2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Missouri Valley ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on November 7th, 2012
- MVC Untouched — The Missouri Valley Conference has so far survived the first few rounds of changes among the top 15 conferences in Division I basketball (the Ivy being the other one). While every major conference, and some others even further down have been expanding or shifting, the MVC has walked away unscathed and still completely intact. That doesn’t mean there have not been rumors about teams leaving the conference at some point. The latest such mention was late this summer whenthere was a report that Evansville was on the verge of heading to the Horizon League. While some of that was theory based on some relatively weak facts, there are still cards likely to be played on that matter at some point. The question is when it will happen and who will be the first to start the falling dominoes within the league. It may turn out to be a school like Evansville that is looking to get out of the shadow of the other bigger players in the Valley.
- Can Doug McDermott have an even better season? — Creighton fans are salivating to see what McDermott can do to follow up last season, when he earned first-team All-America honors, averaged almost 23 points a game, and shot an amazing percentage behind the arc while frustrating opponents down low. The encore may not be so much about increasing his scoring like he did from his freshman to sophomore year, but about how far he can lead the Bluejays come March. McDermott spent the summer at the Amare Stoudamire and LeBron James skills camps, but he also took some time off after almost playing two years without a break including a stint with the Team USA U-19 squad. With so many expectations on his shoulders, it will be interesting to see if he continues to take everything in stride or listen to the whispers of the NBA and focuses on those areas of his game most likely to take him to the next level. For the MVC as a whole, the fans probably hope for both.
- Big Men Instead of Guards—For many years, the Valley has been known as a guard’s league with not as many big-bodied frontcourt players leading the way. Things have changed at least for the teams at the top. Along with McDermott, the Bluejays boast big man Gregory Echenique, who while topping over 300 pounds when he came to Creighton over three seasons ago, is now down to 260 and very agile. Jackie Carmichael from Illinois State impressed many at the camps he attended this summer after coming up big at the end of the season for the Redbirds. Colt Ryan, though he could be considered a guard, is more of a forward, but he can score in bunches for Evansville. Drake returns center Seth Van Deest from a shoulder injury that kept him out all season. Carl Hall will likely try to hold things down with Wichita State bringing in a bunch of new players. Then you have Seth Tuttle from Northern Iowa who was the MVC Freshman of the Year last season. When you look at the make-up of the MVC going into this season, it is easily dominated by talented frontcourt players.
- Deja vu Times Two—Three years ago, Greg McDermott returned to the conference that originally made him a hot commodity and has experienced success by taking Creighton back to the NCAA Tournament. This time Southern Illinois hopes Barry Hinson has the same success coming back to the conference that he had marginal success with while at Missouri State. It is rare that a coach returns to the same conference to coach another school, but the MVC must be a special place where two former coaches do so to coach different teams in a short period of time. Unlike McDermott who came to Creighton with a cupboard somewhat full, Hinson has a little more work to do after the struggles SIU has had for the past four seasons.
Reader’s Take I
Predicted Order of Finish
- Creighton (27-4, 15-3)
- Northern Iowa (24-7, 14-4)
- Illinois State (24-7, 13-5)
- Wichita State (23-8, 12-6)
- Drake (15-15, 9-9)
- Missouri State (15-16, 7-11)
- Indiana State (15-15, 6-12)
- Evansville (15-16, 6-12)
- Bradley (13-18, 5-13)
- Southern Illinois (11-20, 3-15)
Preseason All-Conference Selections (last season’s stats in parentheses)
- Jake Odum, Indiana State (11 PPG, 4.9 APG, 5.9 RPG)—Odum had nagging foot injuries all season in 2011-12, but he appears to be working on all cylinders now.
- Colt Ryan, Evansville (20.5 PPG, 3.5 APG)—Ryan was overshadowed by McDermott last season but finished 12th in the nation with 20.5 points per game. In his three seasons with the Aces, he has improved his scoring average each season.
