The Missouri Valley Conference has been one of the best mid-major conferences for a few years running. Led by the Salukis of Southern Illinois, the MVC has boasted good seasons from nearly of all its teams in the last few years (not you, Indiana State and Evansville). That shouldn’t change this year, as the Valley continues its tradition of harvesting the best talent the Midwest has to offer.
There is no shortage of talent in the MVC. No, not many players in the Missouri Valley are household names, if any. Yes, it’s hard to name every team in the conference without dashing for your computer. But think about how this conference has performed on the big stage in recent years. Bradley knocked off Kansas and Pittsburgh in the 2006 Tournament. Wichita State did likewise. In 2007, Southern Illinois put together a great season. Drake came from obscurity last year to win the conference. Look for more of the some from the MVC this year.
1. Creighton-The Bluejays are the toughest team in the conference this year, and much of that is due to guard P’Allen Stinnet. As a freshman last year he led the team in scoring last year, and was a backup for half the season. Josh Doltzer will be one of the keys to the Jay’s success. If he can manage the game and continue to score, rebound and assist, watch out. Creighton will go small this year, as they lose top big man Dane Watts. Kenny Lawson Jr. will likely be the only forward, and at 6’9”, he will be the primary source of rebounds for Creighton.
Best Case Scenario: Creighton makes like Drake and blazes through conference, but instead of getting upset in the Dance they win their first round matchup, and possibly advance to the Sweet 16.
Worst Case Scenario: Creighton is unable to establish a post presence and finish 4th in the MVC.
2. Illinois State-Once again the Redbirds wind up in second. Junior Guard Osiris Eldridge will be the team leader and may wind up as MVC Player of the Year. However he is the lone starter returning from the backcourt. However, ISU has a legion of guys to fill the shoes vacated by Dom Johnson and Boo Richardson. Look for Champ Oguchi and Lloyd Phillips, two great shooters, to step into starting roles. F Dinma Odiakosa played well last year, but he needs to increase his production because workhorse Anthony Slack is gone.
Best Case Scenario: The Redbirds are able to overtake Creighton to win the conference by the slimmest of margins. They even win a game in the NCAA Tournament.
Worst Case Scenario: The frontcourt just isn’t there. Odiakosa and Bobby Hill can’t match Slack’s production, and the Redbirds miss the NIT.
3. Southern Illinois-This is a team that was very hard to place. The Salukis have an influx of young talent. Four incoming freshman will see a lot of court time. Ryan Hare, Torres Roundtree, Kevin Dillard and Anthony Booker may all get a piece of the starting lineup before seasons end. SIU returns Bryan Mullins, an early favorite for All-Conference honors. Mullins, Tony Boyle and Wesley Clemmons will provide the leadership for the Salukis.
Best Case Scenario: The young Salukis are able to breeze through the MVC. The freshmen and sophomores step up big time and Mullins leads this team to a Sweet 16 appearance.
Worst Case Scenario: Southern Illinois does not mesh well. On court chemistry is not up to par as the Salukis limp to a .500 season.
4. Bradley-The Braves, like just about every other team in the conference, are led by a strong backcourt. Even with their two top scorers gone, both guards, look for Bradley to lean towards a perimeter-oriented game. Andrew Warren and Theron Wilson lead the way for this team. Wilson is a very good rebounder, and the Braves will need him to continue to help on the glass. The key for this team is for Anthony Thompson, a redshirt freshman, to live up to his expectations and be the force in the paint that Bradley needs to succeed.
Best Case Scenario: Bradley is right up there in the logjam for first place and head to the NCAA Tournament.
Worst Case Scenario: Bradley tumbles to 6th in the conference standings and stay out of the postseason.
5. Drake- Last season’s conference champs will suffer major losses. However, Jonathan Cox and Josh Young do come back, and with them hope for the Bulldogs upcoming season. Josh Parker or Craig Stanley will have some monster shoes to fill. Adam Emmenecker was a major part of Drake’s MVC triumph last year, and replacing him will be a nightmare. Coach Keno Davis bolted for Providence, so that leaves former NC State assistant Mark Phelps at the helm.
Best Case Scenario: Cox and Young perform, Juco transfer Adam Templeton steps up and either Stanley or Parker play sufficient enough at point guard for Drake to go Dancing.
Worst Case Scenario: Replacing Emmenecker, Leonard Houston and Klayton Korver proves to be too difficult. Drake stumbles and finds themselves at home in March.
6. Evansville-Shy Ely returns to Evansville, and that is a huge reason why the Aces are so high. Look for him to make a strong bid for Valley Player of the Year. Jason Holsinger is one of the best point guards in the conference as well. Evansville returns nearly everyone from last year, and this should be a team that does not go down without a fight.
Best Case Scenario: The Aces are guided by Ely to a good finish in the Valley, and are able to bust into that top 5. Evansville makes a trip to the NIT and puts up an impressive showing.
Worst Case Scenario: A slow start leads to a season similar to last year. A long year for the Aces ends in a last place conference finish.
<o:p> </o:p>7. Northern Iowa-The Valley’s leading rebounder last year, Eric Coleman, is gone. Luckily, the Panthers have a host of guys capable of replacing the 6’6” center. Jordan Eglserder, Adam Koch and freshman Austin Pehl should all be able to have their way in the paint in the guard-orientated MVC.
Best Case Scenario: UNI dominates the post and vaults Evansville and possibly Drake. They find themselves in the NIT.
Worst Case Scenario: The Panthers don’t have the backcourt speed to hang with schools like Drake or Creighton. They finish at the bottom of the MVC.
8. Wichita State-PJ Couisnard is gone, as is Matt Braeuer. These two Shockers were the team leaders last year, and they will be very hard to replace. Look for rebound machine Ramon Clemente to step it up, and perhaps average a double double. JT Durley and Mantas Griskenas bring skill and experience to the frontcourt. The backcourt is limited however. This puts Wichita State in the same boat as UNI, as they both lean towards their frontcourts in a backcourt league.
Best Case Scenario: Clemente proves to be the Richard Hendrix of the Valley, and he wins Player of the Year while leading the Shockers to an NIT appearance.
Worst Case Scenario: The backcourt strength just isn’t enough, and opposing teams are able to execute small ball perfectly against the weaker unit.
9. Missouri State-Contrary to the two teams above them, the Bears are definitely a backcourt team. Chris Cooks leads the way, and the wingman may find himself in the post to make up for Missouri State’s extreme height deficiency. Wade Knapp will find himself thrust into starting situations, as he is the only returner who had any impact last year over 6’4”.
Best Case Scenario: The Bears prove me wrong and show that they can win without a big man. Chris Cooks steps up and plays big when Missouri State needs him. A CBI appearance is their reward.
Worst Case Scenario: The backcourt just can’t do it all. Knapp shows he is incapable of stepping into a starting role, and the Bears suffer because of it.
10. Indiana State-Harry Marshall returns for the Sycamores, and he will be the leader of a backcourt unit. He’s joined by sophomore Aaron Carter, who was decent in limited action last year. Jay Tunnell is back and he will be the primary post presence for Indiana State. On paper, this looks like a well-rounded team, but the talent level just isn’t up to par with that of the other teams in the conference. Keep in mind, Marshall is suspended for the first semester.
Best Case Scenario: The Sycamores are able to find a replacement for do-it-all point guard Gabriel Moore, and make a surprise appearance in the CBI. The team gels unlike it did all last year.
Worst Case Scenario: Indiana State doesn’t reach its potential. Team chemistry sinks to an all time low, and the Sycamores can only scrap out 2 conference wins.