|Creighton was the Valley's best last year and that will almost definitely the case again in 2012-13. (US Presswire)|
Of any league preview or assignment that I had this fall, this one got me the most juiced for the start of the season. I mean, it's the Valley! It's as competitive, entertaining and charming a league as college basketball has. And this year, again, it should be intriguing not only because it will have at least one team with a shot at reaching a Sweet 16, but the top half of the league should assemble into a race that's equal parts competitive, unpredictable and just plain good basketball. Do you know there was a five-way tie for third place in the Valley last season? I'd love to see something like that again.
Last year's regular-season winner: Wichita State
Last year's tournament winner: Creighton
Conference tournament: March 7-10 (Scottrade Center, St. Louis)
Five best non-conference games:
1. Creighton vs. Wisconsin (Nov. 23)
2. Wichita State vs. Virginia Commonweath (Nov. 13)
3. Illinois State vs. Louisville (Dec. 1)
4. Northern Iowa vs. UNLV (Dec. 19)
5. North Texas vs. Creighton (Nov. 9)
What I like: The litany of good-to-great players.
|Name to know: Jackie Carmichael, Illinois State. (AP)|
Why: Outside of Dougie Swish (are we OK with this awful nickname that I've concocted for Doug McDermott? Doesn't matter -- I'm going with it), the league is likable because of all the good talent coming back. Because of that, the MVC is almost definitely going to be better this season. You'll see the players I'm referring to in the sections below, but suffice to say league coaches consider this year's incumbent group of players to be the best assemblage of talent the Valley has seen in years and years.
What I don't like: Lack of athleticism.
Why: What does it tell you that the Valley was 31st in blocks and 29th in steals last year, according to KenPom.com? It means teams weren't aggressive enough defensively to build a culture of up-tempo games with bullish play. (The 65 possessions-per-game speed falls in the bottom half of conference-pace rankings.) Of course this league has nice athletes, but I'd love to see defense improve league-wide. That starts with this year's flagship team in Creighton, whose flagship player needs to get better on D if he's to have a chance at winning national player of the year, which I picked him to do. Defensively, only Wichita State was a top-75 per-possession team last year, and the Shockers lost most of that stalwart support for the upcoming season.
Player of the Year will be: Doug McDermott (Creighton). McDermott was seen as an elite, top-10 conference player entering last season. Then he went out and had one of the most stupidly productive offensive years that we could've imagined (67.8 true shooting percentage). His return brings expectations that are worthy of his game, at least offensively.
McDermott paced the Bluejays to a 57.8 effective field goal percentage year in 2011-12, second-best in the country to Missouri. His ability to make multiple plays in one possession could be even better than last year, according to his father and coach, Greg. His scoring will depend on how many double teams that he sees -- Creighton has a lot of players who can make 3's -- but with the versatility to play on the block, use on ball screens and pull up, he'll put up more than 20 in at least half his games this season.
The next best five:
Anthony James, (Northern Iowa)
Seth Tuttle (Northern Iowa)
Malcolm Armstead (Wichita State)
Seth VanDeest (Drake)
Jake Odum (Indiana State)
Best freshman: Fred Van Vleet (Wichita State). Say this name out loud, right now, 14 times. Van Vleet is tiny (6-0) but said to be a great leader, solid distributor and played on a team full of small guys in AAU who beat almost everybody they played. He was chased by many a Valley team before Gregg Marshall ultimately snagged him.
Previously in previews:
No. 10 -- Conference USA
No. 11 -- West Coast
No. 12 -- Western Athletic
No. 13 -- Colonial
No. 14 -- Horizon League
No. 15 -- The Ivy League
No. 16 -- Summit League
No. 17 -- MAC
No. 18 -- Atlantic Sun
No. 19 -- Sun Belt
No. 20 -- MAAC
No. 21 -- Patriot League
No. 22 -- Ohio Valley
No. 23 -- Big West
No. 24 -- SoCon
No. 25 -- NEC
No. 26 -- Big South
No. 27 -- Southland
No. 28 -- Big Sky
No. 29 -- America East
No. 30 -- MEAC
No. 31 -- Great West
No. 32 -- SWAC