RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.
Three more conferences get underway this evening with teams in the America East and NEC all gunning for the coveted automatic-bid to the Tournament, while the Missouri Valley is vying to send two teams to the Dance. Boston University is all of a sudden the favorite to win the America East with the uncertainty of Evan Fjeld‘s ankle, while Missouri State and Long Island are the favorites in their respective leagues. Something tells me though that the Wichita State Shockers will be looking for vengeance following their two losses to the Bears earlier this year.
The Favorite: Vermont appears to be the favorite, but a lot depends on the status of Evan Fjeld’s ankle that he injured in UVM’s final regular season game against Boston University. In what very well could be the America East championship game, BU went on to defeat the Catamounts in overtime. Allison Shepherd told John Fantino of the Burlington Free Press Blog that: “[Fjeld] is receiving daily care and treatment for the injury. We will have a better idea regarding his playing status for the upcoming America East tournament as the weekend approaches.” Something tells me that even if Fjeld and his ‘Stache are able to go, he will not be at 100%. I like Boston University.
Dark Horse: Behind senior Tim Ambrose, Albany is a team that has come on strong as of late and is capable of making a run in the A-East tournament. The Great Danes have won four straight to end the regular season, but getting by Stony Brook will be no easy task in the first round.
Who’s Hot: Boston University has not lost in February and is 8-0 during the month. They defeated Vermont to conclude the regular season and are flying high with John Holland—arguably the league’s best player—leading the way.
Player to Watch: John Holland has been a staple in BU’s rotation since the day he stepped on campus. The senior has averaged double-figures in scoring for all four years, and his 19.2 points a game this year is tops in the league.
First-Round Upset: Hartford over Maine. The Black Bears were an intriguing team and story to follow early on in the season. They beat a solid Penn State team and began league play with an 8-1 record, but since then they have fallen flat on their faces. Although their date with Hartford is technically not in the first round—the America East essentially has a play-in game between the #8 and #9 seeds to begin the tournament—fourth seeded Maine will have their hands full with Hartford who has already beaten them twice.
How’d They Fare? As a 16 seed last year, Vermont could not handle the athleticism or shooting ability of Syracuse as they lost 79-56.
Interesting Fact: Not an interesting fact, but simply one of my favorite NCAA Tournament highlights of all-time:
Easily the best part of the clip is Tom Brennan’s reaction after T.J. Sorrentine swishes home the three from about 35 feet away, and if you look even further past Brennan the reaction of the guys sitting on press row are priceless too. This is what makes March so Mad!
Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.
The Missouri Valley Conference Tournament will be a dogfight this season as a lot of teams feel like they have a great chance at winning it all. The top six seeds all have legitimate shots at winning. Games are not always about who has the best players, but who ultimately gets the best matchups.
Who’s Hot—Missouri State is definitely the team to beat. They are on a roll with six straight conference wins to end the season. A lot of teams have troubles matching up with the Bears as Kyle Weems plays more like a guard than a forward. If everything goes like it has the past couple of seasons in the MVC, then you will see Missouri State heading to the NCAA Tournament.
Who’s Not—Northern Iowa is definitely the team who, despite the decent seed, is really struggling right now. Ad nauseam we have talked about the loss of O’Rear to the Panthers, but it is apparent they have not found someone to patrol the paint like he did. Losing six of their last seven doesn’t help either. If Creighton uses their frontcourt to their advantage, then the Panthers will likely be out after the first round.
Watch Out For—Indiana State. The Sycamores are tougher than people are giving them credit for and could surprise Wichita State as both teams are incredibly deep and match up well with each other. Indiana State took them to triple-overtime at Koch Arena, which is as tough as any place in the nation to win a game. The Shockers have struggled to finish out the season, and were a few seconds away from finishing the season 0-3.
Tournament Prediction—In what could be considered another down year for the Missouri Valley Conference, there is a small chance that if Missouri State and Wichita State met in the finals of the MVC Tournament that both teams might make it into the NCAA Tournament. However, with their conference tournament occurring a week before all the major conferences play their conference tournament, it is very likely the selection committee will have forgotten by then about the MVC tournament runner-up.
Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.
A Look Back
BracketBusters Matchups—BracketBuster matchups were announced last week, and the Missouri Valley Conference was awarded three games on national television.
2/18, 6PM, ESPN2–VCU @ Wichita State
2/19, 4PM, ESPN2–Missouri State @ Valparaiso
2/19, 6PM, ESPN2–George Mason @ Northern Iowa
The other matchups between the other conference members:
Creighton @ Akron
Evansville @ Murray State
Morehead State @ Indiana State
UW-Green Bay @ Southern Illinois
Illinois State @ Western Michigan
Detroit @ Drake
Bradley @ Tennessee-Martin
Bradley Has a Winning Week – After starting conference play 0-11, Bradley has reeled off a couple of wins against Creighton and Southern Illinois. In the game against the Bluejays, the game was moved up four hours to avoid a snowstorm that still left Creighton stranded. The Salukis on the other hand were blown out at home by Drake before coming to Bradley. The Braves were able to take advantage of the other team’s struggles to garner a couple of wins and a glimmer of hope that Jim Les will be back next season.
Southern Illinois Imploding—If you were watching last Wednesday night, you saw Southern Illinois get torched by Drake’s outside shooting. What you may not have seen was Chris Lowery calling out his team, saying they “quit” during the game. To make matters worse, at the end of the week, it was announced that three players, including two starters, were suspended for three games based on an assault incident on campus. The SIU program has a lot to sort out.
Northern Iowa Suffers a Blow—Lucas O’Rear was injured Wednesday evening against Illinois State. The man of much facial hair ended up suffering a fractured ankle and is now out for the rest of the season. This is a big blow for the Panthers in their run back up the Valley standings. Without him, Northern Iowa suffered a loss to Drake and now have to regroup for the final stretch run to try and get their third straight MVC regular season championship.
Player of the Week—Andrew Warren, Bradley—The play of Warren has been overshadowed by the performance of Bradley as a team this season. However, the talented guard has been carrying this team on his shoulders and continued that this week. He averaged 23 points and almost seven rebounds in the two victories against Creighton and Southern Illinois.
Newcomer of the Week—Rayvonte Rice, Drake—The freshman led the way for Drake this week in their two victories averaging 21 points a game over Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa this week. In a year dominated by Doug McDermott from Creighton, Rice has been coming on as of late. Both Rice and McDermott will lead their respective teams against each other this week.
Power Rankings (Record) (Conference Record) (Last week rank)
Wichita State (20-4) (11-2) (1)—The Shockers have quietly made their way to the top and are holding on to the conference lead after two wins this week over Drake and Indiana State. After Southern Illinois on Tuesday, the Shockers go on a tough run to end the season at Northern Iowa, at Evansville, the BracketBusters game against VCU, hosting Creighton and then finishing at Missouri State. If Wichita State makes it through this stretch of games, they definitely deserve the MVC regular season crown. One interesting note is that there has not been a Wichita State player that has won a weekly award from the MVC offices, and it has been suggested that they decline the award if a Shocker does get one.
Missouri State (18-6) (10-3) (3)— The Bears have hit a bit of a wall losing two of their last three and surviving against Indiana State on Saturday. However, the schedule is favorable for Missouri State as four of their final five conference games are against teams at the bottom of the league. It should make for an interesting race between the Bears and the Shockers. A missing part of Missouri State’s team this year has been AdamLeonard. If the Bears are going to have a solid run to finish the season, Leonard is going to have to step things up. He has spent extra time in the gym. Hopefully for them, it reflects well down the stretch.
Northern Iowa (17-7) (9-4) (2)— The Panthers had won eight in a row before and looked like they were rolling until Lucas O’Rear went down against Illinois State which led to the letdown against in-state rival Drake. Three of the final five conference games are on the road including going to Evansville this week for what appears to be a typical “trap” game. They then have a showdown with Wichita State on Saturday night which will decide if they still have a chance for the top of the mountain. Will DickVitale actually be in Cedar Falls for their BracketBuster game? I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Creighton (15-10) (7-6) (4)—The Bluejays endured the embarrassment of allowing Bradley to get their first conference win of the season. They did rebound to knock off a hot Evansville team and are now putting themselves in a good position to secure a top-four seed in the MVC Tournament. But they can’t let down against Drake and Southern Illinois this week. DougMcDermott continues to put up some amazing numbers—such that he could earn himself awards at the end of the year, including a spot on the All-MVC team.
