A win over the NCAA tourney’s top seed, a CollegeInsider.com Tournament title and six overall postseason teams will be tough to top from last season, but the 2010-11 campaign should be even more competitive in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC).
Ali Farokhmanesh sunk the biggest shot in the history of Northern Iowa basketball last March to help the MVC champion Panthers stun No. 1 Kansas in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It ended a two-year drought from the Sweet 16 for the Missouri Valley. Unfortunately for Northern Iowa though, Farokhmanesh won’t slip on the purple and gold uniform this winter. He and the absence of two other starters from last season could drop the 30-win Panthers back to reality.
Three teams who don’t have to worry about replacing several starters include preseason favorite Wichita State, Bradley and the 2010 CollegeInsider.com champion, Missouri State. Each of those squads will return four starters and are favored by many to finish first through third in the MVC.
Since Wichita State and Bradley busted brackets in 2006, the Missouri Valley hasn’t sent multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament. That could easily change in 2010 – possibly with those same two teams.
Hoopville’s Preseason All-MVC Team
Player of the year: Kyle Weems, Junior forward, Missouri State
Kenny Lawson Jr., Senior center, Creighton
Toure’ Murry, Junior guard, Wichita State
Taylor Brown, Junior forward, Bradley
J.T. Durley, Senior center/forward, Wichita State
Wichita State Shockers (Last season: 25-10, 12-6 MVC, NIT)
2010-11 prediction: NCAA Tournament, 15-3 MVC (1st)
Glad to have you back: Everyone? WSU returns four starters, including All-conference candidates Toure’ Murry and J.T. Durley. In all, 35.8 points come back with the starters, and another 23 points return from the bench. The Shockers will have the most experienced and talented lineup in the Valley this season.
We’ll miss you: Celvin Hannah. At 90 percent from the charity stripe, who wouldn’t miss him? Hannah also led the team with 12 points a game in 2009-10.
Welcome to the program: WSU brings in several new players, including six freshmen and sophomores. Five seniors on this season’s roster will provide them plenty to learn.
Schedule highlights (non-conference): Connecticut looms on the schedule during the EA Sports Maui Invitational, beginning Nov. 22. Other possible opponents during that tournament include Michigan State, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Virginia or Washington. This will either put a stamp on or doom Wichita State’s NCAA at-large chances, should it come down to that. LSU will also visit on Dec. 18.
Keep up the good work: Good rebounding and defense will win ballgames, and WSU did both well last season. The Shockers ranked second in points allowed per game in the MVC, and out-rebounded opponents by almost five per game.
Room for improvement: Keep playing after January. After carrying a 16-4 record into February, the Shockers stumbled down the stretch, going 6-5 and sending them to a one-and-done in the NIT.
Don’t be surprised if: Wichita State goes deep into the NCAA Tournament this March. It may not be as dramatic as knocking off a top seed, but they’ll create some interesting headlines.
2010-11 outlook: Wichita State returns a large nucleus of players from a team that ranked in the MVC top four for points per game, points allowed per game, free-throw percentage, field goal percentage, rebounding margin and turnover margin. Anything short of an NCAA Tourney appearance will be a disappointment. As long as the defense remains as strong as last winter, WSU should be able to count all of its losses on one hand.
Bradley Braves (Last season: 16-15, 9-9 MVC)
2010-11 prediction: NCAA Tournament, 12-6 MVC (2nd)
Glad to have you back: Bradley brings back four starters, three who tallied at least 13 points per contest (Andrew Warren, Taylor Brown and Sam Maniscalco). Dodie Dunson and Will Egolf bring another combined 15 points per game. Six of the Braves’ top seven scorers are back in the lineup this winter.
We’ll miss you: Chris Robert and his 9 points per game, to go along with 47 steals. His 63 percent effort from the free-throw line, however, will be hard to miss.
Welcome to the program: 6’10” center Andrew Davis, who joins Bradley from Pendleton School (Brandenton, Fla.) He should give BU a boost on the boards.
Schedule highlights (non-conference): A visit to Duke will give the Braves a good opportunity to make an impression for the NCAA Tourney. Bradley will also play USC in Massachusetts.
Keep up the good work: Brown, Maniscalco and Warren give the Braves three players who shoot better than 80 percent from the free-throw line.
Room for improvement: Although Taylor Brown was in the MVC top five, Bradley sat near the bottom of the Missouri Valley in rebounding margin last season. He needs help if the Braves are to compete for the Valley title.
