Let's begin with a look at the final 2008-09 Missouri Valley standings.
Missouri Valley Conference Standings
(updated 3.31.2009 at 10:55 PM EDT)
|Northern Iowa Panthers||14||4||23||11|
|Illinois St. Redbirds||11||7||24||10|
|Wichita St. Shockers||8||10||17||17|
|Southern Illinois Salukis||8||10||13||18|
|Indiana St. Sycamores||7||11||11||21|
|Missouri St Bears||3||15||11||20|
Now here are my picks for the 2009-10 season, presented in reverse order.
Evansville (last NCAA: 1999) The Aces climbed their way up to the middle of the Valley pack after spending most of the decade in the bottom three, but it looks very much like Marty Simmons' team will sink right back down to the bottom due to some significant losses. Most of the Aces offense has moved on, double-figure scorers Shy Ely, Jason Holsinger, and Nate Garner graduated, and freshman point guard Kaylon Williams, a truly talented passer, transferred. So, Simmons' two newcomers with experience, Valparaiso transfer Bryan Bouchie, a 6-10 center, and 6-0 point guard Monie Hudson, a late JC signee, will have to contribute immediately for UE to avoid the basement. The Purple Aces don't face a BCS school this year, but they host Butler and visit Western Kentucky.
Drake (last NCAA: 2008) The Bulldogs went from winning 15 regular season MVC games, sweeping the league's regular season and tournament crowns, and losing to WKU on a buzzer beater in the first round of the NCAAs in '08 to losing 11 league games, falling out of the MVC tournament in the first round, and losing to Idaho in the dying moments of the CollegeInsider tournament in '09. Second-leading scorer and leading rebounder Jonathan Cox (12.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg) is gone, but the backcourt is solid with seniors Josh Young (15.4 ppg) and Craig Stanley (7.9 ppg, 3.8 apg) back. They'll be supported by two intriguing newcomers, Arkansas State transfer Ryan Wedel (15.1 ppg in '07-08) and point guard Frank Wiseler, a point guard from (wait for it) Luxembourg. The frontcourt is a major area of concern for Mark Phelps, however. He'll need more out of 6-6 Adam Templeton (5.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and will have to plug in 6-8 freshman Ben Simons immediately. Besides hosting Iowa State and traveling to Iowa, the Bulldogs will participate in the Glenn Wilkes Classic. They'll host IUPUI and take on Akron, UCF, and Georgia Statein Daytona Beach.
Missouri State (last NCAA: 1999) The Bears opened up their new arena, the JQH Center, with a new coach at the helm, Quonzo Martin. The highlight of the year was an upset of Arkansas to christen the new building, but the rest of the season was disappointing, as Missouri State only managed to win 10 more times. Forwards Chris Cooks and Wayne Knapp, who combined to average over 21 points and 10 boards a game are gone, but the Bears have a lot of hope thanks to a good mix of newcomers and returnees. The National JC Player of the Year, Nafis Ricks, a 6-2 guard who averaged over 17 points a game and nearly 6 assists per contest is now on board, as are Eastern Kentucky transfer Adam Leonard, a 3-point sharpshooter; Jermaine Mallett, another JC transfer who can score; and 7-foot center Caleb Patterson, a transfer from Colorado. They'll join key returnees F Kyle Weems (10.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg), G Justin Fuehrmeyer (4.7 ppg, 2.8 apg), C Will Creekmore (7.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg), G Cardell McFarland (6.9 ppg), and F Ryan Jehle (4.9 ppg). If Martin can get some more production out of his returnees (especially on the offensive end, where they struggled) and integrate the newcomers quickly, the Bears could really surprise. Missouri State welcomes Auburn to the JQH Center this year.
