ST. LOUIS — The anticipation of another Missouri Valley basketball season was palpable Tuesday at the conference’s season tip-off.
The Catch and Shoot caught up with coaches and players from around the Valley, and here’s what they had to say about the upcoming season.
—Coach Brian Wardle on managing a young team with 10 freshmen: “I’m teaching more than I ever have, which is fun for me. But the intensity, the demands, the accountability are no different if my team is all seniors or all freshmen. … No one’s feeling sorry for Bradley because they have 10 freshmen. I don’t feel sorry.”
—Regarding Bradley’s 10 freshmen, one MVC coach said, “I don’t know how he’ll do it this year, but he’ll be set up with a good foundation for the future.”
—Wardle on his freshman class: “I think we did a good job building character and maturity. When I look them in the eye, they look me in the eye and I feel like I’m talking to a man.”
—Wardle on building the program’s identity: “We’re going to compete, defend and rebound. We’re going to be a tough group that really understands the effort and the energy it’s going to take to defend in the Missouri Valley. Offensively, hopefully just share the ball and have good execution.”
—Loyola coach Porter Moser: “I hope for (Brian’s) sake people have patience because it’s tough. I inherited a 10th place team in the Valley, as he is. I have tons of confidence in Brian, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”
—Senior guard D.J. Balentine on being picked to finish No. 2 in the conference: “It feels really good. It’s obviously just a preseason expectation, so you can’t take too much into it. It’s motivation to be No. 1.”
—Balentine on season expectations: “It will definitely be a failure of a season if we don’t make the NCAA Tournament. That’s been my ultimate goal since I’ve been here.”
—Balentine on winning the 2015 CIT title: “We haven’t lost in a while so we kind of look at it as ending the season on a five-game winning streak. So we want to keep that momentum going.”
—Senior center Egidijus Mockevicius on how the new rules regarding defensive play will affect post play: “It’s gonna be tough, knowing that playing in the post is already more physical than playing outside. It puts more pressure on us, definitely.”
—One coach on what makes Balentine and Mockevicius so difficult to gameplan for: “They run so many things for them. (Balentine) can shoot and pass it, and (Mockevicius) is 6-11 with great hands. That combo right there combined with all the little actions they do is very, very tough to guard.”
—Balentine on what he worked on this offseason: “Athleticism was definitely the number one key this offseason. I’ve been dunking a lot more, I’ve gotten a lot quicker. I’ve got a lot stronger. Our strength coach does a tremendous job with me individually to improve my game.”
—Coach Dan Muller said Bethune-Cookman transfer Quintin Brewer has missed the last week of practice with a sprained ankle. Muller had no definitive timetable for the 6-foot-8 forward’s return, saying it’s possible he misses the season opener Nov. 13 at San Diego State.
—Muller also said he expects Brewer and New Mexico transfer Nick Banyard, also a 6-foot-8 forward, to see time at the four-spot playing alongside 6-foot-11 center David Ndiaye.
—Muller on senior guard DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, an all-conference first team selection: “He had an unbelievable offseason. He’ got experience, and he makes big plays. His athleticism, his ability to score the ball is a threat at all times. The thing I think he’s grown the most in is his leadership has blossomed. Put that together with his talent and I certainly expect him to have a great year.”
—Muller on how to take the next step following last year’s NIT appearance: “We were one or two free throws away from advancing further (in the NIT). I think it helps them understand how hard it is to get to where you want to go and how close things can come and how little things can determine the outcome. I think it showed the guys how consistent you have to be, how hard you have to play, how close we are. But close doesn’t get you there.”
—Last season Loyola coach Porter Moser said Indiana State’s backcourt of Devonte Brown and Brenton Scott was close to as good as Wichita State’s star-studded backcourt of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker.
One MVC player called that statement into question: “Fred and Ron level? I don’t know if that’s accurate. But (Brown and Scott) are a really good tandem together.”
—Another MVC player said Brown is “one of the best in the league off the dribble getting to the bucket” and called senior wing Khristian Smith one of the conference’s top perimeter defenders.
—Moser said he still has two handwritten letters from his former boss and mentor Rick Majerus at Saint Louis that he looks back at often for inspiration.