- Jackie Carmichael, Illinois State (13.9 PPG, 9.7 RPG)—Carmichael is deceptively good. He probably feels like he has some unfinished business after last season and, with most everyone back for the Redbirds, could help lead them to the postseason.
- Doug McDermott, Creighton (22.9 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 48.6% 3FG)—McDermott put up 490 shots last season. An astounding 327 of those were without a dribble, of which he sunk 211. He also canned 52 shots with his left hand. Enough said there.
- Gregory Echenique, Creighton (9.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG)—Echenique was named the MVC Defensive Player of the Year despite the troubles Creighton had on defense last season. After a couple of summers playing for a Venezuelan national team that just missed qualifying for the Olympics, that experience alone will help Echenique become an even bigger force in the paint.
6th Man: Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa (9.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG)—Tuttle was second on the Panthers last season in scoring while only playing a little over 22 minutes a game. While many teams will pay attention to Anthony James, Tuttle will continue to reap the benefits building on his MVC Freshman of the Year honors last season.
Impact Newcomer – Cleanthony Early, Wichita State—The Shockers have a lot of newcomers this season and from early evaluation it appears the 6’8” JuCo transfer will play a big role to help solidify their frontcourt along with Carl Hall. Early can drive to the basket as well as post up to score. To compete in the league this season, it will be important to have a strong front line.
- Creighton (NCAA Seed: #6): The Bluejays are poised to be a strong team this season riding on the shoulders of probably one of the best frontcourts in the nation with Doug McDermott and Gregory Echenique. With everyone but Antoine Young returning and the addition of two more redshirts and incoming freshmen Andre Yates and Isaiah Zierden, the key will be determining playing time to keep everyone happy. The bigger question might be whether Creighton can replace Young’s production. However, Austin Chatman enjoyed some important playing time behind Young last season and is ready to step into the role. While he might not initially be able to produce off the dribble like Young, he doesn’t have to with all of the offensive firepower available. Plus you have Grant Gibbs, who actually had better assist numbers last season to help Chatman on the court. If Creighton wants to get to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, it will need to improve its defense from last season to supplement their offense. This has been addressed in the offseason and they are reminded every day in practice. Based on recent history, it would be amazing for an MVC team to get higher than a #6 seed.
Other Postseason Teams
- Northern Iowa (NCAA Tournament)—The Panthers are ready to get back down to business and back into the NCAA Tournament. The last time Northern Iowa was there was when a guy named Ali Farokhnamesh drilled an unexpected three-pointer in the closing minute against Kansas to get the Panthers to the Sweet Sixteen in the 2009-10 season. After a hiccup of a couple of seasons, this might be the year they return. Similar to Creighton UNI has everyone returning except for Johnny Moran. To replace him, the Panthers will add Tennessee transfer Wes Washpun. With eight players in the program who have redshirted in their career, they have several players who know the program and are working to get back to the Big Dance. Their defense is always tough, but their offense looks to take it up a notch this season as well. Head coach Ben Jacobson recognizes that this could potentially be a big year and has scheduled that way. Not only does UNI play in the stacked Battle 4 Atlantis field (opening against Louisville), but they will also take on George Mason, Iowa and UNLV all on the road. The schedule could be what trips them up, though. If the Panthers struggle in the non-conference, it could turn out to be a long season; but if they get some big wins early, then they may have enough confidence to propel themselves to greater things in the MVC. Senior guard Anthony James will be suspended for the first three games of the season due to breaking undisclosed team rules. For UNI to have a successful year, they will need him focused and ready.
