After a number of years of strong showings at the NCAA Tournament, the Missouri Valley Conference has fallen by the wayside for the last two years, with only one team appearing in 2008-09.
Last year, the Panthers of Northern Iowa represented the MVC by taking a No. 12 seed in the NCAA, but took a tough loss to Purdue in the first round.
This year, the MVC will see most of its players return for another season. UNI is only the fourth team since the 1985-86 season to return all five starters after winning the conference championship.
1. UNI PANTHERS (14-4 MVC, 23-11 OVERALL)
This year’s defending champions are favored to repeat because not only are all five starters from last year returning, but they are returning nine of the 10 regulars they used last year.
Leading the Panthers this season once again will be senior forward Adam Koch and junior guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe.
Both were selected to the first-team all-MVC team this preseason. Last season, Koch averaged 12.1 points per game and 5.1 rebounds per game for the Panthers.
Ahelegbe is a returning member of the all-MVC defensive team from last year. The Panthers received all but one first place vote in the MVC Men’s Basketball Preseason Poll.
2. CREIGHTON BLUEJAYS (14-4 MVC, 27-8 OVERALL)
The only other MVC team to receive a first-place vote was the Bluejays, who finished solidly in second place in the preseason poll.
The Bluejays are represented in the preseason individual accolades by first team all-MVC team junior guard P’Allen Stinnett, who recorded 48 steals last year.
The Bluejays have won an MVC record 20-plus games a year for 11 consecutive seasons, with the results leading to 12 straight postseason appearances.
3. ILLINOIS STATE REDBIRDS (11-7 MVC, 24-10 OVERALL)
The last two years, senior guard Osiris Eldridge has earned first-time all-conference honors.
This year, the acknowledgements got larger, as he was named the MVC Preseason Player of the Year. After winning 24 regular-season games, the Redbirds suffered a tough loss in the MVC title game against UNI and had to settle for their second straight NIT appearance.
4. SOUTHERN ILLINOIS SALUKIS (8-10 MVC, 13-18 OVERALL)
The Salukis failed to reach a postseason tournament for the first time in seven seasons.
This year, they welcome Iowa transfer guard Tony Freeman, who was named third-team all-Big Ten last season for the Hawkeyes. Freeman was named first-team all-MVC this preseason.
5. WICHITA STATE SHOCKERS (8-10 MVC, 17-17 OVERALL)
Two honorable mention all-MVC guards, senior Clevin Hannah and sophomore Toure’ Murray, are the leaders for the Shockers this season. Wichita will also be relying on seven newcomers.
6. BRADLEY BRAVES (10-8 MVC, 21-15 OVERALL)
Junior Sam Maniscalco received all-MVC honorable mention this preseason and will be joined by junior Andrew Warren, who is returning from an injury.
The Braves won 21 games in each of the last four seasons, which has lead to four straight postseason appearances. Over the course of those four years, Bradley has appeared in the NCAA Tournament, National Invitation Tournament, College Basketball Invitational and Collegeinsider.com Tournament.
7. INDIANA STATE SYCAMORES (7-11 MVC, 11-21 OVERALL)
Four starters and an Iowa transfer comprise the Sycamores’ squad this season.
They will look to build on their hot streak down the stretch with two honorable mention all-MVC players, senior Harry Marshall and junior newcomer from Iowa, Jake Kelly.
8. DRAKE BULLDOGS (7-11 MVC, 17-16 OVERALL)
Active MVC all-time leading scorer Josh Young leads a Bulldog team this year that is looking to secure a third straight postseason appearance.
Young was named a first team all-MVC for his senior season.
9. MISSOURI STATE BEARS (3-15 MVC, 11-20 OVERALL)
Senior Justin Fuehrmeyer enters his final year in the MVC as the active assists leader with 231 and as the only senior on the Bears’ squad.
In addition to Fuehrmeyer, the Bears return two other starters from last year’s team.
10. EVANSVILLE PURPLE ACES (8-10 MVC, 17-14 OVERALL)
Last year was the first time in nine seasons the Purple Aces qualified for a postseason tournament.
Only one starter returns from that squad, but Evansville has made large strides in the last two years after only winning nine games in 2007-08.