Don’t be surprised if: Bradley joins Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament. To begin the season, it looks like the MVC is strong enough for two bids, and the battle for the second bid should be a dogfight between Bradley and Missouri State.
2010-11 Outlook: A very deep team returns for Bradley this season. If this potent offense can grab more rebounds to get more opportunities, there’s no reason the Braves can’t shock Wichita State for the conference title.
Missouri State Bears (Last season: 24-12, 8-10 MVC, CollegeInsider.com Tournament champions)
2010-11 prediction: Postseason, 11-7 MVC (3rd)
Glad to have you back: The Valley’s best offense returns its top six scorers, including Kyle Weems, Adam Leonard and Jermaine Mallett. Weems and Mallett also led the way in rebounds.
We’ll miss you: Justin Fuehrmyer, who split time with Keith Pickens as the fifth starter. Fuehrmyer led the Bears in free-throw percentage. Cardel McFarland’s quality contributions from the bench (5 points per game, 82 percent from the charity stripe) will also be missed.
Welcome to the program: Out of five total newcomers, MSU brings in four true freshmen, including 6’4” forward Nathan Scheer and 6’4” guard Corey Copeland.
Schedule highlights (non-conference): The Bears will face off against Tennessee or Belmont in the Dick’s Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-off in Knoxville, Tenn. A trip to Oklahoma State on Dec. 11 will also test MSU.
Keep up the good work: Keep on target. Missouri State led the MVC in scoring last season with 71.4 points per game. The magic number was 70, as the Bears were 18-5 when scoring 70-plus.
Room for improvement: Two out of the three players who shot better than 80 percent from the line are gone. Overall, MSU hit just 73 percent as a team. Finishing at the top of the conference will require the Bears to take advantage of freebies. Winning more than one conference game on the road will be necessary as well.
Don’t be surprised if: They’ve been one game away several times and once owned one of the highest RPIs not to get into the NCAA Tournament. The Bears haven’t danced since 1999, but the pieces are in place for the drought to end this season.
2010-11 outlook: Hopefully, Missouri State has spent the better part of practice just shooting free throws. The Bears were involved in nine games last season that were decided by five points or less, struggling to a 2-7 record. Three of those defeats were to Wichita State and Northern Iowa. Taking advantage of the freebies will boost MSU ahead of Bradley. But until they can prove themselves, the Bears’ offense will be good enough to grab third in the MVC.
Northern Iowa Panthers (30-5, 15-3 MVC, NCAA Tournament Sweet 16)
2010-11 prediction: Postseason, 11-7 MVC (4th)
Glad to have you back: Senior guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe is the lone Northern Iowa player returning who averaged more than 10 points per game.
We’ll miss you: Sharpshooters Ali Farokhmanesh and Adam Koch will be missed. The absence of 7-footer Jordan Eglseder will also be noticeable.
Welcome to the program: The Panthers welcome five newcomers, including freshman guard James Humpal (Waterloo Columbus, IA).
Schedule highlights (non-conference): Northern Iowa will be tested immediately with a trip to Syracuse on Nov. 12 – its first of five possible games against BCS conference schools. The first week of December brings contests against Iowa and Iowa State. Indiana will face off against the Panthers in the Las Vegas Classic on Dec. 22, with their second game against either New Mexico or Colorado.
Keep up the good work: Defense. It doesn’t matter how many starters a team loses if they can keep limiting opponents to 55 points per game (second in the nation last season).
Room for improvement: Three of Northern Iowa’s top four scorers are gone from a team that sat last in the MVC for scoring last season. Getting more accurate from the field will be crucial if the Panthers even want to have a chance at defending their conference title.
Don’t be surprised if: Northern Iowa somehow finds its way to the NCAA Tournament. It has made it to five of the last seven, finally notching its first tourney win since 1990 last March.
2010-11 outlook: Although Northern Iowa lost three starters, six of the eight returning players averaged greater than 10 minutes of playing time last season. (Three averaged more than 20.) That’s still a lot of experience coming back from one of the stingiest defenses in the nation. It might not take a lot of scoring to pile up the victories anyway, as the Panthers were 21-0 when scoring 60 points or more. Don’t look for too much of a tumble from this squad.
Creighton Bluejays (Last season: 18-16, 10-8 MVC, CollegeInsider.com Tournament)
2010-11 prediction: Postseason, 10-8 MVC (5th)
Glad to have you back: Senior center Kenny Lawson Jr., pegged by many as the top player in the conference. Lawson Jr. sank 13.1 points per game, with almost 7 rebounds a game and 50 blocks in 2009-10.
