RTC Summer School: Missouri Valley ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on August 1st, 2012
Over the next couple of week’s we’ll be checking in with each of the high mid-major leagues as to their mid-summer offseason status. Today we start with the MVC.
Three Summer Storylines
1. Doug McDermott Continues All-American Status. Doug McDermott was named a first team All-American last season. While the rest of the first team decided to leave school early for NBA riches, McDermott decide to stay in school. He did this to not only improve his game, but also has hopes to take the Creighton Bluejays further into the NCAA Tournament after leading them to the Big Dance for the first time since 2007 and advancing to the Round of 32. His summer has been spent going to all of the skills camps including the Deron Williams/Amare’ Stoudemire Skills camp as well as the Lebron James Skills Academy, continuing to impress onlookers. With McDermott back, expectations are high in Omaha and many fans fear that if he does have the same kind of year or better that it might be hard for him to hold off on the NBA a second time.
2. Coaching Changes Welcome Back Familiar Faces. Southern Illinois’ Chris Lowery was let go after a tumultuous time in Carbondale during his final four seasons as head coach that saw the program hit rock bottom. To resurrect the Saluki program, MVC coaching veteran Barry Hinson returned to the league to take over the head coaching job. Hinson spent the past four seasons at Kansas in a supporting role as the Director of Basketball Operations. He becomes the second coach in the past three seasons to leave the MVC and come back to coach another team in the league (Greg McDermott is the other). Hinson was let go from Missouri State in 2008 despite being pretty successful, but he couldn’t get his team to the NCAA Tournament. The question will be whether he can take Southern Illinois back to the postseason.
3. Teams Lose With Transfers. The resurgence of the MVC in 2012 caused a few of the better players in the league to look for greener pastures. Drake’s Rayvonte Rice decided to leave the Bulldogs and ended up at Illinois, a school where he had hoped for an offer coming out of high school. There was speculation even before last season that Rice was looking to transfer, but he had tried to dismiss it. The departure of Rice, an MVC-All Freshman selection two years ago and a second team All-MVC selection last season, puts a dent into Drake’s drive to rise in the league for next season. On the other end of things, Illinois State’s Nic Moore decided to leave the Redbirds after his All-MVC Freshman season. After an impressive showing at the MVC Tournament and the departure of head coach Tim Jankovich, Moore decided a change was in order. However, there were not as many teams looking for Moore to join them as he probably expected and eventually followed Jankovich to SMU. Illinois State was looking to be a contender this season, but again could take a hit due to the transfer of Moore and a coaching change.
How They Stand
- Creighton: One of the things Creighton has to work on in the offseason is improving on their defense and replacing starting point guard Antoine Young. Many national publications predict that Grant Gibbs will be the one to take over for Young. Obviously, they have not actually watched Creighton, as Gibbs was more of a point forward type than a traditional guard. Gibbs’ role is not necessarily to bring the ball up the court and run the offense, but to distribute and make the plays within the offense. Look for Gibbs to continue to develop while sophomore Austin Chatman and incoming freshman Andre Yates take over Young’s role in the backcourt. Elsewhere, Gregory Echenique spent the summer working with his native Venezuela’s national team in an attempt to make its Olympic team, but came up short.
- Northern Iowa: The Panthers faded from the national landscape not long after Ali Farokhmanesh’s big shot in the waning moments of the NCAA Tournament knocked off Kansas a couple of seasons ago. Since then, the Panthers have flown under the radar and Ben Jacobson still had suitors trying to take him away from UNI. Many Panther fans still wonder what would have happened differently had Doug McDermott not been taken from them at the last minute. That move likely contributed to the struggles the program has endured since that run and Jacobson has been working to make up for that mistake. However, don’t be surprised to see Northern Iowa in the league race and the postseason. The schedule reflects the confidence Jacobson has for his team, with their non-conference slate loaded with tests like the Battle 4 Atlantis and dates against St. Mary’s, Iowa (in Des Moines), at Ohio, at UNLV and at George Mason. The non-conference results alone will say a lot at where this program is at.
- Illinois State: The Redbirds received a bit of a surprise when Jankovich decided to leave Illinois State to be the “coach in waiting” at SMU under Larry Brown. So they went out and hired Vanderbilt assistant and former Redbird Dan Muller. Immediately, he did something that Tim Jankovich could not do–went out and put together a schedule that will definitely challenge the Redbirds. One of the biggest criticisms about Jankovich was the very low level of non-conference scheduling that was done. Muller has lined up games against Louisville, Drexel and Dayton, amongst others. But it is smart for Muller to do this right away as he inherits a team led by Jackie Carmichael that has the potential to be a league contender with a team that had no seniors. The change has not come without any speed bumps, however, with the transfer of Nic Moore. Again almost immediately, Muller was able to snag a point guard in Kaza Keane.
- Wichita State: The Shockers are trying to reload rather than rebuild after losing five seniors, three of which played on NBA summer league teams. There was also a bit of drama early in the summer where Carl Hall needed to request a waiver for a sixth year of eligibility. Getting him eligible again was huge due to the replacements Wichita State needs in their front line, as they only had one other post player with experience. Gregg Marshall is probably expecting a lot from point guard Malcolm Armstead who sat out last year as a transfer with Oregon, but only has one year of eligibility left. A touted incoming recruiting class has hit some bumps in the road with 6’10 Henry Uwadiae ruled as a non-qualifier, forcing him to go the JUCO route. The Shockers still face some hurdles as the team works on getting incoming freshman 6’8 Teddy Hawkins eligible. At the same time, it appears the Shockers are already sitting at the scholarship limit.