Indiana State (last NCAA: 2001) Kevin McKenna's side 2008-09 campaign started badly, as they dropped 19 of their first 23. But there were two glimmers of hope during that span, a double OT win over UNI in Cedar Falls and a home win over Illinois State. The Sycamores ended up winning 7 of their last 9, completing the sweep over the Redbirds, sweeping Missouri State, and winning a game in the Valley tournament. Indiana State may be able to carry that momentum into this year, as four starters return, led by the backcourt of Rashad Reed (11 ppg) and Harry Marshall (13.6 pgg). They'll get some help from the addition of Louisiana Tech transfer Dwayne Lathan. McKenna has some issues in the frontcourt as 6-8 Jay Tunnell (12.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg) has graduated. 6-5 swingman Carl Richard showed he can be a force, but ISU may need 6-10 Brant Leitnaker, 6-8 Isiah Martin, or 6-11 Josh Crawford to step up inside. The Sycamores are in the NIT Season Tip-Off where they're in a challenging regional. They face hosts LSU first, then either Milwaukee or WKU.
Wichita State (last NCAA: 2006) The Shockers finished at .500 overall last year, 8-10 in the MVC, but it could have been a much better season. They were doomed by a 0-6 start to the Valley season, granted most of those losses weren't close. Still, a two-point home loss to Bradley and a five-point away loss to Drake are games Gregg Marshall's team wishes they had back (as is the 13-point loss at Missouri State). It wasn't a good start for a team that actually knocked off Siena at the Old Spice Classic, one of the most thrilling games I saw all year. However, the Shockers recovered enough to win a game in the Valley tournament (over Missouri State) and in the CBI (over Buffalo). Marshall brings back most of his key performers from last season, including his starting backcourt of Clevin Hannah (11.2 ppg, 4.3 apg) and Toure' Murry (11 ppg, 3.8 rpg). The frontcourt is a bit thin on experience, but the presence 6-7 J.T. Durley (8.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) provides a solid foundation. The Shockers' scorelines show their main issue, plenty of defense, but not enough scoring. If Marshall can get more points, they'll contend for a tourney bid. WSU will open their season in the CBE Classic. They'll face Pitt in Kansas City, then either Iowa or Texas.
Bradley (last NCAA: 2006) Typical of teams who finish their league seasons at 10-8, Jim Les' Braves lacked consistency last season. They only managed two sweeps, Indiana State and Wichita State, while they were swept by Creighton and Northern Iowa. Still, 10 league and 18 overall wins got the Braves into the CollegeInsider tournament, where they fell to Old Dominion in the final. Now, Bradley must try to improve on that showing without last year's leading scorer Theron Wilson (14 ppg, 7.3 rpg). His departure leaves the frontcourt thin (which is a common thread in the Valley this year). That means 6-6 Taylor Brown and 6-9 Will Eglof, who's coming off an ACL injury, will have to be more productive this season. The backcourt, led by Sam Maniscalco (12.6 ppg, 3.1 apg) and Andrew Warren (13.2 ppg) , who's returning from a stress fracture in his foot, is in much better shape. The Braves will be challenged by a schedule that features a trip to BYU for the MVC/MWC Challenge, and games against Oklahoma State and either Illinois or Utah at the Thanksgiving Las Vegas Invitational.
Southern Illinois (last NCAA: 2007) Last year, the Salukis not only missed the NCAAs for the second year in a row, after a streak of six straight tournaments from 2002-07 (which included two Sweet 16 appearances), they suffered their first losing season since 1998. They did win 8 Valley games, but much like in the case of Wichita State, they could've done so much more, particularly in a span from January 31 to February 21 when they dropped 5 of 6 league contests and a BracketBuster against Illinois-Chicago. Chris Lowery's side will have to try to rebound without two key starters forward Tony Boyle (9.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and defensively-minded guard Bryan Mullins. The Salukis get their two leading scorers, sophomore guard Kevin Dillard (12.2 ppg) and 6-8 F Carlton Fay (10.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg), back, and they'll be joined by some interesting newcomers, led by Iowa transfer Tony Freeman, who will help Dillard out in the backcourt, and 6-9 C Gene Teague. SIU will need his help to get a boost in their inside scoring to rise up the standings. SIU travels to Las Vegas twice, once to face UNLV, and again to face San Diego and San Francisco in a neutral site event.
