2016-17 Missouri Valley Conference season preview

Photo: The Wichita Eagle

Is anyone surprised Wichita State is the Missouri Valley Conference title favorite for the fourth straight year? Even with star guards Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker graduating, the Shockers have an excellent backcourt and possibly their best front line since 2012-13 Final Four run.

But the gap has narrowed between Wichita State and the rest of the conference, and that could make for an exciting 2016-17 season.

Photo: The Wichita Eagle
Wichita State’s Shaquille Moris dunks over Indiana State’s Brandon Murphy. (Photo: The Wichita Eagle)

1. Wichita State

Strengths

After years of having the conference’s best guards, Wichita State’s biggest strength could be its frontcourt. The Shockers return athletic wings Markis McDuffie and Zach Brown, along with forward Shaquille Morris who will anchor the team’s post game. Junior college transfer Darrlyn Willis chose the Shockers over Arizona State and figures to be a major contributor.

Although Wichita State lost Baker and VanVleet, the backcourt remains the best in the MVC with Connor Frankamp and redshirt freshman Landry Shamet teaming up.

Concerns

As good as Frankamp and Shamet are, losing Baker and VanVleet is huge. While Shamet and Frankamp form the MVC’s best starting backcourt, they are not a mile ahead of every backcourt as had been the case the past few seasons. The only other issue facing Wichita State is backcourt depth. Freshman C.J. Keyser and junior college transfer Daishon Smith will need to contribute meaningful minutes.

MORE: 2016-17 Horizon League Preview and Predictions

2. Illinois State

Strengths

The Redbirds have experience on their side this season. Senior Paris Lee enters his fourth year as the starting point guard, and he is joined in the backcourt by fellow senior Tony Wills, who has been a part-time since his sophomore year and became a full-time starter late last season. Versatile juniors MiKyle McIntosh and Deontae Hawkins form a small but talented front line. While they may be outmatched defensively by some larger teams, the duo can more than make up for that with their ability to cause mismatches on the offensive end. Both players can shoot and handle the ball relatively well for big guys.

Concerns

Size and rebounding will be an issue as Nick Banyard transferred and Quintin Brewer graduated. Getting quality minutes from junior college transfer Phil Fayne and 7-foot sophomore Daouda “David” Ndiaye will be crucial if Illinois State is going to challenge Wichita State. Ndiaye played in only 12 games last season before suffering a stress fracture in his left foot and averaged 1.8 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks.

3. Northern Iowa

Strengths

Northern Iowa loses three starters but returns possibly the conference’s best player in senior guard Jeremy Morgan, who was all-conference honorable mention and an all-defensive team selection last season. Junior guard Wyatt Lohaus showed some flashes of great potential last season, and he will need to provide sustained excellence as Wes Washpun’s point guard replacement.

The Panthers also return junior forward Klint Carlson, who broke out in February last season and remained one of the team’s top contributors into the NCAA Tournament.

Concerns

The Panthers return only five players, which means they will need big contributions from a lot of new faces. Junior college transfers Jordan Ashton and Hunter Rhodes as well as freshman Juwan McCloud will be crucial to adding some depth on the perimeter.

4. Missouri State

Strengths

The Bears are poised for the biggest jump in the Valley this season, despite losing their best player, forward Camyn Boone. Dequon Miller is one the league’s most dynamic guards. He along with junior wing Chris Kendrix will make one of the league’s best one-two scoring punches. The Bears also have a budding star in sophomore forward Obediah Church and one of the conference’s top freshman in 6’6″ guard Greg Williams.

Concerns

The Bears should certainly be good enough for a top six finish this season, but they will not climb into the top half of the conference unless they can become a more efficient team offensively. As electric as Miller can be, he posted a 91.2 offensive rating last season and attempted more than five 3-pointers per game despite shooting only 32.9 percent. Getting Austin Ruder back and out of his sophomore shooting slump will also be key.

Photo: Jesse Kramer / thecatchandshoot.com
Loyola’s Milton Doyle sizes up former Wichita State guard Ron Baker. (Photo: Jesse Kramer / thecatchandshoot.com)

5. Loyola

Strengths

The Ramblers add one of the Valley’s better recruiting classes to a solid core of Milton Doyle, Donte Ingram and Ben Richardson. Freshman Matt Chastain and Cameron Satterwhite, an athletic ex-Colorado commit, are expected to make immediate contributions and contend for spots on the all-freshman team. The Ramblers also add some much-needed frontcourt pieces with junior college transfers Vlatko Granic and Aundre Jackson.

Concerns

Will Milton Doyle live up to his potential senior year? After a terrific freshman year and efficient, albeit injury-riddled, sophomore year, the star guard took a step back as a junior. He added some weight this summer, which should help his cause. With Loyola losing three of its four best scorers from last season, the pressure falls on Doyle to bud into an all-conference player if the Ramblers are going to finish in the top half of the conference.