Evansville (13-10) (7-6) (6)— Evansville started off the week with a nice win against Missouri State even without leading rebounder and second leading scorer Kenneth Harris. However, they ran into a Creighton team with something to prove and took down the Purple Aces to be tied for fourth place in the Valley race. One thing is for sure, they will not be cellar dwellers this season and the team has made some great strides. They get to host Northern Iowa this week before heading to Peoria to take on Bradley.
Indiana State (12-12) (7-6) (5)— The Sycamores are coming back to earth after their hot conference start. They have now lost five straight games after playing against the top teams in the league. I guess they have to be satisfied with moral victories. However a date with Illinois State and Drake might be what they need to finish off strong.
Drake (10-14) (5-8) (9)—Drake won both of their games this week and jumped out of the bottom of the league. They hit 16 three-pointers their win against Southern Illinois and held off Northern Iowa to beat their in-state rival. If it was up to Rayvonte Rice, he thinks they could go on a big run to get to the postseason. Creighton comes to town on Tuesday before heading to Terre Haute for a date with Indiana State.
Bradley (8-16) (2-11) (10)—Teams will take wins any way they can get them. For Bradley, that first conference win came against Creighton. With that win and a victory against Southern Illinois, who they caught at the right time, Bradley enjoys the month of February. January was winless, but in February, they have two wins already. They get to play the role of spoiler, going to Springfield to take on Missouri State and celebrate alumni weekend against Evansville.
Illinois State (11-13) (3-10) (8)—The Redbirds are back to their struggling ways after winning three in a row. It wasn’t a surprise that they lost to Wichita State and Northern Iowa, but they did keep things close. Any game in the MVC is a possible upset and you never know what is going to happen. They can spoil the party for everyone with the Sycamores and the Bears coming to town this week.
Southern Illinois (10-14) (4-9) (7)— We have talked about already how Southern Illinois has hit rock bottom. Fans are getting tired of the once proud program that will be missing the postseason for the third year in a row. It will cost the school dearly to send Chris Lowery packing, but it may be the only option after spending millions of dollars remodeling SIU Arena and playing to a half full crowd. One way or another, things must change.
A Look Ahead
Look out for these games:
2/8—Northern Iowa @ Evansville (No TV)—The Panthers are struggling without Lucas O’Rear and head for their second straight road game without him. Evansville has been hot and could knock them off.
2/8—Southern Illinois @ Wichita State (Local TV in both markets)—The Shockers are the dominant team in the league at this point and SIU is in shambles right now. However, there is always a chance for a shock here, pardon the pun.
2/9—Bradley @ Missouri State (Fox Sports Net)—Bradley has a couple conference wins under their belt and could play the role of spoiler. Missouri State needs to keep winning.
2/12—Wichita State @ Northern Iowa (ESPN2)—This is a big game for both teams, but even bigger for Northern Iowa to try and catch up to the Shockers. The Shockers on the other hand are trying to pull away from the rest of the league. A special 9PM CST start for this one.
2/13—Southern Illinois @ Creighton (ESPNU)—Is this one of the final games in the Chris Lowery era at SIU? Creighton is looking for a good seed for the MVC Tournament. Oh yeah, and it is a rivalry game, but that is sort of lost in the mix at this point.
Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference
A Look Back
First week of Conference Play—The Missouri Valley Conference started conference play this week as each team had two games on the schedule. In the first televised game of the season on the Fox Sports Net package, Missouri State and Northern Iowa took things down to the wire. With Kyle Weems being pretty much ineffective for the Bears, he hit a three pointer with 2.5 seconds left to give Missouri State a one point victory against the defending champion Panthers.
Northern Iowa starts 0-2—The Panther s have started conference season 0-2 with a couple of thrilling games against Missouri State and Southern Illinois which were decided in the final seconds. With the two losses, history may still be on their side since they seem to be exceptions to the rule. Since 1993-94, only one team (Northern Iowa, a 2008-09 co-champion) has won at least a share of the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title without winning its regular-season opener — and UNI lost Wednesday night. Further, 15 of the last 16 regular-season champs (or co-champs) have opened 2-0 or better in MVC play, with UNI in 2008-09 once again serving as the exception. So either they will become the next exception to the rule or they’re already essentially eliminated from contention on January 1st , one week into conference season
Three team race? –At this point of the season, it would appear the best scenario for the Valley to have multiple bids is for Wichita State, Missouri State and Creighton to continue winning and separating themselves from the rest of the league. The rest of the league has questionable records and even if teams like Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa can rise up out of the Valley regular season; their records still may not be palatable to the selection committee to consider more than the conference tournament champion.
Player of the Week—Jermaine Mallett, Missouri State –Mallett matched his career high of 22 points in the win against Illinois State this week and averaged 18 points and 6.5 rebounds. He was key in the comeback against Northern Iowa and helped lead the Missouri State Bears to an early 2-0 conference mark.
Newcomer of the Week—Doug McDermott, Creighton—Once again, McDermott garners newcomer of the week honors as he averaged 17 points and 6.5 rebounds per game this week including a 28 points and 10 rebounds against Drake on Saturday night. McDermott‘s 28 points were the most for a Creighton freshman since Ryan Sears scored 29 against Wyoming in 1997.
Power Rankings (Overall and conference records in parentheses, and last week’s ranking)
Wichita State (11-2) (2-0) (1)— The Shockers have held serve with their convincing victories over Evansville and Bradley, but those teams are far from the best in the conference. In the win against Evansville, Wichita State still scored 91 points even though they went through over a nine minute stretch where they scored only 10 points. They will likely have a couple more appetizers with Drake and Illinois State this coming week before the showdown with Missouri State next Sunday.
Missouri State (10-3) (2-0) (2)— Missouri State looked a little out of sorts against Northern Iowa on Wednesday before the thrilling come back and big road victory in Cedar Falls. The past two seasons the Bears were 1-17 in road games before the win against the Panthers. Then after getting a win against Illinois State in their home opener, they are well on track. People will point to Kyle Weems, Adam Leonard or Jermaine Mallett as keys to Missouri State’s success, but it may actually be Will Creekmore that will make or break them. They will have two big tests this week with the top of the league as they travel to Creighton on Tuesday and host Wichita State on Sunday. They have a great opportunity to put some distance between the rest of the league.
Creighton (10-4) (2-0) (4)— Creighton took a huge monkey off their back in the victory against Illinois State on Wednesday. The Bluejays seven had lost of their past eight meetings with the Redbirds coming into that game. With the win, the four year seniors of Kenny Lawson, Jr., Casey Harriman and Kaleb Korver have beaten every team in the league at home and on the road during their career. Drake played physical with the Bluejays on Saturday night, but they were able to fend off the Bulldogs to start 2-0. One key player that may be missing for a while is sharpshooter Ethan Wragge. He has been fighting plantar fasciitis all season. After a few games of action, his foot is back in a boot and it is unknown when he is going to return now. Missouri State comes to town before a two game road trip a rival Southern Illinois and Evansville.
Southern Illinois (7-6) (1-1) (6)— Southern Illinois makes the big jump of the week after bouncing back from the loss against Drake to steal one against Northern Iowa. Having a short memory was important for the Salukis this week as Carlton Fay hit a shot with two seconds remaining to help SIU knock off the Panthers. This could be a big week for Southern Illinois as they travel to Bradley and then host Creighton and Illinois State. They could be in the thick of things if they can go undefeated in this week’s stretch.
Northern Iowa (8-5) (0-2) (3)— As noted above, the Panthers suffered some crushing losses early, losing their first two games by a total of three points. The word of the week might be panic, but like we talked about earlier, there is still plenty of time to turn things around. Northern Iowa can feast on Evansville, Indiana State and Bradley this week to try and get back in the race. is second in the league in scoring through the first week averaging 21.5 points a game.
