The womens basketball teams in the Missouri Valley Conference should prepare for another shake up. There will be plenty of changes to the conference, and Im not just talking about the addition of Valparaiso. While the teams at the top of the MVC like Drake, Northern Iowa and Missouri State, still have a slight advantage over other programs, the gap between them and the rest of the conference will continue to narrow this season. Will that gap show up in the standings? Here are The Scouts predictions for the womens MVC standings; beginning with what team we think will take the conference crown:
The Bulldogs dominated the MVC last season, finishing 18-0 in conference play. Drake should have no problem continuing that dominance this season as they return three starters, including All-MVC selection and Freshman of the Year Becca Hittner. Also returning are two former MVC Freshman of the Year in Maddy Dean and Sara Rhine, who both missed much of last season due to injury. With so much talent, expect Drake to roll to another MVC title.
2. Missouri State
Despite their roster of eight underclassmen and just five juniors and seniors, the Bears will actually return the bulk of their production, including80.4 percent of its scoring. MSU also boasts the best player in the conference and the Preseason Player of the Year in senior Liza Fruendt. Fruendt averaged 16.7 points and 5 rebounds per game last year. With her leading the way, the Bears have a real shot to knock off Drake.
3. Southern Illinois
SIU lost their leading scorer, however, there is another solid player ready to step up and fill the void for the Salukis. Senior guard Kylie Giebelhausen will lead the young SIU squad that features four freshmen, six sophomores and three juniors. Giebelhausen does it all and finished last season ranked within the top-15 of the MVC in six statistical categories. Giebelhausen has one of the best three point shots in the conference and if she knocking them down from beyond the arc, SIU can beat anybody.
4. Northern Iowa
The Panthers are going to be tested this year, having such a young squad. UNI welcomes five new players into the mix as they returned just two starters. Sophomores Megan Maahs and Mikaela Morgan will be featured in the lineup, but the most important returnee and someone the Panthers will have to lean on is junior Ellie Howell. Howell was named MVC Sixth Player of the Year last season, averaging 12.2 points per game. The Panthers will need her scoring and leadership if they hope to stay relevant.
In head coach Andrea Gorskis second year at the helm, the Braves will have to find a way to replace star guard Leti Lerma whos playing n the pros. Bradley will need several players to step up including senior guards Anneke Schlueter and Dani Brewer. Sophomore forward Chelsea Brackmann, who made a big impact on the team last season, will also have to take another step forward this year. The Braves have the talent, they just need to execute and control the tempo of the game if they hope to once again improve their MVC win total.
6. Indiana State
Indiana State is an interesting team, as the Sycamores will be led by their big three of senior Ashley Taia, junior Tiara Webb and sophomore Wendi Bibbins. The trio accounted for over half of the programs offensive production last year, combining for 30 points, which produced for 54.4 percent of the teams offense. While the three give the Sycamores a solid core, they do not have much else to surround them with.
Evansville shocked a lot of people last season with its 8-10 MVC record and an 11-win improvement. The Purple Aces return their leading scorer from last season insSenior guard Brooke Dossett as well. Dossert not only scores well but she makes those around her better too, racking up 100 assists last season. There might not be much room to improve again in the win total but Evansville can steal some games from the teams at the top of the conference.
8. Illinois State
It will be another tough year for the Redbirds with first-year head coach Kristen Gillespie taking over the program. ISU was one of the youngest teams in the nation a year ago, and this youth will remain with two freshmen, six sophomores, four juniors and one senior. Hannah Green, the teams lone senior, provides the team with its defensive identity. The forward rejecting a MVC-best 75 shots last season. The Redbirds will not have enough offense to be relevant though.
After struggling last season, finishing just 1-17 in conference, the lone bright spot for Loyola is that they return all five starters from last season. Along with the starters, the Ramblers added six newcomers who will get a chance to make an impact. Loyola should improve on its win total based on experience and chemistry alone, but its history suggests they will not make much noise.
Valpo enters its first season in the valley after going 10-21 overall in its final season as a member of the Horizon League. The Crusaders are led by senior Dani Frankl,in who averaged 18 points per game last season, which would make her the leading scorer in the MVC. Franklin was not battling against MVC opponents last year though, and there will need to be some adjustments that take place with the conference move.