Saturday, October 15, 2005

Mid-Continent Conference Preview


The Mid-Continent was a two-team race last season between Oral Roberts and Missouri-Kansas City. Oral Roberts edged out UMKC by one game as a result of the Kangaroos losing two of their final three, and ORU winning 12 of their last 14. However, in the conference tournament, Oakland came out of nowhere to win the automatic bid with a last-second win over ORU in the title game. They won the play-in game against Alabama A&M, but, as expected, got blown out by North Carolina.

Favorite: Oral Roberts should run away with the league. However, they should have done the same last season, but didn't. They have the most talented team in the conference, and have the two best players in guard Ken Tutt and forward Caleb Green. Tutt and Green form one of the best inside-outside duos in the country. Tutt is a scorer while Green is a double-double lock every night out. Larry Owens is one of the best forwards in the league, while point guard Jonathan Bluitt led the conference in assists. 6-10 Mickey Michalec also returns as a starter, and should be a viable option down low. If that wasn't enough, incoming freshman Marchello Veally is supposed to make an immediate impact off the bench. Simply put, the Golden Eagles are loaded.

Contenders: Valparaiso returns all five starters from a team that finished third in the conference standings. Dan Oppland is a candidate for conference player of the year. He can dominate a game, and carry the Crusaders. Taking some of the pressure off Oppland and giving Valpo good balance is wing Ron Howard. He is one of the most versatile players in the league. Guards Seth Colclasure, Jarryd Loyd, and Jimmie Miles are all key players on the perimeter. Moussa Mbaye and Ali Berdiel both return in the frountcourt to help out Oppland. IUPUI has one of the best players in the conference in Brandon Cole, who can control a game from the frontcourt. Guards David Barlow and George Hill form a very good backcourt, while Maushae Byles and Michael Vavrek return up front. However, it is the addition of two newcomers that have fans excited about the Jaguars. Xavier transfer Angelo Smith is an excellent rebounder; Penn State transfer Brandon Thompson might start at the point by the end of the season; and James Thompkins is expected to make a huge impact on the wing and possibly contend for the Newcomer of the Year honor.

Sleepers: Western Illinois does not have any go-to-star, but they have an abundance of players that will make the Leathernecks tough within the conference. Guard David Jackson is a very talented guard, while fellow perimeter players Troy Okeson and Nathan Koster are also solid. Fred Oguns, NaVonta Kentle, and Eliz Cepeda comprise a decent forward trio. Freshman Marlon Mahorn, son of Rick Mahorn, is expected to have a big year for WIU. Eze Samuel and Chris Gonzales are two more newcomers that will see a lot of playing time. UMKC lost the majority of the team that nearly won the regular season title. However, they do return guard Quinton Day, who should be an all-conference pick. Tim Blackwell is his sidekick in the backcourt, and they make up one of the best backcourts in the conference. The Kangaroos don't have a proven frontcourt player, though. JC transfer Kyle Spears needs to have a big season inside.

Rounding Out the Pack: Oakland made an improable run in the conference tournament a season ago, but don't expect the same this season. The inside-outside duo of Rawle Marshall and Cortney Scott are gone, leaving the Golden Grizzlies with lots of holes. Guard Brandon Cassise and forwards David Carson and Patrick McCloskey are all solid returnees, but it is the addition of several newcomers that will make or break the season. Freshman Keith MacKenzie and Rutgers transfer Calvin Wooten might start next to each other in the backcourt, while Ohio State Ricardo Billings and Wright State transfer Vova Severovas are also expected to make impacts. Southern Utah doesn't return anyone that would jump out at you, but they do have a decent cast of players. Guards Rand Janes and Steve Barnes form a good backcourt, while Nate Janes and Lubor Olsocsky anchor the frontcourt. The addition of 7-foot freshman Fernando Bonfim could be huge. He will immediately step in at center. Chicago State has a decent backcourt in Royce Parran and Kevin Jones, and a couple of average frontcourt players in Marin Mulin and Nate Carter. A couple of newcomers need to pick up some of the slack left by early-entry Deji Akindele. Centenary has an all-conference player in guard Tyrone Hamilton, who could develop into a star by the end of the season. He has absolutely no supporting cast, though. JC transfer Larry Logan will get the chance to become a go-to-guy in the frontcourt.

Prediction: Oral Roberts should win the league, no questions asked. There is no team in the league that can compete with the duo of Ken Tutt and Caleb Green, let alone guys like Larry Owens and Jonathan Bluitt. If their newcomers step in and produce, IUPUI could give them a run, while Valaparaiso and Western Illinois will also be there. In the end, however, ORU will just be too talented and will get the automatic bid. Watch out for them in the NCAA Tournament; they are going to be a prime candidate to upset a higher ranked team.

Player of the Year: Caleb Green, PF, Oral Roberts

All-Conference Team:
G- Ken Tutt, Oral Roberts
G- Quinton Day, UMKC
F- Brandon Cole, IUPUI
F- Caleb Green, Oral Roberts
F- Dan Oppland, Valparaiso

Second Team:
G- Ron Howard, Valparaiso
G- Tyrone Hamilton, Centenary
G- George Hill, IUPUI
G- Jonathan Bluitt, Oral Roberts
F- Larry Owens, Oral Roberts

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