The Missouri Valley Conference is looking for a team to carry the torch. With the departure of Wichita State, along with the top scorers from Illinois State and Northern Illinois graduating, the conference title is up for grabs. Will a constant winning program step up to maintain the status quo? Or will a team normally near the bottom of the standings, like Bradley, rise to the occasion? Here is how The Scout sees the MVC shaking out:
1. Missouri State
The Bears will bully everybody inside. Forward Alize Johnson decided to forgo the NBA draft, leaving him as the most talented player in the conference. Junior Obediah Church and Johnson get so many easy buckets on the offensive glass. This team loses Dequon Miller, its best point guard, but Jarred Dixon and Ronnie Rousseau should pick up right where he left off. No one is going to dominate the conference like Wichita State or Illinois State did last year, but MSUs talent makes them the favorite this season.
The Ramblers lost their best scoring threat in Milton Doyle, but they shouldnt have to worry. Last years MVC Sixth Man of the Year; senior Aundre Jackson, is a big time play-maker. He, along with forward Donte Ingram, are the best one-two punch in the Valley. This doesnt waste possessions, and they have a great recruiting class to bolster the bench. Expect them to be right at the top of the conference.
3. Northern Iowa
UNI played terribly without Jeremy Morgan in the first half of conference play last year. Now hes graduated, leaving them without a stand-out wingman. They still have a good inside presence with forwards Bennett Koch and Klint Karlson, who control a lot of touches. The threat of the duo scoring inside will allow UNI to find three-point shooters around the arc. The Panthers will benefit from having the toughest non-conference schedule in the Valley. Games against North Carolina, SMU, Iowa State and Xavier will challenge them big time, so theyll be ready when conference season rolls around.
4. Illinois State
Dear Dan Muller, I feel your pain. Your team had a magical season last year. Paris Lee was the best player in the conference. You should have been in the NCAA tournament, but you got seriously cheated. This year, the Redbirds will need some time to gel after losing significant scoring contributors MiKyle McIntosh, Tony Wills and Deontae Hawkins. Mullers defense speeds teams up and forces offenses into poor decision making. If ISU wants a chance to get back to where they were last year, they need to find the guards to make it happen.
This is the year Bradley improves to a winning conference record. They return all five starters and 95 percent of their scoring. This teams biggest need is consistency. Darrell Brown is the best point guard in the conference if he comes focused every night. The Braves had the worst assist to turnover rate in the conference a year ago. If they take care of the ball, this team is going to be tough to beat. Senior forward Donte Thomas sets the tone for everything they do. Koch Bar provides a huge presence on defense and proved to be a tremendous shot blocker in his freshman season. This now-experienced Braves team will start to see the results of Wardles total rebuild this season.
6. Southern Illinois
Head coach Barry Hinson has done a really good job building around forward Thik Bol. The guys an absolute beast. (See dunk against Loyola in the MVC tournament last year). Junior Armon Fletcher is a great scorer and hell set the tone for this team. The Salukis are experienced with 10 upper classmen, but their offense never seemed to click last year. Tyler Smithpeters took a medical redshirt last season and his return will certainly help more than hurt. But where does this team get its buckets? Thats the question theyll have to answer this year.
Valpo replaces Wichita State in the Valley this season after dominating the Horizon League for the last three years. This is a great pick up for the MVC, and I expect them to compete. The program lost superstar forward Alec Peters to the NBA Draft last summer, and they leaned on him a ton. This team is a wildcard. It will take a while to see where they fit in the MVC puzzle. Point guard Tevonn Walker is an impressive guard, and they could get good contributions from Oklahoma State transfer Joe Burton. This year might be tough, but I believe Valpo will be at the top of the conference in a few seasons.
8. Indiana State
Senior Brenton Scott will have to put the team on his back if it is going to get anywhere this season. Hell be an All-MVC player just because hell take so many shots. Losing Matt Van Scyoc is huge because he bailed the Sycamores out so many times. They went into the post a lot last year, and I see them doing it again with centers Brandon Murphy and Emondre Rickman, but those guys arent going to score enough to keep them in games.
This team looks the same as it has for a long time. Theyre going to live and die by the three. Guards Reid Timmer, Graham Woodward and Ore Arogundade are going to let it fly on every good look they get. When the threes dont fall the Bulldogs have no real presence on the inside. Defensively, they arent going to stop anybody, and didnt add any significant pieces, which will leave the Bulldogs trying to get hot enough on a Thursday in Saint Louis, so they can lose on Friday.
The Purple Aces lose last years MVC scoring leader Jaylon Brown, and Marty Simmons squad really hasnt been the same since losing Egidijus Mockevičius and D.J. Balentine. Ryan Taylor and Dru Smith will have to make big jumps if this team wants to be even the least bit decent. Evansville has little experience at the DI level, and theyll struggle big time.