Athlon Sports continues its countdown to the start of the 2012-13 basketball season, which begins with the first games on Nov. 9, with a countdown of the nation’s top conferences. We will release one conference preview each day, counting down to the top conference. For profiles of every team in each conference, check out the 2012-13 Athlon Sports College Basketball annual available in the online store.
The return of All-American Doug McDermott to Creighton will be the biggest story in the Missouri Valley in 2012-13. The other nine teams hope the Bluejays forward isn’t the only story.
McDermott became the league’s first All-America selection since Wichita State’s Xavier McDaniel in 1985, and he’s the first to return to make a run at national player of the year since Indiana State’s Larry Bird in 1979.
With nine of the top 10 scorers returning to Creighton, McDermott will have plenty of help in trying to get the Bluejays over the hump from a solid postseason team to a true NCAA Tournament threat.
Beyond the McDermott storyline, the question is if Creighton won’t be alone playing in March. With regular season champion Wichita State and MVC tournament champion Creighton both reaching the Tournament field last season, it marked the first time since 2007 multiple teams from the MVC made the field.
Wichita State lost five seniors from last year’s team but returns the league’s top newcomer from 2011-12 plus a key transfer. Illinois State has a solid nucleus, but a first-time head coach. Northern Iowa has been quiet since its Sweet 16 trip two years ago, but the Panthers have quietly rebuilt themselves into a postseason contender. And Evansville and Indiana State, with veterans Colt Ryan and Jake Odum, respectively, will be tough for any team to face.
ATHLON ALL-MISSOURI VALLEY TEAM
MISSOURI VALLEY FACTS AND FIGURES
G Jake Odum, Indiana State
2011-12 regular season champion: Wichita State
G/F Colt Ryan, Evansville
2012 NCAA Tournament teams: Creighton#, Wichita State
F Doug McDermott, Creighton*
New coaches: Barry Hinson (Southern Illinois), Dan Muller (Illinois State)
F Jackie Carmichael, Illinois State
F Ben Simons, Drake
*preseason player of the year
#conference tournament champion
2012-13 MISSOURI VALLEY CONFERENCE
1. Creighton (28-5, 14-4)
Doug McDermott is a fabulously efficient scorer. As a sophomore, he averaged 22.9 points and made 60.1 percent from the field overall and 48.6 percent from 3. He also rebounds — he averaged 8.2 per game — and should win his second MVC Player of the Year award. He spent the offseason trying to round out his offensive game, specifically working on his ball-handling. The roster around McDermott returns mostly intact, but Creighton’s lone major loss is significant. Antoine Young ran the team for three seasons, played tough defense and rarely turned the ball over. He could create his own shot, a trait the Bluejays will miss. With nine of its top 10 players back, however, the Bluejays are worthy of national attention. They defeated Alabama in the NCAA Tournament game last season before falling to North Carolina. This season won’t be a success without playing into the second weekend. Creighton should navigate the MVC’s 18-game schedule with its depth and experience overwhelming most rivals. Their offense should set a pace that is tough to match. If defense grows into more of a priority, the Bluejays are capable of their best march through March.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Two and Out
Related: Q and A with Creighton’s Doug McDermott
2. Wichita State (27-5, 16-2)
Wichita State is back where its passionate fans believe it belongs. The Shockers are the defending MVC champions and played in the NCAA Tournament in 2012 after winning the NIT in 2011. Gregg Marshall needed a few years to get going, but he has now won 20 or more games three straight seasons. The Shockers lost five seniors from the MVC champions, most notably All-MVC picks Garrett Stutz and Joe Ragland and All-Defensive team selection Touré Murry. Carl Hall, the ’11-12 MVC Newcomer of the Year after averaging 8.4 points and 5.0 rebounds, leads a frontcourt that should matchup favorably with most teams in the league. The backcourt should be in good hands with senior Demetric Williams, a combo guard who is WSU’s best one-on-one defender. Senior Malcolm Armstead, a transfer with one season of eligibility, started 52 games at Oregon in two seasons and averaged 8.6 points as a junior.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament One and Done
3. Illinois State (20-13, 9-9)
It will be interesting to see which party profits the most — in a basketball sense — from this summer’s upheaval. Coach Tim Jankovich walked out on a loaded team to become Larry Brown’s assistant (and coach-in-waiting) at SMU. He took point guard Nic Moore, one of the MVC’s top freshmen, with him to Dallas and a future in the Big East. The school recovered nicely by hiring former Redbirds star Dan Muller, a long-time assistant at Vanderbilt, although the transition could knock Illinois State down a spot or two in the standings. This is a good year to test the Redbirds, even without Moore. Senior forward Jackie Carmichael (13.9 ppg, 9.7 rpg) is one of the Valley’s best big men. Senior guard Tyler Brown (13.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg) earned a spot on the MVC’s All-Newcomer team.