We’ll miss you: The lone full-time starter not returning for the Bluejays is Justin Carter. He was the team’s second-leading scorer, though.
Welcome to the program: Creighton was happy to welcome in the McDermott family this off-season. Greg McDermott comes in for his first season as head coach and brings with him son Doug McDermott, a freshman from Ames High School (Iowa). Greg McDermott led fellow MVC school Northern Iowa to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments before heading to Iowa State in 2006-07.
Schedule highlights (non-conference): Greg McDermott gets to face his former team almost immediately when the season begins. Creighton will travel to Des Moines, Iowa, to face Iowa State on Nov. 21. The weeks following that contest will include a trip to Northwestern on Nov. 28, a visit from BYU on Dec. 1 and a contest at Nebraska on Dec. 5.
Keep up the good work: Only one team in the MVC hit as many 3-pointers per game (7.4) as the Bluejays last winter.
Room for improvement: Though the offense was strong in 2009-10, Creighton’s defense sat near the bottom of the Missouri Valley. Coupled with a mere 72 percent from the free-throw line, it’s easy to see how the Bluejays hovered just above .500 last winter.
Don’t be surprised if: Greg McDermott tries to avoid the trip to Des Moines against Iowa State on Nov. 21. Cyclone fans will likely be quick to voice their displeasure at McDermott with his abrupt exit last spring.
2010-11 outlook: After going to the NCAA Tournament seven times in nine years, Creighton is searching for its first appearance since 2007. This season looks promising for the Bluejays to end the drought, as eight players return who averaged more than 10 minutes per game last season.
Illinois State Redbirds (Last Season: 22-11, 11-7 MVC, NIT)
2010-11 prediction: 8-10 MVC (6th)
Glad to have you back: Illinois State basically returns two starters, including senior Alex Rubin. Senior Tony Lewis, who split starting time with Jackie Carmichael last season, also returns. Carmichael earned a spot on the MVC All-Freshman team.
We’ll miss you: The Redbirds lost more than 38 points per game from last year’s NIT squad. Osiris Eldridge, Dinma Odiakosa and Lloyd Phillips were the only Illinois State players to score in double figures. The 137 combined steals from the three will also be extremely missed.
Welcome to the program: Sophomore guard Trey Blue will be one of eight newcomers trying to help the Redbirds prove naysayers wrong this winter. Blue sat out last season to meet NCAA residency rules, but averaged 8.2 points per game at Fordham in 2008-09.
Schedule highlights (non-conference): UNLV will visit Normal, Ill. on Dec. 1.
Keep up the good work: Carmichael and Lewis will attempt to keep Illinois State near the top of the conference in rebounding. They combined for 9.5 rebounds per game last season, as Illinois State worked to the second-best rebounding margin in the conference.
Room for improvement: Only five players shot 75 percent or better from the free-throw line, and four of them are gone this season. The Redbirds hit just 70 percent as a team last winter, surprising for a 22-win team.
Don’t be surprised if: the Redbirds struggle to six or seven conference wins. With a very competitive top half and improvement in the second tier, Illinois State just lost too much to repeat last season’s performance.
2010-11 outlook: This appears to be a rebuilding year for Illinois State. Including the three departing starters, the Redbirds lost more than 44 points per game. How quickly the newcomers can make an impact will determine if Illinois State can surprise everyone in the Missouri Valley.
Indiana State Sycamores (Last Season: 17-15, 9-9 MVC, College Basketball Invitational)
2010-11 prediction: 6-12 MVC (7th)
Glad to have you back: With senior Jake Kelly and juniors Dwayne Lathan and Carl Richard returning, the Sycamores have three of their top five scorers back and their top two rebounders (Richard and Lathan).
We’ll miss you: Team scoring leader Harry Marshall and steals leader Rashad Reed won’t be on the court this go-around.
Welcome to the program: Head coach Greg Lansing will begin his first season with the Sycamores after spending the previous eight seasons as an assistant coach.
Schedule highlights (non-conference): Trips to Notre Dame and Purdue are on the slate for Nov. 30 and Dec. 18. DePaul visits on Dec. 8.
Keep up the good work: One MVC team that did take advantage of freebies last season was Indiana State. Four players hit 80 percent or better from the charity stripe.
Room for improvement: The Sycamores were pushed around on the boards last winter and also sat near the bottom of the league in turnover margin.
Don’t be surprised if: New head coach Greg Lansing can get the Sycamores an upper-half league finish this winter.
