Each day this week during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region. If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
President Barack Obamapicked Kentucky to lose in his bracket’s final game but Coach John Calipari is worried about just getting momentum. “Land the plane. Survive and advance,” Calipari told Chris Low of ESPN. “That’s all we’re thinking about. We’re not worried about the score and who scores and what. Just land the plane and move on.”To that end, East Tennessee State lost by ten to Pitt last year as a #16 seed in the first round. Can they be the first to pull off the historic upset?
Perhaps both Texas and Wake Forest should just throw out their recent struggles.
Temple is only favored by 4 points over Cornell. Meanwhile Lafayette head coach Fran O’Hanlon has worked with both coaches and is rooting for both.
Would professors at Wofford dare to not pick the Terriers over Wisconsin in their office pool? And apparently message boards hounded Badger junior Tim Jarmusz earlier this season as he moved from starting forward to coming off the bench.
Washington’s Isaiah Thomas has a broken bone in his shooting hand, which is why he wears a glove.
Last year Marquette’s players shaved their heads in solidarity, but this time they got a different haircut.
New Mexico’s Darington Hobson is predicting a run to the regional finals. Meanwhile the New York Times has a great profile on Montana’s Anthony Johnson.
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.