Postseason prediction: NIT
4. Northern Iowa (19-13, 9-9)
After two seasons atop the MVC, Northern Iowa slipped toward the middle of the pack in 2011 and 2012. The Panthers aren’t interested in quick fixes. They build patiently, with four- and five-year players who are developed in their system. This season, UNI’s patience might pay off. The Panthers return six of their top seven scorers. With four seniors (three in their fifth year at UNI), it’s time for the Panthers to contend for a league title. To make that kind of a run, the Panthers need to diversify their offense. They are one of the Valley’s best 3-point shooting teams. Last season, they made 38.6 percent of their 3s and attempted 691, second-most in the conference. Too often, however, the offense didn’t do damage inside the arc. UNI lacks a low-post scorer, unless sophomore center Seth Tuttle, the 2011-12 MVC Freshman of the Year, grows into that role.
Postseason prediction: NIT
5. Evansville (16-15, 9-9)
Senior swingman Colt Ryan has never had enough help to make the Aces a true title contender in the MVC. Ryan, who averaged 20.5 points and 4.2 rebounds as a junior, is a talented scorer who adds something to his game each season. He passes effectively and is skilled at drawing fouls and making free throws (84.4 percent). He makes the Aces competitive, but he can’t make them an upper-level team without scoring and rebounding help. Evansville will play hard. Coach Marty Simmons excels at getting the most out of his players, and MVC teams hate to face the Aces’ physical defense and motion offense. It is never an easy night when Evansville is on the schedule, and Simmons deserves credit for building that reputation.
6. Drake (18–16, 9–9)
This was supposed to be the big season for the Bulldogs. Then sophomore guard Rayvonte Rice (16.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg) transferred to Illinois. Drake will miss his power and speed, and there is no replacement in sight. Almost everybody else is back, starting with senior forward Ben Simons (16.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg), who turned into one of the MVC’s stars. Center Seth VanDeest is back after missing last season with a shoulder injury, and he is a legit MVC big man who averaged 8.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in 2010-11. Sophomore Karl Madison started 29 games at point guard. Forward Jordan Clarke is a tough interior defender. Sophomore guard Jeremy Jeffers made 43.2 percent (32-of-74) of his 3-point shots. Eight newcomers are on hand, including guard Chris Hines, a senior transfer from Utah who averaged 9.6 points per game as a junior. He is eligible immediately. With Rice, Drake likely would have contended for a top-three spot in the Valley. Without him, the Bulldogs are a middle-of-the-pack team. Fifth-year coach Mark Phelps is making progress and raising the level of talent. If Hines can improve his shooting, Rice’s absence might not be so problematic and the Bulldogs could make a move.
7. Indiana State (18–15, 8–10)
If point guard Jake Odum (10.8 ppg, 4.8 apg) is healthy, it might not matter who surrounds him. Odum led the Sycamores to the NCAA Tournament as a freshman, leading an unlikely group with his passing and swagger. As a sophomore, injuries slowed him down, and the Sycamores couldn’t recreate the 2011 magic. Odum, now a junior, is back, and coach Greg Lansing says his star guard is feeling good. “He looks like the old Jake,” Lansing says. Three of the top four scorers are gone, and Odum is the only returner who started more than six games. Lansing is counting on Gonzaga transfer Manny Arop to add athletic ability at forward. He started eight games as a sophomore at Gonzaga, scoring a high of 16 points at Notre Dame. He averaged 4.6 points and 2.6 rebounds in 2010-11. Guard Dawon Cummings averaged 13.8 points at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. The Sycamores need more contributions from junior forward R.J. Mahurin and sophomore bigs Justin Gant and Jake Kitchell and to make up for the departure of center Myles Walker and forward Carl Richard. Transfer Mike Samuels didn’t put up big numbers in junior college, but the 6-11, 265 pound big man gives the Sycamores some needed size around the basket.
