Sunday, October 29, 2006

Missouri Valley Conference Preview


The Missouri Valley Conference was the best conference in the country last season outside of the "Big Six". It was ranked #6 in the RPI and had six teams in the Top 50 of the RPI. Wichita State won their last four games to win the conference by two games at 14-4. Five teams finished either 12-6 or 11-7. The race for the championship was one of the best in the country. The conference tournament demonstrated how wide-open it was. #5 seed Bradley beat Creighton and top-seed Wichita State to make it to the final to face #2 Southern Illinois. The Salukis won the MVC's automatic bid by defeating the Braves in a very ugly championship game. Several teams sweated out Selection Sunday. Wichita State was safely in, while Bradley and Northern Iowa slipped in with double-digit seeds. However, Creighton didn't make the cut, and more surprisingly, neither did Missouri State. The Bears set a record for the highest RPI not to make the NCAA Tournament. The MVC lived up to the hype in the NCAA Tournament, with Wichita State and Bradley both making runs to the Sweet Sixteen before falling. Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois fell in the first round. Expect another excellent season for the Valley. The title is once again wide-open, and the MVC has three legitimate Sweet Sixteen contenders this season.

Favorites: Wichita State has enough talent to repeat their 26-9 record of a year ago, including a 14-4 conference record, winning the regular season title. Moreover, the Shockers reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. However, MVC Player of the Year Paul Miller needs to be replaced. Stepping in for him will be either Ryan Bradley or Colorado State transfer Phillip Thomasson. Bradley has good size and is developing, while Thomasson is a decent role player. Whoever gets the starting job will have the opportunity to play alongside the best forward combo in the MVC. P.J. Couisnard had a breakout NCAA Tournament and could make the all-conference team this season. He is an inside-outside option on the offensive end who is also an excellent rebounder and defender. Kyle Wilson is a versatile offensive player who can shoot the three with efficiency and score down low. He could become a go-to-guy. In the backcourt, Sean Ogirri leads the way. He is an outstanding three-point shooter who could take on more of an offensive role this seaosn. Look for him to have a big year. Matt Braeuer returns at the point. He is a solid all-around performer. Karon Bradley is a good scorer off the bench, while freshman Gal Mekel from Israel is expected to make an impact. Creighton had a very good season last year, going 20-10 overall and finishing tied for second in the conference. However, they could be much better this year. It all depends on the return of injured guards Josh Dotzler and Nate Funk. Dotzler missed the latter part of the season with a torn ligament in his right knee, but should be ready by the start of the season. He is an excellent passer and defender who is an integral part of the Bluejays. Funk is a former All-America who missed all but four games last season due to a shoulder injury. He is an outstanding scorer who can get points in a variety of ways. He can drive to the basket as well as shoot the three. He is a candidate for MVC Player of the Year. Joining them on the perimeter will be Nick Porter. He is a potential double-figure scorer who is a match-up proble for defenders. Pierce Hibma and Kansas transfer Nick Bahe provide depth. Up front, Dane Watts and Anthony Tolliver return as starters. Watts is a solid all-around player who does a little bit of everything. Tolliver is an all-MVC performer could be a dominant player this season. He is a very good rebounder who is one of the best post scorers in the conference. JC transfer Ty Morrison a highly-touted recruit who will see minutes. Southern Illinois had another excellent season last year, going 22-11 overall and finishing tied for second in the conference standings. It was the fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance for the Salukis, who will look to continue that streak this season. Five starters return for SIU, including the all-conference backcourt of Tony Young and Jamaal Tatum. Young is one of the bst all-around guards in the conference, with the ability to make a difference on both sides of the ball. He is a good scorer and three-point shooter who is also a very good defender. Tatum is the best perimeter scorer on the team. He is an inconsistent shooter who could have a big year this season. He is a good defender and passer. MVC Freshman of the Year Bryan Mullins also returns in the backcourt. He led the league in steals and was one of the top distributors in the conference. Wing Wesley Clemmons provides depth. Up front, Randall Falker and Matt Shaw return. Shaw is a nice inside-outside option on offense, providing the Salukis with a double-figure scorer who can get it done in a variety of ways. Falker is one of the best interior players in the conference. He is an excellent defender who has double-double potential in the paint. Jamaal Foster and Tony Boyle will contribue off the bench.

