With the 2023-24 college basketball tipping off, the Belmont Vision has decided to rank the men’s and women’s basketball teams based on their performances so far.
But this isn’t an ordinary power ranking.
It’s one where every team will be compared to a Thanksgiving dish.
No. 1: Bradley (3-0)
Stuffing is the one dish that you can always rely on with Thanksgiving.
The turkey may be too dry; the mashed potatoes may be too mushy.
But the stuffing is the consistent beacon of hope with its wide variety of flavors.
That’s how Bradley is with the MVC.
Under head coach Brian Wardle, the Braves have had constant success.
Last year, they captured the regular season championship and seemed to carry over success to this season.
The defense has continued to be stifling, and Malevy Leons has looked like a First Team All-MVC player, averaging 15.3 points, nine rebounds, and 2.3 steals.
Fans of Bradley might want to consult their nearest cardiologists as the Braves have had two down-to-the-wire overtime games to start the season.
But as long as the Braves keep winning, they’ll find themselves towards the top of the rankings.
No. 2: Drake (3-0)
Turkey is the most appealing dish at the Thanksgiving table.
Anytime you get ready to sit down and eat more food than you’ve consumed in the past week, that beautiful glow of the turkey always catches your eye first.
On paper, Drake looks to be the most dominant team in the MVC.
Head coach Darian DeVries returns some core players from a team that nearly beat the University of Miami in the 2023 NCAA Tournament, including his son, Tucker DeVries, who has continued his dominance by averaging 20.7 points and eight rebounds.
The Bulldogs also have other dominant players such as behemoth Darnell Brodie and crafty guards Kevin Overton and Atin Wright.
But the Bulldogs have struggled to fully dominate their opponents, trailing to Lipscomb at the half and facing a scare from Oakland at the Cayman Islands Classic.
If they can put away opponents and play a complete game, Drake may be knocking on the door for that top spot.
But for now, the Bulldogs firmly sit at No. 2.
No. 3: Missouri State (3-1)
Comparison: Dinner Rolls
On a good day, rolls can carry any good Thanksgiving meal.
Put some turkey on it to make a little sandwich, and it can truly change the Thanksgiving experience.
But things can go horribly wrong.
Take it out of the oven too early and you’re left with a doughy ball that could bounce off the table.
Leave it in too long and you’re left with a brick that won’t break when you smash it on the table.
That is the perfect analogy for Missouri State.
The Bears have the talent to be in the top of the MVC, including powerful guard Donovan Clay, pure scorer Alton Mason and consistent Chance Moore.
But they never seem to do anything with said talent, always finding themselves in the middle of the pack.
But this year, the Bears have found themselves off to a hot start by securing wins at Paradise Jam at the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Time will only tell if the Bears can live up to their talent or if they fall back to Earth. But for now, they finish at the top of the rankings.
No. 4: Indiana State (2-1)
Gravy just makes Thanksgiving fun.
Is the turkey just a bit dry and bland? Put some gravy on it to add flavor.
Are the mashed potatoes missing that little extra thing to elevate it? Make a little gravy bowl with the mashed potatoes and watch as your mouth waters.
In the MVC, a conference that usually relies on a grind-it-out style of play, the Sycamores rely on a high-scoring offense to win, scoring over 80 points in all three of their games.
The Sycamores have two talented scoring guards in Isaiah Swope and Ryan Conwell while big man Robbie Avila is smooth from all around.
If you want a team that’ll always be exciting in the conference, you can turn to Indiana State to deliver a show.
With a fairly easy upcoming schedule, it seems that the offensive fireworks won’t be put out anytime soon.
No. 5: Belmont (2-2)
Comparison: Mashed Potatoes
Mashed potatoes can always be a nice companion to turkey on Thanksgiving.
Sometimes, its buttery flavor can even elevate it over the main dish.
But like rolls, mashed potatoes can go horribly wrong.
They can be too lumpy or watery, to the point where they’re inedible.
For the Bruins, they can be an exciting watch if they’re clicking on offense.
Malik Dia and Cade Tyson are dominating opposing defenses and Ja’Kobi Gillespie is running circles around defenders.
But on its bad days, when the defense is acting like turnstiles and the offense can’t buy a basket, Belmont shows its inconsistencies.