2010-11 outlook: Last season’s run to the College Basketball Invitational was Indiana State’s first postseason appearance since the 2001 NCAA Tournament. The Sycamores still have the experience left to gain a repeat performance of last season’s run, but it won’t happen unless the rebounding and turnover problems are fixed.
Evansville Purple Aces (Last season: 9-21, 3-15 MVC)
2010-11 prediction: 6-12 MVC (8th)
Glad to have you back: Four starters returning and two others who averaged more than 20 minutes of playing time should get the Purple Aces out of the cellar.
We’ll miss you: James Haarsma, Evansville’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder, is the lone starter not returning.
Welcome to the program: Junior transfers Kenny Harris (forward) and Matt Peeler (forward/center) each pulled in 7 boards a game last season and averaged more than 14 points per game.
Schedule highlights (non-conference): You certainly can’t accuse the Aces of scheduling easy non-conference matchups. UE will travel to Indiana on Nov. 21, Butler on Nov. 27 and host North Carolina on Dec. 8.
Keep up the good work: Continue on the strong finish from last season, where Evansville went 3-3 in its final six regular season contests. Those included victories over Wichita State and Northern Iowa and an overtime loss at Wichita State.
Room for improvement: Defense and turnovers. Evansville sat last in the conference for points allowed per game and turnover margin.
Don’t be surprised if: The eighth place prediction for the Aces is way off. It’s tough to peg this team for only six conference wins, but that just speaks for the competitiveness in the top half.
2010-11 outlook: Evansville was the only Missouri Valley Conference squad not to win at least 10 overall games in 2009-10. They’ll at least double last season’s conference win total and possibly finish above .500 overall if they play as well as last February.
Drake Bulldogs (Last season: 14-19, 7-11 MVC)
2010-11 prediction: 6-12 MVC (9th)
Glad to have you back: Senior Ryan Wedel, his 11 points per game, 51 steals and 84 percent accuracy from the free-throw line.
We’ll miss you: The rest of the MVC was glad to finally see Josh Young go. A lead was never big enough against Drake with him on the floor.
Welcome to the program: 2009-10 Gatorade Illinois Boy’s Basketball Player of the Year, Rayvonte Rice strolls into Drake. As a high school senior, Rice sank almost 24 points a game and grabbed more than 6 boards per contest.
Schedule highlights (non-conference): The Bulldogs will face state rivals Iowa State (Nov. 17) and Iowa (Dec. 18).
Keep up the good work: Keep forcing the turnovers and sinking the treys. That won’t be so easy with Josh Young gone, though.
Room for improvement: Drake needs to get more physical inside, as opponents out-rebounded the Bulldogs by more than six a game last winter.
Don’t be surprised if: Drake is able to reverse its fortune from last season and sweep its contests against Iowa and Iowa State.
2010-11 outlook: Drake certainly won’t be a doormat, but the 2010-11 season looks to be a growing pain, with just one senior on the roster.
Southern Illinois Salukis (Last season: 15-15, 6-12 MVC)
2010-11 prediction: 5-13 MVC (10th)
Glad to have you back: Southern Illinois returns five seniors, including starters Carlton Fay and Justin Bocot.
We’ll miss you: Kevin Dillard and Tony Freeman won’t be back. The two led Southern Illinois in steals and averaged double figures in scoring.
Welcome to the program: The Salukis will try and get help on the boards by adding transfer Mamadou Seck and freshman Davonte Drinkard. Seck grabbed 10 rebounds a game at Southeastern Illinois College, and Drinkard averaged almost 14 boards a contest as a high school senior.
Schedule highlights (non-conference): As always, SIU will have plenty of tough non-conference contests, beginning with the season opener at Illinois on Nov. 13. Following that, Austin Peay will visit on Nov. 21. Then the Salukis will take part in the Chicago Invitational Nov. 26-27, opening against Purdue and then playing either Wright State or Richmond. Before the MVC slate starts, New Mexico looms on the schedule Dec. 1.
Keep up the good work: SIU was second in the league with 70 points per game last winter and led the league in field goal percentage.
Room for improvement: As a team, the Salukis shot less than 70 percent from the free-throw line and were uncharacteristically near the bottom of the conference in defense. It’s time to get back to the basics.
2010-11 outlook: Southern Illinois hasn’t tasted the postseason for two years now, after making seven consecutive appearances (including six straight NCAA Tournament runs). Head Coach Chris Lowery has said it’s time to start focusing on defense again – how the Salukis were when they dominated the Missouri Valley for so many years. If SIU can successfully get back to the defense of old, they certainly won’t sit in the cellar.