Evansville (7-5) (1-1) (7)— The Purple Aces were blown out by Wichita State to open play but rebounded to take a close one against Indiana State. Evansville would like to get out of the shadow of other Indiana schools, but it is a long road. Evansville could be in some trouble again as they travel to Northern Iowa and Missouri State before hosting Creighton on Sunday.
Illinois State (8-5) (0-2) (5)—The Redbirds started where I projected by losing their first two games. A week after saying they aren’t hitting the panic button yet, they may be ready to. Hitting the road for two of three games this week can’t be too exciting. Neither is the home matchup against Wichita State.
Indiana State (6-7) (1-1) (9)— The Sycamores won against the injury riddled Bradley team but could not hold off their in-state rival Evansville. A couple of home games might be what is needed to give first year coach Greg Lansing an opportunity to make some noise early. However, they will have to do it without Jake Kelly. The senior who transferred from Iowa a couple of seasons ago has not had good luck in Terre Haute. Kelly suffered a knee injury ending his season early last season and now he has a stress fracture in his foot this season that could keep him out of action for an unspecified time.
Drake (6-7) (1-1) (10)—The Bulldogs up and down season continues. They got an opening night win against Southern Illinois but then ran out of gas against Creighton in Omaha. The theme most of the season for Drake were turnovers, but against Creighton it was rebounding. They were outrebounded 45-24. Their road trip continues to Wichita State before hosting a couple of home games against Indiana State and Bradley. Rankings 8-10 could change significantly after this week.
Bradley (6-7) (0-2) (8)— Bradley has lost seven of their last nine games and failed to secure a conference win this week. The Braves are playing three of their first five conference games on the road and could lose another home game on Tuesday against Southern Illinois. Bradley has always seemed to get socked with a weird conference schedule. One positive for Bradley is Andrew Warren who is currently riding on 38 consecutive free throw makes, the second longest streak in Bradley history.
A Look Ahead
Some great games at the right time this week as conference play enters the second week. It will be more intense with three games for each school between Tuesday and Sunday.
1/4—Missouri State @ Creighton (Fox Sports Net)—Both teams come into this game at 2-0 in conference play and will be a good challenge to see who can take the early lead in the conference.
1/4—Southern Illinois @ Bradley (ESPN Full Court/ESPN3.com)—Bradley has started off 0-2 while Southern Illinois is looking to build on their last second win against Northern Iowa. The Braves could be out of the race early with a loss here.
1/7—Creighton @ Southern Illinois (ESPN Full Court/ESPN3.com)—This is always a heated rivalry although it has cooled a bit the past few seasons because both programs have been trying to get back to their top level status. Nonetheless, it should be a good one to catch on a Friday night.
1/9—Missouri State @ Wichita State (ESPNU)—The Bears and Shockers were picked in the preseason to battle it out for the conference championship this season. This is the first of their two matchups with this one at the always tough Koch Arena.
1/9—Bradley @ Northern Iowa (ESPN Full Court/ESPN3.com)—It is weird to think that Northern Iowa might be on the outside looking in for the first time in the past couple of seasons after starting 0-2. With the third game in a week, it will be interesting to see if the Panthers can walk away with a winning record or end up at the bottom of the Valley standings.
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)
Indiana State(9-21, 4-14)
All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)
Kyle Weems was nine years old when Missouri State last made the NCAA Tournament in 1999.
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 Statebrings 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.
Patrick Marshall of Bluejay Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the MVC and Big 12 Conferences.
Current Records and my standings (Last Week Rank):
Illinois St. (10-0) (1)
Creighton (8-2) (2)
Drake (9-3) (4)
Evansville (8-2) (3)
Missouri St. (7-3) (5)
Northern Iowa (6-5) (7)
Bradley (5-5) (6)
Wichita St. (5-5) (9)
Southern Illinois (4-6) (8)
Indiana St. (2-8) (10)
The non-conference season for the Missouri Valley Conference basically ended this past week with conference play starting next Sunday. The non-conference games left for the Valley this coming week are most teams playing lower level competition that should result in wins for the Valley. Since Conference play will have started by the time I report for RTC, here is a little recap of what I expected versus what we got from the Valley in the Non-Conference.
