The Missouri Valley Conference has long been one of the best mid-major conferences in College Basketball. From the days of Larry Bird at Indiana State and Loyola Chicago’s magical Final Four run, this conference has always been a great basketball conference. Creighton and Wichita State used to be in the MVC not long ago and those programs have succeeded quite well on the bigger levels.
This year, the Missouri Valley Conference should be as good as any. Here’s my preseason projections.
1. Missouri State
I know. I know. This Missouri State team was just 16-16 on the year last season. The Bears not only return their top two scorers from a season ago in guard KeAndre Cook and forward Tulio Da Silva, but they also bring in some absolutely huge transfers in PF Lamont West who comes by way of West Virginia via the grad transfer route.
Then the Bears also added Josh Hall coming over from Nevada and Tyrik Dixon coming over from Middle Tennessee. Add all of those up and on paper this team appears to be the team to beat in the MVC.
When projecting the Missouri Valley Conference, it’s a bit of challenge at the top because they are some very good teams here, like last years MVC champion Bradley Braves.
Bradley returns 4 starters from a year ago led by Darrell Brown and Elijah Childs. This year they need to find a way to be better offensively. Last year the Braves always had long droughts without scoring. If they can fix that they can compete for a MVC Championship yet again. Defensively this was one of the best teams in the nation a year ago.
3. Loyola Chicago
The Ramblers were due for a setback last season after a Final Four run the year before. Porter Moser is still the Ramblers coach and they still have some nice pieces from their run to the Final Four led by center Cameron Krutwig and guard Lucas Williamson.
Much like Bradley, Loyola needs to find better ways to be effective on the offensive end. The defense was the problem is was simply putting the ball in the basket. The Ramblers brought in guards Keith Clemons and Jalon Pipkens to try and provide more scoring. Cooper Kaifes is one of the best three point shooters in America, who could benefit with some open looks if the other players can get going offensively.
4. Northern Iowa
The Panthers were just 16-18 last year but that didn’t stop head coach Ben Jacobson from almost taking his Panthers to the big dance and winning the MVC championship. Jacobson has been at Northern Iowa for 13 years and he’s proven to be a winner.
UNI stepped up their game in the post season and if they hadn’t of blown a 18 point lead, they would’ve been dancing despite their losing record. Last year, UNI got better as the season went along due to true freshman and former 4 star recruit A.J. Green.
Green’s back for his sophomore season and he have the offense looking much better. 6 of their top 7 scorers are returning and last year they were a good defensive team. Watch out for the Panthers to compete for the MVC Championship yet again.
5. Illinois State
Dan Muller is a good coach and I’m sure he likes that his Redbirds are flying a bit under the radar in the Missouri Valley. Zach Copeland is back for his senior season and Muller added in some nice transfers to spice up this roster some. Muller brought in Ricky Torres from Wichita State as well as Dedric Boyd from Eastern Kentucky and power forward Keith Fisher from San Jose State.
The real question will be is if this team can find the chemistry to play together with all the new pieces.
Darian DeVries had a great first year despite getting upset in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. The Bulldogs went 24-10 last year in DeVries first year at the helm.
The problem this season is that the Bulldogs lose their top three scorers from a year ago: Nick McGlynn, Brady Ellingson and Nick Norton. They do return D.J. Wilkins, Noah Thomas, and Tremell Murphy, but they’ll have to find a lot more scoring to replace their top 3 from a year ago.
They also add in Siena transfer in guard Roman Penn. I expect DeVries to have another solid year despite me having them 6th. This is a deep conference and there’s not much of a gap between first and last.
7. Southern Illinois
Bryan Mullins enters year one as a first time head coach in Carbondale, Illinois. Mullins played for SIU from 05-09 so they welcome one of their own back to town. I know it’s year one but there is plenty of room for optimism with the Salukis this year.
The team appears to be a bit undersized but Mullins wasted no time in bringing in some grad transfers in guard Ronnie Suggs from Missouri as well as Barrett Benson from Northwestern. Mix that in with veteran point guard Aaron Cook returning and maybe the Salukis can surprise some in the MVC this year.
8. Indiana State
You want a decent long shot that could potentially be a cinderella story in MVC this year? Look no further than the Indiana State Sycamores. It’s year 9 in the Greg Lansing coaching era at ISU. He has his top two scorers from a year ago in Tyreke Key and Jordan Barnes.
Barnes and Key should be more experienced and if they can limit their turnovers and get some help from big man Bronson Kessinger than perhaps the Sycamores will be a player in the MVC.
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Valparaiso dodged a big bullet when their star guard Javon Freeman-Liberty decided to come back to the Crusaders after declaring that he was transferring. Two other starters from a year ago transferred out. Matt Lottich enters year three at Valpo and after a great opening season the Crusaders have had a couple back to back losing seasons. Juco transfer Zion Morgan was a nice piece to bring in to give the team some point guard depth.
Morgan should compete with Daniel Sackey for that spot. Lottich also brought in SG transfer Nick Robinson in from Saint Joes. Add those additions and factor in G/F Ryan Fazekas and this is a pretty talented group that could surprise.
The Purple Aces had a tough first year under first year head coach and former Kentucky Wildcat Walter McCarty. Evansville went just 11-21 last year and well their projected to be in the basement of the MVC again but perhaps they can put together a solid year. The Purple Aces return one of their best players in SG K.J. Riley.
McCartney also adds in Coastal Carolina transfer Art Labinowicz and Sam Cunliffe from Kansas. They’ll most likely play a lot of small ball so they can get their guards on the court which is by far their most talented position. They sure would love to see big man Peace Ilegomah play better this season.