2009-10 Conference Primers: #10 – Missouri Valley ConferencePosted by rtmsf on October 28th, 2009
Patrick Marshall of White and Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.
Predicted Order of Finish:
- Creighton (24-6, 14-4)
- Northern Iowa (23-6, 13-5)
- Wichita St. (23-8, 12-6)
- Southern Illinois (21-8, 12-6)
- Illinois St. (23-7, 11-7)
- Bradley (19-10, 10-8)
- Indiana St. (17-13, 8-10)
- Drake (13-18, 5-13)
- Evansville (10-19, 3-15)
- Missouri St. (9-21, 2-16)
All-Conference Team. This is a guard laden league which will populate the Missouri Valley All-Conference team this season.
- Kevin Dillard (G), So., Southern Illinois ( 12.2 pts., 4.2 ast.)—The bright spot for Southern Illinois last season is a tenacious ball handler and defender.
- Clevin Hannah (G), Sr., Wichita St. (11.2 pts. 4.3 ast.)—Hannah comes in as the leader for the Shockers which will make some noise this season.
- Osiris Eldridge (G), Sr., Illinois St. (14 pts, 6 reb.)–Last season he had Champ Oguchi as a security blanket and kept him from trying to take over the game himself. His all around game development will probably garner him Conference Player of the Year honors.
- Justin Carter (G), Sr., Creighton (8.1 pts, 5.5 reb.)—Over the summer, Carter has emerged as the leader of the Bluejays.
- Adam Koch (F), Sr., Northern Iowa (12.1 pts., 5.1 reb.)—Koch was a solid player last season to help lead the Panthers to the conference championship and will get the opportunity again as the team returns pretty much everyone.
6th Man. Jake Kelly (G), Jr., Indiana St. (Transfer from Iowa)—Jake got a surprise this fall as the NCAA allowed him to be an active player on the Sycamore team instead of having to sit out a year like transfers usually must. Due to the death of his mother, Kelly returned home to Indiana last season and announced he was transferring to Indiana St. Getting immediate eligibility will solidify the backcourt for the Sycamores.
Impact Newcomer. Wayne Runnels (F), Jr., Creighton—Wayne was an all around sports star in high school and could have probably played any sport he wanted to. He decided on basketball. The JC transfer will make an immediate impact for the Bluejays.
What You Need to Know. For several years, the Missouri Valley Conference was a multiple bid conference for the NCAA Tournament, but the runs by Wichita St. and Bradley to the Sweet 16 in 2006 seem like a distant memory. The past two seasons, the MVC has only managed to get their one automatic bid into The Dance. Drake went in 2008 and Northern Iowa went last season. Both teams won the regular season title and conference tournament. Although Creighton shared the regular season championship with the Panthers last season, the Bluejays were on the outside looking in for the 2nd straight year while Southern Illinois had their first losing season in 10 years. Considering the unexpected the last two seasons, things may be returning back to the norm this winter. Casual fans of the conference may see familiar names at the top this season as Creighton, Southern Illinois and Wichita St. will be in the mix, while last season’s champion Northern Iowa returns almost everyone to a team that surprised everyone by the time conference play rolled around. Illinois State has risen toward the top the past couple of seasons and although they again have Player of the Year candidate Osiris Eldridge in the lineup, the supporting cast may not be enough this season to keep them there.
Predicted Champion. Creighton Bluejays (NCAA Seed: #9)—There are so many teams that believe they will be the best this season, but Creighton will slip to the top. Creighton worked it’s way back up to the top of the league down the stretch last season winning 11 of the last 12 regular season games before getting embarrassed by Illinois St. in the MVC Conference Tournament semifinals. Yes, Creighton lost MVC POY Booker Woodfox. Yes, Creighton lost four year starting PG Josh Dotzler. Yes, emerging big man Kenton Walker transferred. Those are definitely big holes to fill. But the returning core includes senior Justin Carter who was a JUCO transfer a year ago and by the second half of the season became comfortable and dominated the boards. He has appeared to take a leadership role over the summer. P’Allen Stinnett is fun to watch and it will be important to see if he has matured enough to also be a leader. Antoine Young emerged as the guy to lead the point for the Bluejays, but watch out for Andrew Bock to settle in as the Dotzler type of point guard Coach Dana Altman is used to and to utilize Young’s skills in his ability to drive to the basket at the off guard spot. The question mark is the inside game where Kenny Lawson is the only real veteran returning to the post position. Chad Millard is a little out of position in the post, but is the next tallest player on the team. Wayne Runnels comes in from the JUCO ranks and is expected to make an impact right away to help a team that ranked last in the Valley last season in rebound margin. A couple other players on the roster are expected to step up on a team that likes to rotate players constantly leaving the opening for others to make plays. Creighton also has the potential to have the best non-conference schedule in the league which will give them a little more wiggle room whether they win the conference or not.
