Wichita State sophomore Markis McDuffie sat alone at a table, a container of Frosted Flakes and his phone his only company. A year earlier, Ron Baker spoke to two rows of notebooks, cameras and recorders.
“I’m kind of bored,” McDuffie said. “Entertain me.”
This season is all about new, if not exactly unknown, faces replacing the generational basketball stars who entertained the Missouri Valley Conference and the nation for the past four seasons.
Hall of fame-worthy careers for players such as Baker, Fred VanVleet, D.J. Balentine, Egidijus Mockevicius and Anthony Beane are over. It’s not entirely clear who will replace them. Indiana State junior guard Brenton Scott is the only returner from last season’s All-MVC first and second teams.
At Tuesday’s media day, the MVC’s fresh upper-class took the stage vacated by that unusually accomplished senior class, one that totaled 19 All-MVC honors, two Player of the Year honors, one Newcomer and one Defensive Player of the Year.
“Somebody will emerge,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “The overall talent level and skill level and athleticism in this league has just continued to developed. All of us have tried to elevate what we’re doing with our recruiting efforts, because if you don’t have guys that can play in the power conferences … you don’t have a chance to win in this league.”
Preseason All-MVC voting provides a starting point.
McDuffie, last season’s Freshman of the Year, represented the Shockers, voted the preseason favorite for a fourth straight year. Northern Iowa — coming off back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances — sent senior Jeremy Morgan, who scored 36 points in an NCAA loss to Texas A&M. Loyola senior Milton Doyle, the 2014 Freshman of the Year, is healthier and stronger than last season. Illinois State put two players on the first team — senior guard Paris Lee and junior forward MiKyle McIntosh.
“We lost a lot of really good players,” Morgan said. “But, in saying that, there’s a lot of new, young players that are going to step up and fill the roles.”
McDuffie, a 6-foot-8 forward, offers coach Gregg Marshall the versatility to play small forward, where he enjoys a height advantage on the perimeter, or power forward, where his quickness can rule. August knee surgery isn’t holding him back and he weighs around 210 pounds, up from 185 as a freshman.
“He’s a tough matchup,” Marshall said. “Last year, he gave up some considerable weight to most (power forwards), when he had a body like Gumby. This year, he’s put some added bulk on.”
McDuffie is one of several Shockers adjusting to new prominence and new roles now that Baker and VanVleet are gone. WSU’s search for leaders is well-documented and McDuffie is proposing a group effort, where everyone plays a part in setting an example with words or actions.
“Staying engaged the whole time, that’s my biggest thing I’m really trying to work on, staying focused,” he said. “Being in the right position on defense and being in the right position to make a play.”
Morgan, a 6-foot-5 guard, is more of a known quantity than McDuffie. He started every game the past two seasons, averaging 5.6 points as a sophomore and 11.3 as a junior. An All-Defensive Team member, Morgan’s role on offense will grow after UNI lost guards Wes Washpun, Paul Jesperson and Matt Bohannon.
“I’ve gone back and watched most of our games from a year ago,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “He’s doing things, that at the time, I didn’t even realize or give credit to. So much of we did was focused on Wes, and his ability to do his thing. Paul and Bo were elite shooters. That overshadowed what were some tremendous performances. When I went back and watched them … I realized how good a player we’ve got.”
Doyle, a 6-4 guard, devoted himself to the weight room and the table this summer.
“I’m able to take the bumps and finish and still have body control,” Doyle said. “I’m trying to eat everything in sight and a lot of protein shakes. With me, I don’t have to give up anything. More. I eat four times a day.”
Coach Porter Moser remembers Doyle dunking for the first time last season in the MVC Tournament against the Shockers, an indication of how injuries and the pounding wore down his legs.
“He’s had his best April through October,” Moser said. “From April to here, he’s had his best tunnel-vision, the best investment in the weight room. He’s taking the ball to the basket better than I’ve seen him. He’s had about 15 (dunks) in practice already. He’s got his bounce back.”
WSU picked first in men’s poll, fifth in women’s — Three-time defending champion Wichita State’s men’s basketball team is favored to win the Valley. The Shockers have won four of the past five MVC titles, interrupted by Creighton in 2013.
The Shockers received 37 of the 42 first-place votes and 413 total. Illinois State, with four first-place votes and 356 total, is second and followed by Northern Iowa’s one first-place vote and 348 total.
WSU’s women’s team is picked fifth. Drake received 34 of the 40 first-place votes and 392 points, followed by Northern Iowa and Missouri State.
McDuffie earned a spot on the preseason All-MVC team. Shaq Morris is on the second team. Rangie Bessard is on the women’s All-MVC team.
Morgan and Drake senior Lizzy Wendell were voted preseason players of the year.
The WSU men are preseason favorites for a seventh time since the poll started in 1985-86. The season ended in the NIT three times (1989, 2004, 2011) and in the NCAA Tournament three times (2014, 2015, 2016).
A panel of MVC coaches, sports information directors, media members and coaches vote.
MVC basketball polls
1. Wichita State (37 first-place votes) 413 total
2. Illinois State (4) 356
3. Northern Iowa (1) 348
4. Missouri State 278
5. Southern Illinois 228
6. Indiana State 219
7. Loyola 179
8. Bradley 110
9. Evansville 106
10. Drake 73
1. Drake (34) 392
2. Northern Iowa (4) 317
3. Missouri State (2) 313
4. Southern Illinois 306
5. Wichita State 248
6. Indiana State 199
7. Bradley 141
8. Illinois State 123
9. Evansville 109
10. Loyola 52
F Markis McDuffie, Wichita State
F MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State
G Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa
G Brenton Scott, Indiana State
G Paris Lee, Illinois State
G Milton Doyle, Loyola
G Dequon Miller, Missouri State
C Shaq Morris, Wichita State
F Sean O’Brien, Southern Illinois
G Reed Timmer, Drake
F Rangie Bessard, Wichita State
G Caitlin Ingle, Drake
G Rishonda Napier, Southern Illinois
G Madison Weekly, Northern Iowa
F Lizzy Wendell, Drake