The MVC was in the nation’s spotlight last season, but only because of Wichita State’s undefeated season. The Shockers once again have the talent to run the table, but overall the conference will be much improved. All of the MVC’s six best teams will pose major challenges for Wichita State in 2014-15.
1. Wichita State
Key losses: Cleanthony Early, Chadrack Lufile, Kadeem Coleby, Nick Wiggins
Key returners: Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton, Darius Carter, Evan Wessel
Key additions: Zach Brown, Rashard Kelly, Bush Wamukota
Wichita State has holes to fill in its frontcourt, but the Shockers entire backcourt is returning for next season. That includes MVC Player of the Year Fred VanVleet, Defensive Player of the Year Tekele Cotton, and All-MVC First Team member Ron Baker. All three should be voted to the preseason All-MVC First Team in the fall.
VanVleet is one of the nation’s best point guards and Baker is a legitimate NBA prospect. Cotton is a lockdown defender and an amazing athlete. He also has a potentially lethal 3-point shot.
The Shockers also return Darius Carter, their most productive big man from last season. Junior college transfer Bush Wamukota, a 7-foot center, will be a key addition to their frontcourt.
The Shockers have the pieces to dominate the MVC for a second straight season.
2. Northern Iowa
Key losses: Chip Rank
Key returners: Seth Tuttle, Deon Mitchell, Nate Buss, Matt Bohannon, Wes Washpun, Jeremy Morgan, Marvin Singleton, Max Martino
Key additions: Paul Jesperson, Wyatt Lohaus, Bennett Koch
Northern Iowa finished third in the MVC last season and returns everyone significant. The Panthers will only be better, as they add Virginia transfer Paul Jesperson to their backcourt. Jesperson, who redshirted last season, averaged 4.7 points and shot 37.0% from 3-point range for the Cavaliers.
Northern Iowa returns arguably the conference’s best big man in Seth Tuttle, who is entering his senior year. Tuttle has been a key player for Northern Iowa since he stepped on campus. Last season, he averaged 15.4 points and 8.0 rebounds. He also averaged 2.5 assists in 19 MVC games. Nate Buss (10.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 50.6 3P%) will once again join Tuttle in the frontcourt.
In the backcourt, the Panthers will have deadly shooter Matt Bohannon and talented combo-guards Wes Washpun and Deon Mitchell. Washpun, a former Tennessee Volunteer, averaged 8.3 points and 3.8 assists in his first season at Northern Iowa. Mitchell posted 12.1 points and 3.4 dimes per contest.
3. Illinois State
Key losses: Nick Zeisloft, Zach Lofton
Key returners: Daishon Knight, Bobby Hunter, Reggie Lynch, Paris Lee, John Jones, Tony Wills, Jamaal Samuel
Key additions: Devaughn Purcell
Illinois State’s depth took a hit with Nick Zeisloft and Zach Lofton transferring. But the Redbirds, still return four starters and some reserves.
Illinois State brings back its backcourt trio of Daishon Knight, Bobby Hunter and Paris Lee. Knight and Hunter, a pair of former junior college transfers, are the team’s top two returning scorers. Hunter is also their most accurate shooter returning at 34.7%. Lee had a strong impact as a freshman point guard. Lee struggled at times but finished the season with a 1.23 assists for every turnover.
The Redbirds add another guard in junior college transfer Devaughn Purcuell. Purcell averaged 20.9 points with 40.6% 3-point shooting last season, and JUCO recruiting guru Brad Winton called him “one of the best athletes in the country” in February.
Up front, Reggie Lynch returns for his sophomore season. Lynch was one of the MVC’s top freshmen last year, averaging 8.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks.
The Redbirds will be even better if forwards Deontae Hawkins and MiKyle McIntosh become academically eligible. Both were academically ineligible for their freshmen seasons but should be active in the fall. They would add crucial depth to Illinois State’s front line.
4. Southern Illinois
Key losses: Desmar Jackson, Davante Drinkard, Bronson Verhines
Key returners: Anthony Beane, Tyler Smithpeters, Jalen Pendleton, Sean O’Brien, Bola Olaniyan, Dawson Verhines
Key additions: Jordan Caroline, Ibby Djimde
Southern Illinois loses its best statistical player in Desmar Jackson, but this could actually be addition by subtraction for the Salukis. Though Jackson had some great moments at Southern Illinois, the Salukis’ ability to be productive offensively often hinged greatly on his performance.