Northern Iowa (NCAA Seed: #12)—Now you may be asking why I would take the defending conference champ and not by default make them the favorite in the league this season. Well, I think there may be some deception in how strong this team is by staying the same while other teams have made changes. In reality, the Panthers had three separate seasons last year. They started out slow at 6-5 and then once they got into conference play went 11-1 before ending the regular season 3-4 while looking less than impressive at the MVC Tournament. This team will have cohesiveness as they do return all five starters. Kwadzo Ahelegbe, Johnny Moran and Ali Farokhmanesh created a 3-guard combination that was hard to matchup with while Adam Koch and Jordan Eglseder controlled the post. However, when you are the hunted, things change. While UNI may have surprised people last season, everyone they play, especially in the conference, will not take them lightly this year. In the end, though, they will be solid enough to help break the Valley’s streak as a one-bid conference.
Wichita St. (NIT)—Two seasons ago, there were a lot of questions where this Shocker team was headed when then Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall came in after Mark Turgeon skipped town to coach at Texas A&M. Last season with several new players in the mix and after starting 0-6 in the league, the light bulb turned on and WSU came literally one-tenth of a second from making a dramatic comeback in the MVC Tournament which could have sparked them to win the whole thing. This second-half of the season surge brought them to the postseason in the form of the CBI. With a majority of the team returning this season behind Senior Clevin Hannah, the Shockers are ready to shock people again. Toure Murry and JT Durley will be a couple of other impact players who will keep Wichita State in the mix this season. Some of their depth still needs to be developed which will keep them from taking the title this season, but look out in 2010-11.
Southern Illinois (NIT)—The fans in Carbondale will get restless if the Salukis struggle this season like they did last year. They had their first losing season in 10 years, thus missing the postseason. The infirmary and transfer bug took this team down to eight healthy players by the end of the year, including point guard Bryan Mullins. However, the injury was an opportunity for Kevin Dillard to break out last season and become the MVC Freshman of the Year. With a year under his belt and Iowa transfer Tony Freeman in the backcourt, SIU’s guard play was looking solid. However, with the recent dismissal of guard Ryan Hare, who was also expected to be a big contributor, the Salukis are just hoping to have a winning season and get back to the postseason. It will probably be a year or two before SIU has the personnel they need to compete for the league title again.
Illinois St. (NIT)—You would probably be surprised to see Illinois St. this far down when they have the potential player of the year and NBA prospect Osiris Eldridge on board. But with eight newcomers for the Redbirds, the loss of expected contributor Bobby Hill for yet another season, and no Champ Oguchi to help Eldridge, you are probably going to see him focus on trying to get to the next level and play more for his NBA future than for winning the league. With the projected worst rated non-conference schedule for the second season in a row (they even scheduled worse this season than last), they will have very few chances to make mistakes and falter in league play.
Bradley (CBI/CIS)—Many Bradley fans don’t seem to believe this, but I think Jim Les is squarely on the hot seat this season. Although they have had four straight trips to the postseason, they have been less prestigious each year (NCAA, NIT, CBI, CIS). Though they have been getting highly rated recruiting classes since the Sweet 16 run four seasons ago, that talent hasn’t turned into increased wins and even this season the Braves are projected at no better than sixth place. I had Bradley higher last season and they thoroughly disappointed. With what they had coming back and with Jim Les being the most veteran coach in the league behind Dana Altman, I think expectations should be (and are) higher for Bradley and their fans.
