By Jesse Kramer
The Missouri Valley has been arguably the best mid-major conference in the nation for many years. With Creighton’s departure and Loyola-Chicago’s entrance, there is a little less talent in the league, but it still contains a borderline top 25 team in Wichita State and a potential NCAA tournament team in Indiana State.
All the way through the top six, this conference still has plenty of talent.
1. Wichita State
With Creighton gone to the Big East, Wichita State’s path to the Missouri Valley title is much less obstructed. The Shockers, who gained national fame for advancing to the 2013 Final Four, are once again a potential Top 25 team, and they are arguably the best mid-major out there this season.
Wichita State’s backcourt will be able to go at least five men deep. The Shockers return point guard Fred VanVleet, and shooting guards Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton, Evan Wessel, and Nick Wiggins. Freshman Ria’n Holland could also join the rotation as a three-point threat.
VanVleet, who appeared in all 39 games but never started, will move into a starter’s role this season. Last year, he logged 16.2 minutes per game and averaged 4.3 points and 2.3 assists.
Baker missed 21 games last season with a foot injury, but when he returned in March he had a huge impact. In the final eight games, he recorded 10.5 points per contest and made 14 three-pointers.
Wichita State’s only returning forward of note is senior Cleanthony Early (pictured), but it adds a pair of transfers, Kadeem Coleby and Darius Carter, that will fill in the holes left by Carl Hall and Ehimen Orukpe’s graduations.
In his lone season at Louisiana-Lafayette, Coleby averaged 9.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks while shooting 56.1% from the field. The 6’9″ senior will add much-needed size and defensive prowess to the frontcourt. Carter, a junior college transfer, posted 15.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and shot 54% from the field.
Early, who led the Shockers in scoring last season, is one of the favorites for MVC Player of the Year. Starting in only 22 of 39 games, he averaged 13.9 points and 5.4 rebounds, and in five NCAA tournament games he posted 16.2 points per contest.
2. Indiana State
Indiana State was considered a NCAA tournament bubble team for a large portion of last season until it lost its final five Missouri Valley games. This season, the Sycamores could actually be a NCAA tournament team, as they return everyone but starting forward RJ Mahurin.
Odum, the best point guard in the conference, is back for his senior season, as are fellow starters Manny Arop and Dawon Cummings and reserve guard Lucas Eitel. Odum, who led the Sycamores to the NCAA tournament as a freshman, made the First Team All-MVC last season, averaging 13.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.6 assists.
Arop was the team’s second-best scorer and leading rebounder with 12 points and 5.1 boards per game, and Eitel was their most accurate three-point shooter at 40.4%.
In the frontcourt, the Sycamores return juniors Justin Gant and Jake Kitchell. Gant thrived in his increased role last season, posting 7.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
3. Northern Iowa
Northern Iowa returns a pair of potential all-conference first team players in forward Seth Tuttle and point guard Deon Mitchell. Tuttle, who was the MVC Freshman of the Year in 2011-12, built on that last season and averaged 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds. Now a junior, he is undoubtedly one of the conference’s better forwards. Mitchell, who led the Panthers in assists last season, will take on an even bigger role in the backcourt with Anthony James and Marc Sonnen’s graduations. Mitchell averaged 9.3 points and 3.6 dimes in 2012-13.
The Panthers also return sharpshooter Matt Bohannon (4.7 ppg, 38.6 3P%) and forward Chip Rank (3.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg).
The Panthers will also add Tennessee transfer Wes Washpun, who averaged 0.9 points and 1.4 assists in his lone season as a Volunteer.
4. Missouri State
Missouri State graduated leading scorer Anthony Downing, but the only other player it lost was Drew Wilson, who played only 13 minutes per game.
The Bears return sophomores Marcus Marshall and Dorrian Williams in their backcourt, and both had impressive freshman seasons. Marshall is the team’s top returner in scoring and assists with 11.5 points and 2.1 dimes per game. Williams played 22.9 minutes per game and averaged 4.3 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.9 assists.
