Summer School in the MVCPosted by Brian Goodman on August 5th, 2010
Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.
Around the MVC
- Go Dancing – Despite UNI’s major upset of Kansas, the Missouri Valley Conference suffered a third straight season with just one bid to the NCAA Tournament after four teams received bids in 2006.
- Coaching Carousel—In April, Dana Altman was wooed from Creighton to Oregon, where he’ll deal with the benefits as well as the slings and arrows of having Phil Knight as a booster. A few weeks later, longtime Altman assistant and Indiana State head coach Kevin McKenna left the Sycamores to be reunited with Altman in Oregon. Creighton wasted no time in hiring a new basketball coach. Greg McDermott was tabbed as the new head coach a mere 48 hours after Altman took the Oregon job. McDermott left a situation at Iowa State where he had trouble making Hilton magic, with several Cyclones transferring out during his tenure and NBA-caliber players on a team that could not get wins. Creighton got a coach with previous success in the Valley and Iowa State was able to move in a different direction a year early, so the change looks like a win-win.
- Indiana State did not waste any time either as they promoted assistant Greg Lansing to the head coaching position. Lansing was a strong candidate the last time the Sycamores had a vacancy four seasons ago before the hiring of McKenna. The continuity will be important for Indiana State this season.
- Coaches on the Hot Seat—The Valley is an interesting place to be a coach. If you do well, you get a promotion to the big conferences (Keno Davis, Mark Turgeon, Dana Altman, Bruce Weber, Matt Painter). If you struggle , do not meet fan expectations, or wear out your welcome, you are likely out of a job (Steve Merfeld, Porter Moser, Royce Waltman) So it is not totally surprising that the coaches with the longest active tenures, Chris Lowery of Southern Illinois and Jim Les of Bradley, are on the hot seat, though for different reasons. Lowery has had to replicate the success that his predecessors, Bruce Weber and Matt Painter, established, and has struck out during the past two seasons with no postseason appearances and losing records. In Les’ case, after taking Bradley to the Sweet 16 in 2007, the Braves have gradually lost ground, mustering just an NIT appearance in 2008 and a CBI appearance in 2009. They sat out the dance again last year and Braves fans are starting to get restless.
- MVC Tiebreaker Change—For years, the Valley used a special point system formula for seeding in the MVC tournament. It was unusual in that ties between teams who finished with identical conference were not separated by their head-to-head results. Well, that is no more. They have gone to a more simple formula of basing the tiebreaker on the non-conference strength of schedule for the schools involved. This might be a subtle message to get the Valley schools to do some better scheduling, likely a reason behind the aforementioned NCAA Tournament struggles.
- Wichita State—The Shockers were in the conversation towards the end of the season as a possible contender for a tournament bid, but their strength of schedule was suspect. However, they are in the enviable position of having most of their team back. The core of Toure’ Murry, J.T. Durley, and Graham Hatch lead the way. What is also unique about the Shockers is that all of their incoming players this season are juco transfers – Ehimen Orukpe, Ben Smith, and Joe Ragland. Wichita State gets their big opportunity in the Maui Invitational, with a top-notch field which includes Kentucky, Michigan State, UConn and Washington. As of this writing, the Shockers are still looking for three games to round out their schedule.
- Northern Iowa—Northern Iowa has rolled to the MVC crown the last two seasons and their huge upset of Kansas last season gets more airplay than Katy Perry. That two-year run may have a bump in the road, as they lost their top three players in Adam Koch, Jordan Eglseder, and Ali Farokhmanesh. They do have Kwadzo Ahelegbe back to lead the way along with Johnny Moran and Lucas O’Rear close behind. With strong play from Marc Sonnen and Jake Koch last year as freshmen, it may be a situation that Northern Iowa doesn’t rebuild but reloads. Games against Indiana and either Colorado or New Mexico in Las Vegas highlight their non-conference schedule.
- Bradley—The Braves are an interesting team. Since Jim Les has been at Bradley, the Braves have not been able to crack the top three of the league and it seems questionable whether they can do that this season. However, they have Sam Maniscalco and Andrew Warren coming back while hoping that Dodie Dunson can come back from injury and Taylor Brown can stay out of trouble. Maniscalco, Warren and Brown are the top scoring returning trio to the conference. With 80% of the team’s scoring returning, this could be the year for the Braves. Their schedule includes a trip to Duke and hosting Utah in the MWC/MVC Challenge.
- Creighton—With a new coaching staff in town led by Greg McDermott and several players returning, it is hard to predict how the Bluejays will fare this season. P’Allen Stinnett was officially removed from the team shortly after McDermott was hired. But with All-Conference center Kenny Lawson returning along with speedy point guard Antoine Young and dead-eye shooter Ethan Wragge, Creighton has some pieces. Add in Rutgers transfer Greg Echenique before conference play starts, and the Bluejays could have a dominant frontcourt in the Valley. As for a surprise, look out for senior Wayne Runnels to make an impact. The thing that might hurt the Bluejays the most at this point is their schedule, where the best game right now is hosting Jimmer Fredette and the BYU Cougars as a part of the MWC/MVC Challenge. Creighton is still trying to fill in a couple games on their schedule.
