A sampling of Missouri Valley Conference beat writers check in on the league as we near the second half of February:
1. Who is your pick for the MVC’s top newcomer (freshman or otherwise)?
Dequon Miller, Missouri State. Miller has won the MVC Newcomer of the Week multiple times in his first season at Missouri State, and is the team’s leading scorer at 12.6 points per game. He’s the biggest reason the Bears have six MVC wins this season.
— Jeremiah Davis, Cedar Rapids Gazette
There are a handful of deserving newcomers here, but I have to go with Missouri State guard Dequon Miller. He leads newcomers with 12.6 points per game, and he did a good enough job taking over point guard duties when Dorrian Williams was injured for four games. The Bears went 2-2 during that stretch. Miller has also hit three game-winning shots in conference play, making him a huge reason for Missouri State’s improvement from a record standpoint.
I’ll throw out honorable mentions to Southern Illinois guard Mike Rodriguez and Wichita State forward Markis McDuffie. I could see either of these guys jumping ahead of Miller by the season’s end.
— Jesse Kramer, thecatchandshoot.com
With a few game-winning shots and a better offensive game than I expected, I’d lean toward Missouri State’s Dequon Miller. He’s averaging 13.6 points per game in league play and really has had to play a big role on an injury-plagued team that wasn’t supposed to be very good. The Bears are 6-6 in the Valley and tied for sixth place with Northern Iowa.
— Todd Hefferman, The Southern Illinoisan
Dequon Miller has to be the choice given that he’s averaging 13.6 points in conference play. An off-radar choice could be Indiana State’s Everett Clemons. He’s third in rebounding at 6.6 overall and 7.9 in MVC play. Kid’s a demon for loose balls.
The paucity of impact freshmen in the league is pretty disconcerting.
—Todd Golden, Terre Haute Tribune Star
2. Southern Illinois snapped a four-game losing streak at Indiana State on Wednesday. Do the Salukis finish in the top half of the MVC?
Yes. The Salukis’ run of late bottomed out at home against Loyola, but after going to Indiana State, they have Drake and Bradley at home, as well as a home game against Missouri State. Finishing 3-3 from here gets SIU to 10-8 in league play, which should be good for fifth.
Wednesday’s game against Indiana State will be huge, but regardless of the outcome there I still think Southern Illinois finds its way into the top five. With home games against Drake, Bradley and Missouri State, the Salukis should go at least 3-3 the rest of the way, which would give them a minimum of 10 Valley wins.
— Kramer. (Note: This was written prior to Wednesday’s game between Southern Illinois and Indiana State.)
SIU will snap out of this shooting slump eventually and get back to outscoring people. The Salukis really won their first seven games behind their offense. Their defense is improving, and coach Barry Hinson’s clubs always finish well. They have some tough road games left, but also home games with Drake, Bradley and Missouri State.
I always look at this as a function of schedule and SIU’s slate isn’t too steep the rest of the way. It plays three winnable home games (Drake, Bradley, Missouri State) and three tough roadies (Indiana State, Evansville, Illinois State). If SIU goes 3-3, as would be expected even given its recent struggles, it would finish 10-8. That ought to be good enough to at least tie for a spot in the top five.
This will likely be a year where the seventh-place team has a record of 9-9. That’s bad news for the likes of Indiana State, Northern Iowa or Missouri State.
3. You get one day as MVC commissioner. What is the change you would make to help men’s basketball?
It might be out of the realm of my theoretical powers, but I’d advocate in an NCAA meeting for a switch from two halves to four quarters. It’s proven to speed up games for the women this year, and changes the way the media timeouts are structured.
MVC programs are typically pretty good about non-conference scheduling, but it could help to put in some new rules to help manipulate the conference’s RPI ranking. Don’t allow MVC schools to schedule non-conference games against teams that have finished in, say, the bottom 25 percent of the RPI rankings more than once in the last three seasons. For example, don’t let Southern Illinois play Florida A&M.
Maybe allow each program one exception per season for a rivalry game so that, for example, Loyola can still play UIC in non-conference even if UIC has struggled in recent seasons.
I would do two things, both having to do with non-conference scheduling. Right now teams are allowed a certain number of opponents with a previous year’s RPI of 250 or below. I would outlaw playing anybody with an RPI below 300 in the previous season unless it was with a previously signed contract. I would also encourage teams to play at least one BCS program every season, either in a home or road game or neutral site multi-team event.
Take on Kennesaw Mountain Landis-like power and fire under-performing coaches? Win lotto and even-out the budgets of all of the league’s schools? Put a hard salary cap in place that governs expenses and salaries?
I’m being facetious of course. I think the notion that a commissioner has a miracle cure for what ails some of the basketball programs has always been extremely overrated. Doug Elgin has done what he can do — put in scheduling requirements, he’s extremely influential in getting MVC schools into non-exempt tournaments — but the power to get better is in the school’s hands, and frankly, many of the schools failed in recent years to move their basketball brands in the right direction.
For years and years, I heard about what a great coaches’ league the MVC was. And it was. Ten years ago, the league had coaches that were either on the back end of great careers or had coaches that were on the rise.
How many MVC schools can boast “great” coaches right now? Wichita State for certain. Northern Iowa in all likelihood. After that? There are some good coaches. There are more bad coaches who have taken their programs down with him.
The percentage of whiffs on coaching hires in recent years made by MVC schools is too high. You want to place why the MVC is 13th in conference RPI? That’s where my finger is pointed. Not at the commissioner’s office.