At guard, the Bears add junior college transfer Ron Mvouika, who averaged 19.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists at Sheridan College in Wyoming last season.
Missouri State returns a handful of forwards in Christian Kirk, Gavin Thurman, Keith Pickens, and Nathan Scheer. Jarmar Gulley, who received a medical redshirt last season, is also back as a senior. Kirk posted 8.7 points and 4.2 rebounds last season while shooting a team-best 52.1% from the field.
6’8″ Northern Colorado transfer Emmanuel Addo is also eligible. In 2011-12, Addo averaged 9.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per game.
Bradley has the talent to finish above .500 in the MVC for the first time since 2008-09. The Braves, who went 7-11 in league play last season, return all-conference guard Walt Lemon Jr. (pictured) and skilled forwards Tyshon Pickett and Jordan Prosser, and they will add Wake Forest transfer Anthony Fields, Florida Atlantic transfer Omari Grier, and a pair of junior college transfers.
Lemon (15.6 ppg, 3.8 apg, 2.1 spg) was a consistent double-digit scorer for the Braves, and he was also a ferocious defender. In three CIT games, he averaged 17.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 6.3 assists.
Pickett has the potential to join Lemon on one of the all-conference teams at the end of the season. The former junior college transfer averaged 11 points and 5.5 rebounds last season, and was one of the top newcomers in the league.
6. Illinois State
Illinois State is rebuilding with only two players, Kaza Keane and Nick Zeisloft, returning. Although the Redbirds have a ton of roster turnover with nine new players, Keane and Zeisloft are two good players to have back in the backcourt. Keane averaged led the team in assists last season with 3.2 per game, and Zeisloft was their best three-point shooter at 41.8%.
Illinois State also adds junior college stars in guards Bobby Hunter and Daishon Knight.
If the batch of newcomers starts gelling by conference play, this team could be dangerous.
With the loss of star guards Colt Ryan, Nex Cox, and Troy Taylor, Evansville will take a step towards the bottom of the conference. In addition to returning only three players who logged at least 15 minutes per game last season, the Aces will be relatively inexperienced with no seniors and only three juniors on the roster.
The Aces’ top three returners this season are sophomores D.J. Balentine, Egidijus Mockevicius, and Adam Wing. Balentine is their top returning scorer with 8.1 points per game, and he is also a 36.3% three-point shooter. Mockevicius also had a greta freshman season with 5.8 points, five rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game while shooting better than 63% from the field. Wing saw less playing time than his two classmates, but he still averaged 2.7 points, 2.7 boards, and one assist.
8. Loyola (Chicago)
Loyola returns a good core for its first season in the Missouri Valley with Christian Thomas, Devon Turk, Jeff White, and Joe Crisman all back on the roster.
Thomas is coming off a breakout sophomore season where he averaged 12.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while shooting 56.2% from the field. He became a dominant force in the Horizon League during the second half of the season.
9. Southern Illinois
Southern Illinois returns a talented backcourt with Desmar Jackson (15.1 ppg), Anthony Beane (9.1 ppg), and Jalen Pendleton (4.4 ppg). The Salukis also add three-star recruit Sean O’Brien and junior college transfers Marcus Fillyaw and Hunter Gibson.
Frontcourt depth will be an issue, though, as the Salukis lost Jeff Early and Dantiel Daniels. Nigeria native Bola Olaniyan and junior college transfer Bronson Verhines will be thrust into major roles.
Drake is in a major rebuilding period with a new head coach, former Gonzaga assistant and Utah and Eastern Washington head coach Ray Giacoletti, and the loss of six significant players.
The Bulldogs only notable returning players this season are 6’11” center Seth VanDeest (9.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and 5’11” point guard Richard Carter (9.2 ppg, 3.4 apg)
MVC Player of the Year
Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
MVC Defensive Player of the Year
Walt Lemon Jr., Bradley
MVC Freshman of the Year
Sean O’Brien, Southern Illinois
MVC All-Conference Team
Jake Odum, Indiana State
Marcus Marshall, Missouri State
Walt Lemon, Jr., Bradley
Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa