RTC Summer Updates: Missouri Valley ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on July 27th, 2011
With the the NBA Draft concluded and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. The latest update comes courtesy of our MVC correspondent, Patrick Marshall.
The summer has been a busy one for the Missouri Valley Conference. They are hoping the 2011-12 season will be one that sees the conference become a multiple-bid league again. They haven’t had multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament since the 2006-07 season.
- Coaching Changes: The MVC only had two coaching changes in the offseason. First, after leading Missouri State to its first MVC regular season title, Cuonzo Martin was lured away from the Bears to Tennessee. He was replaced by Purdue assistant Paul Lusk, who weeks earlier might have been in line to succeed Matt Painter had Painter left Purdue to become the new head coach at Missouri. He has Valley ties as a player at Southern Illinois in his college days, where he helped the Salukis to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances. On the flip-side, Bradley head coach Jim Les was fired after nine seasons with the Braves. After taking Bradley to the Sweet Sixteen in the 2005-06 season, he had trouble getting the team back to that level. Les was replaced by Kent State head coach Geno Ford. These moves have caused a bit of a frenzy as Kent State filed a lawsuit against Bradley due to the way they hired Ford. Les has since been named the new head coach at UC Davis (where his son currently plays), and he too has filed a lawsuit of his own against his former school disputing the settlement he was paid from his dismissal. Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson were speculated for many jobs over the summer, but they both chose to stay with their respective schools.
- Creighton’s International Duo: Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Gregory Echenique have had a summer to remember. McDermott spent the end of June through the middle of July playing for the Team USA U-19 squad helping the team to a fifth place finish in Latvia. McDermott led the team in three-pointers made, was second in minutes, and third in scoring for the American team during the FIBA Championships. McDermott’s frontcourt counterpart Echenique is currently in Venezuela as a member of his nation’s national team. Echenique and his teammates will try to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in Argentina at the beginning of September before he returns to Creighton for the fall semester.
- League Talent: There have been several different examples of decisions made by the league’s top talent this offseason. First off is the 2011 MVC Player of the Year, Kyle Weems. Weems earned his degree from Missouri State, and with a year of eligibility remaining, he could have easily decided to transfer to a different school to play right away, especially with a new coach coming into town. Instead, he decided to stay in Springfield for his senior season. In an opposite move, Bradley’s Sam Maniscalco was a senior last season for the Braves, but he spent much of it recovering from an ankle injury. Early last season it was decided that he would shut things down and apply for a medical redshirt, which he received. Then came the firing of Les. During Maniscalco’s redshirt season, he was able to complete his degree. With a year of eligibility still remaining and a new coach coming to town, the all-MVC player decided to transfer and finish his college career at Illinois. Finally, you have Drake’s Ravonte Rice. A runner-up for the MVC Freshman of the Year last season, Rice has not kept it secret that he isn’t necessarily happy at Drake, but that he isn’t going to transfer… at least not yet. This is a pivotal year for the Bulldogs, as two years worth of the conference’s best recruiting classes are now sophomores and juniors that have had marginal success. How Drake does this year could determine whether Rice stays or goes.
- Wichita State: The Shockers were predicted to win the Valley last season, but came up just a bit short. This coming season, WSU will have lost some firepower, but will still have a lot in the stable with Toure’ Murry, Garrett Stutz and David Kyles anchoring the team. A team with five experienced seniors will lead the way for the Shockers which will help the eight newcomers to the program. They have also set up what appears to be a better schedule than last season including a game against UAB in the Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita, home games with Utah State and UNLV, a game at Tulsa and the Puerto Rico Tip-Off that includes Purdue, Alabama, Colorado, Maryland and Temple. After having a suspect schedule last season and the few losses against their toughest competition, they can turn things around to get a few more key wins this year.
- Creighton: With four returning starters, the Bluejays could easily be the conference favorites going into this season. Doug McDermott and Gregory Echenique are a solid frontcourt. Point guard Antoine Young had the best season of his career last year, playing almost 40 minutes a game and was still only named to the second team all-conference. The biggest question for Creighton will be the players that will back them up. They have 6’11″ redshirt freshman Will Artino and Gonzaga transfer Grant Gibbs ready to step on the court while sharpshooter Ethan Wragge returns from a foot injury that sidelined him almost all season and minor knee surgery in the spring.
- Indiana State: The Sycamores were the surprise of last season, winning the MVC Tournament and being the Valley’s lone representative in the NCAA Tournament. After the injuries ISU suffered last season, many young players were thrown into the mix right away, which has prepared them for this season by the depth that was created. Sophomore point guard Jake Odum was overshadowed by the success of CU’s McDermott, but he is the engineer of this team. However, a big concern is the health of senior Dwayne Lathan, who fractured his arm in April. Although it shouldn’t affect him once the season arrives, he will be a key factor to the success of this team.
- Northern Iowa: Northern Iowa seems to not get much respect despite its recent success. Unfortunately, they lost eight of their last 10 games last season, so they have a lot to prove in 2011-12. With Johnny Moran the lone senior on the roster and several experienced underclassmen, the Panthers have an opportunity to work themselves into the top of the league. At the same time, a glut of new players are coming in so it is hard to evaluate what will happen. They should know a little bit more in the coming weeks as they are taking their once every four year summer exhibition tour to Brazil.
