MVC men’s basketball ballots are due today (I got mine in last week because I’m an overachiever). I didn’t make many changes from picks earlier in the summer, other than dropping Illinois State. I’m higher on Bradley than most of the magazines I’ve seen. The top six seem safe bets to finish in or around the top half – most are solid programs with veteran coaches. While schools such as UNI and Evansville lost several seniors, they shouldn’t fall off dramatically. The bottom four appears to be a real guessing game and I’m don’t see that group racking up many RPI-building wins.Reggie Miller would put WSU’s Ron Baker on his preseason All-MVC team, if Reggie Miller had a vote.My only small reach on the All-MVC team is Shocker guard Ron Baker, who didn’t play a regular-season MVC game last season. Good arguments can be made for players who appeared in more than 18 games and averaged double figures, such as UNI’s Seth Tuttle or SIU’s Desmar Jackson. I won’t be surprised if WSU’s Tekele Cotton is in this conversation in March. Baker’s not a reach based on how he played in March.
1. Wichita State - No reason not to pick the Shockers No. 1, although I don’t expect this season to be an easy ride through the MVC. What does winning a post-Creighton MVC title mean? I guess we’ll find out.
2. Indiana State - Tons of experience in a conference that traditionally rewards senior-laden teams. A healthy Mike Samuels (an enormous junior center who missed last season with an injury) would help. Shocker fans should cheer, cheer, cheer for the Sycamores, who are likely the Valley’s only other team with an NCAA at-large chance.
3. Bradley - Not an overwhelming amount of experience, so disregard the importance of MVC minutes when judging the Braves. I think coach Geno Ford can recruit and get his guys to play hard, so I’m buying the Braves as a rising power in the Valley.
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4. Northern Iowa – We’ll see what Tuttle and Deon Mitchell can do without James, Sonnen and (Jake) Koch. Only two seniors, but that’s misleading because so many Panthers redshirt. I’m interested to see what Tennessee transfer Wes Washpun adds.
5. Missouri State - If MSU’s new big men contribute at the expected level or higher, the Bears could make a move. Jarmar Gulley’s health is crucial.
6. Evansville - I don’t think the Aces will drop off as much as expected without Colt Ryan. Last season, Illinois State finished sixth with two players who spent July in the NBA Summer League. Fifth-place Indiana State gave an at-large bid a good run after beating Miami and Ole Miss in December. I don’t see similar strength in the Valley’s mid-section this season.
7. Southern Illinois - Now I’m just guessing.
8. Drake - Ray Giacoletti’s addition to the MVC is a strong move for the conference. Surely, he doesn’t leave a sweet gig at Gonzaga without knowing he can win at Drake. He inherits a team that loses five of its top seven scorers. The departure of forward Joey King, who transferred to Minnesota, is especially damaging.
9. Loyola - Moved up from 10th because of Illinois State’s disastrous summer/fall. The Ramblers return a fair amount of experience (after going 15-16 last season) and add Kansas transfer Milton Doyle. Above all else: Chicago is a direct flight from the ICT and for that reason I’m down with Loyola.
10. Illinois State - Junior guard Daishon Knight is suspended indefinitely. Freshman MiKyle McIntosh can’t play this season. Three Redbirds played in an NCAA Division I game and all are sophomores. Just when the MVC desperately needs one of its historically strongest programs to maintain, the Redbirds are in peril. Coach Dan Muller has a lot of work to do to shake this level of turmoil (four players transferred and one was kicked off during the spring and summer).
Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
Ron Baker, Wichita State
Jake Odum, Indiana State
Manny Arop, Indiana State
Walt Lemon, Jr., Bradley