- Illinois State (NCAA First Four)—The Redbirds looked to be a lock as a contender for the MVC race at the end of last season with the steadily improving play of Jackie Carmichael, the emergence of point guard Nic Moore, and no graduating seniors on the roster. But the offseason entailed some changes with head coach Tim Jankovich leaving late this summer for the head coaching job-in-waiting at SMU with Larry Brown, and Moore decided to transfer there with him. Carmichael and the supporting cast of Tyler Brown, John Ekey, and John Wilkins will look to carry what remains. The Redbirds’ success will depend on two factors—the schedule and the point guard position. New head coach Dan Muller started upgrading the weak schedule that Jankovich had put together and added challenges with going to Louisville, Dayton and Drexel as well as playing in the South Padre Island Tournament that includes a potential match-up with Northwestern. As far as point guard goes, Muller scored a coup by grabbing guard Kaza Keane late in the game. If he can replace Moore effectively in the lineup, then they could earn themselves ultimately a bubble slot for the NCAA Tournament — which would be their first in 15 seasons — but definitely a spot in the NIT at the worst.
- Wichita State (NIT)—Shocker fans won’t want to hear this, but with the way things are shaking down, they may find themselves the odd team out in a few different ways. Head Coach Gregg Marshall has the unenviable task of replacing five seniors and integrating six newcomers this season. With the teams ahead of them returning so much experience, it will be tough for Wichita State to break into that group. Senior Carl Hall had a scare in almost missing out on eligibility for this season (he had to apply for a sixth year), but he will lead the way for the Shockers. As mentioned earlier, Cleanthony Early could be a key newcomer to the team, but probably even more important than him is the insertion of former Oregon guard Malcolm Armstead into the lineup for his senior season. Armstead practiced with the team all of last season and should have a good handle on the offense. With so many question marks on how the newcomers will fit in, though, Wichita State may need the non-conference season to get some things figured out.
- Drake—Despite getting Seth Van Deest back from injury, the Bulldogs lost leading scorer Rayvonte Rice to Illinois. In addition, head coach Mark Phelps needs to integrate eight new players into the system. One nice addition might be Chris Hines who transferred from Utah after graduating and will play right away. Phelps has high expectations for Hines to run the team. Ben Simons returns for his senior campaign after his spectacular junior season. His length and ability to come off of screens to score baffled many league opponents last season.
- Missouri State—Paul Lusk will have a challenging season trying to replace Kyle Weems, who graduated, and adjusting to life without Jarmar Gulley, who tore his knee earlier this summer. There are a lot of questions with six freshman or redshirt freshman getting their first D-I experience along with two sophomores (one a walk-on) as a part of the now 11 player roster. Anthony Downing will have a lot to carry on his shoulders to go along with a season that will be up and down all year. The schedule, while filled with some challenges at Oklahoma State and San Diego State, but will also play non D-1 opponents Philander Smith and Malone and taking a road trip to Alabama A&M.
- Indiana State—The Sycamores head into the season with no seniors on the roster. Jake Odum returns to lead the team at the point and they will have some great stretches during the season. However there are enough new players that will take some time to adjust. One player to watch is Gonzaga transfer Manny Arop and his insertion into the lineup. Indiana State did take a trip to the Bahamas during the offseason. This may make the difference to help them win an extra three games. But they need to avoid the injuries.
- Evansville—This may come as a surprise, but I think the Purple Aces will finish eighth in the league this season. Colt Ryan will have his senior year to go for some Evansville scoring records, however, the biggest roadblock in their way comes right away in the conference schedule as they take on Creighton, Northern Iowa and Wichita State in three of their first five games. The thing that has been missing for Evansville is an inside presence. Although they had big man Egidijus Mockevicius join the Aces at the start of the year and become eligible right away, there will be some sort of learning curve. That may set the tone for the rest of the season. While I have been high on the Purple Aces in the past, the past performance hasn’t justified confident results for this season.
- Bradley—Bradley is 6-30 over the past two seasons in conference play. Even though Geno Ford is slowly turning things around in Peoria, they will still struggle this season. There are still some team chemistry issues as seniors Will Egolf and Dyricus Simms-Edwards were suspended for the annual red-white game before the season. In addition, underclassmen Jordan Prosser and Jalen Crawford will be suspended for their first exhibition game. Three of the four are starters from last season.
