A team-by-team glance at the Missouri Valley Conference heading into the 2009-10 season.
(In CBSSports.com predicted order of finish)
The past three MVC champions -- Wichita State, Southern Illinois and Drake -- took significant tumbles as defending champs.
Northern Iowa, co-champions with Creighton in 2009, won't fall into the same pit. The Panthers return five starters and the MVC's top sixth man. Coach Ben Jacobson approaches everything with a solid, no-nonsense manner. The Panthers won't get caught up in the hype.
UNI did run into problems during February. Teams exposed some of their weaknesses and the Panthers lost four of five games, two at home. UNI isn't the most athletic team. It can be beaten with quickness and its guards can be silenced with size.
But the Panthers finished strong. They are too solid to slump for long. That consistency should help them again in 2009-2010.
| Defending regular-season champions: |
Creighton, Northern Iowa
| Defending tournament champion: |
| Top returning scorer: |
Josh Young (Drake), 15.4 ppg
| Top returning rebounder: |
Dinma Odiakosa (Illinois State), 7.5 rpg
|1. Northern Iowa|
|3. Illinois State|
|4. Southern Illinois|
|6. Indiana State|
|7. Wichita State|
|9. Missouri State|
|First Team All-Conference|
|G - Osiris Eldridge, Illinois State|
|G - P'Allen Stinnett, Creighton|
|G - Josh Young, Drake|
|F - Adam Koch, Northern Iowa|
|F - Kyle Weems, Missouri State|
season previews & primers
The Panther guards shoot the ball accurately and make few mistakes. Junior Kwadzo Ahelegbe is a strong defensive presence and a good penetrator. Ali Farokhmanesh made 37.9 percent of his 3s. Sophomore Johnny Moran led the team with 41 steals.
Jacobson believes he added more depth and athletic ability in the offseason. The Panthers don't need much help.
Like many MVC teams, Creighton is loaded with guards and small forwards, while the inside game is a question mark.
Creighton's edge is two-fold. First, the Bluejays do have junior center Kenny Lawson, a talented 6-9 center who progressed nicely late in 2009. He is a good starting point. Second, coach Dana Altman wins regardless of his personnel issues.
The Bluejays are expected to win again this season, despite some painful losses in the offseason.
Guard Booker Woodfox, the MVC's Player of the Year, ran out of eligibility. The unexpected loss of center Kenton Walker, who joined Lawson as a emerging big man, sets the Bluejays back. He transferred to St. Mary's (Calif.) after two seasons in Omaha. His departure leaves Creighton thin inside. Since rebounding was already an issue, all eyes will be on Lawson and the other inside players.
Chad Millard, a 6-8 senior, has suffered through an injury-plagued career. If he can get healthy, he can give Creighton needed depth. Coaches hope junior college transfer Wayne Runnels, a 6-6, 215-pound forward, can skip the usual adjustment period and contribute immediately. Runnels averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds as a sophomore at Northern Oklahoma College. Creighton needs him to rebound, rebound, rebound.
Altman spent the first half of last season challenging his team's toughness, a weakness that showed up in rebounding disadvantages. The Bluejays figured things out during the conference season, running off 11 consecutive wins from late January to early March.
Replacing Woodfox, who made 47.6 percent of his 3-pointers, is also a chore. With returners P'Allen Stinnett, who averaged 12.5 points, Antoine Young and Cavel Witter, the Bluejays will be solid in the backcourt. Witter had left the team after last season but reconsidered and rejoined the team in the summer. Witter averaged 7.7 points as a junior.
Freshman guard Josh Jones will get a shot to help in the backcourt. He redshirted last season after setting the scoring record at Omaha Central High with 1,518 points.
Redbirds coach Tim Jankovich is a skilled mixer of parts. He took over an underachieving program in 2007 and blended new and old into a winner.
He can work with transfers as well as almost any coach, perhaps because of his laidback style and sense of humor. Perhaps it's because he transferred as a player, from Washington State to Kansas State. He coached two seasons at Hutchinson Community College. His two seasons at Illinois State prove he can work with all ages. Jankovich will need to again quickly adapt and flourish if he is take full advantage of the skills of senior Osiris Eldridge.
Eldridge is the Valley's top talent. With him, the Redbirds advanced to the NIT the past two seasons after losing in the conference tournament title game. It would be a shame if Eldridge, perhaps the school's second-biggest star behind Doug Collins, never plays on March's big stage.
Much of the core group that won 49 games the past two seasons has slipped away. Newcomers must contribute because the Redbirds received little production from its bench returners last season.
