Missouri Valley Conference Preview

Missouri Valley Conference Preview
Nov 07, 2006, 03:16 am

This league sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament a year ago and many believe they should have had a fifth. I can see them getting four teams back again this season. The top of this league is fantastic and should prove to the naysayers that last season was no fluke. Last year’s NCAA Tournament should have been enough of an indicator, but in case it wasn’t this season should really drive it home. Check out out the predicted order of finish and read a little about each of the teams.

-1. CREIGHTON. The Bluejays suffered a big blow early in the season when Nate Funk went down to an injury. They recovered though and were actually tied for first place in the conference late in the season when they lost another guard, Josh Dotzler, to an injury as well. From there, they lost four of their last six and played their way from being a solid NCAA Tournament team to out of the picture. This year, both of those guys are back, as is center Anthony Tolliver and forward Dane Watts, who make up an impressive frontcourt. This team is scary good and should spend the majority of the season ranked in the top 25. Not only are they likely to make the NCAA Tournament, they could really turn some heads doing it and cause some serious damage once they’re there.

-2. SOUTHERN ILLINOIS. The Salukis got off to a sluggish start last season, but turned it on during conference play and finished the season by winning the MVC Tournament. All five starters are back, including pro prospect Jamaal Tatum who averaged 15ppg at the guard position. Tony Young joins him out on the perimeter. If there is a weakness on this team, it’s that they don’t have a post player taller than 6’7” and that could be a problem come March, but they managed 22 wins a season ago, so as a group they really get it done. This team is extremely talented and as good as they’ve been in the past, they appear to be even better this year.

-3. WICHITA STATE. The Shockers won the regular season title and earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament as a #7 seed. They made the most of it by advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. They are once again absolutely loaded and should be able to get back to the NCAA Tournament as well as spend some time in the top 25. Four starters are back. They are a very well balanced team that plays together very well. They are also a good defensive and rebounding team. They did lose their center, but forward PJ Couisnard was also a big presence in the post. Kyle Wilson is another talented forward. Guards Matt Braeuer and Sean Ogirri make up a very strong and experienced backcourt. They have some big names on their OOC schedule, but this league is so strong that they’ll have more than enough chances to get the wins they need to impress the committee.

-4. MISSOURI STATE. The Bears finished with an RPI of 21 and were second in the league last year, but were snubbed by the NCAA selection committee to the surprise of nearly everyone. They once again have a very strong team. Seven of the nine top players are back and they are once again a very legitimate NCAA Tournament contender. Guard Blake Ahearn is a tremendous shooter. He is joined in the backcourt by Tyler Chaney, who was also a starter a season ago. Nathan Bilyeau and Sky Frazier provide a lot of size in the front court. All and all this is a very big, well balanced team.

-5. NORTHERN IOWA. The Panthers were extremely impressive in their OOC play last year and got off to a roaring start in conference play as well. For some reason they really struggled down the stretch and wound up finishing just 11-7 in league play, but it was more than enough to get them an NCAA Tournament bid due to their early success. The bad news is that Greg Dermott, the coach who built this program, left for Iowa State. Ben Jacobson, a former assistant, takes over. Three starters are back from last year. Grant Stout and Eric Coleman make up what is a very strong front court. Brooks McKowen is back at guard. He can score, play defense and distribute the ball extremely well. Still, there are six new players on the team this year, and there may be an adjustment period for the Panthers.

-6. EVANSVILLE. The Purple Aces struggled through most of conference play, but showed some life down the stretch by winning two of their final three conference games, including a win over Southern Illinois, and then winning a conference tournament game. With all five starters coming back, there is reason for them to hope this year. Matt Webster is a solid post player who averaged 14.2ppg and rebounded well last year. Guard Jason Holsinger is a terrific outside shooter. He is joined in the backcourt by Kyle Anslinger. Both of those guys averaged double figures last year and will be big contributors to the team this year.

-7. INDIANA STATE. The Sycamores entered conference play with a perfect record a season ago, but then injuries really hurt them and they wound up losing eleven in a row at one point. Replacing one of their best all around players in guard David Moss won’t be easy, but three starters return to the lineup and that will give them some experience. Guard Gabriel Moore averaged in double figures and distributed the ball well last season. They just don’t appear to be as solid as the teams at the top of the league though and it will be difficult for them to finish in the top half and play their way into NCAA Tournament contention.

-8. DRAKE. The Bulldogs lost eleven of their last twelve, but many of those games were close and could have gone either way. Four starters return to the lineup, and hopefully that experience will translate into them being able to pull out some of the close ones. Al Stewart is an impressive guard who can pass and score very well. Chris Bryant, who is a good outside shooter, will join him in the front courtAjay Calvin is a big contributor in the front court who averaged double figures last season and rebounded well. Klayton Korver is another forward who can score and rebound.

-9. ILLINOIS STATE. The Redbirds lost four starters from last year’s team, but last year’s team tied for last in the standings, so that probably isn’t a bad thing. Forward Greg Dilliard returns and he is a good all around player who can score and rebound. He is also joined by two JUCO All American transfer guards in Keith Richardson and Dominitrix Johnson. Some talented freshmen join the squad as well and that should give the Redbirds a boost.

-10. BRADLEY. The Braves had one of their best seasons in school history a year ago. They started off rather sluggish, but were on fire down the stretch. They won their final five regular season games to improve to 11-7 in league play, then advanced to the championship game where they fell to Southern Illinois. It was still enough to get them a bid to the NCAA Tournament, where they advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. The bad news is that four of their leading scorers are gone, including Patrick O’Bryant who was the difference maker on last year’s team. Guards Daniel Ruffin and J.J. Tauai return to give them a little experience, but this will definitely be a rebuilding year for the Braves.

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