Five offseason questions: Missouri Valley Conference

Ben Jacobsen will be relying on Wes Washpun to help UNI endure the challenges ahead.
Ben Jacobsen will be relying on Wes Washpun to help UNI endure the challenges ahead. (USATSI)

The Missouri Valley is among the top mid-major leagues, and with Wichita State leading the way that won't change in 2015-16. Let's answer five questions about the MVC.

1. How good is Wichita State? Good enough to spend all season in the top 10 and earn a high NCAA Tournament seed, boosted by arguably the nation's best backcourt in Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker -- with Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp eligible in December. They return gritty veteran Evan Wessel and add an impact piece up front in Cleveland State transfer Anton Grady (14.3 points, 7.9 rebounds in 2014-15). Sophomore forward Rashard Kelly figures to take a step forward while Zach Brown, Rauno Nurger and Shaquille Morris are role players who know the system. Keep an eye on Markis McDuffie, a skilled 6-foot-8 freshman who spurned several BCS programs to play for Gregg Marshall.

Ranking the MVC
No. School
1. Wichita State
2. Illinois State
3. Evansville
4. Northern Iowa
5. Indiana State
6. Loyola (Ill.)
7. Drake
8. Missouri State
9. Southern Illinois
10. Bradley

2. Can Illinois State get over the hump? It depends on 5-11 point man Paris Lee, who gets the keys to the car with the departures of Daishon Knight and Bobby Hunter. Lee must make good decisions at a faster pace as the primary ball-handler. When Reggie Lynch transferred to Minnesota, it forced coach Dan Muller to play quicker. Illinois State wants to create more opportunities for DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, MiKyle McIntosh, Deontae "Teddy" Hawkins and New Mexico transfer Nick Banyard, who should replace Lynch in the starting lineup. Muller led his alma mater to 22 wins and an NIT berth last season, but fans want to hear the Redbirds' name called on Selection Sunday.

3. Who emerges for Northern Iowa? Ben Jacobson probably asks himself that same question every day. The Panthers won 31 games last season before losing to Louisville in the Round of 32 and move forward minus three of their top four scorers: Seth Tuttle, Nate Buss and Deon Mitchell. Jacobson believes returnees Wes Washpun, Paul Jesperson, Matt Bohannon and Jeremy Morgan can score in double-figures, and UNI will need it against an arduous nonconference slate (home vs. North Carolina, Stephen F. Austin and Colorado State; road games at New Mexico, Richmond and George Mason; a neutral-site game vs. Iowa State; and three games in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii).

4. How will Evansville face expectations? The Aces have two of the MVC's five best players: D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius. But can they handle being the hunted? Marty Simmons returns everyone of significance from last season's squad that won 24 games, but did most its work in the shadow of Wichita State and Northern Iowa. Balentine and Mockevicius will get help from Jaylon Brown and former Villanova guard Mislav Brzoja, but the hidden gem is 6-7 forward Willie Wiley. Wiley redshirted last season, but was a junior college All-American at Vincennes (Ind.) two years ago and should have an immediate impact.

5. Who is the sleeper? Indiana State. Elite guard play at the mid-major level makes a major difference. The Sycamores' Devonte Brown and Brenton Scott are awfully tough, with the 6-1 Scott averaging 11.4 points as a freshman while shooting 44.4 percent from 3-point range. Khristian Smith is another hard-playing veteran, and coach Greg Lansing also is high on 6-6 forward Matt Van Scyoc. A transfer from The Citadel, Van Scyoc put up numbers two seasons ago (14.3 points, 5.3 rebounds in 2013-14) and provides another option. Lansing has won at Notre Dame and Vanderbilt in the past few seasons, but hasn't reached the NCAA Tournament since 2011. This team has the depth and perimeter play to have shot this season.

This and That

Preseason first-team All-MVC

  • Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
  • Ron Baker, Wichita State
  • D.J. Balentine, Evansville
  • Devaughn Akoon-Purcell, Illinois State
  • Egidijus Mockevicius, Evansville

Preseason Player of the Year: VanVleet

Five impact transfers

  1. Nick Banyard, Illinois State
  2. Conner Frankamp, Wichita State
  3. Anton Grady, Wichita State
  4. Matt Van Slyoc, Indiana State
  5. Graham Woodward, Drake

Five breakout players

  1. Paris Lee, Illinois State
  2. Rashard Kelly, Wichita State
  3. Wes Washpun, Northern Iowa
  4. Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa
  5. Montel James, Loyola (Chicago)
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