Eldridge, who investigated the NBA Draft before staying, averaged 14.0 points and 6.2 rebounds. Jankovich wants him to handle the ball more this season to help his pro prospects. When it is scoring time, rest assured Eldridge will get the ball.
Senior center Dinma Odiakosa is a hard-working big man who improves each season. He is an excellent defender and rebounded. Senior guard Lloyd Phillips survived a short leave of absence last season for personal reason. He is back after averaging 10.6 points and 3.6 assists.
Two transfers are expected to play significant minutes. Guard Austin Hill arrives with a reputation as a physical defender, a necessity in the MVC. He averaged 15.2 points in junior college. Forward Tony Lewis (6-7, 230 pounds) needs to help Odiakosa with inside play.
Jankovich also has some promising freshmen. They need to help, but they won't face big expectations. Forward Jackie Carmichael (6-9) played a season at prep school. Guard Justin Clark is an excellent scorer.
Other returners are role players. Forwards Jeremy Robinson and Kellen Thornton and guard Alex Rubin played little last season. Blake Mishler, a junior forward, sat out 2009 after transferring from East Tennessee State.
Jankovich's first two teams relied on athletic backcourts with numerous ball handlers who could spread the defense, drive and shoot. He needs his newcomers to fill open spots and hit open shots to continue his success.
Southern Illinois isn't used to coming out of nowhere in the Valley. The Salukis have been a conference heavyweight for most of the decade.
Not last season, when they turned in a losing season for the first time since 1998. Over the past two seasons, SIU lost its trademark defensive dominance. It even lost games at SIU Arena -- six in 2009-2010.
Fans expect coach Chris Lowery to turn things around this season. It could happen.
The Salukis appear to possess a good amount of talent, enough to challenge the MVC's top teams if things go right. Has SIU's dominance permanently slipped, or are the Salukis older and tougher and ready to get back to the top? We find out this season.
Sophomore guard Kevin Dillard is the starting point. He took on a heavy burden last season and prospered. He averaged 12.2 points and made 45.2 percent of his 3-pointers. An injury to senior Bryan Mullins put unexpected demands on Dillard. That experience should pay off.
Transfer Tony Freeman should help Dillard immensely. Freeman averaged 13.8 points at Iowa in 2008. Expect him to start and give SIU one of the MVC's top backcourts. Ryan Hare and Justin Bocot are back. Both are the prototypical long-armed Salukis who can bother opponents with their defense. Both are good shooters who should improve with another year of experience.
SIU's inside game should also improve.
Junior Carlton Fay averaged 10.4 points. Foul trouble and poor shooting plagued him. Sophomore Anthony Booker is an athletic talent who showed signs of clicking late in the season. He went for 18 points and 11 rebounds against Indiana State and scored nine points in a tournament loss to Bradley.
If Fay and Booker can play more consistently, SIU will be tough to beat.
Jeff Sagarin's all-time computer ratings rank Bradley No. 39, by far the best of any Missouri Valley Conference program. The great Braves teams of yesteryear piled up many wins and trips to the NIT and NCAA tournaments.
The current Braves are still piling up postseason trips, but it's been a long time since Bradley ruled the MVC. Bradley hasn't finished higher than fourth since 2001 and hasn't won a regular-season title since 1996. Its most recent MVC tournament title came in 1988.
Under coach Jim Les, the Braves are usually good, but not a threat to win big. Last season, he polished up a coaching resume by guiding a team rocked by injury to a fourth-place finish (by two games). His recent teams are led by strong guard play and let down by their big men.
This season's group appears to be similar. Bradley's backcourt is deep, experienced and talented. It can match up with any team in the MVC at the guard and small forward positions.
Senior guard Dodie Dunson averaged 10.1 points and is a good outside shooter (36.8 percent from 3-point range) and defender. Senior small forward Chris Roberts is one of the Valley's best leapers. Junior point guard Sam Maniscalco, who averaged 12.6 points as a sophomore, has helped run the team since his freshman season. Sophomore guard Eddren McCain handed out 111 assists and might be the fastest player in the conference.
That's a good group, made even better by the return of junior Andrew Warren. He missed last season with a stress fracture in his foot. As a sophomore, Warren averaged 13.2 points and 3.6 rebounds.
Throw in talented big men, and that's a big winner. Unfortunately, Les can't be sure what he has in the frontcourt. The four returning inside players combined to average 13.1 points and 9.8 rebounds last season.
