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Final week means a lot to every Missouri Valley team

(MCT) — NORMAL -- The only thing that has been decided in the mad Missouri Valley Conference basketball scramble is that nothing has been decided.

With two regular-season games left this week, all 10 teams are trying to work their way up the pecking order ahead of next week's MVC Tournament. The only team guaranteed to participate in the March 7 play-in round for the bottom four schools is Southern Illinois, which could still move up to the No. 9 seed with two wins.

"It's a huge week for everybody to see where we are coming into St. Louis," said Indiana State coach Greg Lansing.

Wichita State (24-5, 12-4 Valley) controls its destiny in a quest for a second consecutive regular-season title. The Shockers own a one-game lead over Creighton (22-7, 11-5). If Wichita State wins at home Wednesday against Evansville (16-13, 8-8) and Saturday at Creighton, the Shockers are the undisputed champs.

"I'm actually kind of amazed. I really am," said Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall, whose team was picked to finish fourth in the league's preseason poll. "I didn't know how quickly we could pull this together this season with all the newcomers."

Creighton needs to win at Bradley (16-13, 7-9) on Wednesday to set up a showdown in Omaha, Neb., on Saturday, which will be televised by ESPN2 at 1 p.m.

"Saturday's game is meaningless if we don't figure out a way to win on Wednesday, assuming Wichita wins at home," said Creighton coach Greg McDermott. "To have Wichita come here with an opportunity to play for the conference title on our home floor in front of our home fans, that would be an incredible deal for us."

At one time it looked as if Saturday would be a victory lap for the Bluejays.

Creighton started off 17-1 and was 6-0 in the Valley and ranked No. 12 in the Associated Press poll before suffering a 67-64 loss at Wichita, Kan., on Jan. 19. The Bluejays have gone 5-6 overall and 5-5 in the league in their last 11 games.

Strange as it sounds, Creighton won by losing last Saturday. The Bluejays went to California and were beaten by St. Mary's in the ESPNU BracketBusters. However, Creighton's nonconference strength of schedule -- thanks to playing St. Mary's (24-5) -- moved from No. 104 to 47.

That's important if Creighton and Wichita State tie for the Valley title. Because the teams would have split their regular-season series, the Bluejays would be the MVC tourney's No. 1 seed based on a better nonconference strength of schedule than Wichita State (73).

Illinois State (16-13, 7-9) still could finish anywhere from tied for fourth to ninth. The Redbirds, who have lost three straight games, could breathe easy and clinch at least the No. 6 seed Wednesday.

A victory at home against Missouri State (9-20, 6-10) on Senior Night -- coupled with a Creighton victory against Bradley and a Drake loss at Indiana State -- would guarantee the Redbirds a spot in the MVC tourney quarterfinals on March 8.

"We haven't spoken about it specifically, but they (the players) are smart and understand the deal," said ISU coach Dan Muller, whose team finishes Saturday at Northern Iowa (17-12, 10-6).

Carmichael finalist for Henson Award: ISU senior Jackie Carmichael was named among the 25 finalists Monday for the Lou Henson Award, which goes to the top mid-major player in the country. The award is named for the former Illinois coach who won 779 games as a Division I college coach, taking the Illini and New Mexico State to the Final Four.

Carmichael leads ISU by averaging 17.8 points and 9.4 rebounds. He has 12 double-doubles this season and 33 for his career, tops among active Valley players. He is one of eight players in Valley history with at least 1,500 career points and 900 career rebounds.

Doug McDermott of Creighton and Jake Odum of Indiana State are also finalists for the award, which will be presented during the Final Four in Atlanta, Ga.

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