Against Georgia State University, Tyson and Dia combined for 53 points in a high-scoring effort.
Against Furman University the next game, the duo could only muster up 17 points on a horrible shooting night for the Bruins.
To truly be in the elite of the MVC this season, Belmont will have to find other ways to dominate when the 3-pointers aren’t hitting, something that will be figured out with time.
No. 6: Northern Iowa (1-2)
Comparison: Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin pie always livens up Thanksgiving.
At the end of the meal, its sweetness and flavor can make it unforgettable.
But the only problem is it lacks any substance when compared to turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing.
On paper, Northern Iowa should be better than its No. 6 ranking.
The Panthers have high-scoring guard Bowen Born and double-double machine Tytan Anderson.
But they haven’t put it all together this season.
Losing to the University of North Texas in overtime isn’t a horrible loss.
But losing to the University of South Florida, who lost to a horrible Central Michigan team, isn’t a loss that’ll help the Panthers rise up these rankings.
The Panthers do play in the prestigious Battle 4 Atlantis where they can get some notable wins against Power Five schools such as North Carolina and Arkansas.
But for now, the resume isn’t impressive.
No. 7: Murray State (2-1)
Comparison: Mac and Cheese
There’s no denying that Mac and Cheese is a great side dish on any day of the week.
But it won’t set the world on fire by any means.
Murray State has the talent, including Rob Perry, Nick Ellington and JaCobi Wood.
But the Racers don’t seem to stand out in the MVC.
They can beat the lower-tier teams and occasionally defeat a Belmont or Bradley.
This year, it seems that the Racers are still the same.
A win against Western Kentucky at home would’ve given them that standout win.
Right now, the Racers are looking to secure some wins at the Fort Myers Tip-Off.
A couple of losses could push them down these rankings.
But for now, the Racers are in the middle of the pack, where they’re projected to finish in the conference.
No. 8: Southern Illinois (3-0)
Comparison: Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes with walnuts or marshmallows are an elite Thanksgiving side that has the perfect amount of sweetness.
But by itself, sweet potatoes lack real flavor and lose their luster.
When Southern Illinois had Marcus Domask and Lance Jones last season, the Salukis were a dominant force in the MVC.
Without those two players, the Salukis don’t have the same intimidation factor as last season.
But that doesn’t mean the talent isn’t there.
Xavier Johnson is averaging almost 20 points a game, and Trent Brown is shooting 59% from 3-point range.
The only reason the Salukis are this low is that they lack any notable wins, beating lowly Queens University and Chicago State University.
They have a chance to get quality wins against James Madison University and Indiana State University in the future.
But for right now, the Salukis need to prove more to be considered a top MVC team.
No 9: UIC (3-1)
Comparison: Grandma’s Casserole
Some Thanksgivings, Grandma’s casserole is a good side dish that adds to the Thanksgiving experience.
Other times, she messes it up, and everyone eats it just because they love her.
That describes the UIC Flames.
Last season, the team was introduced to the intensity of the MVC, going 4-16.
This season, the Flames may have lost star guard Jace Carter, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored in the conference.
Toby Okani and Isaiah Rivera form a nice little duo for the Flames, helping lead them to a hot start including an impressive win over Loyola-Chicago.
But the real question will be whether or not the Flames can carry over that success to the MVC season.
No. 10: Illinois State (2-1)
Cornbread is usually bland.
But occasionally, it has some flavor.
Illinois State doesn’t do anything particularly well.
The offense is average.
The defense is average.
What else is there to write about the Redbirds?
No. 11: Evansville (4-0)
Comparison: Forgotten Vegetables
Evansville is 4-0 for the first time since 2017.
Yet no one seems to care about the Purple Aces, like no one cares about the yams or squash at the Thanksgiving table.
I guess that’s what happens when their best win is against an alright Ball State team.
But after winning five games last season, any improvement, including not being last in the conference, is a win.
No. 12: Valparaiso (2-2)
Comparison: Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry sauce is bad.
Valparaiso is bad.
The Beacons lost to IUPUI, a program so bad that it hosted open tryouts for students a couple of seasons ago.
That’s all I need to say.
This article was written by Ty Wellemeyer