Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Missouri Valley Conference Preview


The Missouri Valley had a historic season for the league two seasons ago, landing two teams in the Sweet Sixteen, and four in the NCAA Tournament. Last year, they had a terrific non-conference campaign, with the #4 RPI in the country through non-league play. However, due to the parity of the conference, they did not get as many bids. Southern Illinois won the league at 15-3, while Creighton finished two games behind them. Missouri State and Bradley also finished above .500. SIU and Creighton reached the NCAA Tournament after Creighton won the conference tourney. The Salukis knocked off Holy Cross and Virginia Tech in the NCAA Tournament before narrowly falling to Kansas, while the Blue Jays lost a tight one to Nevada. This season, after the clear-cut favorite, will be wide-open.

Favorites: Southern Illinois loses two of the best guards in the conference in MVC Player of the Year Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young, but it would be na├»ve to think the Salukis are going to miss too much of a beat without those two. SIU has been replacing stars and getting back to the NCAA Tournament for the past six seasons—five as an at-large team. This year’s squad will be led by Randal Falker and Matt Shaw, one of the top forward tandems in the country, let alone the MVC. Falker is a terrific defender and rebounder who can also score inside, while Shaw is a very good inside-outside option offensively. Tony Boyle could be the third starter for the early going, until stud freshman Carlton Fay takes over. In the backcourt, Bryan Mullins returns at the point, while Wesley Clemmons could start next to him. If not, Josh Bone and Tyrone Green will fight for minutes.

Contenders: Bradley is led by one of the best backcourts in the country in Daniel Ruffin and Jeremy Crouch. Ruffin is one of the more underrated point guards around, while Crouch is a terrific three-point shooter. Andrew Warren also sees time on the perimeter. Up front, Matt Salley will start, leading an unproven group of players. JC transfers and Will Austin and David Collins will have to make an immediate impact. Missouri State, like Bradley, loses three starters from a year ago. Deven Mitchell is the leader for this team, even though he was a sixth man last season. He will move into the starting lineup this year. Joining him in the frontcourt will be Drew Richards, a solid scorer and rebounder, and Dale Lamberth, a good inside-outside player. In the backcourt, the Laurie brothers lead the way. Spencer was last season’s Newcomer of the Year and Shane is a solid defender. Creighton will take a step back from the past few seasons, and will have trouble winning twenty games for the tenth consecutive seasons, with the loss of four starters. The lone returnee is Dane Watts, an all-conference candidate at forward. Starting next to him up front will be either freshman Kenny Lawson or Louisville transfer Chad Millard. The backcourt is led by Josh Dotzler, a very good point guard two seasons ago who was injured last year. Pierce Hibma and Nick Bahe will fight for starting jobs on the perimeter.

Sleepers: Illinois State could have a very good season this season with the return of four starters and its sixth man. The perimeter is led by Osiris Eldridge, the MVC Freshman of the Year, and Boo Richardson. Eldridge can score well, while Richardson can score and distribute. Dominitrix Johnson also returns as a starter. Up front, Levi Dyer is an all-conference big man who can step out and hit the three, with Anthony Slack starting next to him. Northern Iowa is led by one of the best players in the league in big man Eric Coleman. He will be flanked by fellow post players Jordan Eglseder and Adam Koch, both sophomores. In the backcourt, Travis Brown and Jared Josten return after becoming decent scorers last year. Adam Viet is a very good shooter from the perimeter, while Iowa transfer Carlson Reed will make an impact. Wichita State started off very hot last year, but faltered as the season went on and missed the postseason altogether. The Shockers do return P.J. Couisnard, though, an extremely versatile all-around wing who will have to carry WSU this year. Joining him in the backcourt is Matt Braeur, a solid point guard who does not turn the ball over often. Gal Mekel will see ample time on the perimeter. Up front, Colorado State Phillip Thomasson and freshman Ehimen Orukpe should make impacts, while JC transfer Ramon Clemente will also step in.

Rounding out the Pack: Indiana State returns four starters from a team that finished in last place a year ago, and could make a move in the positive direction. Gabriel Moore is a very good all-around point guard who will be the leader of this team. Also on the perimeter are solid scorers Cole Holmstrom and Marco Stinson, two guys that can really shoot it. Henry Marshall will push for time. Up front, Jay Tunnell and Adam Arnold will start next to each other, with part-time starters Todd McCoy and Mick Yelovich also returning. Drake has a very nice returning quartet of players for which the Bulldogs will lean on early and often. Klayton Korver and Jonathan Cox are a solid forward tandem, both of whom are inside-outside offensive options. Josh Young is an all-conference candidate in the backcourt, with the athletic Leonard Houston partnering with him. At the point will be either freshman Josh Parker or sophomore Ryan Daniels, both newcomers. Evansville also loses three starters, like seemingly half the teams in the MVC. Jason Holsinger is underrated inside the conference; he is a very good distributor and three-point shooter who doesn’t turn the ball over. Also on the perimeter will be Shy Ely and Jay Couisnard, both of whom will have to step up. Darin Granger is a part-time starter. Up front, Victor Gomez returns, but frosh Pieter van Tongeren and Zach House will fight for time.

Prediction: The Missouri Valley Conference obviously won’t be able to repeat the success it has had over the past couple of seasons, but it will still feature one of the better “Non-BCS” teams in the country in Southern Illinois, and a myriad of contenders behind them for second place and a potential NCAA bid. Bradley has a terrific backcourt; Missouri State has plenty of options; Creighton is, well, Creighton; and Illinois State returns four starters and is a legit sleeper pick. I’m going with Southern Illinois to win the league, with Bradley finishing second and fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid. Look out for Illinois State as a surprise, too.

Player of the Year: Randal Falker, F, Southern Illinois

All-Conference Team:
G- Daniel Ruffin, Bradley
G- P.J. Couisnard, Wichita State
F- Eric Coleman, Northern Iowa
F- Randal Falker, Southern Illinois
F- Deven Mitchell, Missouri State

Second Team:
G- Jeremy Crouch, Bradley
G- Osiris Eldridge, Illinois State
F- Matt Shaw, Southern Illinois
F- Dane Watts, Creighton
C- Levi Dyer, Illinois State

Photo Credit: AP

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