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I am going to take a look at the Missouri Valley Conference that has a team in the Creighton Blue Jays who are getting national honors in both polls. Let’s take an in depth look at what Creighton is going to matchup against this season that has the opportunity to keep them from reaching the top 25.

Creighton BlueJays

Coach Greg McDermott knows that there will be high expectations of his team this season. Creighton returns 3 starters and a few solid bench players who contributed nicely from their 23 win team last season.

Returning to Creighton this season are 3 elite players that will be in the starting lineup that at any time can take over a game. Sophomore forward Doug McDermott (14.9 PPG, 7.2 RPG), junior Center Gregory Echenique (10.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG) and the floor general senior guard Antoine Young (13.1 PPG, 5.0 APG) will be the go to guys on this team. Jahenns Manigat (5.4 PPG, 2.0 RPG) should get inserted into the starting lineup considering he made outstanding progress once he was inserted into the starting lineup for the second half of last season.  Junior guard Grant Gibbs who transferred from Gonzaga should see considerable minutes this season considering he showed outstanding leadership in practices since that is all he was able to participate in last year.

The Bluejays figure they are going to be the team with a bull’s eye on their back this season. Coach McDermott understands that and he has made it aware that the high expectations are what his program wants to have as normal around campus.  By the end of the season there is a very good chance Creighton will be nationally ranked and could be a bit of a sleeper team come tournament time.

Wichita State Shockers

Coach Gregg Marshall and his Shockers brought home the NIT championship last season. Expectations are going to be extremely high for this team to repeat there 29 wins last season and get their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006.

Wichita State returns just 2 starters from that 29 win team last season.  Returning to the Shockers starting lineup; 7 foot senior Garrett Stutz (7.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG) and senior guard Toure’ Murry (9.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.4 APG).  Senior guard Joe Ragland (7.0 PPG, 2.8 APG) established himself last season once he was inserted into the starter role and should be in that position again this season. Junior forward Carl Hall a junior college transfer should see significant playing time right away. Freshman Forward Jake White who can score both inside and out will see plenty of minutes in the frontcourt to help this team.

Coach Greg Marshall is hoping that he can use that NIT championship as motivation to get this team in the big dance. Wichita State is going to give Creighton a run for their money in this conference and could be a sleeper team to make the NCAA tournament this season.

Indiana State Sycamores

First year head coach Greg Lansing and his Indiana State Sycamores shocked the Missouri Valley Conference last season by going into the Conference tournament and upsetting Wichita State and Missouri State to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament. What will the Sycamores do for an encore this season?

Indiana State returns 3 starters from that Conference Championship team last season.  Senior Carl Richard (9.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG) who led the Missouri Valley in offensive rebounds returns with senior guard Dwayne Lathan (10.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG) and sophomore guard Jake Odom (9.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 4.1 APG).  Senior Myles Walker (6.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG) should slide into the starting lineup along with senior Jordan Printy (6.2 PPG, 1.0 RPG).  Freshman guard Brandon Burnett (84th on ESPN’S top 100) and Gonzaga transfer Mangistro Arop will see significant time coming off the bench to supply some depth to this team.

Coach Lansing has made it clear that he wants to win a regular season conference championship and wants his team back in the NCAA tournament. The Sycamores are going to have their hands full with Creighton and Wichita State being stacked this season. Though if we look at last season anything can happen and these Sycamores could accomplish those goals they have set by Coach Lansing.

Drake Bulldogs

Head Coach Mark Phelps is in his fourth season on the bench for the Bulldogs and this could be his best season yet. This will actually be Phelps’s first season with more juniors and seniors than freshman and sophomores on his team.

Drake will return four starters to this team this season. Sophomore guard Rayvonte Rice (13.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG and 1.6 APG) will be the floor leader for this team. Joining Rice on the floor in the starting lineup will be junior center Seth VanDeest (8.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG), junior forward Ben Simmons (8.1 PPG, 2.0 RPG) and junior forward Jordan Clarke (5.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG) who saw limited action last season due to an elbow  injury. Drake has outstanding size for a mid-major team with 7 players 6-8 or taller. If Drake can use that size and keep them from getting over-whelmed by the tops teams in this conference they will be able to compete.