- Missouri State: The return of Kyle Weems will help the transition to a new coaching staff, but an extra year for Will Creekmore would have been even better. However, he was denied a sixth year of eligibility, so the Bears continue trying to replace several starters while putting together a very impressive schedule. Tulsa and Oklahoma State will visit JQH Arena this winter, a trip to New Mexico is in store and the Bears will play in a Las Vegas tournament around Christmas, when they will play Baylor, West Virginia or St. Mary’s in two games.
- Drake: Drake suffered a bit of a blow when junior center Seth Van Deest injured his shoulder in a summer pick-up game. He will now be out for several months. If it wasn’t for this injury, Drake would be higher on the list. Then, with the questions surrounding Ravonte Rice and coaching staff turnover, this might be a big year for head coach Mark Phelps. Phelps has already replaced several staffers and a couple assistant coaches during this offseason.
- Evansville: The Aces are looking forward to playing in a new downtown arena this season. To kick things off, they will host NCAA runner-up Butler. Indiana will also be making a trip to Evansville this year. Evansville is doing anything and everything to draw new fans to the team, including having autograph and basketball playing sessions at the local malls. Colt Ryan struggled a little bit last season after his spectacular freshman year, but as a junior hopes to carry this squad. What they need is a big man in order to continue up the ladder.
- Bradley: There has been a lot of drama with Bradley’s coaching situation. Outside of Sam Maniscalco, Dyricus Simms-Edwards also looked at transferring but ultimately decided to stay. Taylor Brown is gradually coming back from cardiac concerns and has been cleared to play after sitting out all of last season. The injury bug hit again as big man Will Egolf tore his knee in the offseason which will keep him off the court in 2011-12. It will be interesting to see what happens, but there will be some rebuilding next season in Peoria.
- Southern Illinois: Many were surprised that head coach Chris Lowery was retained for this upcoming season, but due to financial issues at Southern Illinois, they were almost forced to keep him. Center Gene Teague transferred to Seton Hall and eight newcomers set foot on campus for the Salukis this fall. Southern Illinois was kept out of the MVC/MWC Challenge this season mainly because they had too many road games already on the schedule and were slated to play on the road for the challenge game. A once-proud program still has a lot of work to do.
- Illinois State: Teams four through 10 could really fluctuate greatly once the season starts, but at this point, Illinois State is at the bottom with a lot to prove. The biggest discussion in the offseason for the Redbirds is the schedule. For the past few seasons, Illinois State has had the worst non-conference schedule in the Valley. It has even gotten to the point that radio shows are having discussions on what Illinois State could do to improve it. As of right now, it is somewhat improved as the Redbirds head to the Cancun Challenge to play Rutgers and hopefully Illinois. But after that, several questions exist as Lipscomb, SIU-Edwardsville, Chicago State and Arkansas-Little Rock won’t make the fans in Normal any more comfortable.
The Missouri Valley Conference is working hard to get its profile back up as a conference and again send multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament. The first key is scheduling. The way the member school schedules are setting up, there is a great opportunity to earn a bunch of wins against major conference schools that could put the league in front of a “Power Six” conference in the RPI rankings, but failing to do well could put the MVC in the #14 or #15 range. With nine of the ten schools involved in some type of multi-team event this winter, a strong showing in a majority of those will really raise the conference ceiling. Building a strong non-conference profile will also bring more attention to the league race.
Right now, the battle for supremacy is between the top four teams and the bottom six. If everyone has a strong non-conference season, the parity that is likely to happen during the conference race will not be as detrimental as it has been in the past. This league from top to bottom could be pretty solid, but with some new coaches and some programs trying to turn things around, it is even more important for the top four of Wichita State, Creighton, Indiana State and Northern Iowa to make a strong showing.
For the past several seasons, there have been many surprise teams to come out of the conference race to shine—Drake, Northern Iowa, and last season, Indiana State. This year, it may be Evansville. With a veteran core of players returning and a new arena, keep an eye on this team. Evansville last made a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 1999, and 2012 could be the season it returns.
Mark Your Calendar
There are several non-conference dates of interest for MVC fans:
- Nov. 12: Butler @ Evansville – The Aces open their new downtown arena and who better to open it with than the team that has been in the last two NCAA championship games? Butler will be excited to get back on the court to avenge its season ending loss and Evansville will be celebrating a new era.
- Dec. 10: Utah State @ Wichita State – Utah State has not been afraid to play anyone and its 87-17 record over the past three seasons is nothing to sneeze at. A return game from the 2010 Bracketbusters, this one should be an exciting one to watch.
- Dec. 17: Indiana State @ Vanderbilt – Taking advantage of the winter break, the Sycamores head to Nashville for a one-time game against the Commodores. Indiana State wanted this game so badly that they bought out a trip to Buffalo so they could schedule this game. Some would say this is a bad decision to schedule this for future considerations, but it must have been something they could not pass up.
- Dec. 22-25: Southern Illinois @ Diamond Head Classic – Of the non-conference events in which the Valley teams are participating this season, this field is probably the best. The question will be whether Southern Illinois can score some upsets against the likes of Kansas State, Xavier or Clemson, and start rising back up in the nation’s eyes. With a lot of eyes on the tube for this tournament, it could be either some good exposure, or the nail in the coffin in the ChrisLowery era in Carbondale.
Did You Remember Your Passport?: Many Missouri Valley conference schools are taking advantage of the overseas trips NCAA schools can take once every four years. Here are the trips in store in the coming weeks:
- Creighton—Bahamas, August 12-16
- Illinois State—Canada, August 9-12
- Northern Iowa—Brazil, July 31 – August 9
- Wichita State—Brazil, August 7-18