- Drake: After losing Rayvonte Rice, Drake loses out on what appeared to be a great opportunity to be a force in the MVC race. Ben Simons came out of nowhere for the Bulldogs last season and the return of center Seth VanDeest gives them a force in the frontcourt, where Drake was really lacking last season. Head coach Mark Phelps has to be starting to feel the pressure to have a successful season, as his first two recruiting classes of his tenure, rated tops in the league, are now juniors and seniors and there is not much to show for it. At the same time, their schedule isn’t going to help the Bulldogs, as their only big games are in the Anaheim Classic, where they open against Cal. A game in Des Moines against Iowa State at Wells Fargo Arena will also be a challenge, but is hardly a huge test.
- Evansville: Last season, Evansville opened up a new arena and attendance went up. This season, the team hopes to keep them coming with Colt Ryan. While Doug McDermott was making the headlines from the MVC, Ryan was slightly overshadowed on an amazing season he was having. He can score in bunches, especially by using his screens to the fullest. Ryan had 17 games last season where he scored 20 or more points, seven of those coming with at least 29. The key will be whether Evansville can surround Ryan with supporting players that have been missing the past couple of seasons. They do have some interesting games on the schedule, hosting Murray State, playing at Notre Dame as a part of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic and a game at Butler.
- Indiana State: The Sycamores are going back to the drawing board after the disappointments from last season. Jake Odum is the key to Indiana State and their success. Odum’s season was marred by foot problems which limited his playmaking ability that was really impressive in his freshman campaign. The big news for the Sycamores is the schedule. They open the season at the newly-renovated Pauley Pavillion against UCLA in a nod to the coaching career of John Wooden. Wooden began his legendary career with two seasons as the Sycamore head coach, during which he compiled a 44-15 record. Like many times around the country, Indiana State saw notable roster turnover. Steve McWhorter transferred to Milwaukee in the offseason and the team has seven players that have not seen Division I action yet. Another ball to juggle is the integration of Gonzaga transfer Manny Arop. An offseason trip to the Bahamas may help them.
- Missouri State: The season has already started off on a bad note with Jarmar Gulley tearing his ACL and being declared out for the season. With top two scorers Kyle Weems and Caleb Patterson having graduated, the rebuilding year for Bear basketball became even tougher. Six players (four freshmen and two redshirt freshmen) will possibly see the court for the first time while Keith Pickens continues to battle injury issues. One good thing might be a trip to Costa Rica in early August, where Missouri State will have some extra practices and some extra games to build some chemistry.
- Bradley: Geno Ford tries to show improvement after the Braves had a 7-25 record and going 2-16 in the league. It is a bigger rebuilding process than Bradley fans want to suffer through after the program rid itself of Jim Les, but there also has not been much buzz for the team this summer. It won’t help them much this year, but the Braves did gain a couple of transfers over the summer in Anthony Fields, who transferred from Wake Forest and Omari Grier, who arrives from Florida Atlantic. They are also hoping that recruiting yields results.
- Southern Illinois: Obviously, the big change here is the addition of Hinson as the new head coach. Immediately, Hinson started making changes, starting with the non-conference schedule. The Salukis were planning on being in the Charleston Classic, but Hinson pulled them out of that tournament to play in an ESPN-sponsored tournament in 2013 instead. As for this season, the Salukis will play in a neutral court event at Utah State that includes Nichols State and UC-Davis. The rest of the non-conference schedule also reflects a program in a rebuilding state. One bright spot is the addition of assistant coach Anthony Beane, who came over from Illinois State. The Salukis also gain a player in Beane’s son, Anthony Jr., who originally signed to play for the Redbirds.
Carmichael Driven. Illinois State comes into the season with one of its best teams in years. Leading the way is senior Jackie Carmichael. He had a great showing at Lebron Skills Academy and should have the attention of those who weren’t aware of how close Illinois State was to breaking out last season. In taking Creighton to overtime in the MVC Tournament Championship game, Carmichael had a great game, limiting Doug McDermott when defending him. Carmichael dominated the league in double-doubles last season and tallied four more than the superstar McDermott. Don’t be surprised if Carmichael plays with more urgency this season and makes some noise as the season goes on.
Last season, the MVC returned to form as a multi-bid league. Additionally, the conference survived conference realignment untouched. From a basketball standpoint, the MVC produced a first team All-American who decided to stay in school. With Creighton still strong heading into next season, the MVC will still be on the radar with the national media. There are question marks that arise for the rest of the league, though. Will a veteran Illinois State rise to the occasion with a new coach minus a starting point guard and a very challenging schedule? Can Wichita State reload after losing several starters? Will Northern Iowa climb back to the top of the league? The most prominent factor in the relevance of The Valley for 2012-13 is how teams do in the non-conference portion of the schedule. There are a lot of power games scheduled by league members. They now have to go out and win. One or more of the teams below Creighton will separate itself before heading into conference play.
MVC Staves Off Realignment
The college sports landscape has been tantalized by the realignment craze. While much of realignment has been driven by football, the most recent changes have had basketball implications. Simply look no further than the Atlantic 10’s additions of VCU from the Colonial and Butler from the Horizon. Looking at the top seven conferences in the RPI ahead of the MVC last season, all of them except for the MVC have been involved in some level of realignment in the past year or two. When looking at the Valley, it is hard to figure out whether the MVC has won or lost from its absence in realignment. As some of the other non-BCS conferences try to fill in open spots or expand, the MVC might be a conference from which teams will try to cherry pick. If that starts to happen, there are fears as to what may happen to the league because it looks like they are not preparing or lack a backup plan in place if teams like Wichita State or Creighton are lured away. It is my opinion that once the MVC starts to lose teams, it will have trouble trying to stay together as a conference. Expansion may not be something the league wants, but I think they need to look into it in order to remain viable in the changing landscape of college sports.