Senior Sam Singh is a tough, smart role player who will probably start. Sophomore Will Egolf started three games before a knee injury ended his season. Sophomore Taylor Brown played in all 36 games and showed flashes of athletic ability. He played well during a five-game trip to Brazil in August. Freshmen forwards Milos Knezevic and Jordan Prosser should get a shot at playing time.
Bradley will play fast and shoot 3s to take advantage of its wealth of talent at guard. The big men need to do their part to make this team a contender.
Transfers from schools in high-profile conferences get a lot of publicity when they enter the Missouri Valley Conference. There is often an assumption a player from a big-name school will cruise through the competition in the MVC.
Sometimes that adjustment isn't automatic. For every Champ Oguchi (Oregon to Illinois State), who contributes big, there is often a Carlton Reed (Iowa to Northern Iowa), who doesn't.
So what does Indiana State get in Iowa transfer Jake Kelly? The Sycamores can't wait to find out. He was the best player on a bad team, which may be a warning sign. Kelly's credentials, however, seem to warn the rest of the MVC he will be a force immediately.
Kelly, a 6-6 junior, averaged 11.6 points as a sophomore to lead the Hawkeyes. He was an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick and twice named player of the week. He hit Penn State for 22 points and 11 rebounds, burned Ohio State for 19 and 11 and scored 20 points at Michigan State.
The NCAA cleared him for immediate eligibility on Oct. 1, surely setting off a few celebrations at the Ballyhoo Tavern near the Hulman Center. Kelly's mother died in a plane crash in 2008. He moved to Indiana State to be close to his father, who lives in Terre Haute.
His addition gives Indiana State a backcourt that can match up with any in the Valley. Senior Harry Marshall, a former walk-on, is one of the conference's toughest competitors. Playing with Kelly will keep defenses from ganging up on him.
Senior Rashad Reed made 39.5 percent of his 3s and averaged 11.0 points. Reserves Aaron Carter and Jordan Printy progressed late in the year. Transfer Dwayne Lathan started 12 games at Louisiana Tech in 2008 and averaged 8.2 points and 3.9 rebounds. He led the Bulldogs with 18 blocked shots. Sophomore forward Carl Richard is Indiana State's leading returning rebounded (6.0).
The Sycamores lost center Jay Tunnell, their only reliable big man and the driving force behind a late-season surge in 2009.
Senior Josh Crawford is 6-11 and could be a contributor if he can stay out of foul trouble and rebound better. Junior Isiah Martin slumped after a promising freshman season.
If those two can rebound, defend and score just a little, the Sycamores could be a big mover.
By the end of the 2008-09 season, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall got his team playing the way he wants. The Shockers went 11-6 to salvage a disastrous start by establishing home-court dominance and playing with toughness.
The Shockers showed they can hang with good teams at home. They beat MVC co-champions Northern Iowa and Creighton. They beat Cleveland State before the Vikings won an NCAA tournament game.
If that stretch is a hint of things to come, the Shockers could be a title contender. If they can't take those performances on the road, they will finish in the middle of the pack.
WSU normally plays hard, rebounds and defends under Marshall. Opponents don't get much easy against the Shockers. That works well at home. On the road, the Shockers don't score enough to win. WSU went 1-8 in Valley road games and failed to break 60 points in six of those losses.
WSU didn't shoot accurately (43.8 percent) from the field or from the line (68.6 percent).
Those issues don't appear to be fatal. Plenty of Shockers possess the potential to be big scorers. Last season, inexperience slowed the process.
Forward J.T. Durley finally learned to play enough defense to allow his offensive gifts a chance to shine. He can turn into the MVC's best scoring big man with more consistency. He burned Creighton for a 17 second-half points in the MVC tournament.
Guard Clevin Hannah led WSU with an average of 11.2 points and shot 40.5 percent from 3-point range. He should be more dangerous with more help from teammates. At times, Hannah was WSU's lone threat to score.
Sophomore guard Toure Murry spent the summer working on giving his jumper more arch. He averaged 11 points, usually scoring big at home and falling flat on the road. He has all the tools to be a star in the MVC.
Mark Phelps inherited one of the MVC's most difficult jobs at a most difficult time. Drake, historically a bottom-feeder, put together a miracle run to the MVC title and NCAA tournament under coach Keno Davis in 2008.
Phelps took over for the 2009 season, and things didn't go nearly as smoothly. The Bulldogs finished the season with a 4-12 slump and dropped from first to a tie for eighth place.
This season doesn't look any easier. At least Phelps is in his second season and is a little closer to constructing a roster with his players and his philosophy. Last season's Bulldogs, at times, didn't appear to put whole-hearted enthusiasm into the new coach's plans. Even with all the transition, Phelps did coach the Bulldogs to an overall winning record. They defeated New Mexico, Iowa State and Iowa. They also won at MVC co-champions Creighton and Northern Iowa.
