With the Missouri Valley Conference Basketball Tip Off coming up Tuesday, here is a look at how the conference shapes up for the 2015-16 season.
Wichita State once again is the heavy favorite to win the league crown, but second place is wide-open.
1. Wichita State
Notable departures: Tekele Cotton, Darius Carter
Projected starters: Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, Evan Wessel, Shaquille Morris, Anton Grady
The Shockers should not have much trouble winning the Valley for a third straight year. They return the league’s two best guards in seniors Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker while adding a few quality transfers and freshmen.
Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp, who received major minutes in Kansas’ NCAA Tournament games two years ago, and three-star recruit Landry Shamet gives the Shockers some fresh backcourt depth. Frankamp in particular, although he has had some off-court issues since coming to Wichita, should make a major impact.
In the frontcourt, the Shockers add Cleveland State transfer Anton Grady to sophomores Shaquille Morris and Rashard Kelly. Grady was one of the Horizon League’s top players last season, averaging 14.3 points and 7.9 rebounds.
Notable departures: Jaylon Moore
Projected starters: Duane Gibson, D.J. Balentine, Adam Wing, Blake Simmons, Egidijus Mockevicius
Not many coaches enjoy the stability of having the exact same starters three seasons in a row, but that is the case for eighth-year coach Marty Simmons.
The Aces have a veteran group with players who know each other well, led by two-time MVC scoring champ D.J. Balentine, a senior guard. Balentine is on the verge of breaking the program’s all-time scoring record.
Evansville also has the league’s best big man in senior Egidijus Mockevicius, who fell a hair shy of averaging a double-double last season with 12.5 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game.
The Aces will be deeper in the post this year with the additions of 7-foot-1 Nebraska transfer Sergej Vucetic and junior college transfer Willie Wiley.
3. Northern Iowa
Notable departures: Seth Tuttle, Nate Buss, Deon Mitchell, Marvin Singleton
Projected starters: Wes Washpun, Matt Bohannon, Paul Jesperson, Jeremy Morgan, Bennett Koch
Northern Iowa lost four of its best players, including conference player of the year Seth Tuttle. However, the Panthers have not finished lower than fourth place since the 2007-08 season, and that streak should continue for at least one more year.
Northern Iowa returns an electric guard in senior Wes Washpun along with talented senior marksmen Matt Bohannon and Paul Jesperson. The team also brings junior college transfer Aarias Austin into the perimeter mix. With Washpun’s driving ability, he will suck in defenses to open up shots for his teammates.
The Panthers also bring back glue-guy and potential breakout star Jeremy Morgan, a 6-foot-5 junior. Morgan made his name as a defender during his first two seasons, but he showed flashes of high-level offensive output last season.
The question marks for Northern Iowa stand in the frontcourt.
Sophomore Bennett Koch has had two brothers, Jake and Adam, proceed for remarkable careers following unremarkable freshman seasons. Koch played only 4.1 minutes per game last season, but coach Ben Jacobson will need more out of his 6-foot-9 forward this season.
Notable departures: Christian Thomas, Joe Crisman
Projected starters: Milton Doyle, Earl Peterson, Devon Turk, Ben Richardson, Montel James
Loyola is the conference’s only team that competes with Evansville in terms of roster depth. The Ramblers return four starters, including potential all-conference guard Milton Doyle.
Doyle, a former Kansas Jayhawk, averaged 11.4 points and 4.2 assists while shooting 48.5 percent from the field last season. While Loyola has no other guards as outstanding as Doyle, the junior still has a strong supporting cast, led by Earl Peterson and sharpshooter Devon Turk.
While Loyola will once again have a small frontcourt, it is not quite as small as last year.
Senior forward Montel James (9.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg) returns along with Finnish forward Julius Rajala, a raw product with some potential. The Ramblers add a big body to the mix in 6-foot-9 junior college transfer Maurice Kirby, who averaged 8.0 points and 7.9 rebounds last season at Coffeyville Community College.
Altogether, Loyola has the pieces to have a legitimate 10-man rotation.
5. Illinois State
Notable departures: Daishon Knight, Reggie Lynch, Bobby Hunter, John Jones
Projected starters: Paris Lee, DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, Deontae Hawkins, MiKyle McIntosh, Quintin Brewer
Illinois State was a few possessions away from making the NCAA Tournament last season, and the Redbirds might not come even that close this season after two of their top players departed.
The Redbirds lost their leading and most consistent scorer in Daishon Knight (14.3 ppg), as well as their only true post options in Reggie Lynch and John Jones. Lynch averaged 9.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks, although foul trouble prevented him from blossoming into a star.
Illinois State will rely more on junior Paris Lee (6.8 ppg, 3.6 apg, 2.4 spg) and senior DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell (12.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg) for backcourt production, and the team adds a pair of transfers to help mitigate the loss of Lynch.