Patrick Marshall of Bluejay Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley and Big 12 Conferences.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Creighton (27-4, 15-3)
Southern Illinois (25-6, 14-4)
Bradley (22-8, 12-6)
Illinois St. (22-8, 10-8)
Drake (21-10, 10-8)
Indiana St. (17-13, 7-11)
Wichita St. (15-15, 6-12)
Northern Iowa (15-15, 6-12)
Evansville (14-15, 6-12)
Missouri St. (13-17, 4-14)
WYN2K. Last season, Drake was predicted to finish 9th in the league and ended up having a dream season, winning the conference and the conference tournament, only to be knocked out by Western Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA tournament in a thrilling game. Most coaches from the Missouri Valley after a successful season jump ship and embrace the hype of their ability to move up into the major conferences – Steve Alford (Iowa at the time), Bruce Weber (Illinois), Matt Painter (Purdue), Greg McDermott (Iowa St.), Mark Turgeon (Texas A&M) and now Drake’s head man, Keno Davis. Davis jumped at the Providence job 26 days after taking Drake to its first NCAA Tournament in many, many years. The question that needs to be asked is whether Drake was that good or if the Valley was down last year. It was probably a combination of both. In the past, the Missouri Valley Conference has had multiple teams make the NCAA Tournament and the known teams in the conference will be making their return. Creighton has been in the postseason (NCAA or NIT) a conference-record eleven straight seasons and Southern Illinois last year broke their six-year streak of getting into the NCAA Tournament. Creighton has a ton of experience coming back whereas Southern Illinois is going back to their roots of tough defense and a solid floor general. Drake will not reach the same level as last year as they have their third different head coach in as many years. If Drake didn’t have the year they did last year, the story of the Valley would have been Illinois St. First year coach Tim Jankovich (who was an assistant at Kansas) was able to take advantage of the recruits of former coach Porter Moser and led this team to an unbelievable season themselves, but got destroyed on national TV in the Missouri Valley Tournament Championship game by Drake (79-49) and that was probably what kept them from being considered for the Big Dance. Valley Preseason Player of the Year Osiris Eldridge will be back to try to lead the Redbirds to another successful season. After getting to the finals of the inaugural CBI postseason tournament, Bradley is a tested team with experience that will make some noise this year. Former Creighton assistant and second-year head coach Kevin McKenna has started to turn the Indiana St. team around and will show improvement. Gregg Marshall is still trying to have the same success with Wichita St. that he had at Winhrop, but still has a lot of work to do. Northern Iowa gets out of the gate a ltitle behind with several injured players, one suspended for the first three games and one waiting until semester’s end to become eligible. MVC cheerleader and resident little man Barry Hinson is out at Missouri St. and did not leave a lot behind. Evansville is Evansville, although they have the advantage of returning all five starters from last season.
Predicted Champion.Creighton (NCAA #9). Creighton is the obvious choice as they have eight players returning that played 12 or more minutes a game. They also led the nation in bench scoring last year and there is enough talent on this team that the two players leading the nation in scoring off the bench without receiving a start (Booker Woodfox and Cavel Witter) may still not start this season. P’Allen Stinnett is the Jays’ POY candidate that can amaze and wow people with his athleticism, but will need to be a leader this season and play with emotion like he is known for (keeping it contained to keep from bugging officials and unnecessary fouls). Justin Carter comes in from the JUCO ranks as a scorer who may be able to step into the starting lineup sooner rather than later. The frontcourt may be a little suspect since they only have three players over 6’8 but it appears they have been to the weight room and if they make the impact as expected, they will solidify this team. Coach Dana Altman plans to have the high-pressure full-court defense back in motion this year to create turnovers. The veteran coach, the returning player experience and the ability to play high-pressure defense is what will cause Creighton to rise to the top. Also having eleven straight 20+ wins in a season is a streak that this team will not want to break. This team should be able to get to the NCAA Tournament and win a couple of games to continue to build this program. Here’s POY candidate P’Allen Stinnett rising up for a dunk.
