Missouri Valley Conference media day is Oct. 28 and preseason picks are due Monday. Here are mine:
1. Wichita State (35-1, 18-0 MVC)
The last team to win consecutive undisputed MVC titles is Southern Illinois, which won in 2003, 2004 and 2005 (tying for the title with Creighton in 2002). The Shockers haven’t won back-to-back titles since 1964 and 1965.
2. Northern Iowa (16-15, 10-8)
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Five players who started 10 or more games return. Three others who started at least three return. Five redshirts are available. Are enough of those players talented enough to compete with the Shockers? If so, this is the year for the Panthers to get back in the NCAA Tournament.
3. Missouri State (20-13, 9-9)
The Bears and coach Paul Lusk did a nice job surviving last season despite injuries. With Marcus Marshall back, MSU should improve again as Lusk has shown he understands how to recruit good MVC players.
4. Evansville (14-19, 6-12)
If transfers Willie Wiley, Mislav Brzoja and Taylor Stafford add scoring and athletic ability to a roster that includes five returning starters, the Aces could make a move. There is one senior on the roster, so coach Marty Simmons enjoys a two-year window to get things done with star guard D.J. Balentine and improving center Egidijus Mockevicius with new athletic director Mark Spencer watching.
5. Indiana State (23-11, 12-6)
I’m counting on coach Greg Lansing building a foundation that can continue to thrive without guard Jake Odum. I expect Khristian Smith to develop into one of the MVC’s top players. Lansing finds a way to get good players to Terredise and I think that will continue.
6. Southern Illinois (14-19, 9-9)
Love Anthony Beane. I’m impressed with what Hinson has done late in the season (finishing 6-3 in 2013 and 8-4 in 2014) which tells me he can figure out a way to win with flawed rosters. The talent should improve, even without Desmar Jackson around.
7. Illinois State (18-16, 9-9)
If continuity matters, the Redbirds will finish here. If talent matters, they could move up significantly. Coach Dan Muller blended in new faces last season and the Redbirds went 18-16, 9-9. This might be the MVC’s surprise team.
8. Bradley (12-20, 7-11)
Coach Geno Ford is rebooting his franchise after the departure of Walt Lemon Jr. and Tyshon Pickett. The Braves are bigger and more athletic, but injury problems in the summer and fall might slow progress. The Braves are going in the wrong direction under Ford and he needs a revival to restore faith and attendance.
9. Loyola (10-22, 4-14)
The Ramblers need another year to add quality players before they can move into the upper division. Coach Porter Moser is recruiting hard in Chicago and we get a look at that progress in Moser’s fourth season.
10. Drake (15-16, 6-12)
The Bulldogs return guard Gary Ricks, who averaged 12.3 points in eight games before a broken foot ended his season. With five seniors, the Bulldogs may be two or more seasons away from moving up significantly.