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October 22, 2011

League preview: Missouri Valley

We continue with our league breakdowns for the upcoming season; we'll work backward from league No. 32 to our top-ranked league.

The breakdowns will become more in-depth as the leagues get bigger.


The Missouri Valley Conference is a young man's league.

That doesn't necessarily mean behind the bench, though it's true there, too. Illinois State's Tim Jankovich is the only MVC coach older than 50, and he's 52. Two coaches - Missouri State's Paul Lusk and Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery - are under the age of 40.

Instead, the more surprising youth movement in the MVC is on the rosters. In the Missouri Valley, as in other leagues of its ilk, we're used to seeing players blossom over the course of four years, with veteran-laden teams heading to the NCAA tournament.

That's why it's a change to see so many freshmen in recent seasons take up starring roles, starting with Creighton sophomore F Doug McDermott, who will be in a neck-and-neck race with Missouri State senior F Kyle Weems for conference player of the year honors.

Beyond McDermott, the non-traditional powers have been getting key contributions from freshmen. For example, Jake Odum took hold of the starting point guard spot at Indiana State last season. He wasn't a prolific scorer, but took charge on a team that went 12-6 in the MVC and earned the Sycamores' first NCAA bid since 2001.

At Drake, freshman G Rayvonte Rice led the Bulldogs in rebounds, blocks and steals while setting the school's freshman scoring record. Evansville's Colt Ryan is entering his junior season, and was perhaps the team's best player as a freshman (14.5 ppg) and sophomore (15.7 ppg).

Most of the attention, though, will be on McDermott, or at least his team. Creighton went to the NCAA tournament seven times in nine seasons from 1999-2007 before hitting a lull. That may end this year. McDermott (the son of coach Greg McDermott) isn't the only key player who is returning. PG Antoine Young led the MVC in assists (195) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.4-1), and C Gregory Echenique led the league in blocks (55).

Wichita State, which beat teams by an average of 15.4 points on its way to the NIT title, will contend for the conference crown as well. The Shockers return only two starters from a 29-8 team but add a highly touted junior college prospect in F Carl Hall. Both of the Shockers' returning starters are among the league's best players - G Toure' Murry and 7-foot C Garrett Stutz.

Indiana State won the league tournament before being overwhelmed by Syracuse in the NCAA tournament. The Sycamores were the surprise team in the MVC under first-year coach Greg Lansing, who took over after Kevin McKenna left to be an assistant at Oregon. Odum and seniors Dwayne Lathan and Carl Richard are the Sycamores' best players.

The defending regular-season champion, Missouri State, will be hard-pressed to repeat. Coach Cuonzo Martin, who led the rebuilding effort, is off to Tennessee. Four starters are gone, too, but the Bears do return Weems, who is the reigning MVC player of the year.

Northern Iowa shocked Kansas in the NCAA tournament two seasons ago and was in the MVC race until the final 10 games last season. That's when F Lucas O'Rear's season ended with an injury, and the Panthers finished on a 2-8 skid. Northern Iowa needs to rebuild defensively and also find more offensive balance after relying too heavily on the 3-pointer last season.

Evansville will be worth watching, as well. Ryan and coach Marty Simmons have pulled the Purple Aces out of the doldrums. This season, Evansville moves into a new arena with hopes of winning 20 games and finishing in the top half of the league.

C Gregory Echenique, Creighton (6-9/270, Jr.)
F Doug McDermott, Creighton (6-7/220, Soph.)
F Kyle Weems, Missouri State (6-6/226, Sr.)
G/F Colt Ryan, Evansville (6-5/210, Jr.)
G Antoine Young, Creighton (6-0/175, Sr.)
C Garrett Stutz, Wichita State (7-0/256, Sr.)
F Mamadou Seck, Southern Illinois (6-7/220, Sr.)
G Anthony James, Northern Iowa (6-0/175, Jr.)
G Toure' Murry, Wichita State (6-5/203, Sr.)
G Jake Odum, Indiana State (6-4/170, Soph.)

Missouri State F Kyle Weems
Wichita State F Carl Hall (6-8/228, Jr.; junior college transfer)

1. Creighton
2. Wichita State
3. Indiana State
4. Northern Iowa
5. Evansville
6. Missouri State
7. Drake
8. Southern Illinois
9. Bradley
10. Illinois State

Best frontcourt: Creighton
Best backcourt: Indiana State
Coach on the rise: Indiana State's Greg Lansing
Coach on the hot seat: Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery
Most underrated player: Drake G Rayvonte Rice
Program on the rise: Evansville
Program on the decline: Missouri State

New coaches: Bradley's Geno Ford (had been coach at Kent State), Missouri State's Paul Lusk (had been assistant at Purdue)
Regular-season winner last season: Missouri State
Tournament winner last season: Indiana State
League RPI in each of past 3 seasons: 12th in 2010-11, 9th in 2009-10, 8th in 2008-09
Last NCAA tournament win by a league team: 2010, Northern Iowa as a No. 9 seed in second round
2012 conference tournament: March 1-4, St. Louis

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David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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