Fifth-year senior Quintin Brewer, a 6-foot-8 forward who transferred from Bethune-Cookman, averaged 9.2 points and 7.0 rebounds last season. 6-foot-8 New Mexico transfer played in 54 games over two seasons for the Lobos.
Athletic freshman Elvis Harvey, yet another 6-foot-8 forward, could make an impact in year one as well.
6. Indiana State
Notable departures: Justin Gant, Jake Kitchell, Tre’ Bennett, T.J. Bell
Projected starters: Everett Clemons, Brenton Scott, Devonte Brown, Khristian Smith, Matt Van Scyoc
Indiana State has the second-best backcourt in the Valley with senior Devonte Brown and junior Brenton Scott, behind only Wichita State’s duo of VanVleet and Baker. Brown and Scott can both drive as well as shoot from the outside, although neither takes particularly great care of the ball.
Although the Sycamores lose Tre’ Bennett as a point guard option, they add junior college transfer Everett Clemons, who averaged 9.4 points and 6.2 assists at Vincennes University last season.
The Sycamores also have a solid front line with wing Khristian Smith (10.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and Citadel transfer Matt Van Scyoc (14.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg). However, both players are only 6-foot-6, and Indiana State’s only option for real size is 6-foot-9 junior college transfer Niels Bunschoten, who is known more for his outside game.
Notable departures: Gary Ricks Jr., Jordan Daniels, Chris Caird, Trevor Berkeley
Projected starters: Karl Madison, C.J. Rivers, Reed Timmer, Kale Abrahamson, Jacob Enevold Jensen
Drake made a big jump in coach Ray Giacoletti‘s second year, and the program has the pieces for more improvement this season.
The Bulldogs return two of their top three scorers while adding a pair of Big Ten transfers in Kale Abrahamson (Northwestern) and Graham Woodward (Penn State).
Returning guard Reed Timmer was one of the league’s top freshmen a year ago with 11.5 points and 2.4 assists per game. 7-foot center Jacob Enevold Jensen (8.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg) completes the inside-outside duo.
For the second year in a row, Drake could have an All-MVC Freshman Team selection in 6-foot-6 forward Billy Wampler, one of the top high school players in Wisconsin last season.
8. Missouri State
Notable departures: Christian Kirk, Gavin Thurman
Projected starters: Dorrian Williams, Dequon Miller, Austin Ruder, Chris Kendrix, Camyn Boone
Missouri State found a little bit of life late last season and Bears fans have their hopes up with their top four scorers returning.
While junior guard Austin Ruder tries to expand his scoring game following a sophomore slump, coach Paul Lusk adds talented scorer Dequon Miller, a junior guard from Motlow College.
Miller averaged 19.0 points and 9.0 assists last season at Motlow.
9. Southern Illinois
Notable departures: Jordan Caroline, Deion Lavender, Jalen Pendleton, K.C. Goodwin
Projected starters: Mike Rodriguez, Anthony Beane, Tyler Smithpeters, Sean O’Brien, Bola Olaniyan
Coach Barry Hinson lost his promising freshmen to the transfer wire and reloaded with junior college transfers.
Guard Mike Rodriguez headlines the Salukis’ group of newcomers. Rodriguez averaged 22.5 points and 6.1 assists last year at Marshalltown Community College. He and fellow junior college product Leo Vincent, who averaged 15.5 points and 4.2 dimes at Harcum College, should see major floor time in Southern Illinois’ backcourt.
Southern Illinois returns leading scorer Anthony Beane (16.1 ppg) and versatile forward Sean O’Brien (7.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg).
Notable departures: Josh Cunningham, Auston Barnes, Warren Jones, Omari Grier, Tramique Sutherland, Nate Wells
Projected starters: Joel Okafor, Ka’Darryl Bell, Ronnie Suggs, Donte Thomas, Mike Shaw
First-year coach Brian Wardle made quick progress on the recruiting trail last spring, but his squad is still too young to make any noise in the conference this season.
The Braves return only one player who played at least 15 minutes per game, senior guard Ka’Darryl Bell, who averaged 6.1 points and 2.1 assists.
Bradley adds a pair of three-star guards in Ronnie Suggs and Joel Okafor, as well as promising Tasmanian forward Callum Barker.
Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
- VanVleet is one of the top point guards in the country, and he is a large step better than any other guard in this league.
Milton Doyle, Loyola
- If he can stay healthy and trim his turnovers, Doyle is a no-brainer first team player. He can play both guard positions as well as defend any perimeter player in the Valley.
D.J. Balentine, Evansville
- Balentine had at least 15 points in all but six games last season. In nine games, he scored at least 25 points. This guy can score like few other players in Division I.
Ron Baker, Wichita State
- Baker is most likely the Valley’s best NBA prospect this season.
Egidijus Mockevicius, Evansville
- Mockevicius has reached a point where Evansville fans can reasonably expect a double-double from him every outing. It helps that opposing defenses have to worry about Balentine, but Mockevicius is always a focal point in game planning.
MVC Preseason Player of the Year
Fred VanVleet, Wichita State