Drake's season started to slip when opponents put all their efforts into stopping Josh Young. He endured a barrage of defenders who bullied the slightly built guard. He shot 38.1 percent from the field and 32.1 percent from 3-point range.
Young enters the season third on Drake's career list for 3-pointers (202) and tied for seventh in scoring (1,328). Should he match last season's total of 509 points, he would easily pass Red Murrell (1,657) for first.
For Drake to move up in the standings, Young needs some help. Center Jonathan Cox, the team's only scoring threat in the paint, is gone. Guard Josh Parker, who averaged 10.2 points, transferred to Dayton.
With Young, point guard Craig Stanley and transfer Ryan Wedel, the Bulldogs should be adequate at guard. Wedel averaged 15.1 points as a sophomore at Arkansas State and needs to pull his weight quickly.
In a conference low on quality big men, the Bulldogs may suit up the weakest group. Cox and Brent Heemskerk did all of the inside work last season and both are gone. Drake has five players 6-8 or taller, and all are freshmen. Sean Jones, a 7-footer, redshirted last season.
For Drake to win, it must be able to spread the floor and pound away at defenses with outside shooters. Young, Wedel, Adam Templeton and freshman Ben Simons should fit those roles.
Missouri State fans should forget last season. Give coach Cuonzo Martin a mulligan. He took over in a difficult situation and did what he could with limited talent. Injuries to some of his better players didn't help.
This season, however, should be the start of what Martin wants Missouri State to become. Most of the roster is filled with his recruits, or leftovers talented enough to stick around. The Bears should take a step forward playing the hard-nosed defense Martin prefers.
This season, MSU should add in enough offense to improve on last season's miserable averages of 60.9 points and 40.1 percent shooting. Oh, and the Bears also brought up the rear in free-throw accuracy (67.9 percent) in the MVC.
Martin will count on newcomers to help change that.
Guard Adam Leonard, a transfer from Eastern Kentucky, averaged 11.9 points and made 38.5 percent of his 3s. Center Caleb Patterson played little at Colorado, but he is 6-11 and that means something in a conference starved for height. Guard Nafis Ricks was the NJCAA Division II Player of the Year at Johnson County Community College. Forward Jermaine Mallett averaged 22.7 points and 9.5 rebounds at Marion Military Institute, a junior college in Alabama.
Those additions should help. Last season, the Bears weren't athletic enough at guard to defend. Their inside game didn't amount to much.
MSU's top returner is sophomore Kyle Weems. He started 19 games and earned MVC All-Freshman honors. Weems averaged 10.2 points and 4.9 rebounds.
Departures devastated Evansville. Yet it's obvious the school is taking the patient route to rebuilding its program. Coach Marty Simmons will need plenty of patience.
Evansville lost four starters and doesn't return a player who averaged in double figures. That might tempt many programs into scouring junior colleges for immediate help.
Not Evansville. The Aces brought in six freshmen and one junior college transfer. Nine of the 14 Aces are in their first or second season at the school.
So count on a step back for Evansville, which went 17-14 last season and impressed with their desire to play hard and defend. Shy Ely, the MVC's leading scorer, gave the Aces enough offense to make it work. Now Ely, Jason Holsinger and Nate Garner are gone. Then freshman point guard Kaylon Williams, Evansville's top defender, left the program for a junior college.
Those losses are too much for Simmons to replace in one season. Junior center Pieter van Tongeren, who averaged 4.8 points and 3.2 rebounds, is the lone returning starter. Forward James Haarsma, who averaged 5.8 points as a reserve, is the top returning scorer.
Big things are expected from sophomore forward Bryan Bouchie, a transfer from Valparaiso. He averaged 7.0 points and 3.3 rebounds as a freshman.
Van Tongeren, Haarsma and Bouchie should be competitive physically with MVC frontlines. The backcourt, in a rarity for a Valley school, is a problem. Junior Kavon Lacey, who started four games, is the top returner. He averaged 4.2 points and his 60 assist ranked third on the team. Senior Trevor Gregory played in seven games in 2009. Sophomore Denver Holmes averaged 2.2 points in 26 games.
Transfer Monie Hudson must step in right away and help in the backcourt. He averaged 12.3 points and 4.6 assists as a sophomore at Southeastern Illinois College.
In a season in which most MVC teams figure to take a step forward, Evansville is moving in the wrong direction.