Creighton (last NCAA: 2007) I actually had the Blue Jays as my "Last Team In" last season, figuring the Committee would pull an "Air Force in '06" and surprise us all with the last 12 or an at-large 13. If I would've stuck with my own numbers, I would've put Arizona in and been perfect on at-larges for two years in a row. C'est la vie. This year, the Jays look like a team who could be on the bubble again. Dana Altman has two significant holes to fill, as not only is point guard Josh Dotzler (3 ppg, 3.5 apg) gone, but Booker Woodfox (15.8 ppg, 47.6% from 3) is no longer there to make pressure shots for Creighton. Expect P'Allen Stinnett, who averaged 12.5 points per game last year, to have an even bigger impact this season, along with swingman Justin Carter (8.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg)--one of the better defenders on the team, sharpshooter Kaleb Korver (3.7 ppg), Cavel Witter (7.7 ppg), and Antoine Young (4.9 ppg). The frontcourt is a bit thin on experience, especially as backup center Kenton Walker transferred after last year. Starting C Kenny Lawson (8.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg) can be a force, while 6-6 JC transfer Wayne Runnels, 6-7 frosh Ethan Wragge, and 6-8 senior Chad Millard will need to provide substantial levels of support to take the scoring load off the perimeter players. The Jays travel to Disney World for the Old Spice Classic, where they open against Michigan, with Marquette or Xavier to follow in their second game. Creighton also visits Dayton and George Mason, in what should in an interesting non-BCS triangular series.
Illinois State (last NCAA: 1998) The Redbirds have been close to breaking down the Tournament doors the past two years, but their non-conference schedule has been criticized heavily during both seasons. Last year, Illinois State skidded at the end of the year, losing badly at Niagara in a BracketBuster, then dropping two heartbreakers to their main league rivals. They recovered to make the Valley final, where, despite Osiris Eldridge's best efforts, UNI again broke their hearts in OT. The Redbirds closed their season with a close loss at Kansas State in the NIT. While Tim Jankovich lost two starters, guards Emmanuel Holloway (10.3 ppg, 2.8 apg) and Champ Oguchi (15.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Eldridge (14 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.4 apg) is back and so is Lloyd Phillips (10.6 ppg, 3.6 apg), meaning the backcourt is still in good shape. 6-8 center Dinma Odiakosa, who averaged nearly 9 points and 8 boards a game last year, will be the key man in the frontcourt, and he'll get support from 6-6 Bobby Hill, who's coming off a knee injury, 6-7 JC transfer Tony Lewis, and 6-8 Blake Mishler, who transferred from East Tennessee State. Eldridge will hope to carry his team to the Dance, but he'll need a lot of help from the redesigned frontcourt to get there. The non-league schedule should again provide a lot of wins, as a home date with Central Michigan and back-to-back December road trips to Ohio and Utah are the biggest hurdles.
Northern Iowa (last NCAA: 2009) The Panthers hold the top spot as they return all five starters off a team that won both the MVC regular season and tournament crowns before falling to Purdue in a close, but ugly game in the first round of the NCAAs. Junior guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe (11.8 ppg, 3.1 apg) runs the offense, and he's helped out in the backcourt by sharpshooters Ali Farokhmanesh (9.6 ppg) and Johnny Moran (8.4 ppg). In a league where many teams are frontcourt-challenged, the combo of 6-9 Adam Koch (12.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2 apg) and 7-foot center Jordan Egelseder (10.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) is hard to get around. Koch's younger brother, Jake, who's also 6-9, should also see action this year after redshirting last season. UNI also finished last year first in the league in field goal percentage and second in field goal percentage defense, and they should remain a solid team all-around. The Panthers face DePaul in their first game at the Paradise Jam. If they win that, they'll probably face Tennessee in the semifinals. UNI also welcomes Iowa and Siena to Cedar Falls, while they travel to Iowa State.
The Panthers are my pick to win the Valley's auto bid this season, so they'll appear in my Final Preseason Bracket, which I'll release on Monday, November 9. Now, to wrap up this preview, here is my preseason All-MVC team, featuring the best returning players from last season.
Preseason All-MVC Team
Player of the Year: Osiris Eldridge, 6-3 G/F, Sr. (Illinois State)
Remainder of the Team
Kwadzo Ahelegbe, 6-2 G, Jr. (Northern Iowa)
Jordan Egelseder, 7-0 C, Sr. (Northern Iowa)
Adam Koch, 6-9 F, Sr. (Northern Iowa)
P'Allen Stinnett, 6-3 G, Jr. (Creighton)