Southern Illinois(NCAA #13). SIU had a high-profile non-conference schedule last season due to recent success, but came up short in justifying their hype. Fortunately, the Salukis still have a high-profile non-conference schedule, but at the expense of playing marquee home games and instead going on the road to try to regain their notoriety. They have the opportunity to be the featured team with the likes of Duke, Michigan and UCLA by being a part of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic if they win their home regional and advance to New York. They are also part of the John Wooden Tradition game against St. Mary’s. So the opportunities are there to be back in the spotlight for the Valley. SIU will be led by senior point guard Bryan Mullins who was the Valley Defensive Player of the year and a solid leader. The supporting cast is hyped as SIU’s best recruiting class ever and they had the opportunity to go to Canada over Labor Day to get familiar and some early playing time. However a little blow came after the Canada trip when 3-point specialist Joshua Bone (at least he has seemed like that every time I have watched him) had a tough trip and decided to leave the team once they returned. That is one less player with experience. So there will be a bit of a learning curve this season for Southern Illinois, but their tradition and fan base will keep them in contention and they should have enough to make it back to the NCAAs after settling for the NIT last season.
Bradley (NIT). People reading this who are knowledgeable of the Valley probably think I am crazy for having Bradley ranked so high compared to their own views and what other publications have written. However, it was three short seasons ago that Bradley was in the Sweet 16. Like it or not Jim Les has developed quite a program with Bradley. Last season because of injuries, suspensions and other various reasons, the actual starting lineup that was expected to be on the floor didn’t occur very much, but last year’s team was a solid team. Being able to be a part of the initial CBI basketball tournament gave them the chance to play longer than most Valley teams and an opportunity to improve in areas for this season. With the trio of point guard Sam Maniscalco, guard Andrew Warren and forward Theron Wilson provide a good starting group of players that if the newcomers gel could make some noise. However, Bradley probably does not have enough firepower to win the Valley this season, and are otherwise borderline in making the NCAA tournament so they probably will be in the NIT.
Illinois St. (NIT). The Illinois St. defense was a stalwart last season as they were 11th nationally in points allowed per game (59.3). Osiris Aldridge will be looked upon to continue his conference leading scoring along with the additions of transfers Champ Oguchi (Oregon) and Landon Shipley (Austin Peay). The Redbirds’ frontcourt will be decimated to start the year as forwards BrandonSampay and Bobby Hill are expected to be out until January due to injuries. So this team will just be starting to gel under a cupcake non-conference schedule and these players will be coming back once conference season starts. It may take a while for this team then to adjust to the higher level of play and integrating these players back into the lineup which will keep Illinois St. from returning to the Big Dance this season. The non-conference slate that has an RPI average of 215 is well below standards of the Valley and will not jump onto anyone’s page as an at-large team for the NCAA Tournament. Unless they win the conference tournament, it is the NIT for them.
Drake (NIT).Mark Phelps takes over the Bulldogs and has now been tasked with high expectations after last year’s remarkable season. Gone is the point guard, Adam Emmenecker, who really made things gel for Drake last season. However they return “Bucky” Cox who likes to shoot threes more than play inside and All-MVC pick Josh Young at guard. Keno Davis did not go too deep into his bench last season so a lot of players come in inexperienced. Also, Davis did not really talk to players extensively and sort of let the players play their game. On the other hand, new coach Phelps is more of a talker, telling the team the things they need to do that may take some adjustment. Both the coach and the team like the 3-ball so that will help the team stay on a common ground, but the moving back of the 3-point line will affect them if they live and die by the three. The Bulldogs are the hunted and not the hunters this season and will suffer through a year of transition and will probably settle for the NIT this season. In the meantime, Drake fans will still have this to remember…
Indiana St. This team took a hit when its leading returning scorer Marico Stinson unexpectedly left the team and the university, but is on an upswing with a solid coach. Look for them to make some noise next season.
Wichita St. Only one returning starter and several new players will still try to find an identity while Gregg Marshall tries to look like he is not mad at the world.
Northern Iowa. UNI gets out of the gate a little slowly with injuries and players missing from the team that won’t be able to play right away. With coach Ben Jacobsen on the hot seat, he cannot afford to have another mediocre season after what Greg McDermott did with the team before Jacobsen’s tenure. It may show the recruiting or coaching ability is not there.