Contenders: Missouri State was the biggest snub of last year's NCAA Tournament, and will look to make up for it this season with a bid to the Big Dance. The Bears were 22-9 last season and tied for second in the MVC, but will be motivated to do even better. They are led by sharpshooter Blake Ahearn, the best free-throw shooter in NCAA history. He is an all-conference guard who can carry the Bears with his offensive ability. His partner on the wing will be Tyler Chaney. He is a difficult match-up on the offensive end and he is a very good defensive player who can also rebound. Shane Laurie returns at the point guard spot, but will see competition from his brother, Spencer, a transfer from Missouri. Also on the wing will be Dale Lamberth, an outstanding and versatile shooter, and Deven Mitchell, who has loads of potential. Forward Nathan Bilyeu is a very good role player who can score if needed and is also an excellent rebounder. Down low, juniors Drew Richards and Sky Frazier will man the post. They both need to become go-to-players in the paint instead of complementary players. Northern Iowa loses two starters and coach Geoff McDermott from a program that has been to three straight NCAA Tournaments. The Panthers were 23-10 last season, but only tied for fifth in conference play. They are led by the post combo of Grant Stout and Erik Coleman, arguably the best low-block tandem in the league. Stout is a double-double threat every night out who is also one of the best shot-blockers in the conference. Now that he is a focal point of the offense, Stout could have a huge year. Coleman is a solid scorer in the paint who is also a very good rebounder. 7-1 freshman Jordan Eglseder will see minutes immediately. On the perimeter, point guard Brooks McKowen returns. He is a very good distributor but needs to improve his offensive game. Wings Adam Viet and Travis Brown, who were both role players last season, will need to step in and produce right away. Freshman Kwadzo Ahelegbe will fight for minutes.

Sleepers: Drake could see the biggest improvement in the conference. Although the Bulldogs went only 12-19 last season, finishing tied for seventh in the conference, they return four starters and get Klayton Korver back from injury. Look out for this team. Korver is a versatile wing who can shoot the three with efficiency. He is a good rebounder and is a nice inside-outside threat. Joining him in the frontcourt will be Ajay Calvin and Aliou Keita. Calvin is a good scorer and rebounder who is capable of having several big games. Keita is an excellent shot-blocker who needs to return to his sophomore season form. Brent Heemskerk was a part-time starter who will fight for minutes, while sophomore Jonathan Cox also started several games and is a good inside-outside option. Al Stewart leads the backcourt. He is an excellent distributor who also takes care of the ball and plays good defense. Wings Nick Grant and Chris Bryant also return. Grant is a good defender who is a solid role player, while Bryant is an efficient shooter from the perimeter. Evansville is in a similar situation to Drake. The Purple Aces had a poor season last year, going 10-19 and finishing tied for seventh in the MVC. However, they return all five starters, including a couple of players that could be potential all-conference performers. One of them is Jason Holsinger. The 5-11 point guard is a very good three-point shooter and is also one of the league's best passers. He will look to improve upon an impressive freshman campaign. The other all-conference candidate is forward Matt Webster. He is one of the most productive frontcourt players in the conference, averaging over 14 points and 6 rebounds per game. Joining Webster up front is Bradley Strickland. He had a strong finish to last season and could carry that over to this season. The wings will be comprised of Sky Ely and Kyle Anslinger. Ely is a good rebounder for his size who can also score, while Anslinger is a double-figure scorer who led the MVC in three-point shooting.

