a 6:05 p.m. conference opener Thursday in Terre Haute, leads league schools with a No. 8 ranking. Northern Iowa is 11th and undefeated Missouri State is 17th.

"I'm not surprised we're that good, except I'm a little surprised we're that good," Indiana State coach Royce Waltman said. "It's been great. Everyone has gotten the wins they've had to get.

"I have tremendous respect for the league. The way we've consistently gone out and beaten some high major schools has gotten us the recognition we deserve."

The Valley was off to a 57-20 start before Tuesday's games. That's the fifth-best all-time mark in the league's 99-year history and the best in 43 years.

"Every day you wake up and see another score and it's not even a surprise anymore," Illinois State coach Porter Moser said. "Within our league, the coaches knew how good the league could be.

"At media day we were talking about it and about it being our job to get the word out. The word is finally getting out. It's an amazing thing right now how good the league is."

Valley teams are 6-8 against the nation's top (BCS football) conferences. That includes victories over Indiana, Iowa, LSU, Xavier, Nebraska and Purdue, and close losses to nationally ranked Illinois and Boston College.

"It's so impressive that it's hard to fathom," Evansville coach Steve Murfeld said. "Obviously, it's a credit not only to the coaches and great players who are in the league but also to the conference office and the job Doug Elgin has done."

League teams had a 41-3 record prior to Tuesday's games against nonconference opponents at home. Bradley has the league's longest home win streak at 16 against nonconference foes. Northern Iowa is next at 14.

Salvation Army

Moser, his staff and players were busy ringing bells for two hours Tuesday at various sites throughout Bloomington-Normal helping to raise funds for the Salvation Army. Moser and the team are the honorary chairmen for the Christmas fund-raising drive this year.

TV game

ISU's game at Indiana State on Thursday begins at 6:05 p.m. and will be shown live on Fox Sports Midwest and Fox College Sports. It also will be available on a tape-delay basis on Comcast SportsNet Chicago at 1 a.m. and 1 p.m. Friday and at 1 p.m. Friday on Metro Sports.

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