Freshman guard Khristian Smith committed to Cincinnati before attending prep school and eventually signing with the Sycamores.
8. Bradley (7–25, 2–16)
Last season will live on as the worst in Bradley’s proud history. The Braves finished alone in last place in the MVC for the first time, and the 25 losses were a school record. Improvement will be slow. Coach Geno Ford isn’t tearing up his roster. Guard Walt Lemon Jr. (12.6 ppg) needs to move off the ball to really shine. Senior guard Dyricus Simms-Edwards (11.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg) stagnated as a junior but has the talent to do more. Junior forward Tyshon Pickett, the lone transfer eligible this season, could join returners Jordan Prosser (7.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Shayok Shayok (3.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg) and Will Egolf, back after a knee injury, to form an adequate frontcourt. If redshirt freshman Nate Wells, a 7-footer, contributes, it’s a bonus. Ford is counting on Pickett, from Dodge City (Kan.) Community College, to rebound and add much-needed toughness. “I don’t know if we were the softest team in the league, but we weren’t the toughest,” Ford says. “We’re doing a lot of competitive stuff and trying to get our guys used to winning again. We need to hate losing a little bit more than we maybe have.”
9. Missouri State (16–16, 9–9)
Second-year coach Paul Lusk’s real work begins now, after the graduation of 2011 MVC Player of the Year Kyle Weems and two other seniors. The Bears may take a step back from a .500 season. The summer brought disaster when senior forward Jarmar Gullley (10.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg) suffered a season-ending knee injury. Senior guard Anthony Downing (11.5 ppg) is solid, but needs help. The Bears need a point guard and lack size, factors which should move them toward the bottom of the MVC. Tevin Bracey, who averaged 7.8 assists for Westchester (N.Y.) Community College last season,may be the answer at point guard. Guard Keith Pickens is a defensive stopper plagued by injuries. Forward Christian Kirk is athletic and should improve after starting 14 games as a freshman. Guard Nathan Scheer failed to grab a bigger role after a solid freshman season on an experienced team. An exhibition trip to Costa Rica was a needed step for this program.
10. Southern Illinois (8–23, 5–13)
The Salukis hired the right coach to get them through a bad time. Barry Hinson will stay upbeat and crack jokes all season, in part to deflect pressure from his team. “It’s been an eye-opening experience for about 11 guys,” Hinson said during the summer. “It was for 12 guys, one guy’s eyes were wide-open so much that he decided to quit.” SIU lost its best player (Mamadou Seck) and doesn’t return a player who averaged double-figures. It will take Hinson at least two seasons to restock. He knows how, after spending the past four seasons as the director of basketball operations at Kansas and nine as the head coach at Missouri State. Sophomore forward Dantiel Daniels (8.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg) decided to stay after announcing his departure. Junior guard Desmar Jackson, a transfer, should start. He averaged 14.6 points and 4.2 rebounds for Wyoming as a sophomore. Expect Hinson to play fast and try to get the Salukis to play a style similar to the one coached by Bill Self at Kansas. SIU will need to run up and down because it lacks size. Kendal Brown-Surles (8.0 ppg, 2.4 apg), T.J. Lindsay (7.1 ppg) and Jeff Early (8.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg) are senior guards who can smooth Hinson’s transition.
More previews for the 2012-13 season can be found in the Athlon Sports College Basketball annual available in the online store
Athlon College Basketball Countdown:
8. Ohio State
10. Michigan State
11. NC State
14. North Carolina
15. San Diego State
19. Notre Dame
More from the 2012-13 College Basketball Preview:
Top 10 Freshmen for 2012-13
Impact Transfers for 2012-13
Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2012-13
10 Players Returning from Injury
Gonzaga leads International Dream Team