RTC Conference Primers: #10 – Missouri ValleyPosted by Brian Goodman on October 27th, 2010
Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.
You only need one video clip to sum up the Missouri Valley Conference last season: Ali Farokhmanesh hitting the dagger three-pointer against #1 Kansas in the NCAA Tournament to advance to the Sweet 16.
Predicted Order of Finish:
- Missouri State (24-6, 14-4)
- Wichita State (23-7, 13-5)
- Creighton (23-8, 13-5)
- Southern Illinois (21-9, 11-7)
- Northern Iowa (20-11, 10-8)
- Bradley (19-11, 10-8)
- Illinois State (16-16, 7-11)
- Drake (12-18, 4-14)
- Evansville (11-16, 4-14)
- Indiana State (9-21, 4-14)
All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)
- G: Toure’ Murry, Wichita State (11.9 PPG, 5 RPG, 109 AST)
- G: Sam Maniscalco, Bradley (13.1 PPG, 107 AST)
- G: Kwadzo Ahelegbe, Northern Iowa (10.6 PPG, 97 AST)
- F: Kyle Weems, Missouri State (13.6 PPG 6.2, RPG 40.7% 3PT)
- C: Kenny Lawson Jr., Creighton (13.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 82% FT)
Adam Leonard, Missouri State (13 PPG, 39% 3PT)
Greg Echenique, Creighton (Rutgers transfer)
What You Need to Know
- Multiple Bids: Last season, people will easily remember the Missouri Valley Conference with Ali Farokhmanesh hitting the gutsy three-pointer late in the game to lead Northern Iowa’s upset against #1 Kansas in the NCAA Tournament. What you may not know is that for the third straight season, the MVC has only sent one representative to the Big Dance. After several years of sending multiple teams in and hitting a peak of four teams in 2006, the past three seasons have seen the team that won both the conference regular season and conference tournament (Drake and UNI twice) as single-bid teams that went to the NCAA Tournament. This season the schools in the conference have beefed up their schedules the best they can to hopefully return to a multiple bid league.
- Coaching Changes: A number of linked events took place this summer regarding the coaches in the MVC. The Dean of the Valley Dana Altman left Creighton after 16 years to take the head coaching job at Oregon. Iowa State head coach Greg McDermott was hired less than 48 hours later. He had one stint in the MVC already as the head coach of Northern Iowa before Ben Jacobson. Jacobson released McDermott’s son Doug from his letter of intent so that he could join his dad and play with the Bluejays. About a month later, Indiana State head coach Kevin McKenna left to become an assistant once again under Altman. Chris Lowery (Southern Illinois) and Jim Les (Bradley) are now the elder statesmen of the conference, but both of their seats are pretty warm right now as they try to take their teams back to the NCAA Tournament after each of their Sweet 16 runs seem like ages ago for those two schools.
- Veteran Teams: Many of the MVC teams bring back a lot of veterans to lead their respective teams. Creighton returns all-conference center Kenny Lawson and point guard Antoine Young. Missouri State brings back a solid combination of Adam Leonard and Kyle Weems. Wichita State has the talented JT Durley, Graham Hatch and Toure’ Murry while Bradley has Andrew Warren, Sam Maniscalco and Taylor Brown returning. But you can’t leave out Northern Iowa with Kwadzo Ahelegbe and MVC sixth man of the year Lucas O’Rear. With such a large percentage of players retuning this season, a battle for The Valley title could be messy and any of these teams could emerge as the dust clears in March.
Missouri State (NCAA Seed: #9): Last season a lot of people picked the Bears to finish at or near the bottom of the league. Cuonzo Martin and his squad surprised everyone by becoming the last team in the conference to get a loss to start the season. Although they ultimately finished seventh in the conference , they won the Collegeinsider.com postseason tournament. They made believers out of people like me that they could take the MVC championship this season. With four fearless freshman in the fold and the leadership of Kyle Weems and Adam Leonard, Missouri State will do something that Barry Hinson’s team could not do and that is to return to the NCAA Tournament since changing their name. With their top seven scorers returning and leading the MVC in scoring with 71.4 points a game, if they can turn up the defense a little bit, which is Martin’s emphasis as a coach, they will work their way to the top. With the right matchup, the Bears could even win a game in the NCAA Tournament.
- Wichita State (NCAA Seed: The new “First Four”): The Shockers are the sexy pick for most people, but the thing that they are missing heading into the season is a proven point guard. The loss of Clevin Hannah will be more glaring than people realize. Early last season, Hannah was suspended for the first few games because of some paperwork issues, and Wichita State didn’t look very cohesive and missed out on some opportunities without him leading the way. Fast forward to this season and they still do not have a point guard established. They will also need to get key wins away from home out at the Maui Invitational, San Diego State and LSU. If they can build their resume before the calendar turns and have a strong conference season, the Shockers could make it into the NCAA Tournament. If they do, they’ll probably turn out to be a tough out.