Indiana St. (CBI/CIS)—Indiana St. is squarely a wild card this season. The addition of Jake Kelly will be a huge help to them along with returning point guard Harry Marshall and guard Rashad Reed. This team also returns almost everyone from last season. They could surprise some people and a strong showing in the Preseason NIT may turn the Sycamores into the Drake or UNI for this season. Don’t be surprised if they finish higher in the league than expected.
- Drake—After their run two seasons ago, reality has come back to Des Moines. The transfer of Josh Parker to Dayton and the graduation of a couple more of their impact players from 2007 doesn’t help them either.
- Missouri St—This team is still in the rebuilding process. Cuonzo Martin has some good things going after cleaning up after Barry Hinson, but are still a good distance away from being a contender.
- Evansville—Marty Simmons has to pick up the pieces as they lost almost all of their scoring from last season. They have to start over after losing three seniors and the transfer of solid freshman Kaylon Williams.
Top 10 RPI Boosters.
- Nov. 13, 2009. Bradley @ BYU (MVC-MWC Challenge, 8:30 PM, The Mtn.)—The Mountain West and Missouri Valley kick off the season with the first of nine games in the MVC-MWC Challenge series. This will be a key early test for the Braves on the road.
- Nov. 14, 2009. Creighton @ Dayton (Noon, Local TV)—Dayton is projected to contend for the Atlantic-10 title this season and continues a nice series between these two teams. Both teams use their full rosters and rotate players in and out which means it could be quite the up and down game.
- Nov. 16, 2009. Indiana St. @ LSU (Preseason NIT, 7PM)—Indiana St gets several opportunities to get some nice wins being a part of the Preseason NIT but have to start things off with LSU on their home court. Not an easy task, but if they can somehow win this game and continue in the bracket then Duke, UConn and Arizona St. could be on the menu and the Sycamores move up on my preseason predictions quite fast.
- Nov. 21, 2009. Southern Illinois @ UNLV (MVC-MWC Challenge, 9PM)—Another of the Challenge games taking place. The Salukis are trying to get back some of the mojo they lost last season and UNLV will continue to try and show that they are back in the national mix.
- Nov. 23, 2009. Wichita St. vs. Pitt, (6:30PM, ESPN2)—The Shockers get the opportunity to play a top 10 program in what could be considered Wichita’s backyard in Kansas City as a part of the CBE Classic. A win could also provide a matchup with Texas the next evening. Rush the Court will be there to cover the CBE Classic.
- Nov. 26-29, 2009. Creighton @ Old Spice Classic in Orlando (ESPN Family of Networks)—The Old Spice Classic in a matter of a few years in existence has become one of the more star studded multi-team events. Creighton gets a first round matchup against a hyped up Michigan team, takes on one of its Jesuit brethren Marquette or Xavier in the second round and then for their last game could have Alabama, Florida St., Baylor or Iona. A strong performance here will give a boost to this team.
- Nov. 27, 2009. Bradley vs. Oklahoma St., (Las Vegas Invitational, 7PM)—A nice neutral court matchup against a Cowboy team expected to finish in the top half of the Big 12 this season. Depending on how this turns out, the Braves will get a matchup against Illinois or Utah the next night.
- Dec. 12, 2009. Northern Iowa vs. Siena (7PM, Local TV)—The return game of last season’s Bracketbuster matchup, UNI looks to return the favor on their home court against Siena.
- Dec. 19, 2009. Illinois St. @ Utah (MVC-MWC Challenge, 5PM, The Mtn.)—Illinois St. has the worst non-conference schedule in the Valley this season so the MVC-MWC Challenge is a welcome challenge for the Redbirds. This is their one chance to show if this team is capable of repeating their strong performance the past couple of seasons heading into conference play.
- Jan. 25, 2010. Southern Illinois vs. Western Kentucky (7PM)—Both of these teams have grown their reputation over the years. Kind of an odd out of conference matchup smack dab in the middle of conference season for both teams.
Key Conference Games.
- Dec. 29, 2009. Northern Iowa @ Creighton (7PM, Local TV)—Both teams that finished on top of the conference last season open conference play as the MVC race begins.
- Dec. 29, 2009. Indiana St. @ Southern Illinois (7PM)—If Indiana St. feels like they want to be a contender this season, opening at SIU’s arena and trying to leave with a win will be tough. The Salukis will be trying to regain their foothold in the conference and rise back to the top after an off year.
