Coach: Greg McDermott, 52-22 in two seasons
2011-12: 29-6, 14-4 MVC (2nd), NCAA Tournament
Star power: F Doug McDermott (22.9 points, 8.2 rebounds), C Gregory Echenique (9.7 points, 7.3 rebounds)
Never miss a local story.
Remember this name: G Austin Chatman, a sophomore, takes over at point guard. He will pass more than Antoine Young, his predecessor, and the Bluejays need him to avoid turnovers and keep the offense running.
On the bright side: The Bluejays got a taste of NCAA success and expect to do more this season. McDermott is a better scorer with the addition of some dribble moves and G Grant Gibbs will help Chatman direct the offense. Echenique is a smoother offensive threat after a summer working on his skills.
Compelled to mention: Creighton will miss Young’s ability to score with the shot clock running down. The Bluejays need a defensive stopper to emerge to counter the MVC’s talented wings.
Come mid-March: The Bluejays expect to play a Sweet 16 game and celebrate the program’s long-awaited NCAA Tournament breakthrough. McDermott should be a national Player of the Year candidate and pondering his NBA options.
2. Wichita State
Coach: Gregg Marshall, 109-61 in five seasons
2011-12: 27-6, 16-2 MVC (1st), NCAA Tournament
Star power: F Carl Hall (8.4 points, 5.0 rebounds)
Remember this name: G Malcolm Armstead is an irritating defender who played two seasons at Oregon and set a season record with 89 steals. He practiced with the Shockers last season.
On the bright side: The Shockers are more athletic than any MVC team — nobody owns a backup center who can match shot-blocker Ehimen Orukpe — and experienced enough to figure out how to win. If newcomers such as Cleanthony Early and Nick Wiggins learn their roles, WSU will be deep and dangerous.
Compelled to mention: Nobody is sure where the scoring comes from after the loss of five seniors from one of the nation’s best offenses. Blending in eight players wearing a Shocker uniform for the first time is a challenge.
Come mid-March: The Shockers easily could be an NCAA-quality team. Will their non-conference schedule and the strength of the MVC make them an at-large candidate? This team should be better in March than it is in December, so perhaps this is the season the Shockers win the MVC Tournament. If not, the NIT is the likely destination.
3. Illinois State
Coach: Dan Muller, first season
2011-12: 21-14, 9-9 MVC (T3rd), NIT
Star power: C Jackie Carmichael (13.9 points, 9.7 rebounds), G Tyler Brown (13.7 points, 3.8 rebounds)
Remember this name: F John Wilkins gets one season to live up to his recruiting hype. If Wilkins gets tougher and takes full advantage of his size and skills, the Redbirds will move up.
On the bright side: Muller, a former Redbirds star, writes a storybook return and gets Illinois State to its first NCAA Tournament since 1998. Carmichael continues his rapid improvement and moves into NBA Draft consideration, all while pushing McDermott for MVC honors.
Compelled to mention: Freshman Kaza Keane needs to play adequately at point guard, not an easy task for a rookie. Senior Anthony Cousin struggled at that spot two years ago and is better at shooting guard.
Come mid-March: The Redbirds are desperate to return to the NCAA Tournament after several close calls. The schedule is stronger than in past seasons, but not so strong they can afford many stumbles. Look for the Redbirds to get back to the NIT after coming up short as an at-large candidate again.
4. Northern Iowa
Coach: Ben Jacobson, 129-70 in six seasons
2011-12: 20-14, 9-9 MVC (T3rd), NIT
Star power: G Anthony James (12.5 points), F Jake Koch (8.5 points, 5.4 rebounds)
Remember this name: G Deon Mitchell lost weight and should be quicker and able to play more minutes. The Panthers need his penetration and passing to set up shooters.
On the bright side: UNI is reloaded, to a point, from its back-to-back MVC titles in 2009 and ’10. Six of its top seven scorers are back and redshirts deepen the roster. The Panthers are an experienced, no-nonsense bunch that won’t make mistakes. Sophomore C Seth Tuttle, last season’s MVC Freshman of the Year, should be an improved offensive threat.
Compelled to mention: UNI is 19-17 in the MVC and 0-2 in the MVC Tournament the past two seasons. It needs to find inside scoring to win more consistently. UNI relied too much on three-pointers last season. Has it topped out, or is there another level in this group?
Come mid-March: The Panthers can build a strong NCAA resume with their challenging schedule. Should they emerge in January with two or three quality wins, watch out. Until then, pencil them in as another NIT team..
Coach: Marty Simmons, 67-88 in five seasons
2011-12: 16-16, 9-9 MVC (T3rd), CBI
Star power: G Colt Ryan (20.5 points, 5.2 rebounds), G Ned Cox (9.2 points, 3.0 assists)
Remember this name: F Ryan Sawvell battled bigger players in the post as a freshman. Simmons hopes he can play forward more as a sophomore to lessen his physical disadvantage and use his shooting.
On the bright side: Ryan gives the Aces a chance in every game and his ability to draw fouls can ruin a defender’s night. He is surrounded by an experienced team that will battle every minute on defense. Yes, teams hate to play the Aces. Evansville lost five MVC games by two points or less and a sixth in overtime. Perhaps it is due for good luck.
Compelled to mention: Evansville started one player taller than 6-foot-5 in its 73-55 exhibition win over NCAA Division II Southern Indiana and needed Ryan to take 20 shots and score 33 points. It is hard to make that formula work over a season in the MVC.
Come mid-March: The Aces are one team thrilled by the potential of an NIT bid. It hasn’t been to the NIT or the NCAA since 1999. Unfortunately for Ryan, this isn’t the season to break out. The CBI and CIT are calling again.