- Southern Illinois—Barry Hinson has a lot of work to do to try and get Southern Illinois get back on the map. To do that, he has strategically put together a non-conference schedule that is for confidence more than anything. Two games will be against New Orleans, a school that was on the borderline of moving to Division III. Two games will be against non D-1 competition. To top things off, instead of taking part in the Charleston Classic this season, Hinson pulled them out of that tournament and instead became part of a round-robin MTE at Utah State against two schools that were in the 300+ range last season. There are personnel issues that Hinson will have to deal with as well, including the indefinite suspension of Diamond Taylor and worrying about APR scores to keep scholarships. It also has to be weird for Kendal Brown-Surles to still be playing for the school where his cousin, Chris Lowery, was fired. This is quite a challenge and it will be interesting to see how long it takes to turn things around.
Reader’s Take II
There are a few newcomers who could make an impact in the MVC this season.
- Kaza Keane, Illinois State—Keane could be notable as he has some big shoes to fill for the Redbirds. With head coach Dan Muller arriving at Illinois State and point guard Nic Moore transferring, Muller was able to get a late commitment in Keane and will likely take over at the point for Illinois State. Ultimately he could be the difference between whether the Redbirds will contend in the Valley or come up just short.
- Cleanthony Early, Wichita State—We talked about the junior college transfer for the Shockers earlier, but he looks to be the real deal. At 6’8″ and the ability to do things inside, outside and driving to the basket, his success could help give Gregg Marshall what he was hoping for — a chance to reload and not rebuild. Here was the end of an impressive dunk from their recent Shocker Madness event.
- Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State—The Shockers lost a lot from last season, but they have a lot to add as well. Van Vleet is one of those incoming freshmen that might get overlooked, but shouldn’t. He will likely get playing time right away battling with Malcolm Armstead at the point guard position. He is known for his playmaking abilities and will solidify the position for Wichita State.
- Daddy Ugbede, Drake—If the name alone doesn’t intrigue you enough, this 6’6″ freshman for the Bulldogs creates some matchup problems for opponents. He could be one of the best rebounders in the conference immediately as well as becoming an offensive threat in the low post and mid-range.
Spotlight on… New MVC Practice Facilities
One of the new trends in college basketball is to build fancy new practice facilities to help draw recruits. While this is more prevalent in the top leagues around the nation, the idea of having a new practice facility has also flowed down to some schools in the MVC. In 2010, Bradley built its new Basketball Performance Center, which was part of the $50 million Renaissance Coliseum that houses the Braves’ women’s sports. The men have their own court along with locker rooms, a film room, offices and an academic learning center. This October, Evansville moved into a brand new $3.3 million practice facility. The men’s and women’s teams both have their own court as well as locker rooms and offices. They also used the new facility for their students to help usher in the start of practice for the Purple Aces with a special “Hoopfest” event just for them. In late 2013 or early 2014, Creighton will join the ranks of new facilities by opening a $10.5 million building that isn’t necessarily just for basketball, but it will have a big focus with two basketball courts, locker rooms, coaches offices, a video room, and a weight room. These new facilities definitely have an impact on recruiting and it is clearly an attempt to try to compete with the larger schools to offer athletes the same or better amenities in a smaller school. Little things like this are sometimes enough to make a difference.
Last season, the MVC returned to its status as a multi-bid league with Creighton and Wichita State making it back to the NCAA Tournament. This season, the league could continue its rebound with a bunch of returning players, the hype about the Bluejays, and some solid teams at the top of the league. Although there are a lot of questions too, there will be at least one other team that steps up and into the national conversation. The other issue hanging over the head of the MVC is whether this league will fall victim to any change after this season. There has to be some concern with the moves that took place this offseason — especially in the A-10 — because it changed the landscape of high-mid-major college basketball and the options available down the line if any schools look to change conference affiliation. MVC basketball is fun to watch and you never really know what will happen. Last season, after the top two teams, five other schools finished with 9-9 conference records in a tie for third in the conference. Any slight changes made in the offseason could turn the barometer one way or another for each of those teams this season.