Perhaps it is fitting the Missouri Valley Conference is making its big roster move by swapping Creighton for Loyola this summer. It fits the theme of upheaval sweeping men’s basketball rosters.
Creighton, bound for the Big East, would not recognize many of its opponents in 2013-14. Loyola, joining the MVC, will fit in as an unknown in a new-look conference.
Most of the familiar names who made the conference in recent seasons — including Creighton All-American Doug McDermott — are gone. The MVC’s top four scorers, and 10 of the top 15, are, too. The top seven rebounders are moving on, as are five of the six assists leaders. Those groups include a number of four-year standouts, such as Evansville’s Colt Ryan, Illinois State’s Jackie Carmichael and Drake’s Ben Simons.
MVC teams started to regroup in the fall and continued with the spring signing period that began April 17 and continues through May 15.
As is usual in the spring, transfers are a big item. Several teams are undergoing significant makeovers and trying to improve with mature players who come in ready for the physical and mental challenges.
• Illinois State signed three junior-college transfers in the spring — San Jacinto (Texas) guard Zac Lofton, who will have three seasons of eligibility, guard Bobby Hunter of Santa Fe (Fla.), an NJCAA All-American, and power forward Michael Middlebrooks of North Idaho. The Redbirds are in a hurry to replace leading scorers Tyler Brown and Carmichael, as well as forward Jon Ekey, who will transfer to Illinois to use his final season of eligibility. They also added two high school seniors — guards Paris Lee and Tony Wills — in the fall.
• Southern Illinois has six players signed after recently adding 6-foot-7 forward Bronson Verhines, named the MVP of the NJCAA Division II tournament for Rend Lake (Ill.). SIU needed help in the frontcourt when sophomore Dantiel Daniels elected to transfer. The good news for SIU is that guard Desmar Jackson, nearly kicked off the team last season by coach Barry Hinson for academic and athletic transgressions, apparently is in good standing and will return. Jackson led SIU with a 15.1-point average.
• Bradley signed four players this spring (one in the fall) and may add more. Forwards Auston Barnes of Odessa (Texas), Chris Blake of Lee (Texas) and Mike Shaw, a transfer from Illinois who will sit out next season, are the transfer additions. Forward Jordan Swopshire, from O’Fallon, Mo., did not play high school basketball in 2013. His credentials include a spot on the 2012 U.S. men’s developmental team.
The Braves lost sophomores Jalen Crawford and Shayok Shayok to transfer.
• New Drake coach Ray Giacoletti — the lone new face among the nine holdover schools — added forward Trevor Berkeley from Tyler (Texas) College. Missouri State signed three high school players in the fall and added guard Ron Mvouika from Sheridan (Wyo.) College this month. Indiana State, after junior forward R.J Mahurin transferred to Indiana Wesleyan, signed Hamilton Heights (Ind.) forward Alex Etherington, who once committed to Kansas State. The Sycamores, with no seniors on the roster, are the MVC’s stable team.
Those names, in large part, are the challengers to Wichita State, which will start the season as the MVC favorite. The Shockers, even while losing four seniors from a Final Four team, will be the MVC’s most significant known quantity.
Any team that pushes the Shockers will need its transfers to contribute quickly.
Elam may add to that list. He came out of Friday’s game at Southern Illinois after three innings when the lower part of his right palm tightened up and he couldn’t move his thumb to grip the baseball. Trainer Dan Cahill suggested that Elam strained the muscles in his hand because of the combination of cleaning his cleats, with a tongue-depressor-like stick, and throwing 30-plus pitches in the inning on a cool, damp afternoon.
“Dan thinks that pressure of holding onto it and jabbing into the cleat the whole time, between innings, and then having to throw that many pitches — kind of a perfect storm,” Elam said. “That’s one look at it. You always hear about weird baseball injuries, and I don’t know what I did.”
The hand started to bother him late in the inning. By the end, he couldn’t move his thumb under the four fingers to grip the ball.
“It never did loosen up until probably the seventh or eighth inning, after I iced it,” he said.
The hand felt better on Saturday, showing minimal swelling, and his motion with the thumb improved. Elam is optimistic about making Friday’s start at Missouri State.
“I feel like I’ll be perfectly fine for next weekend,” he said. “We’ll get back in Wichita and have Dan do some stuff and that will help a lot.”
MVC coaches gave WSU all nine first-place votes in the pre-championship poll. Illinois State is picked second.
The tournament begins with 36 holes on Monday at Dalhousie Country Club in Cape Girardeau, Mo. It concludes with 18 on Tuesday.
Shockers occupy five of the MVC’s top spots for stroke average, led by Hunter Sparks (71.76), Louis Cohen Boyer (72.32) and Rafael Becker (72.50).
WSU won last spring’s MVC title by 18 shots over Missouri State. It also won the 2009 championship played at Dalhousie.