MORE: Check out Loyola’s 2016-17 non-conference schedule

6. Southern Illinois

Strengths

Southern Illinois will be one of the conference’s most experienced team this season with four senior starters. Versatile forward Sean O’Brien is the team’s top returning scorer (12.1 ppg) and rebounder (6.0 rpg) while Mike Rodriguez and Leo Vincent lead the backcourt attack. Guard Tyler Smithpeters will be a crucial part of the offense, as he is the team’s only proven outside shooter, draining 40.5 percent of his treys last year.

Concerns

The Salukis lose only two players, but both are huge losses. Anthony Beane averaged 19.3 points last season and stretched the floor with 37.1 percent 3-point shooting. Southern Illinois’ offense was only the fifth-most efficient in conference play last season with Beane. Will they drop without him? The Salukis also lost Bola Olaniyan, who anchored the inside with 8.8 rebounds per game and 56.6 percent shooting.

7. Indiana State

Strengths

It’s been a few years since Indiana State had a good team, but the Sycamores managed a third-place finish two seasons ago and a Arch Madness semifinal berth last year. So maybe picking against Greg Lansing isn’t so smart. But I’ll do it anyway.

Junior guard Brenton Scott is an all-league guard and potential player of the year, but the Sycamores don’t have much else. Senior Everett Clemons will once again run the point, and although he was the league’s best rebounding guard, he turned the ball over in 21.1 percent of possessions. The opportunity is there for freshman Jordan Barnes to get quality minutes as Clemons’ backup.

Concerns

Indiana State doesn’t have much going on in terms of big men, and with the graduations of guard Devonte Brown (15.5 ppg) and wing Khristian Smith (10.0 ppg), the team desperately needs a second scorer to emerge alongside Scott. Matt Van Scyoc shot 36.5 percent from deep at The Citadel before transferring to Terre Haute but made just 32.9 percent of his triples last season. Getting his shot back to that efficient level will be key.

Bradley forward Callum Barker attempts a shot over Loyola defendes Ben Richardson (right) and Julius Rajala (left). (Photo: Jesse Kramer / thecatchandshoot.com)
Bradley’s Callum Barker attempts a shot against Loyola. (Photo: Jesse Kramer / thecatchandshoot.com)

8. Bradley

Strengths

Bradley returns its top six scorers and adds another solid freshman class that includes 6’10” three-star recruit Koch Bar. So the Braves are trending upward in year two under Brian Wardle, granted there wasn’t much room to fall further. Bradley finished the 2015-16 season ranked No. 322 overall in KenPom Ratings, 61 spots behind Drake. But the Braves also came close to cracking the top 100 in defensive efficiency. If they can get some better outside shooting and keep up the defense, we could see them win a few games they shouldn’t on paper this season.

Concerns

It’s impossible to ignore how bad the offense was last season — the second-least efficient in the nation, to be exact. The Braves turned the ball over more often than any other team in college basketball and made less than 28 percent of their 3-pointers against Division I competition. Putting Bradley in eighth place is counting on their sophomore class making a respectable jump offensively now that they have a full year of collegiate ball under the belt. But if the offense doesn’t improve, the Braves will once again be clawing to avoid last place.

9. Evansville

Strengths

Senior guard Jaylon Brown (10.8 ppg, 2.9 apg) is a solid centerpiece, but that’s about all Evansville has. At least the Aces get 6’3″ guard Duane Gibson back after he missed all but four games with an injury last season.

Concerns

Evansville was a buzzer-beater away from the NCAA Tournament, and now the program is thrust into rebuilding mode. The Aces graduated four of their top five scorers, plus sixth-leading scorer Blake Simmons will miss the season with a knee injury. Brown is the only man of the roster who played 200 or more minutes all of last season.

10. Drake

Strengths

Drake should be slightly improved over last season, but will it be enough to get the Bulldogs out of the cellar? Their already solid backcourt gets even deeper with the addition of junior college guard De’Antae McMurray. He along with Reed Timmer (the MVC’s top returning scorer), Graham Woodward and C.J. Rivers can make Drake one of the Valley’s top offensive teams.

Concerns

Drake was the worst defensive team in the Valley by a mile last season. Without making big changes on that end of the floor, it will be another long season in Des Moines. The loss of Dominik Olejniczak to Ole Miss is also huge, and it will put pressure on 7-footer Jacob Enevold to produce in big ways on the front line.

 

All-League 1st Team

Milton Doyle, Loyola

Markis McDuffie, Wichita State

Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa

Shaquille Morris, Wichita State

Brenton Scott, Indiana State

 

All-League 2nd Team

Deontae Hawkins, Illinois State

Paris Lee, Illinois State

MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State

Dequon Miller, Missouri State

Reed Timmer, Drake

 

All-Defensive Team

Zach Brown, Wichita State

Obediah Church, Missouri State

Paris Lee, Illinois State

Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa

Ben Richardson, Loyola

 

All-Freshman Team

Koch Bar, Bradley

Matt Chastain, Loyola

C.J. Keyser, Wichita State

Landry Shamet, Wichita State

Greg Williams, Missouri State

 

Photo: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
UNI’s Jeremy Morgan rises up for a 3-pointer. (Photo: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Player of the Year

Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa

 

Defensive Player of the Year

Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa

 

Freshman of the Year

Landry Shamet, Wichita State

 

Coach of the Year

Gregg Marshall, Wichita State

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