- Creighton (NIT): Creighton is a wildcard this season. They have the talent, but there are adjustments to be made with the new coaching staff and building up the team’s confidence to feel like winners again after an 18-16 season, their first campaign without 20 wins in over a decade. The boo birds will be out as well for Greg McDermott, as Creighton will play Iowa State in Des Moines in a game scheduled before McDermott left for Omaha, and then the return to Cedar Falls to face the former Northern Iowa team that he resurrected. Greg Echenique is a solid player who played at Rutgers in the Big East and transferred to Creighton last winter. He will become eligible in mid-December, but will miss the key non-conference games against BYU, Northwestern, Nebraska and St. Joseph’s. The insertion of Echenique will also create a period of adjustment which may get the Bluejays off to a slow start in conference play. However, I expect that they will finish strong and if they do not win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament to reach the Big Dance, then they will be a solid NIT team.
- Southern Ilinois (NIT): After two seasons in a row of not making it to the postseason, fans are getting restless in Carbondale. Chris Lowery is going back to his roots of its down-and-dirty defense getting players to fit back into his style of play. The timetable is short as several Junior College players have come to town along with sophomore Diamond Taylor who was dismissed from Wisconsin. Carlton Fay and the emerging Gene Teague are a couple of solid players for the Salukis but the number of new players coming in will take part of the season to bring together. SIU Arena has been heavily renovated during the offseason which will bring a new energy to the Salukies and their fans. By the end, they may have a record that looks good enough to the folks at the NIT.
- Northern Iowa (NIT): It is strange to see Northern Iowa mentioned this far down the list. But the questions they have to answer are whether they can replace Jordan Eglseder, Adam Koch and Ali Farokhmanesh. Ahelegbe, O’Rear and two-year starter Johnny Moran will anchor the team and have the capability of hitting big shots, However, the role players from last season like Marc Sonnen and Jake Koch will have to take on a larger role if the Panthers are going to follow up last season. After two years of dominating in league play, everyone will be gunning for them, and in the end, they probably finish in the middle of the pack.
- Bradley (CBI/CIT): Lets face it, in Jim Les’ years at Bradley, his teams have never finished higher than third in the conference regular season and have spent the last five seasons at #4 or #5 in the league. Les has high expectations, but it is hard to believe that the Braves will be able to shed their status quo with all these other teams looking like contenders. Yes, they have great guards in Sam Maniscalco and Andrew Warren. They also return Dodie Dunson from an injury and Taylor Brown who is a really athletic player. However, it is hard to tell how Dunson will rebound from the injury and Brown has had several disciplinary problems throughout his career. Without an established Center and frontcourt, they could get pounded by teams like Creighton and Southern Illinois down low. The Achilles heel for Bradley last season was their defense, as they went 1-5 when opponents scored 80 or more points. They can’t let that happen again this season.
Top 10 RPI Boosters
- Nov. 12: Northern Iowa at Syracuse (ESPN3.com) – After Northern Iowa became the media darlings in the NCAA Tournament, there is nothing better than to kick off the Missouri Valley non-conference season with a matchup of the Panthers against the Orange. With many key components not with Northern Iowa anymore (Farokhmanesh, Koch, Egelseder), it will be the first test for the Panthers to see if they will be doing some rebuilding or reloading.
- Nov. 13: Southern Illinois at Illinois (Big 10 Network) – The Salukis get their first shot against Bruce Weber’s Illinois team since he left for the Fighting Illini in 2003, so they’ll surely be licking their chops. This has been a long time coming for Southern Illinois and Chris Lowery is calling in all the favors to try and bring the Salukis back into the Missouri Valley Conference spotlight.
- Nov. 22-24: Wichita State at Maui Invitational (ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU) – This will be a big test for the Shockers to see if the hype machine is what it is cracked up to be. The always stacked Maui Invitational includes Wichita State this season, and their first test will be against UConn. If they win that one, it is likely Michigan State. Then in the final game it could be Kentucky, Oklahoma, Virginia or Washington. If the Shockers can get off the island with two wins against any of those seven teams, then they’ll have some great confidence playing the rest of their tough road slate (@San Diego State and @LSU) because their non-conference home schedule is nothing to write home about.
- Nov. 26: Southern Illinois vs. Purdue at Chicago Invitational (Big 10 Network) – Talk about getting all of your opportunities at once, the Saluki’s take on another former SIU coach and his new team. Matt Painter and the Purdue Boilermakers are part of the Chicago Invitational along with Southern Illinois. You would have to think that one of the keys to these teams agreeing to be in the same multi-team event is to have them play each other.
- Nov. 30: Indiana State at Notre Dame – Indiana State set up this game as the final one to complete the schedule. They had a choice to make between getting a home-and-home with Rhode Island and taking the one-time trip to South Bend to hopefully steal a win. However, Indiana State has a tough road ahead of them in the non-conference season, as seven of the first eight and eight of the eleven games are on the road.
