MISSOURI VALLEY NOTES AND RAMBLINGS
-A lot of the teams in the league lost several good players and are in rebuilding mode. This is probably still a multi-bid league, but it may not have quite as much success as it has had in recent years.
-The MVC has sent at least two teams to the NCAA Tournament each of the past nine years, and three teams to the Sweet Sixteen in the past two years.
-Southern Illinois has finished first in the conference standings five of the last six years, but didnt win the conference tournament in any of those years. The one that they did win in 2006 was when they didnt finish first in the standings. Go figure. That brings up the next point
-The first place team has only won the conference tournament once since 1998, and that was Creighton in 2002. They tied Southern Illinois for first place that year, but lost the tiebreaker and were the #2 seed in the conference tourney. The fact that the top seed has not won the conference tourney since 1998 strikes me as being rather strange. It did help them get an additional team to the NCAAs in a few of those seasons.
MISSOURI VALLEY TEAMS
-SOUTHERN ILLINOIS earned a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament last year and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen where they nearly upset Kansas. They lost guards Jamal Tatum and Tony Young, and that leaves them without much experience out on the perimeter, but in the post they are very strong. Forwards Randal Falkner and Matt Shaw both averaged in double figures and grabbed quite a few rebounds. Defense has always been the focus of the Salukis. They were one of the best defensive teams in the nation last year, and should be very tough to play against this year. Theyre also playing a rather tough out of conference schedule, so theyll have plenty of opportunities to build up a strong NCAA Tournament resume.
-Last year looked like a rebuilding year for BRADLEY because they had so many new players, but they managed to have a strong season and nearly made the NCAA Tournament. Three starters are back, but they still have quite a few new faces on the roster again this year. Daniel Ruffin and Jeremy Crouch bring quite a bit of experience to the backcourt. Both averaged just under 14ppg last season, and Ruffin did a good job distributing the basketball. Some of the newcomers will be expected to step up in the front court, and if that can happen they could get back to the dance this year.
-CREIGHTON only has one starter coming back, so it looks like a rebuilding year for a program that has become a regular participant in the NCAA Tournament. Its an opportunity for several young players to step up, but it isnt likely that theyll be an NCAA Tournament caliber team this year. Redshirt freshman center Kenny Lawson will be expected to contribute right away, and Louisville transfer Chad Miller helps make up a rather stable frontcourt. Josh Dotzler will be playing a much bigger role in the guard position, but replacing a player who was as talented as Nate Funk will be a challenge.
-ILLINOIS STATE has four starters coming back along with their entire bench. They also have a new coach in Jim Jankovich, and the change was probably one that they needed. The Redbirds appear to have done a good job in terms of recruiting, but for whatever reason it wasnt resulting in the types of wins one would expect. Jankovich intends to push the pace of the game, and play lots of full court defense. If guards Oscar Eldridge and Boo Richardson, both of whom averaged just under 10ppg last year, can adapt to the fast pace then we should see quite a bit of improvement. Center Levi Dyer also gives them a nice presence underneath.
-MISSOURI STATE has been on the bubble for the past two seasons, but just barely missed the NCAA Tournament both times. Two years ago they were left out despite posting a winning record in conference play and an RPI of 21, and last year they managed 22 wins, which included a big win against Wisconsin, but werent invited either time. It will be difficult for them to get back into the mix this year because three of their better players are gone. Forward Deven Mitchell and center Drew Richards make up a strong frontcourt, and guard Dale Lamberth is a good outside shooter, so they do have some weapons. The question is whether they have enough of them to finally break through and make the NCAA Tournament.
-NORTHERN IOWA got off to an incredible 13-2 start last year, but ended up winning just five games after that. It was another case that left people scratching their heads and wondering what went wrong. Three starters are back, but they add eight new players to the roster, so there are quite a few question marks surrounding the team. Their backcourt is experienced and appears to be fairly talented, so that should be a plus, but some of the new guys will need to step it up if they want to finish near the top.
-WICHITA STATE got off to a 9-0 start last year and was the talk of the college basketball world. They were ranked as high as #8 at one point, but it fell apart just as quickly as it came together. They ended up going 8-14 after that, and missed the postseason entirely. This year they have a new coach in Greg Marshall, who did a fantastic job at Winthrop. They also have quite a few new players. What they dont have is a lot of size, and that will be a problem for the Shockers. It shouldnt take Marshall too long to get the program back on track, but it isnt likely that theyll make the NCAAs this year.
-DRAKE was 17-15 last season, which was their first winning season in 20 years. Unfortunately most of the better players from that team are gone, and its sort of back to the drawing board. Josh Young was one of the better freshmen in the conference last year, and he will give them a boost out on the perimeter, but other than that there isnt a whole lot of experience.
-EVANSVILLE has a new head coach in Marty Simmons, and he has his work cut out for him. The team was just 6-12 in league play last year, and hasnt finished with a winning record since the 1999-2000 season. Guard Jason Holsinger is really the only proven player thats currently on the roster, and the lack of experience will be an issue.
-INDIANA STATE also has a new head coach. Although they finished last in the conference a year ago, they did show a few signs of promise, including a win against Butler. After a decent start to the year, they completely fell apart down the stretch and went 2-14 in their last 16 games. Four starters return, including most of the bench, and given the success that they had early in the year last year one can only assume that the potential is there. Whether or not theyll play up to it remains to be seen.
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