Evansville. This team is still rebuilding as half the team is still freshman and sophomores though they have an advantage of returning all five starters. However, they will need a lot of help inside and that is not there yet.
Missouri St. The most exciting thing Missouri St. fans have to look forward to is the new $67M JQH Arena.
RPI Boosters / Key Games.
The key to this conference getting multiple bids is to have success against BCS and high mid-major teams. Unfortunately, home games for the Valley teams are far and few between.
Missouri St. @ Auburn (11.14.08)
Bradley @ Florida (CBE Classic) (11.16.08)
Southern Illinois @ 2K Sports College Classic vs. Duke and Michigan/UCLA, but of course have to get out of their regional to get to New York. (11.20-21.08)
Missouri St. vs. Arkansas (11.22.08)
Wichita St. @ Old Spice classic vs. Georgetown and Maryland, Michigan St., or Gonzaga. (11.27-30.08)
Northern Iowa vs. Marquette (Chicago Invitational) (11.28.08)
Northern Iowa vs. Auburn (Chicago Invitational) (11.29.08)
Indiana St. @ Depaul (11.29.08)
Drake vs. Vanderbilt (Cancun Tourney) (11.29.08)
Wichita St. @ Texas Tech (12.03.08)
Creighton @ St. Josephs (12.06.08)
Indiana St @ Louisville (12.06.08)
Bradley @ Michigan St. (12.07.08)
Creighton vs. Dayton (12.10.08)
Indiana St. @ Purdue (12.13.08)
Evansville @ North Carolina (12.18.08)
Southern Illinois v. St. Mary’s (12.20.08) (Wooden Tradition)
Creighton vs. Depaul (in Vegas possibly) (12.23.08)
Drake and Northern Iowa also benefit from a state law requiring Iowa and Iowa St. to play both Valley teams each year which adds and extra large conference school to their schedule.(ed. note: apparently this is a myth… thanks, readers)
Then you have the key conference games that will decide the conference champ.
Creighton vs. Southern Illinois (01.14.09)
Bradley vs. Illinois St. (01.29.09)
Southern Illinois vs. Creighton (02.14.09)
Drake vs. Southern Illinois (02.25.09)
Creighton vs. Illinois St. (02.26.09)
Drake vs. Bradley (02.28.09)
Neat-O Stat. Home Sweet Home. The Missouri Valley Conference is known for defending its home court. Southern Illinois is 92-6 in overall home games since 2001-02 and is 61-2 against conference opponents at home during that same period. During that same period, Creighton is 97-17 at home. Since Creighton opened the Qwest Center in 2003-04, the Jays are 66-13 at home. These are just a couple of examples of why major conference teams don’t want to visit Valley schools.
65 Team Era. The MVC is a multiple-bid league, having before last season gone a decade between single-bid years (1998 to 2008). In the 24-year history of this era, the league has only gotten one bid seven times, and even got as many as four in the high-water mark of 2006. Despite an average seed of #10.2 over this period, the Valley has gone 22-45 (.329) and put seven different teams into the Sweet 16, including S. Illinois in 2007 and both Wichita St. and Bradley in 2006. What’s more, in the last six years, MVC teams play teams tough, losing by an average of 6.1 pts in their knockout games (only one double-digit loss in 14 games). We see 2008 as a one-year blip, and have no reason to believe the MVC won’t continue to put numerous teams into the Dance and have them succeed.
Final Thoughts. If Creighton plays to its potential they could easily run away with the conference and have a chance to make some noise in the Big Dance. The 2-5 spots will be a dog fight between the established Southern Illinois and the questions of the one-year wonders of Drake and Illinois St. Bradley will stick its nose in and cause a little disruption in the league similar to what Drake did last year and could be the big surprise. If the Valley teams can win their high-profile non-conference games, the league will be recognized again as a powerful conference. No significant wins by the Valley in the non-conference could unfortunately put them in obscurity for another season. However, I say to look for the Valley to be a multiple-bid league once again this season and to make an impact on the college basketball world.