|Joe Ragland (left) is on our All-MVC team but may not be the Most Valuable Shocker. (Getty Images)|
If you're like me, you love a good primer. If you add the word into a title description of almost anything, I'm six times more likely to read it. "How to Make a Souffle: A Primer." I'm there. It's because primer is code for "easy way to learn more stuff." No one wants to read the entire encyclopedic entry on a subject; we want the Wikipedia version.
I'm delivering the primer for the Missouri Valley Conference, which is making a return to non-Big Six relevance this season. It's been a few years since the Valley was this good, even though the bottom part of this one (like most leagues) has a few bad teams. The race to win the league should be among four teams. For whatever reason, MVC clubs capture the hope of many in the tournament. Creighton, Northern Iowa, Bradley, Southern Illinois are all schools that have had big March moments.
Two of the aforementioned can and should get into the Big Dance this year. Allow me to prime you.
Maximum Teams Capable of Making the NCAAs (and we're serious about this): Four. Wichita State, Creighton, Northern Iowa and Indiana State.
The League's Most Memorable Moment So Far: To be clear, the league is awaiting its signature moment. The Valley's been great early on but has not yet had a huge day. I'm going with Creighton's 85-83 win over SDSU at San Diego. The Aztecs are legit, and that legitimized Creighton for me.
The Storyline You were Too Busy to Notice: I'm going with Wichita State as a whole, which could be among the 10 best non-BCS teams in the country right now, yet nobody knows it. The Shockers have been a mainstay in the Non-BCS Power Pyramid all season but until they make some noise in the conference they’ll be overlooked. That's perfect for people like you and me, who know this team can win a game come March.
Coach Feeling the Heat: Chris Lowery at Southern Illinois is in the midst of college basketball's biggest swing in terms of having a hot name then being in danger of not getting another D-I job for a while. The Salukis are 3-7 and Lowery will not reach the NCAA tournament for a fifth straight season.
Still Unproven: Missouri State, which has had its chances but will need to finish in the top two in order to enter at-large talk.
Player of the Year and All-League Team: Doug McDermott, Creighton (POY); Jake Koch, Northern Iowa; Kyle Weems, Missouri State; Joe Ragland, Wichita State; Greg Echenique, Creighton.
What I Loved: The Valley's a factor again. When the MVC's rolling and has multiple teams threatening for bids, college hoops feels better. It's a guarantee this conference will get at least two bids, but if things break right, four reps from in the tournament is possible.
What I Hated: Missouri State dropping the ball by losing every game vs. top-100 teams. The Bears folded worse than my Chicago Bears when it came to games of consequence. If this continues, I'm dubbing them the Missouri State Hanies.
New Year's Resolution: Get people to definitively learn it's the Creighton Bluejays, not Blue Jays.
MVP: McDermott. If his name were Jimmer McDermott we'd be going nutty by now.
Step Your Game Up: Jaheens Manigat is a starter. The kid averages 26 minutes. But he's involved in less than 12 percent of the Bluejays' plays.
|2. Northern Iowa|
New Year's Resolution: Try to get people to name one Panthers player who isn't Ali Farokhmanesh, who has been off the team since 2010.
MVP: Jake Koch, the versatile 6-9 guy who has a true shooting percentage of 69.3, among the best in the nation.
Step Your Game Up: Bench player Austin Pehl is involved as much as anyone on this team when he's on the floor, but he's not scoring a point per possession.
|3. Wichita State|
New Year's Resolution: Determine who came up with their hairstyle first: Gregg Marshall or Jamie Dixon.
MVP: I'd love to say Ragland, since he's on the MVC First Team, but am going with Toure' Murry.
Step Your Game Up: Carl Hall. At 6-8, Hall needs to be a bit more aggressive on the defensive boards.
|4. Indiana State|
New Year's Resolution: Get through one televised national game without a reference to Larry Bird.
MVP: Jake Odum. An awesome distributor, Odum's assist rate at the time of this column was 45.4, sixth-best in the nation.
Step Your Game Up: Steve McWhorter. As a starter, McWhorter needs to shoot better than 45.2 percent from the field.
|5. Missouri State|
New Year's Resolution: Win at least eight games against top-100 teams, which is possible this year in this conference.
MVP: Kyle Weems. I whiffed on Weems as my preseason pick for Player of the Year, but he's still the best guy on this team.
Step Your Game Up: Reserves. Here's an aberration: all five starters are the biggest possession users on the team. Sounds obvious, but most teams have a bench guy who soaks up possessions when they enter the game. So the bench guys are slacking.
|6. Illinois State|
What's Gone Quite Right: Taking advantage of a weak schedule.
New Year's Resolution: Prove it in conference play.
MVP: Jackie Carmichael. A beast on the boards, Carmichael is snaring 30.1 percent of defensive rebounding opportunities, top five in the country.
Step Your Game Up: Anthony Cousin. Plays a lot of minutes but isn't that involved, especially for a starter. That needs to change.
New Year's Resolution: Win four games in a row, which Drake hasn't done since Jan. 23, 2010.
MVP: Rayvonte Rice. The 6-4 wing is in the top 10 percent of 10 tempo-free categories.
Step Your Game Up: Karl Madison. Scoring .86 points per possession and not shooting well at all. He's 5-10, so the ball's got to get through the hoop at a better rate.
What's Gone Quite Right: Now we get into the below-.500 teams, and so finding the quite right things gets quite tough. Let's go with Geno Ford coaching his first season at a new school. Ford left Kent State last year. I can only assume he's happy, despite the rough start.
New Year's Resolution: Learn to score. Only one guy on this team scores more than a point per possession.
MVP: Walt Lemon.
Step Your Game Up: Shayok Shayok. The freshman has time, but we're going to need to see improvement soon.
New Year's Resolution: Rebound. Evansville uses a lot of guys, but none is taller than 6-8, and so this team is terrible around the tin.
MVP: Colt Ryan. The junior guard leads the conference in minutes played.
Step Your Game Up: Troy Taylor.
|10. Southern Illinois|
New Year's Resolution(s): The team should aim to win six conference games, which would be overachieving ... and may be enough to save Lowery's job. May.
MVP: Mamadou Seck. Without him, SIU might not have one win, let alone three.
Step Your Game Up: Everybody not named Mamadou Seck. Go do what Mamadou do.