MVC men’s basketball predictions are due Friday as preparation for media day on Oct. 27 in St. Louis. This is the third set of predictions I’ve made. They remain pretty consistent from the ones I made in July, with a few tweaks.
The biggest question is 4-5-6, and recent developments make that area even tougher. Illinois State, my pick for third, keeps taking hits. Indiana State, my pick for seventh, received big news when the NCAA granted guard Jake Kelly, a transfer from Iowa, immediate eligibility. Spots 3-7 appear to be open to a lot of guessing and hoping.
Enough fence-sitting. Here is my ballot:
1. Northern Iowa - Easy choice. When I begin to question its worthiness, the inside-outside combination brings me back. I don’t think there’s an MVC team that can match Koch-Egleseder-O’Rear in the paint and the Panther guards on the perimeter. UNI is not invincible, but it’s got to be the favorite.
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2. Creighton - The big-man situation is scary. Every other position looks good. Factor in the usual advantages and once again CU should be a championship contender.
3. Illinois State - Owning the best player in the MVC is a good place to start. The Redbirds also possess a solid big man. I’m counting on coach Tim Jankovich’s ability to quickly blend in newcomers to make this pick stick.
4. Wichita State – Every trend points up. The Shockers will need to win on the road to finish higher.
5. Southern Illinois - Last season I over-ranked the Salukis. I won’t do that this year. It won’t surprise me if they make a big move. They have some young players who could improve and transfer Tony Freeman, who averaged 13.8 points at Iowa in 2008. No doubt this is a big season for coach Chris Lowery’s future at SIU. He will feel a lot of heat if SIU is under .500 for a second straight season. He scheduled accordingly.
6. Bradley – Jim Les pulled off a fantastic coaching feat last season by pushing the Braves into fourth (by two games) despite injury problems last season. The Braves are strong in the backcourt and shaky up front. Les’ teams have never finished above fourth in seven seasons, so it’s hard for me to pick this team much higher. The Braves, however, are in that group that is hard to peg. Third place is a possibility, especially if a big man emerges and guard Andrew Warren returns strong after missing 2008-09 with an injury.
7. Indiana State – Top-notch backcourt with the addition of Kelly and the return of Harry Marshall, Rashad Reed, Aaron Carter and Jordan Printy and the addition of transfer Dwayne Lathan. The frontcourt is a different story. If the Sycamores finish seventh, the MVC should be a strong conference.
8. Missouri State - Lot of newcomers. The Bears appear to be on a path similar to the one taken by WSU.
9. Drake - Guard Ryan Wedel of Minneapolis (Kansas) needs to fit in quickly.
10. – Evansville – Biggest rebuilding job in the MVC after losing four starters.
Osiris Eldridge – Illinois State (Player of the Year)
Adam Koch, Northern Iowa
Kwadzo Ahelebge, Northern Iowa
Kevin Dillard, Southern Illinois
P’Allen Stinnett, Creighton
I quickly wrote in the first four. I debated many names for that fifth spot, and went with Stinnett. Surely, as a junior, this is the time he figures it out, curbs his attitude and gets the most out of his talent. If not, plenty of guys are ready. Kelly, Freeman, Marshall, Toure Murry, J.T. Durley, Clevin Hannah, Kyle Weems, Justin Carter- all are good choices.