MVC Roundtable: Season Wrap-up, part 1

Photo: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

A sampling of the Missouri Valley beat writers got together once again to review the 2015-16 season.

 

Evansville

Grade the past season.

B-minus. It’s a seemingly harsh grade for a team that finished 25-9, won its most games since the 1988-89 season and advanced to the MVC championship game for the first time since 1998-99.

But the reason it’s a B-minus is how the season ended – without a bid to the NCAA Tournament or the NIT. The players and fans were predictably devastated with that result because this season was seen as the Aces’ best chance in a long time to play in a major postseason tournament (they haven’t been to either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT since 1999). The fact that the school’s all-time leading scorer (D.J. Balentine) and all-time leading rebounder and shot-blocker (Egidijus Mockevicius) never got to showcase their talents in even the NIT was a huge disappointment for the program.

 

Who is a key player or two who returns next season with a bigger role on tap?

Point guard Jaylon Brown will be the top returning scorer and was one of the most improved players in the MVC this year. It will be interesting to see how he continues to develop, and how the Aces deal with the return of fellow point guard Duane Gibson. As freshmen and sophomores, Gibson and Brown split minutes at the point guard spot, but Brown took his game to the next level when Gibson missed this season with a knee injury.

I don’t see how Brown could go back to playing 20 minutes per game after the season he had, so the Aces will either have to cut Gibson’s minutes or play Brown at the ‘2’ spot for stretches.

Other key returners for the Aces are front-line players David Howard and Willie Wiley. They’ve only played spot minutes behind Mockevicius but someone will need to emerge as a serviceable inside player in place of the all-MVC center. The Aces are looking at some big men with their remaining scholarships.

 

Who is a newcomer (or two) who needs to produce quickly?

I expect Ohio transfer Ryan Taylor to be a double-digit scorer next year. He’s 6-foot-5 with long arms and shooting ability and is arguably the team’s most explosive athlete. If the Aces continue to build their offense around a primary scorer like Colt Ryan or D.J. Balentine, Taylor could assume that role next season.

He averaged 8.2 points per game as a freshman at Ohio while starting 28 games.

 

How does the non-conference schedule look?

The Aces typically release their schedule later than most MVC teams, so not much is known at this point. They’ll play in the Challenge in Music City, a Nashville tournament that features mostly mid-major programs. Boise State will visit as part of the Missouri Valley-Mountain West Challenge Series.

I know UE is trying to extend series with Belmont and Murray State, and is considering playing a buy game against a Power-5 opponent, which isn’t always a staple at UE. I’ll be interested to see how many SWAC and MEAC schools are on the schedule after the Aces got burned by a poor nonconference schedule in 2015-16.

— Daniel Allar, Evansville Courier & Press

 

Illinois State

Grade the past season.

I would give it a C+.. Dan Muller scheduled very ambitiously with the thought of Reggie Lynch being in his lineup. When Lynch bolted last spring and transferred to Minnesota, the Redbirds were forced to retool offensively and defensively. Plus, the tragic death of associate coach Torrey Ward was something that definitely impacted the players emotionally. ISU struggled for the first 2½ months of the season figuring things out. When February hit, the Redbirds suddenly clicked. They won nine of their last 12 MVC games and seemed to have a good chance in St. Louis. When the Redbirds played their worst game in three months against Indiana State in the MVC tourney quarterfinals, it left a bad taste in mouths of coaches, players and fans. While 18-14 overall and 12-6 in the MVC isn’t all bad, this team seemed to have so much more potential and left a lot on the table.

 

Who is a key player or two who returns next season with a bigger role on tap?

The first name that pops to mind is MiKyle McIntosh. When locked in, McIntosh might be one of the most difficult matchups in the Valley. He’s 6-7, 235 pounds and can put in on the floor while also having a good touch on the perimeter. Not many guys around like that. McIntosh scored 20 or more points in four Valley games. While his foul troubles weren’t as bad as his freshman year, McIntosh still has a tendency to pick up cheap fouls which sends him to the bench for extended periods. ISU can’t afford that in his last two years. Paris Lee will be back for his fourth season as ISU’s point guard. Lee had some struggles this season, but also flashes where he was one of the best point guards in the league. He must become more consistent as a senior for the Redbirds to challenge for the league title.

