By Kevin Sweeney
The past few seasons have been some of the best in the Missouri Valley’s history. Wichita State certainly has led the way, reaching the Final Four in 2013 before entering the NCAA Tournament 34-0 in 2014. The Shockers haven’t been the only team to shine in recent years from the MVC, though. Northern Iowa has developed one of the strongest mid-major programs in college basketball, while other teams, such as Illinois State and Evansville, have enjoyed successful stretches. However, with many of the league’s stars from years past, such as Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet of Wichita State, Wes Washpun of Northern Iowa, and D.J. Balentine & Egidijus Mockevicius of Evansville, all having graduated and moved on to the pro ranks, this season will be the beginning of a new era in the MVC. With the talent being stockpiled like never before, this era has a chance to be the greatest in the MVC’s history.
- Wichita State
- Northern Iowa
- Illinois State
- Indiana State
- Missouri State
- Southern Illinois
- Loyola (IL)
Champions: Wichita State- They have sustained heavy losses, but the Shockers are still the team to beat in the Missouri Valley. They lose 3 starters, Baker, VanVleet, and Evan Wessel, holdovers from the undefeated season and Final Four Trip. With those guys gone, less experienced players will have to step up. Expectations are high for sophomore Markis McDuffie, who averaged 7.4 points per game off the bench but showed flashes of stardom, as well as redshirt freshman Landry Shamet, who averaged nearly 9 points per game in 3 games before a foot injury prematurely ended his season. The point guard position may be shaky, with a mix of veteran Conner Frankamp, JUCO transfer Daishon Smith, and redshirt freshman Austin Reaves expected to fill the massive void left by VanVleet, one of the best point guards in program history. The Shockers may take some lumps early in the season, but by the end of the year, they should once again be at the top of the MVC.
Dark Horse: Illinois State- The Redbirds have flown under the radar over the past few years, overshadowed by the national successes of Northern Iowa and Wichita State. However, Illinois State has won at least 18 games in 5 consecutive seasons, earning 3 postseason appearances in the process. Now, with many of the other contenders in the conference rebuilding, this may be the Redbirds’ best chance of claiming the MVC title. With 3 double-digit scorers returning from last season, including the versatile MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State has experience unmatched by any other MVC team. Replacing DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell won’t be easy, but the Redbirds should be in contention to cut down the nets at “Arch Madness” in St. Louis.
Preseason First Team:
- F: Markis McDuffie- Wichita State
- F: MiKyle McIntosh-Illinois State
- G: Jeremy Morgan-Northern Iowa
- G: Brenton Smith-Indiana State
- G: Reed Timmer-Drake
Player of the Year: Jeremy Morgan- Morgan had some huge games last season, including a 36 point, 12 rebound effort against Texas A&M in the NCAA Tournament, but was inconsistent. Now, without the crutch of Wes Washpun and Matt Bohannon to protect him in bad games, Morgan must step up become a consistent force for the Panthers. The tools are certainly there, as Morgan knocked down 41% of his 3-point attempts while also leading the Panthers in rebounding with 5.3 per game and contributing on defense with nearly 2 steals per game. Morgan’s play will be huge key if the Panthers want to make a 3rd straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Newcomer of the Year: Thik Bol (Southern Illinois)- One of the top shot-blockers in the junior college ranks the past 2 seasons, Bol looks to solidify the center position for the Salukis, who are thin up front. He averaged over 4 blocks per game in his 2 seasons at Iowa Western Community College, helping them to a 47-1 record in that span. While his offensive game is still developing, Bol can immediately produce as a rim protector for the Salukis, who return 6 out of their top 8 scorers from a season ago.