- Missouri State—Missouri State was the biggest surprise of the Valley last season as the final team in the conference to lose their first game and one of the last to finish their season, capturing the first CollegeInsider.com postseason tournament. Kyle Weems and Adam Leonard are shooters that can light it up at any time. Nafis Ricks will round out the backcourt to assume the lead in point guard duties this year. What the Bears need is a frontcourt that can do some damage. Will Creekmore hopes to build off a solid season last year, but he’ll need help from Isaiah Rhine or Caleb Patterson. The schedule for Missouri State has risen as well being, one of the first MVC schools in recent history to be a part of the Preseason NIT. They are also beginning a series against Oklahoma State and set up a road contest against Tulsa. Winning the toughest games on the road could raise the Bears’ profile.
- Southern Illinois—The Salukis suffered a blow earlier this summer when it was announced that both point guard Kevin Dillard and Anthony Booker were transferring out of SIU, leaving Chris Lowery with no remnants from his most highly-touted recruiting class three seasons ago . Dillard moved on to Dayton while Booker fled for Iowa State. The Salukis are now desperate to get back to their physical defense and the things that made Southern Illinois competitive in the past. The Salukis are taking a chance on Diamond Taylor, a player who had problems with the law and was released by Wisconsin last season. Southern Illinois was one of the first schools on the phone. Five other junior college players join the Salukis this winter— Mamadou Seck, Davante Drinkard, Troy Long, Mykel Cleveland and Ernest “Stretch” Watson. Seck is the one of the bunch expected to make an impact early. As for the schedule, Lowery is getting some help from former SIU coaches Bruce Weber and Matt Painter. Southern Illinois will play at Illinois to kick off the season and will play Purdue in the Chicago Invitational tournament.
- Illinois State—Illinois State has contended for the last few years, but they can’t catch a break. The Redbirds are almost starting over now that Osiris Eldridge, Lloyd Philips and Dinma Odiakosa are gone. Then you throw in the Bobby Hill dismissal and the Redbirds look to a lot of unknown names to lead them. To soften the blow, Illinois State has juco transfers Kenyon Smith and Anthony Cousin to go along with freshmen big men Jordan Threloff and John Wilkins. Smith originally committed to Illinois State two years ago but was deemed academically ineligible. Wilkins, on the other hand, is an interesting story, as he has not played a meaningful game since AAU ball two years ago. Wilkins committed to Bradley in 2008 but never signed. He attended Southeastern Iowa Community College and practiced with the team, but was ruled ineligible by the National Junior College Athletic Association for playing five games for a Belgium professional team as a 15-year-old. As the Redbirds figure out their roster, the schedule may again be one of the worst in the league.
- Evansville—Marty Simmons is trying to build the team around conference Freshman of the Year Colt Ryan and will return four starters—Ryan, Denver Holmes, Kavon Lacey and Clint Hopf. With the whole team on campus this summer taking classes, they have had plenty of time to build some offseason chemistry. Evansville is gearing up for North Carolina to come to town this December while also going on the road against national finalist Butler.
- Indiana State—With the sudden coaching change, Indiana State may seem like they are on the short end of the stick, but new head coach Greg Lansing has been a part of the last two coaching regimes and will get to run the team on his own now. With most of the team coming back, the Sycamores could be a surprise. Jake Kelly is coming back from a knee injury. Dwayne Lathan and Aaron Carter are veterans expected to lead. Indiana State will play Purdue at Conseco Fieldhouse and host DePaul to highlight their schedule.
- Drake–Drake starts off on the wrong foot as guard Frank Wiseler is out 4-6 months with a sliced Achilles tendon. Wiseler, walking near the Knapp Center, knocked a brick off a wall , which landed on the back of his foot. For the rest of Drake, Seth VanDeest gained 20 pounds this offseason and now registers at 6’11 and 240 lbs. He is a participant in the team’s program to take last season’s scrawny freshmen and bulk them up for this year. It is still hard to know how this may help the Bulldogs. Several players took part in the Capital City Summer League in Des Moines. Drake will travel to Alaska for the return of the Great Alaska Shootout and host Iowa as a part of their schedule.
- The Purple Aces have been thinking outside the box, trying out yoga to build some flexibility on the team in addition to their otherwise traditional regimen.
- Southern Illinois will participate in ESPN’s 24 Hours of Hoops to show off the newly-renovated SIU Arena.
- Creighton will travel to Des Moines in November to play Iowa State at the Wells Fargo Arena as part of a multi-team event both schools scheduled while Dana Altman and Greg McDremott were in their previous posts. McDermott will lead the Bluejays against a team that he helped assemble.