—Moser on Loyola receiving a first-place vote in the preseason poll: “(Loyola team chaplain and superfan) Sister Jean must have had a ballot. It’s crazy. The last thing I would do is vote for us No. 1 in the league this season.”
—Moser on junior college transfer Maurice Kirby, a 6-foot-9 forward: “He’s a sophomore he has a lot of enthusiasm. He’s gonna give us a body to bang with some of the teams that have bigger players. We played small last year. I can’t predict his scoring, but I will say defense, rebounding, he’ll make his presence felt.”
—Moser on putting last year’s rebounding woes behind: “We have to be a great block out team. We’re not gonna be that above the rim rebounding team, but we’ve got to be the best block out team.”
—Moser on junior college transfer Tyson Smith, a 6-foot-2 guard: “He’s just got a knack to make shots. We’ve got some skinny guys, but Tyson is more of a thicker guard that can make shots.”
—Moser on the rule change effects: “I think it’s going to be more evident this year with the emphasis on hand checking rules. What’s going to be a huge factor is whose fourth, fifth and sixth guards do. Sometimes you don’t play six guards, but you’re going to get to your fifth and sixth guards with the way you’ve got to adjust.”
—One MVC player on what makes junior guard Milton Doyle, an all-conference honorable mention, difficult to guard: “He’s really shifty, hard to stay in front of him. And if you back off, he’s got a good jump shot too.”
—One Valley coach on Missouri State: “When you combine their recruits collectively with the guys they bring back, I think they could make a big jump.”
—Coach Ben Jacobson on the effects of the shot clock change: “Defensively, if you’ve got a strong defense and it’s difficult for teams to get what they want in 35 seconds, I think it’s obviously going to be that much harder with 30 seconds. So I think there are some advantages to strong defensive teams to have that clock drop down to 30.”
—Jacobson on point guard Wes Washpun: “I think before it’s all said and done, I think there’ll be people looking at him saying this may be one of the best point guards in the country.”
—Jacobson on his young frontcourt, consisting of three sophomores: “They’re much better than they were the first 3 or 4 days of practice. Where exactly that puts them, I don’t know yet. … The biggest thing they need is that magic wand that says you can be highly confident.”
—Coach Barry Hinson on his offseason following a difficult 2014-15 campaign: “Took a little book with me and wrote down things I need to change. I look at those now once or twice a week and did some things that have changed my daily ritual, and we’ve definitely changed how we are with the guys and some of the things we do.”
—One of those changes was abolishing an “acclimation period” at the start of the season and going 100 percent from day one of practice.
—Hinson on his attitude entering the season: “I’m as excited, if not more excited, today than I was the day I took the job. I’ve always said if I’m not excited, if my battery is not charged then that’ll be the time to get out of it.”
—Senior guard Anthony Beane on how practices have been different this season: “Coach has been harping on the little things like diving on the floor for loose balls. Everything’s been more energetic. Just having the mindset of being tougher, that’s what’s going to help us out in games.”
—Marshall on his veteran backcourt: “Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet are college basketball icons. Everywhere I go people want to talk about them. Not just in the Midwest, but the East Coast and West Coast.”
—Baker on returning to school for his senior year: “It was probably 75/25. 75 (percent) being family, 25 percent of it was what Coach Marshall was going to do and what Fred was going to do. It was a long process, not really a fun one.”
—Baker on what Cleveland State fifth-year transfer Anton Grady adds to the frontcourt: “We’re definitely not treating him as a new guy. He’s played college basketball for four long years. He’s a guy we’re going to look to throw the ball to in the post and play off of him.”
—Marshall said he will need to redshirt one player, but he has not yet decided who that player will be.
—Marshall said its impossible to know as of now where Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp would fit in the rotation when he becomes eligible in mid-December. The coach said it’s possible to give Baker some time at small forward and put Frankamp at the two-guard.
—Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall on flirting with the Alabama job: “We didn’t get on the plane (to visit the school).”
—Evansville coach Marty Simmons on Wichita State: “I don’t think they get enough credit for how smart of a team they are. Top to bottom, they all know how to play.”