The Missouri Valley Conference proved to be an elite mid-major conference last season, sending half of its schools to post-season tournaments.
This year, the Valley looks restocked and ready to make another run.
The graduation of talented athletes means new players will be looked upon to take the reigns of their teams.
With a mix of young players and seasoned veterans, sharp shooters and defensive specialists, the 2008-09 season should be an exciting one in the MVC.
2007-08: (22-11 overall, 10-8 MVC)
MVC Preseason poll: 1
Creighton was picked by the MVC as the team to beat this year. And with good reason, as a talented group of players return for the Bluejays.
Creighton set a MVC record on its way to an NIT berth last season. The Bluejays have won 20 or more games in 10 consecutive seasons, which is a conference record.
This year they will look to add to their recent success.
Sophomore P’Allen Stinnett was selected to the MVC Preseason Team, after leading Creighton in scoring last year with 12.6 points per game his freshman year. The 6-foot-3 guard was the MVC Freshman of the Year and MVC Newcomer of the Year last season.
Senior Josh Doltzer, who started all 33 games for the Bluejays last season, will join Stinnett in the backcourt. Doltzer’s eye for offense netted him 118 assists last season, bringing his career total to 267.
Doltzer is ranked third in MVC active career assists and second in active career steals.
Last year’s MVC Sixth Man of the Year, senior Booker Woodfox, and the team’s third returning starter, sophomore center Kenny Lawson Jr., figure to play key roles for the Bluejays this season.
Southern Illinois Salukis
2007-08: (18-15 overall, 11-7 MVC)
MVC Preseason poll: 2
The Salukis begin their fifth season under coach Chris Lowery, a reign that has been successful as Southern Illinois has gone 96-41 under his leadership.
The school has made seven straight post-season appearances, but with the graduation of its top two scorers in Randal Falker and Matt Shaw, the team will look to its younger players to step up.
Although the Salukis will welcome eight new players, senior Bryan Mullins returns for his senior season.
As last year’s MVC Defensive Player of the Year, Mullins is the MVC active career leader in steals with 209 and is second in assists.
Mullins was named to this year’s MVC Preseason Team.
Senior guard Wesley Clemmons is the team’s other returning starter.
Freshman Kevin Dillard was last year’s Illinois Player-of-the-Year in high school and he figures to get some playing time for the Salukis.
Illinois State Redbirds
2007-08: (25-10 overall, 13-5 MVC)
MVC Preseason poll: 3
Illinois State matched a school record in wins last year (25) in its first season under coach Tim Jankovich.
With two returning starters, including this season’s MVC Preseason Player of the Year, junior guard Osiris Eldridge, the Redbirds will look to match last season’s success.
Eldridge returns after finishing second in the conference in ppg last season, missing the lead by a tenth of a point. He finished second in MVC Player of the Year voting last season and will likely make another run at it this year.
Junior Dinma Odiakosa is the team’s other returning starter – Odiakosa averaged 5.5 rebounds per game last season.
Illinois State will start the season shorthanded with injured players on the bench.
Junior forwards Brandon Sampay and Bobby Hill both will not be ready at the start of the season, which will put more pressure on the backcourt to perform.
The Redbirds will look to senior Emmanuel Holloway and senior Oregon transfer Champ Oguchi for production at the guard spots, along with Eldridge.
2007-08: (28-5 overall, 15-3 MVC)
MVC Preseason poll: 4
With the loss of last year’s MVC Player of the Year and MVC Coach of the Year, the defending champions have to prove themselves once again.
First-year coach Mark Phelps won’t find his cupboard totally bare, as the Bulldogs are the only team in the conference to have two players named to the MVC Preseason Team.
Junior guard Josh Young and senior forward Jonathan Cox return for the 2008-09 campaign.
Young led the MVC in scoring last season with 15.9 ppg and he finished second in 3-pointers.
Cox, a former walk-on, finished second in the MVC in rebounds last season with 8.5 rpg, while also knocking it down from downtown shooting .440.
Cox is the MVC active career leader in blocks, 63, and rebounds, 539.
The two returning starters will help mold the team’s other young players into a successful team.
2007-08: (21-17 overall, 9-9 MVC)
MVC Preseason poll: 5
Bradley will be looking to reach the postseason for the fourth consecutive time, after the Braves reached the finals of the inaugural College Basketball Invitational last season.