- Dec. 1: BYU at Creighton – It is the Mormons vs. the Catholics in this one. All kidding aside, it is also a premier matchup of the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Conference Challenge. The event, now in its fourth season, may lose a little luster next season when BYU and Utah depart the Mountain West. BYU should be ranked when coming into the Qwest Center and it is very rare to have a ranked team come to the Bluejays’ home court. It will also be the best game of Creighton’s non-conference schedule at home.
- Dec. 8: Bradley at Duke (ESPN2) – Head coach Jim Les asked his players this summer if they wanted to play the defending national champions on their home court and they gave a resounding “Yes.” For a coach that might be feeling the warmth of the seat under him, Les is going with guns blazing by stamping the Blue Devils on the schedule. We will see if this challenge pays off for the Braves. A mini ACC/MVC challenge along with….
- Dec. 8: North Carolina at Evansville (ESPNU) – Evansville resumes this two-for-one series with North Carolina, but this year, the Tar Heels get to come to Roberts Stadium to take on a pesky Purple Aces team. Roy Williams likes to have his players get the opportunity to play close to their hometowns, but Evansville will be chomping at the bit take on this storied program. Evansville lost in the Dean Dome two seasons ago by about 20 points, but stayed competitive throughout.
- Dec. 11: Missouri State at Oklahoma State – The Bears will get a good test before conference season, starting a two-for-one series with the Cowboys in Stillwater. Depending on how Missouri State does in the Preseason NIT, they will either be flying high or coming in on fumes. If Cuonzo Martin and his team are playing like he is expecting them to, then look for some surprises in this one.
Key Conference Games
- Dec. 29: Missouri State at Northern Iowa (Fox Sports Net) – The projected champs take on the defending champs kicking off conference season for these two. Getting off on the right foot will be key for both of these teams if they want to be in contention deep into conference play. If the Bears can steal a win here on the road that may serve notice to the rest of the league that they will need to be prepared for them.
- Jan. 7: Creighon at Southern Illinois (Local-KMTV) – This game is always featured as one of the most hard-fought rivalries in the conference. Gene Teague will be battling Greg Echinique in the post. Echenique will get one of his first big tests as he will become eligible on December 18th.
- Jan. 12: Northern Iowa at Illinois State – With the losses sustained by this team due to graduations, the Redbirds may be in rebuilding mode. With a bottom rated non-conference schedule, their real first test arrives in conference season. By this time, they will already be five games into the conference season, playing four of the top five teams projected ahead of them. This game against the Panthers might be the nail in the coffin for Illinois State and we will say hi to the Redbirds next season.
- Jan. 29: Bradley at Wichita State (ESPN2) – If the Braves are serious this season about finishing third or higher in the conference, this game will be a deciding factor whether Bradley can do it or not. The Shockers may be leading the conference race by this time, so this could be a big boost to Bradley’s chances to stay in the race.
- Feb. 26: Northern Iowa at Creighton – This Senior Day matchup will have a direct impact on the MVC race and seeding heading into the conference tournament.
- Feb. 26: Wichita State at Missouri State – It is likely these two teams will be battling it out for the conference championship in this one. If that is the case, both teams will have good enough resumes that they will be looked at beyond this game and the MVC Tournament.
- Evansville: If you get a chance to watch Evansville this season, you may wonder whether they got a new coach or not? Well, they still have Marty Simmons in his fourth year at the helm, but you will notice a lot less of him. During the offseason, Simmons lost about 135 pounds from his frame. He looks and feels like a new man. What an amazing transformation. If last season’s MVC Freshman of the Year Colt Ryan gets a little more support, you may see an even bigger transformation of the Purple Aces on the court.
- Illinois State: For the third straight season, Illinois State has scheduled themselves a bad non-conference schedule. Based on last season’s RPI, the Redbirds non-conference opponents average 226.2. In 2008-09, it was 214.8. In 2009-10, it was 226.0. That was a huge contributing factor in Illinois State sitting on the outside looking in on the NCAA Tournament the past couple of years. With Osiris Eldridge, Dinma Odiakosa and Lloyd Phillips gone, there is some rebuilding going on this season in Normal.
- Drake: Drake’s last two recruiting classes have been ranked tops in the MVC. Karl Madison is the diamond of the bunch. Even Barack Obama knows about these classes. They may be a team to watch in 2011-12.
NCAA Tournament History
The Missouri Valley holds an all-time record of 86-94 (.478) in the NCAA Tournament. Besides being the Kansas Jayhawks’ kryptonite in recent years (UNI last season and Bradley in ’06), the conference has notched several other victories against high-profile opponents since 1994, including UCLA, Florida, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. However, the conference remains without a Final Four appearance since Larry Bird led Indiana State to the national championship game in 1979.
The Valley is looking for a re-kindling of the days when they were a force to be reckoned with and hoping to return to the level that the Mountain West Conference is enjoying today. With enough showcase games in the non-conference season, they have the chance to be in the spotlight once again. The expanded conference tournament format will increase the chances of multiple bids, as teams like Creighton, Wichita State and Illinois State were right on that bubble at the end just missing the tournament. But they have to take advantage of the opportunities early and break the RPI code like they did several seasons ago.