Without Jackson, Southern Illinois will still have a strong backcourt. Anthony Beane, who improved tremendously over his sophomore season, should be a star in the MVC next season. Beane averaged 14.7 points last season and 21.4 points per contest over the final 12 games.
Two more young guards return in sophomore Jalen Pendleton and freshman Tyler Smithpeters. Smithpeters did not receive much playing time until mid-January, but he then became a big piece to the Salukis’ late run last season.
Freshmen forwards Sean O’Brien (6.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Bola Olaniyan (3.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg) return, and they’ll get the help of a pair of newcomers on the front line in Illinois transfer Ibby Djimde and incoming freshman Jordan Caroline.
Key losses: None
Key returners: D.J. Balentine, Duane Gibson, Egidijus Mockevicius, Blake Simmons, Adam Wing, Jaylon Moore, Jaylon Brown
Key additions: Taylor Stafford, Willie Wiley, Mislav Brzoja
Evansville returns all its key players to form a dangerous group. The Aces have a dominant scorer in D.J. Balentine, an up-and-coming point guard in Duane Gibson, a monster of a big man in Egidijus Mockevicius, and two solid wins in Blake Simmons and Adam Wing.
Balentine easily won the MVC scoring title last season with 22.8 points per game. He also led the Aces in assists with 4.2 dimes per contest, and he drained 3-pointers at a 39.8% clip. Gibson is his counterpart in the backcourt. Gibson had a large handful of impressive outings during his freshman season. Most notably, he posted 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists against Atlantic Sun champion Mercer.
Mockevicius will be one of the best big men in the conference next season. He is coming off a stellar sophomore season where he averaged 10.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. He led the league in field-goal percentage at 62.7%.
While returning all five starters, Evansville also adds a pair of talented junior college transfer. Forward Willie Wiley averaged 13.6 points and 8.3 rebounds at Vincennes University last season while guard Taylor Stafford registered 18.3 points per outing at Eastern Arizona College.
6. Missouri State
Key losses: Jarmar Gulley, Keith Pickens, Nathan Scheer, Emmanuel Addo
Key returners: Marcus Marshall, Austin Ruder, Ron Mvouika, Christian Kirk, Gavin Thurman, Dorrian Williams, Tyler McCullough, Devon Thomas
Key additions: Chris Kendrix, Camyn Boone, Loomis Gerring
Missouri State loses its best all-around players, Jarmar Gulley, and its a strong inside presence, Keith Pickens. Even with these two big losses, the Bears could be very good in 2014-15. Putting them No. 6 is just a testament to how strong the league’s top-six teams could be next season.
Missouri State returns skilled point guard Dorrian Williams and talented wings Austin Ruder and Ron Mvouika. Williams did not score often but had 2.38 assists for every turnover. Ruder was a one-dimensional freshman, but he only had to be good at one thing. He posted 8.6 points per contest while shooting 40.0% from 3-point range. Mvouika registered 6.8 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
For the Bears to contend for one of the MVC’s top spots, they need sophomore Marcus Marshall to return strong after having surgery for a torn meniscus in January. Marshall missed the last two months of the season but had been averaging 14.3 points and 2.1 assists through 12 games.
Missouri State also returns a pair of solid forwards in Christian Kirk and Gavin Thurman, but it also gets a pair of good additions via the junior college route. Camyn Boone averaged 16.5 points and 8.8 rebounds at Mesa Community College last season while Loomis Gerring averaged 13.7 points and 8.8 rebounds at Vincennes University.
7. Indiana State
Key losses: Jake Odum, Manny Arop, Lucas Eitel, Dawon Cummings
Key returners: Khristian Smith, Jusin Gant, Devonte Brown, Demetrius Moore, Jake Kitchell, Brandon Burnett
Key additions: Charles Bennett
Indiana State enters a rebuilding period after losing Jake Odum and Manny Arop. The Sycamores will still be competitive with Khristian Smith and Justin Gant returning, but their chances of finishing in the top six are slim.
Smith has the chance to blossom into being one of the MVC’s better players as he moves into a starting role. The 6’6″ sophomore averaged 10.5 points and 4.3 rebounds last season coming off the bench. Gant, a big man with a pretty jump shot, averaged 10.2 points and was spectacular during Indiana State’s MVC Tournament run in March.