With the loss of guards Daniel Ruffin and Jeremy Crouch, Bradley will look to new players to take control of the team.
Senior Theron Wilson and junior Andrew Warren combined to average a little less than 25 ppg last season, and as the team’s third- and fourth-leading scorers, the team will look to them to lead the offense this year.
Both were honorable mentions on the MVC Preseason team.
Sophomore point guard Sam Maniscalco, who averaged 7.7 ppg last year in 15 starts, will be asked to play a bigger role this year.
Bradley will have veterans filling the forward spots, with seniors Sam Singh and 7-footer David Collins likely seeing the majority of the playing time under the basket.
Northern Iowa Panthers
2007-08: (18-14 overall, 9-9 MVC)
MVC Preseason poll: 6
The Panthers lost their top two scorers and top rebounder from a year ago, but return seven of their next eight top scorers.
UNI is coming off back-to-back 18-win seasons and the team will look to put together another successful season with two returning starters.
Seven-foot-one junior Jordan Eglseder averaged 8.9 ppg while pulling down 5.4 rpg last season, and he will be a force in the middle for the Panthers this season.
Senior guard Travis Brown returns for his fourth season and is UNI’s active career points leader.
Other than junior forward Adam Koch, the Panthers don’t have any players who have recorded more than 800 minutes of Div. I college basketball.
The performance of the younger players should determine the success of UNI this year.
Indiana State Sycamores
2007-08: (15-16 overall, 8-10 MVC)
MVC Preseason poll: 7
Indiana State is coming off a 15-win season and the team is in a position to improve in coach Kevin McKenna’s second season manning the Sycamores.
Jay Tunnell, the team’s lone senior, led the team in rebounds last season with 4.7 rpg, and added on another 7.9 ppg.
Also returning is sophomore Isiah Martin, who was named to the MVC All-Freshman and All-Bench Teams last season.
As a sophomore, Martin is second in active blocks for a career, just four behind Cox.
The other two returning starters for Indiana State are junior guards Harry Marshall and Marcio Stinson.
Evansville Purple Aces
2007-08: (9-21 overall, 3-15 MVC)
MVC Preseason poll: 8
An Evansville roster that contains nine underclassmen will be lead by its two star seniors in the 2008-09 season.
Senior guards Shy Ely and Jason Holsinger, both named MVC Preseason Team honorable mentions, will return to lead their team this season.
Holsinger returns as the Valley’s active career leading scorer with 1,055 points and he is also the active career leader in 3-pointers (220) and free throw percentage (.854).
Ely isn’t far behind. His 836 points is good for third on the active career points list.
Junior guards Trevor Gregory and Darin Granger are the other upperclassmen on the team.
Granger averaged eight ppg last season in three starts, and Gregory never made a start last season.
Evansville returns all five starters from last season.
Wichita State Shockers
2007-08: (11-20 overall, 4-14 MVC)
MVC Preseason poll: 9
The Shockers return just one starter, senior Ramon Clemente, who was named to the MVC All Newcomer team last season.
Wichita State lost its top four leading scorers, retaining just its fifth leading scorer, Clemente, who averaged 7 ppg last season and pulled down 7.9 rpg.
Coach Gregg Marshall, who enters his second season, hopes to get a boost from junior transfer A.J. Hawkins.
Hawkins transferred from St. Bonaventure, where he scored 12.2 ppg and started every game two years ago.
Sophomore Aaron Ellis, who scored 19 points in Wichita State’s final game in the Valley tournament last season, is one returning player that will have to step up if the team is going to be successful.
The Shockers are the only team in the conference that has fewer than two returning starters.
Missouri State Bears
2007-08: (17-16 overall, 8-10 MVC)
MVC Preseason poll: 10
Cuonzo Martin will take over coaching duties for the Bears after spending eight seasons as an assistant coach at Purdue.
Missouri State welcomes back both of its starting guards from a year ago, and the team has a good mix of young players and veterans to fill the remaining spots.
The team may have lost its top two leading scorers, but seniors Spencer Laurie and Chris Cooks, along with junior Justin Fuehermeyer, all have starting experience that should be valuable to the Bears.
Cooks is Missouri State’s top returning scorer and he was a member of the MVC All-Bench Team last season.