Last season, the Northern Iowa Panthers held true as the No. 1 seed, winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament to advance to the NCAA tournament in back-to-back years. They defeated Missouri State in the championship game 69-41.
This season, the Panthers are picked second to the Bears in the preseason. Despite the preseason rankings, nine other teams will vie for the top spot in the MVC and a spot in the NCAA tournament.
The MVC returns a wealth of talent and looks to have a big year with several teams hoping to have postseason glory.
1. MISSOURI STATE BEARS (12-6 MVC, 21-9 OVERALL)
Missouri State enters the season as the preseason favorites to win the MVC. They return four starters highlighted by first team all-conference selection senior guard Casey Garrison. She is the active career MVC leader in points, assists and steals.
Garrison is joined by first-team all-Valley selection Christana Shorter who averaged 12 points and eight rebounds per game a season ago. Seniors Jasmine Malone and Jaleshia Roberson add depth for the Bears.
Sophomore Carly Buer also returns to give Missouri State one of the best backcourts in the conference.
The Bears are looking to make the NCAA tournament a year after losing in the championship game of the MVC tournament.
2. NORTHERN IOWA PANTHERS (17-1 MVC, 24-5 OVERALL)
After reaching back-to-back NCAA tournaments for the first time in school history, Northern Iowa looks to replace the 2011 MVC player of the year, Jacqui Kalin, who tore her ACL in the offseason. The Panthers also lost both of their post players in Lizzie Boeck and Erin Brocka.
The good news is the team brings back Katelin Oney, K.K. Armstrong and Rachel Madrigal. The three combined for nearly 25 points per game a season ago. Oney gives Northern Iowa an elite outside shooter as she hit 61 three-pointers in 2010-11.
Junior Amber Kirschbaum and sophomore Jess McDowell will step in as contributors in the frontcourt.
3. WICHITA STATE SHOCKERS (10-8 MVC, 16-13 OVERALL)
The Shockers bring back four starters from a team that reached the WNIT for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. Senior Haleigh Lankster returns after averaging 13 points and four rebounds last season. She was named to the all-conference team.
Junior Jessica Diamond will combine with Lankster to give Wichita State a competitive backcourt. She averaged nine points and three assists last season.
Jazimen Gordon, Chynna Turner and Michelle Price will provide good interior play for the Shockers.
4. CREIGHTON BLUEJAYS (12-6 MVC, 18-11 OVERALL)
Last season, Creighton reached the postseason for the eighth time in 10 years. This season, the team returns just two starters and a multitude of newcomers after graduating three seniors from the starting five.
Leading the group is the reigning MVC Freshman of the Year Carli Tritz. Sarah Nelson and Ally Jensen return to bring an inside-out combination for the Bluejays.
DaNae Moore is the lone senior on the 12-player roster made up of nine freshmen and sophomores.
5. INDIANA STATE SYCAMORES (8-10 MVC, 14-15 OVERALL)
Indiana State returns four starters from a team that reached the semi-finals of the MVC tournament for the first time since 2005-06 season.
The Sycamores will be led by senior Shannon Thomas who led the league in rebounds with 13 per game last season. Along with Thomas, Taylor Whitley and Brittany Schoen give Indiana State the only team in the conference to have three players return who scored more than 10 points a game in 2010-11.
Senior Deja Mattox and sophomore Anna Munn return after combining to average nearly 16 points per game last season.
6. ILLINOIS STATE REDBIRDS (12-6 MVC, 20-9 OVERALL)
After reaching the semi-finals of the WNIT for a third consecutive year and finishing the year undefeated at home, the Redbirds will be in rebuilding mode. They have won 20 games in five consecutive seasons, but will struggle to reach that mark this season.
Illinois State returns just one starter in senior Katie Broadway who averaged 12 points a game. Juniors Alexis Jenkins and Candace Sykes will add depth and experience to the Redbirds backcourt.
Megan Grace and Marley Hall will provide a one-two punch in the frontcourt.
7. DRAKE BULLDOGS (9-9 MVC, 15-14 OVERALL)
Drake enters the season with a balance of youth and experience. The Bulldogs return four starters from a team that went .500 in the MVC last season.
Senior Rachael Hackbarth returns after averaging 15 points and eight rebounds in 2010-11. She ranked in the top five in the league in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage.
Senior Amber Wollschlager and junior Kayla Person will provide outside shooting from the perimeter. Junior Stephanie Running and senior Alex Montgomery will look to anchor the Bulldogs’ defense in the paint.
8. BRADLEY BRAVES (7-11 MVC, 14-15 OVERALL)
Bradley returns four starters and 10 of 11 lettermen from a team that finished under .500 last season. With a wealth of experience returning, the Braves look to jump into the top half of the conference this season.
Headlining the returning group is junior guard Katie Yohn who averaged 12 points per game in 2010-11. Also returning in the backcourt is senior Lauren Niemiera and sophomore Kelsey Budd.
Bradley’s strength may come from the frontcourt in seniors Latasha Hollingshed and MacKenzie Westcott. Both averaged over six rebounds per game last season.
9. EVANSVILLE PURPLE ACES (3-15 MVC, 8-21 OVERALL)
Evansville will be under new leadership in 2011-12 after a dismal season that saw just eight wins a year ago. New coach Oties Epps will have four returning starters and its team’s top three scorers back.
Briyana Blair gave the Purple Aces nine points and four rebounds of production per game last season. Also returning is Samantha Heck and Meagan Collins who combined for 17 points and seven rebounds in 2010-11.
Jordan Lewis and Chelsea Falkenstein will provide depth for Evansville who opens a brand new stadium this season.
10. SOUTHERN ILLINOIS SALUKIS (0-18 MVC, 2-27 OVERALL)
Southern Illinois returns a wealth of talent with hopes of winning a game in the MVC this season. After winning just two games all season in 2010-11, the Salukis can only improve.
Junior guard Teri Oliver averaged 13 points per game last season and is a major threat from the perimeter after drilling 71 three-pointers.
Senior forward Charnise Mitchell and sophomores Sidney Goins and CiCi Shannon will provide versatility and experience.