- Jan. 9, 2010. Creighton @ Wichita St. (1PM, ESPNU)—This has the makings for a barnburner as these two teams do not have any love for each other. Shocker fans love to have special “Blackout” or other nights against Creighton. It is even a possibility that this game doesn’t get played at Koch Arena, but at the brand new Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita.
- Jan. 9, 2010. Northern Iowa @ Illinois St.(3PM, ESPN2)—The Panthers and the Redbirds had a battle the last time they played in the MVC Tournament Championship game that went to overtime. Illinois St. feels they have something to prove and have the opportunity against the reigning conference champs.
- Jan. 13, 2010. Southern Illinois @ Creighton (8PM, Fox Sports Net)—This has always been a rivalry and will continue to be as both of these teams have been the talk of the conference for several years.
- Jan. 30, 2010. Bradley @ Illinois St. (4:30PM, Fox Sports Net)—Speaking of rivalries, these two teams are all over each other and kick off their home-home matchups of the season within a two week period.
- Feb. 27, 2010. Southern Illinois @ Wichita St. (TBA)—This matchup occurs on the final weekend of the season and both of these teams feel they are going to be at the top of the conference this season. Will they be fighting for a conference championship?
Digging Deeper. Out of 25 potential games for the Valley against BCS Conference competition (and, really, only 19 can take place because of the brackets at the multi-team events), only five are being played on Valley home courts this season — Nebraska at Creighton, Iowa State at Drake, Auburn at Missouri State, Texas Tech at Wichita State, and Iowa at Northern Iowa. Three of the five are standard rivalry games that occur every year at one place or the other. The fact is that there are not many BCSers coming to MVC facilities. With Evansville, Illinois St. and Southern Illinois not playing a BCS team this season, it is imperative that they win all of their out of conference games heading into conference play while the teams playing BCS teams need to make a good showing (something lacking the past two seasons). Many expect SIU and Illinois State to be in the top half of the MVC this year, but they might have to nearly run the table in conference play and avoid an early stumble in Arch Madness to have a shot at an at-large bid.
Fun With KenPom. The point about weak non-conference scheduling is well-taken and one that Pomeroy shows in his 2008-09 statistics. Of the ten MVC teams, six of them had a nonconf SOS rating in the 200s. Three others were in the 100s, and only two (N0rthern Iowa and SIU) rated in the top 100. Whether it is an insistence that BCS schools play home & homes or another reason, it is clear that the MVC schools need to improve their scheduling in order to earn the respect they crave. A good start is playing in the multi-team events mentioned above, for they offer three nonconference games against (usually) good competition early in the season. It will be interesting to see how that will play out in this year’s Pomeroy strength of schedule numbers.
NCAA Tournament History. The MVC is 84-93 (.475) all-time in the NCAA Tournament, which represents a long and storied history of teams making and succeeding in the Big Dance. It simply isn’t a one-bid conference, proving just how much of an aberration the last two years have been. Prior to 2008, the last time the MVC sent only one team to the NCAAs was 1997 (Illinois State), and prior to that, the early 90s. These things come and go in cycles every generation or so, but the Valley definitely needs to find a way to improve its nonconference slate because there’s no doubt that the teams within this league are going to beat up on each other annually in conference play (read: 12-6 doesn’t impress the Cmte).
Final Thoughts. The Missouri Valley Conference is a competitive league year in and year out which does not get as much respect nationally as it probably deserves. After the historic run four seasons ago of two MVC teams into the NCAA Sweet Sixteen, the league had had to build back up its talent base. With so many of the conference members expecting their teams to be strong this season, oddsmakers will need to be watching carefully to see what impact the league can make. Performances in the multi-team events such as the Old Spice Classic and the Preseason NIT will be key to assess the strength of the league headed into conference play. If you have an opportunity to see a game with a Missouri Valley Conference team, I think you will be surprised at how competitive these teams are. I would also be surprised if the league cannot produce more than one bid to the NCAA Tournament this season. If they do not get more than one team in, then I think you will see major changes going into 2010-11 including addressing major scheduling issues in the nonconference slate.