 

Who is a newcomer (or two) who needs to produce quickly?
They might not be on the roster at present. ISU needs to bring in a wing player and big, either JCs or fifth-year transfers, who will immediately be put in the rotation. Freshman David Ndiaye, a 7-footer, was limited to 12 games because of a stress fracture. If he can stay healthy, that would be a major addition to a team which really didn’t have a true 5 man all season.

 

How does the non-conference schedule look?
Pretty solid. ISU will have home games against Saint Joseph’s, New Mexico (MWC-MVC Challenge) and UIC, plus a trip to the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii on Dec. 22-25 which includes San Diego State, San Francisco, Southern Mississippi, Stephen F. Austin, Tulsa, Utah and tournament-host Hawai’i. Muller probably will skip a guarantee game this season like he did against Kentucky in November. ISU is looking for another home-and-home series, probably starting on the road.

— Jim Benson, The Pantagraph

 

Loyola

Grade the past season.

I would give Loyola a C. The Ramblers were supposed to finish in the top half of the Valley and contend for a NIT bid. Instead, they finished 8th in the conference with an overall record below .500.
A strong finish to the regular season plus a good showing at Arch Madness allowed this team to hang on to a passing grade in my eyes.

 

Who is a key player or two who returns next season with a bigger role on tap?

Milton Doyle was preseason All-MVC honorable mention but had an underwhelming season despite averaging 11.2 points and 3.0 assists per game. With three guards graduating, Loyola needs Doyle to perform at his highest level in order to be successful next season. He showed flashes of dominance this past season but rarely put together a dominant 40 minutes as he did often during his sophomore and freshman seasons.

Again, with three guards graduating, Loyola will need returning members of the backcourt to step up. Ben Richardson was a glue guy for Loyola last season and is in a prime spot to become a more crucial part of the team’s game plan. Richardson emerged as a terrific defender and hustle player and was also one of the Valley’s top 3-point shooters. The Ramblers will need all of this in higher quantities next season.

 

Who is a newcomer (or two) who needs to produce quickly?

Treyvon Andres. The recent commit for Loyola is 6-foot-8 and put up big numbers at Trinidad State Junior College. The Ramblers were already extremely thin in the front court, and forward Montel James, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, is graduating. Andres will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact.

 

How does the non-conference schedule look?

Not a whole lot to report here. Loyola will play in the Paradise Jam, joining a field that includes NC State, Saint Joseph’s, Ole Miss and former Valley member Creighton. The Ramblers will also host San Diego State in MVC-MW Challenge.

— Jesse Kramer, thecatchandshoot.com

 

Missouri State

Grade the past season.

I’d give them a C+. That’s a high grade for a team that ended up in the play-in round of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. But the team was significantly more competitive throughout the season and had wins over Northern Iowa and Illinois State. The development of the young players gives something this program hasn’t had in a while – hope for the future.

 

Who is a key player or two who returns next season with a bigger role on tap?

Obediah Church will have to take a much bigger role in the frontcourt. As a freshman, he was an intimidating defensive presence and helped out in rebounding, but his offensive game will have to be more than the alley-oop specialist he was this past season. With Cam Boone gone, the team will need Church to be an offensive threat who can hit jumpers from 15 feet and in.
Who is a newcomer (or two) who needs to produce quickly?

The marquee recruit is Greg “Boogie” Williams, who is a 6-foot-6 point guard out of Virginia. He was recruited by some Power 5 Conference schools before health issues scared some teams off. He should see major minutes from Day One. His ability to be an effective replacement for Dorrian Williams, both as an offensive threat and as a tall, lengthy defender on the perimeter, will decide how successful this team is.