Rounding Out the Pack: Bradley will see the biggest drop of any team in the conference. The Braves are coming off of a 22-11 campaign, including a Sweet Sixteen appearance. However, four double-figure scorers are gone, including lottery pick Patrick O'Bryant and all-conference forward Marcellus Sommerville. The returnees are led by point guard Daniel Ruffin. He is the best passer in the MVC and is also a standout defender but will need to improve his scoring if the Braves are going to compete. Role player J.J. Tauai is a very important contributor who does not show up in the box score very often. Guards Will Franklin and Jeremy Crouch will get a chance to step in on the perimeter and produce on the offensive end. Franklin could be poised for a big season. Up front, Zach Andrews leads the way. He was very solid while starting for the suspended O'Bryant early last season. He will be the go-to-guy down low. Returnee Sam Singh and newcomers Xavier Crawford and Matt Salley will fight for minutes in the frontcourt. Illinois State went 9-19 last season, finishing tied for last place. The Redbirds lose four starters from that team, which could be a good thing or a bad thing. The go-to-guy will be Gregg Dillard. The 6-8 forward is one of the best all-around players in the conference. He is a double-figure scorer who can rebound and is one of the best shot-blockers in the league. 6-11 center Levi Dyer will likely start down low next to Dillard. He is a good inside-outside option who causes match-up problems with his size. Mike Vandello and JC transfer Anthony Slack will see minutes. Roberto Fortes and Brandon Holtz return in the backcourt. Fortes played well down the stretch and is a solid three-point shooter, while Holtz needs to improve his production. JC transfer Keith Richardson will start immediately at the point. He is a very good passer who can score. He will make the Redbirds better immediately. Fellow JC transer Dominitrix Johnson will battle for a starting job. Indiana State started out last season 8-0, but then all-conference performer David Moss got hurt and the Sycamores spiraled downwards. They were 0-8 without Moss and were 1-10 in conference play before the smoke cleared. With Moss and three other rotation players gone from last season, they will have trouble equaling the 13 wins they had last season. Guard Gabriel Moore leads the way. He is a very good passer and defender who can stroke it from long-range and score fairly well. Freshmen Cole Holmstrom and Marico Stinson will make an impact in the backcourt, while JC transfer Todd McCoy would start immediately on the wing. In the frontcourt, starters Trent Wurtz and Jay Tunnell return. Wurtz is a good rebounder and shot-blocker who has to become a better scorer. Tunnell could be poised for a big season up front due to his inside-outside offensive ability. Adam Arnold and Mick Yelovich will see minutes off the bench.

Prediction: Like last year, the Missouri Valley Conference will be the best league outside of the "Big Six" conferences. They have three legitimate Sweet Sixteen contenders in Wichita State, Creighton, and Southern Illinois, and another at-large candidate in Missouri State. WSU needs to replace MVC Player of the Year Paul Miller, but the forward combo of P.J. Couisnard and Kyle Wilson will be more than enough up front. Creighton gets Josh Dotzler and Nate Funk back from injury, and Anthony Tolliver also returns. SIU returns all five starters, including the backcourt of Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young. MSU is led by Blake Aheard, while Northern Iowa has Grant Stout and Erik Crawford on the interior. In other words, the MVC is going to be as competitive as last season and the top of the league will be even better. For now, I will give the MVC four bids with Wichita State winning the regular season title and Creighton the conference tournament title.

Player of the Year: Nate Funk, SG, Creighton

All-Conference Team:
G- Nate Funk, Creighton
G- Blake Ahearn, Missouri State
F- P.J. Couisnard, Wichita State
F- Grant Stout, Northern Iowa
C- Anthony Tolliver, Creighton

Second Team:
G- Jamaal Tatum, Southern Illinois
G- Tony Young, Southern Illinois
F- Kyle Wilson, Wichita State
F- Randall Falker, Southern Illinois
F- Erik Coleman, Northern Iowa

1 comment:

  1. The head coach of UNI last year was Greg McDermott.