Coach: Mark Phelps, 62-69 in four seasons
2011-12: 18-16, 9-9 MVC (T3rd), CIT
Star power: F Ben Simons (16.4 points, 3.4 rebounds), C Seth VanDeest (8.8 points, 4.4 rebounds in 2010-11)
Remember this name: G Chris Hines started 26 games at Utah and averaged 9.6 points. He isn’t a great shooter (33 percent from the field and 33.7 percent from three), but his experience should help the Bulldogs recover from the loss of Rayvonte Rice, who transferred to Illinois.
On the bright side: VanDeest is back after missing last season with surgery on both shoulders. His return moves F Jordan Clarke to his natural position and the Bulldogs can match up with most MVC teams in the lane. If you’re looking for a surprise team, this is it. The Bulldogs helped their backcourt with three transfers, got bigger with a healthy VanDeest and Simons is a star who keeps getting better. Don’t overlook the Bulldogs, especially in the Knapp Center.
Compelled to mention: Rice led Drake in scoring, steals and free throws and ranked second in rebounds and blocks. That is a lot of production to replace.
Come mid-March: The Bulldogs should be in the CBI or CIT. If the newcomers in the backcourt are as good as advertised, a better destination is possible.
7. Indiana State
Coach: Greg Lansing, 38-29 in two seasons
2011-12: 18-15, 8-10 MVC (8th), CIT
Star power: G Jake Odum (10.8 points, 4.8 assists)
Remember this name: F Manny Arop, a transfer from Gonzaga, needs to help Odum with scoring or it could be a long season. He started eight games in 2010-11 and averaged 4.6 points and 2.9 rebounds for the Zags. If the player who scored 16 points and made 4 of 5 three-pointers against Notre Dame as a freshman shows up regularly, the Sycamores are in good shape.
On the bright side: Lansing says Odum is healthy and happy after suffering through a stress fracture and plantar fasciitis last season. He rarely practiced and his injuries slowed his drives to the basket. No player is more important to their team than Odum, so Indiana State is a threat as long as he is motoring.
Compelled to mention: Other than junior R.J. Mahurin, Odum is working with teammates who haven’t done much. Newcomers must come up big for the Sycamores to move into the upper division. Junior center Mike Samuels, a 6-foot-11 transfer from Wabash Valley (Ill.) College, will likely miss the season with a broken foot, robbing the Sycamores of a big body.
Come mid-March: The Sycamores will be at home, plotting a better senior season for Odum when he is teamed with a more experienced group.
Coach: Geno Ford, 7-25 in one season
2011-12: 7-25, 2-16 MVC (10th)
Star power: G Walt Lemon (12.6 points, 2.5 assists), G Dyricus Simms-Edwards (11.5 points, 2.9 assists)
Remember this name: F Tyshon Pickett, a transfer from Dodge City Community College, will start and brings toughness and scoring to a team that needs both in large quantities. He averaged 14.9 points and 8.9 rebounds as a sophomore.
On the bright side: A record-breaking bad season is over and Ford can start rebuilding a once-proud program. Senior center Will Egolf adds experience to the frontline and a new-found shooting touch. He made 4 of 5 threes in an exhibition game after going 0 for 16 in his career behind the arc. Should Edwards rebound from a disappointing junior season, the Braves could move up a spot.
Compelled to mention: This is largely the same crew that barely scored 60 points in MVC play and surrendered 73. Leading scorer (and second-leading rebounder) Taylor Brown is gone, so expecting dramatic improvement seems optimistic.
Come mid-March: Bradley is home-bound again, looking forward to Ford’s third season. If things go well, the Braves will escape the bottom half of the standings.
9. Missouri State
Coach: Paul Lusk, 16-16 in one season
2011-12: 16-16, 9-9 MVC (T3rd)
Star power: G Anthony Downing (11.5 points, 3.2 rebounds), G Keith Pickens (4.8 points, 4.4 rebounds)
Remember this name: G Tevin Bracey averaged 7.8 assists, third in NJCAA Division I, at Westchester (N.Y.) Community College. He isn’t much of a scorer, but the Bears need someone to keep the offense organized and get the ball to Downing.
On the bright side: Nobody expects much after losing 2011 MVC Player of the Year Kyle Weems to graduation and F Jarmar Gulley to a season-ending knee injury. That’s not much of a bright side. At least Lusk can be patient with a roster featuring one healthy senior (Downing) and plan for better days.
Compelled to mention: The Bears need Pickens to stay healthy and contribute defense and leadership. That is no sure thing for a player who missed 2010-11 after knee surgery and practiced sparingly last season to protect his legs.
Come mid-March: Gulley’s return is nine months away and most of the roster will be a year older.
10. Southern Illinois
Coach: Barry Hinson, first season
2011-12: 8-23, 5-13 MVC (9th)
Star power: C Dantiel Daniels (8.3 points, 4.9 rebounds), G Jeff Early (8.6 points, 3.8 rebounds)
Remember this name: G Desmar Jackson averaged 14.6 points and 4.9 rebounds for Wyoming in 2010-11.
On the bright side: Hinson will get plenty of leeway from fans sick of the slide under former coach Chris Lowery. Lowery left him three seniors, a renovated arena and Daniels, who could grow into a quality MVC inside force.
Compelled to mention: Daniels will miss at least four more weeks with a leg injury, perhaps more, and that is just the start of SIU’s injury problems. An assistant coach is practicing and Hinson begged for a walk-on from the student body late last month to help.
Come mid-March: Hinson will hit the recruiting trail hard with hopes of reviving the program.