 

How does the nonconference schedule look?

Bears will play in the Las Vegas Classic before Christmas, in a field that includes USC, Wyoming, DePaul, Southeast Missouri State, Detroit, Chicago State and Cornell. Schedule also should include home games against Valparaiso and Oral Roberts, and a trip to Air Force for the Missouri Valley Conference/Mountain West Challenge. Beyond that, it is up in the air.

— Jim Connell, Springfield News-Leader

 

Northern Iowa part 1

Grade the past season.

With the way, this season went, you could hand out about four different grades, depending on what part of UNI’s season was being evaluated.

Overall, I’d give it a B-plus. The wins over North Carolina and Iowa State were significant, but so was the 2-6 start to the MVC season. UNI’s run to the MVC tournament championship and the win over Texas lifts the grade up, as would the first 39 minutes and 16 seconds of the A&M game. An “A” was within reach in regulation time. But it’s hard to ignore that historic meltdown.

 

Who is a key player or two who returns next season with a bigger role on tap?

Jeremy Morgan is the lone senior returning, so he’s the only real candidate to assume the leadership void left by the departure of Bohannon, Jesperson and Washpun. Klint Carlson took some huge steps forward over the second half of the season, and Ben Jacobson’s thoughts about Carlson’s junior year are pretty simple: Keep going. And Jacobson said Wyatt Lohaus could continue to see action at point guard next season.

 

Who is a newcomer (or two) who needs to produce quickly?

The obvious choice is Juwan McCloud, a 5-11 recruit out of Wisconsin. He’ll be the only true point guard on the roster as it stands now. Another possibility is Spencer Haldeman, an Iowa native who redshirted in 2015-16. But he is more of a combo guard.

 

How does the non-conference schedule look?

The highlights would be the early-season tournament to Puerto Rico, the return game at North Carolina and Iowa in the Big Four Classic (Des Moines).

Jim Sullivan, Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

 

Northern Iowa part 2

Grade the past season.

A. Given how the season ended for the Panthers, it’d be easy to think this was a sympathy grade, but I went this way for a few reasons: One, UNI got wins this season that Missouri Valley teams have gotten only a few times in its history, and did so at both the beginning and end. Two, UNI found its way out of that mid-season funk. On Feb 1, it looked like UNI’s grade was headed for a D, but the Panthers deserve credit for coming out of it stronger and finishing at their strongest. Three, the NCAA Tournament was just about a dream scenario – for roughly 79:30, that is. Those final seconds don’t take anything away.

 

Who is a key player or two who returns next season with a bigger role on tap?

Has to be Jeremy Morgan. He should be considered for preseason Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year going in, and did something against Texas A&M that was historic. His 36 points and 12 rebounds are matched only by Larry Bird for a Valley player in the NCAA Tournament. Not bad company. He’ll be the unquestioned leader of UNI as the only senior. He’ll be joined by Klint Carlson, Bennett Koch and Wyatt Lohaus as players who will carry the banner – and all with considerable experience by this point.

 

Who is a newcomer (or two) who needs to produce quickly?

Both Juwan McCloud and Tanner Lohaus will probably play as true freshmen, and UNI will need McCloud in the backcourt with Wes Washpun’s departure. Spencer Haldeman will provide the shooter’s role vacated by Matt Bohannon, and Justin Dahl is the bruising rebounder UNI lacked this year. I know that’s more than one or two, but it’ll be a collective effort with what the Panthers lost.

 

How does the non-conference schedule look?

It won’t be as formidable as this year’s was, that’s for sure. Like many other teams at this point, there’s no schedule for 2016-17 just yet, so there’s no a ton to go off. The Panthers do have Wyoming in the MVC-MWC Challenge, which will be a rematch of their NCAA Tournament matchup from 2014-15. Ben Jacobson has already told us he won’t schedule as tough or as many in a row on the road for next season, so we can expect a better mix of home and away in the non-conference.

– Jeremiah Davis, Cedar Rapids Gazette

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