Expectations are not extremely high at Drake considering they did finish 7th in the conference last season. Getting over .500 would be a successful season for these Bulldogs. With back to back losing seasons in Drake if this team does not get above .500 Coach Mark Phelps might be on his way out of Drake.

Northern Iowa Panthers

Coach Ben Jacobson knows that this season is not going to be an easy one.  Jacobson has to find a way for this Panthers team to stay competitive after the losing their leading scorer last season Kwadzo Ahelegbe (14.1 PPG) who was also the Missouri Valley defensive player of the year and Lucas O’Rear (6.9 PPG) who we saw go down with an injury last February and the Panthers season just fell apart once he was done, losing 8 of their last 10 and having no chance at a 3rd straight regular season conference championship.

Northern Iowa was one of the best defensive teams in the nation last season for points allowed. The Panthers allowed 60.2 PPG ranking them 1st in the Missouri Valley and 13th nationally. Northern Iowa will have three of their starters back from that outstanding defensive team they had last season.  Returning to the Panthers  starting lineup will be senior guard Johnny Moran (9.6 PPG, 2.3 APG), junior forward Jake Koch (9.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG) and the new go to guy on this team junior guard Anthony James (12.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG).  Red-Shirt freshman forward Nate Boss will have to showcase his skills that made him the state of Iowa’s leading scorer as a senior in High School.  The point guard position is going to be up for grabs at Northern Iowa between junior guard Marc Sonnen (4.8 PPG, 2.6 RPG) and freshman Deon Mitchell who averaged 21 points per game and 6 assist per game as a senior in high school last season.

Northern Iowa does have a decent group of players to compete in this Missouri Valley Conference. If coach Ben Jacobson is able to get this team to work together and Anthony James is able to take over the leader role, this Panthers team can be very dangerous with how well they play defense.

Evansville Purple Aces

Head Coach Marty Simmons will find out how good his Evansville squad is this season when they tip-off their season against Butler in their new $127 Million downtown stadium.  Evansville went 16-16 last season which was 7 wins more than the season before that.  Can Coach Simmons improve this season now after getting to .500 and getting an invitation to the College Basketball Invitational last season?

Evansville brings a young team to the table this season.  The Purple Aces will suit 3 seniors, 4 juniors, 1 sophomore and 4 freshmen this season. Returning to the starting lineup for Evansville this season will be senior Kenneth Harris (8.3 PPG, 5.9 RPG), senior Denver Holmes (7.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG) and the Missouri Valley Leagues 3rd ranked scorer junior Colt Ryan (15.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG). Junior guard Troy Taylor (2.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG) will be in position to take over the point while junior guard Ned Cox (7.3 PPG, 1.4 RPG), junior guard Lewis Jones (3.6 PPG, 1.7 RPG) and sophomore guard Jordan Jahr (3.8 PPG, 2.2 RPG) will add some depth to the backcourt.

Evansville can be a tricky team to figure out this season. If Colt Ryan can improve on his scoring from last season and Kenneth Harris can figure what caused him to fade in the 2nd half of last season this team could be dangerous with a top 3 scorer (Ryan) and a top 10 rebounder (Harris). The Purple aces should finish above .500 this season and could get another invite back to a post season tournament other than the big dance.

Missouri State Bears

Coach Paul Lusk and the Missouri State Bears are going to have their hands full trying to defend their Missouri Valley Conference regular season championship. Defending that Championship could have been a lot harder if reigning Conference player of the year Kyle Weems would not have returned for his senior season.  Instead Weems returns to the starting lineup as the lone starter for this Bears team.

Missouri Valley Player of the year Kyle Weems (16.0 PPG, 6.9 PPG) will be the only veteran face in this starting lineup. Missouri State does have a few different options to put on the court with Weems to help make a run at another regular championship and the possibility of a NCAA Tournament appearance.  Senior guard Michael Bizoukas who is a DePaul Transfer and JC Transfer Anthony Downing will have the opportunity to contend for the starting backcourt positions. Senior center Caleb Patterson (5.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG) will be the man in the middle with sophomore Nathan Scheer (4.1 PPG, 1.8 RPG) and Junior College transfer Corbin Thomas who earned JC All-American honors will contend to join Weems in the frontcourt.