Two keys for Indiana State’s 2014-15 season will be the development of Jake Kitchell’s inside game and the impact of junior college transfer Charles Bennett. Kitchell averaged career-highs of 3.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and 0.6 blocks last season. If he can start logging more minutes, he could be a legitimate inside presence.
Bennett averaged 8.8 points and 2.4 assists at Lamar State College. With Odum and Dawon Cummings departing, the Sycamores have some holes to fill in their backcourt.
8. Loyola (Chicago)
Key losses: Matt O’Leary, Cody Johnson, Nick Osborne
Key returners: Milton Doyle, Christian Thomas, Jeff White, Devon Turk, Joe Crisman
Key additions: Ben Richardson, Earl Peterson, Montel James, Jay Knuth
Loyola struggled in its first MVC season, finishing in last place. The Ramblers did not win a single road game and lost nine of their last 10 games in the regular season, but they do return their top five scorers.
The Ramblers have a pair of stars to lead their way to a better finish. Milton Doyle, the conference’s Freshman of the Year last season, averaged 14.9 points and 3.6 assists. Doyle is a fabulous scorer and all-around offensive player, but he does not get enough credit for his disruptive abilities on defense. Christian Thomas, who will be a junior next season, is a valuable but undersized big man. Thomas averaged 13.3 points and 6.3 rebounds last season.
Loyola already has some good backcourt depth with Jeff White, Devon Turk and Joe Crisman returning, but it adds another key piece in junior college transfer Earl Peterson. Peterson averaged 16.6 points at Coffeyville Community College last season.
It was only fitting that in the week leading up to Passover the Ramblers were hit a frontcourt Exodus. Forwards Matt O’Leary, Nick Osborne and Jeremy King all decided to transfer. Forward Cody Johnson also decided to transfer in March. Loyola has one big man committed in Montel James, and they are in play for forwards Marlon Jones and Keith Thomas.
Key losses: Richard Carter, Aaron Hawley, Seth VanDeest, Daddy Ugbede
Key returners: Gary Ricks Jr., Jordan Daniels, Chris Caird, Jacob Enevold Jensen, Trevor Berkeley
Key additions: Ore Arogundade, Casey Schlatter
Drake has a lot of offensive production to replace with Richard Carter and Aaron Hawley graduating. Carter averaged 16.6 points and 3.8 assists last season, leading the Bulldogs in both categories. Hawley was their next-best scorer with 10.3 points per game, and he was a deadly 3-point shooter at 46.6%.
The Bulldogs have a trio of guards to pick up the slack. Jordan Daniels, who became eligible midseason last year after transferring from Boston College, is the team’s top returning scorer with 10.2 points per game. He was another great outside shooter, making 34 of 73 (46.6%) triples in 23 games.
English wing Chris Caird drained 39.0% of his 3-pointers last season and averaged 8.5 points per contest. Gary Ricks Jr. will return for another season after receiving a medical redshirt. Ricks played in only nine games last season but averaged 10.9 points and 3.2 assists while shooting 45.0% from long range.
Drake loses a pair of important forwards, Seth VanDeest and Daddy Ugbede. But the Bulldogs return a potential star to their frontcourt in 6’11” freshman Jacob Enevold Jensen. Jensen averaged 5.0 points and 4.9 boards in his first season.
Key losses: Walt Lemon Jr., Tyshon Pickett, Jordan Prosser
Key returners: Omari Grier, Auston Barnes, Ka’Darryl Bell, Xzavier Taylor
Key additions: Kendahl Amerson, Mike Shaw, Donte Thomas
Bradley loses its two best players: Walt Lemon Jr. and Tyshon Pickett. Lemon was one of the MVC’s best players last season, averaging 18.0 points, 3.9 assists and 2.4 steals. Pickett was the Braves’ best inside threat with 12.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
Bradley returns a good scorer in guard Omari Grier and a talented forward in Auston Barnes, who will help replace Pickett’s production.
The Braves’ biggest issue is they are left without a reliable distributor. Ka’Darryl Bell had more turnovers than assists last season as a sophomore. Junior college transfer Kendahl Amerson put up good scoring numbers but dished out only 1.5 assists per contest.