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Missouri Valley Conference Preview

November 12, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments



Missouri Valley Conference Preview

by Michael Ermitage


The Missouri Valley Conference is in a state of flux. Gone is the MVC’s premiere player Kyle Korver, a second-round draft pick (51st overall) of the New Jersey Nets, and gone is perhaps the conference’s best coach, Bruce Weber, off to the Big Ten. Since Korver’s Creighton and Weber’s Southern Illinois were the top two teams in the conference last season, the title is up for grabs this year. Despite Creighton’s loss, they certainly look to be in the mix. Wichita State brings back a veteran club that should compete for the crown. And Bradley’s playmaking guards make the Braves a contender. Three new coaches pepper the Missouri Valley, most notable of which is Dr. Tom Davis at Drake. The long-time Iowa coach hopes to resurrect the Bulldog’s basketball program.

1. Creighton Bluejays (29-5, 15-3, 2nd)

The Bluejays not only lost Korver, a second team All American, they also lost Larry House and DeAnthony Bowden. Without those three, it’ll be extremely difficult for coach Dana Altman to duplicate his 29-win season from a year ago. Altman, however, does have 10 letterman and three starters returning. Brody Deren, Tyler McKinney and Michael Lindeman are all two-year starters and will be needed to lend leadership to the rest of the group. Newcomers Johnny Mathies, a junior college transfer, and Anthony Tolliver, an incoming freshman, are expected to have an immediate impact. Sophomore Nate Funk, a three-point specialist, is also expected to play more minutes and provide more offense this season. The baby-faced Funk connected on 46.4 percent of his three-point shots in conference action.

2. Wichita State Shockers (18-12, 12-6, 3rd)

The Shockers are set to open the season in newly renovated Koch Arena on Sept. 29. The arena underwent $25 million in renovations during the offseason. It seems that no one wanted to help coach Mark Turgeon and the Shockers open the arena, as it took Turgeon quite some time to land an opponent. But after contacting about 250 Division I teams about the game, the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks finally agreed. Surely many coaches did not want to face an opponent energized by a raucous crowd enjoying a new arena. And surely many other coaches simply didn’t want to face the loaded Shockers. Wichita State returns four starters from its NIT team from last year. Juniors Randy Burns and Jamar Howard, along with senior Aaron Hogg, look to form a very dangerous trifecta on the outside. They combined for more than 40 points and 15 rebounds a game last year. Inside, Turgeon will look for a breakout year from Paul Miller, a 6-10 sophomore center that improved throughout last season.

3. Bradley Braves (12-18, 8-10, 5th)

Everything starts in the backcourt for the Braves. Phillip Gilbert, the league’s active scoring leader, and James Gillingham, a two-time member of the conference’s all-defensive team, form one of the league’s best duos. Bradley also returns starters Michael Stewart, Marcello Robinson and Mike Suggs. Coach Jim Les also adds transfer Marcellus Sommerville, who averaged more than 25 points a game at Southwestern Illinois. Rounding out the rotation will be Jason Faulknor and Jabbar Battle, along with 7-footer Brandyn Heemskerk, who is coming off a redshirt season.

4. Southwest Missouri State Bears (17-12, 12-6, 4th)

The Bears run to 12-6 in the conference surprised everyone last season. With four starters returning, the team is expecting a similar run in 2003-04. SMS relied heavily on its defense last season, which helped it run roughshod over lesser competition and kept it competitive against the elite teams. This season, however, the Bears would like its offense to catch up with its defense – a difficult task considering the Bears lost leading scorer Terrance McGee to graduation. Coach Barry Hinson does return Merrill Andrews, center Monwell Randle and forwards Kellen Easley and Tamarr Maclin. SMS also will bring in a highly regarded recruiting class featuring junior college transfer Anthony Shavies.

5. Southern Illinois Salukis (24-7, 16-2, 1st)

When the coaching dominoes first began to fall with Matt Doherty leaving UNC, few thought that they’d find their way to Carbondale, Illinois. But when all was said and done, the Salukis had lost Bruce Weber to the University of Illinois. Also gone are starters Kent Williams and Jermaine Dearman. That leaves new coach Matt Painter with the challenging task of repeating as conference champs. He’ll get help from returning guards Darren Brooks and Stetson Hairston. Brooks had a fabulous 2002-03 season, leading the team in assists, blocks and steals. Also returning is starting center Sylvester Willis.

6. Northern Iowa Panthers (11-17, 7-11, 7th)

It has been seven years since the Panthers finished with an overall winning record, but this season may break that string. Coach Greg McDermott returns all five of his starters from an 11-17 and hopes to make the jump to plus-.500 ball. Center David Gruber and forward Matt Schneider highlight the returnees. Gruber averaged 13.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season. Despite the five returning starters, UNI will have to find reliable depth from a group of 11 players, of which only three are not new to the program.

7. Illinois State Redbirds (8-21, 5-13, 9th)

The Redbirds welcome a new coach to town in Porter Moser, a 1990 Creighton graduate. Moser spent the past three seasons excelling at Arkansas-Little Rock (545-34 record). He gets four returning starters to work with in guards Vince Greene and Trey Guidry and forwards Gregg Alexander and Marcus Arnold. Illinois State was perimeter oriented last season and will need to establish an inside presence to move to the upper division in the conference.

8. Evansville Purple Aces (12-16, 8-10, 6th)

Despite the Purple Aces progress in coach Steve Merfeld’s first season, the team will be hard pressed to move any higher in the division in his sophomore campaign. Evansville returns three starters, but only one that averaged more than six points per game last season. Clint Cuffle, who dropped 16.5 points per game an averaged better than 44 percent from three-point range, will have to carry the majority of the load in 2003-04.

9. Drake Bulldogs (10-20, 5-13, 8th)

A venerable new face is in town to take the reigns of the Bulldog program in Dr. Tom Davis. Davis coached at the University of Iowa for 13 years, compiling a 269-140 record. His teams are known for an unconventional full-court style that features fake three-point shots and long bounce passes. He’ll have a nice returning core with four juniors and six sophomores returning. But Davis will look to senior Luke McDonald to lead them.

10. Indiana State Sycamores (7-24, 2-16, 10th)

Coach Royce Waltman is facing critics after two consecutive single-digit win seasons. The seven-year coach will need to improve his team’s offense, which ranked last in the league in 2002-03 at a miserable 56.4 points per game. He’ll look to sophomore David Moss to continue to improve and add to his 13.2 points per game average. But the Sycamores will need more than just Moss just to get to the middle of the pack of the MVC.

     

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