We all need to face the facts that this is going to be extremely tough for Missouri State to repeat what they did last season even with the returning MOV player of the year. The Bears could shock some people and find a way to put together another strong season with this group of newcomers but until they do this looks just an average season for the Bears.

Bradley Braves

Geno Ford takes over the bench for a Bradley team that never fished higher than 4th in 9 seasons under previous coach Jim Les.  Ford will inherit a team with a starting lineup that is up in the air as of right now due to injuries to some players.

Junior guard Dyricus Simms-Edwards (10.5 PPG, 3.5 APG) is the only definite back in the starting lineup for the Bears. Senior Will Egolf (8.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG) status is up in the air right now due to an ACL injury. Sophomore forward Jordan Presser (5.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG) started mainly due to injury issues on this Bears team last season and now that the talented senior forward Taylor Brown is back after his cardiac issues last season can cause Presser his starting job. Sophomore guard Walt Lemon Jr. (6.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG) will look for an expanded role after a solid showing last season as a freshman. Senior center Anthony Thompson (1.1 PPG, 1.8 RPG) and freshman center Nate Wells could see significant action due to Will Egolf’s injury.

Bradley looks like it can be in for a rough first season under new head coach Geno Ford with all of these uncertainties. If Coach Ford is able to figure this lineup out and with Taylor Brown being back they could finish a bit better than 9th in the conference like last season.

Southern Illinois Salukis

Southern Illinois head coach Chris Lowery is going to have to sit down and think about how to get this Salukis program back to the way things were going. In Lowery’s first 3 seasons with the program the Salukis were 78-26 but have since taken a turn for the worse and are only 59-67 the last 4 seasons that includes a 13-19 record last season.

Southern Illinois will return 3 starters back to the lineup this season. Returning to the lineup will be senior forward Mamadou Seck (10.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG) who led the conference in rebounding, junior guard Kendal Brown-Suires (7.2 PPG, 1.7 RPG) and senior guard Justin Bocot (6.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG).  Coach Lowery is going to have to look to freshman forward Treg Setty,  freshman center Harry Whitt, freshman forward Tony Bryer  and freshman forward Dantiel Daniels to fill into this lineup and give some well needed starter minutes and some depth if they plan on contending in this league this season.

Southern Illinois needs to have coach Lowery get this team to buy into his aggressive defensive style that produced winning seasons the first three seasons he was there.  If coach Lowery does not start to get these high profile recruits to buy into this system he could be looking elsewhere in the next year or two.  With knowing that his job is on the line and the amount of talent that this conference has this season it could be another rough season coming out of Southern Illinois.

Illinois State Redbirds

Head Coach Tim Jankovich knows his team was not very good offensively last season and has since issued a challenge to his players to improve on the offensive side of the court by spending more time in the gym and working out instead of just playing video games and hanging around in their rooms.

Illinois State enters this season with four players returning to the starting lineup.  Back for the Redbirds this season will be junior guard Anthony Cousin (6.8 PPG, 2.1 APG), junior guard John Wilkins (7.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG), sophomore forward Jon Ekey (4.6 PPG, 4.0 RPG, and 1.8 BPG) and junior guard Jackie Carmichael (9.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG).  Freshman guard Nick Zeisloft, freshman Nic Moore, junior guard Tyler Brown a two-time JC All-American and junior Darious Clark a JC transfer all have the potential to land as the 5th starter while they all provide outstanding depth from the 3-point attack.

Illinois State may not have the team this year to compete for a Missouri Valley Conference title bit look for this team to be extremely dangerous over the next few seasons.  The Redbirds will not have a senior night this season considering they do not have a senior on their team. The experience that this group is going to get this year is only going to make things better over the next few seasons for coach Jankovich and his staff.

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