Classes are in session, rosters are largely set and most schools know their non-conference schedule. The next milestone is the release of the Missouri Valley Conference schedule.
For my sake, pray Wichita State’s game at Loyola is on Sunday. I hate mid-week Chicago traffic.
For college basketball purposes, summer is over. Ron Baker’s play in the Pan Am Games, Illinois State’s exhibition trip, T.J. Bell’s injury and Bradley’s dismissal of its top scorer headline the MVC summer. Let’s take a look around the MVC, with summaries compiled from beat writers.
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After a furiously busy spring in which new coach Brian Wardle replaced eight players with eligibility remaining and senior Auston Barnes with eight freshmen and a transfer, Bradley was hit with another defection at summer’s end.
Senior guard Warren Jones, the Braves’ top returning scorer at 11.9 points per game, was dismissed from the team for a reported violation of team rules. Other early BU departures included Josh Cunningham, Tramique Sutherland, Xzavier Taylor, Omari Grier, Anthony Fields, Nate Wells, Jermaine Morgan and Kendahl Amerson. Jones’ dismissal left senior guard Ka’Darryl Bell, who averaged just 6.1 points last season, as the leading returning scorer.
The Bradley scholarship roster for 2015-16 is now painfully young — eight freshmen, one sophomore and two seniors. Some of the more promising first-year players during summer workouts included 5-11 point guard Joel Okafor, 6-8 forwards Luuk van Bree and Scottie James and 6-3 combo guard Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye. Sophomore forward Donte Thomas also showed improvement before undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in July. He is expected to be fully recovered before the start of fall workouts.
The program’s nearly complete facelift has allowed Wardle to establish a new culture at BU, which was 46-86 during Geno Ford’s four years as head coach. The 35-year-old coach, who won 48 games the past two years at Green Bay, has preached hard work, passion and intensity to his young team.
— Dave Reynolds, Peoria Journal Star
Drake wrapped up its European tour this week with a 2-1 record. Kale Abrahamson, a West Des Moines native who transferred back from Northwestern, scored a team-high 18 points in the Bulldogs’ last and toughest game, an 84-79 loss to BC Atletas.
C.J. Rivers contributed 10 points. Drake bolstered its depth in the post with the addition of Dominik Olejniczak, a 7-foot freshman from Poland who runs the floor well. Sophomore point guard Reed Timmer continues to be the “face” of the program.
Having 10 extra practices over the summer should help the Bulldogs, who have 11 underclassmen, including four true freshmen, four true sophomores and three guys coming off of redshirt seasons. Coach Ray Giacoletti expects the team to make a jump this season and it could move into middle of the pack within the Valley. But these guys are still young, so it feels like it’ll be another year before Drake is ready to join the Valley’s upper-division.
— Andrew Logue, Des Moines Register
Point guard Duane Gibson tore the meniscus in his knee at the beginning of summer workouts and had surgery in late June. He is expected to return in September or October.
The rest of the summer news regarding UE is mostly positive. The Aces signed Ohio University transfer Ryan Taylor with their final scholarship, and he’s expected to contribute immediately once he becomes eligible in 2016-17. Taylor, a 6-foot-5 guard, started 28 games at Ohio as a freshman, averaging 8.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists.
UE center Egidijus Mockevicius competed in the World University Games, averaging 11 points and more than five rebounds in the group stage to help Lithuania advance to the quarterfinals. He sprained his ankle in the quarterfinal loss to the United States – represented by the University of Kansas – and didn’t play in Lithuania’s final two exhibition games. Aces swingman Mislav Brzoja participated in a training camp with the Croatian national team.
UE is still finalizing contracts for its non-conference schedule, but what is already completed is a marked upgrade from last season. The Aces have added a road game against Arkansas and will play Providence in the first round of the Wooden Legacy, which also features 2015 NCAA tournament participants Arizona, Michigan State, Boise State and UC Irvine. Evansville will also play a pair of respected mid-major programs in Belmont and Murray State.
— Daniel Allar, Evansville Courier & Press
The Redbirds went 3-1 on an exhibition tour in Spain, playing two games each in Madrid and Barcelona during a 10-day trip in August. ISU had an 17-point lead in the only game it lost, 89-87 to the Madrid All-Stars, when play was halted after Quintin Brewer broke the rim on a dunk. DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell was “spectacular and very efficient” on the trip, said ISU coach Dan Mueller, and looks poised for a huge season. The 6-5 senior guard averaged 20.7 points and 6.2 rebounds.
Muller suspended sophomore forward Deontae Hawkins after the second game in Madrid for violation of team rules and sent him home to Dayton, Ohio. However, Hawkins was back on campus and attended the first day of classes this week. When the suspension will be lifted is not clear, but players usually practice and weight lift during past Muller suspensions.
Otherwise, Muller was pleased with everything about the trip. He thought the team bonded well with five freshmen, Brewer (graduate transfer from Bethune-Cookman) and Nick Banyard (transfer from New Mexico) getting on the court with the six returners. Three freshmen — point guard Keyshawn Evans (pulled muscle in hip), guard Matt Hein (pinky finger) and center Daouda “David” Ndiaye (foot) — missed some game action, but Muller expects all to be 100 percent when practice officially begins in October.
— Jim Benson, The Pantagraph
The injury bug destabilized Indiana State's 2014-15 season when Brandon Burnett, expected to play a big role, was knocked out for the season after he injured his foot in a car accident just before the season began. When T.J. Bell ruptured his Achilles and was lost for the season on July 29, Greg Lansing decided he needed to act quickly to avoid a similar fate.
Bell, a power forward/center in 2015, was projected to be a starter at the five-spot. Rather than recruit a big man late in the summer, ISU exploited a loophole to bring guard Trey Knight to ISU from Cedar Park, Texas. Immediately eligible, Knight will likely redshirt in 2015-16, given the depth of ISU's backcourt. The idea was to make sure ISU had enough practice players to get through the season.
To get Knight, ISU put Bell on a non-participant scholarship similar to that given to injured football players who serve as managers when they're hurt. Bell will regain his athletic scholarship in 2016-17. Since classes had not begun when this transpired, ISU could take advantage of this rarely-used-for-basketball option.
Knight is a combo guard, and along with guard St. Louis-based guard Jordan Barnes, who signed in mid-July, ISU's scholarship allotment is maxed out for the 2016-17 season (for now).
Sophomore Brandon Murphy, junior college transfer Niels Buncschoten and freshman Emondre Rickman will fill Bell's role by committee. Aside from Bell, Bronson Kessinger — ISU's top true freshman recruit — will sit out the season as a redshirt. Kessinger is still recovering from a broken leg and wrist suffered during his senior high school season when he pushed from behind on a dunk attempt and fell awkwardly.
All other Sycamores are healthy and there have been no defections or dismissals since the spring.
Citadel transfer Matt Van Scyoc is the likely starter at power forward with Burnett to get significant minutes. Some combination of Khristian Smith, Brenton Scott, Devonte Brown and Everett Clemons will fill the small forward, shooting guard and point guard starting positions, respectively. Burnett will also play the three. Grant Prusator and Laquarious Paige fill out a crowded guard contingent.
ISU completed its non-conference schedule. Highlights include Wyoming's visit in the Mountain West-MVC Challenge, participation in the Paradise Jam, and trips to Butler, Western Kentucky and Saint Louis. SLU bought ISU. Unlike their most recently two-year series, there will be no return game.
— Todd Golden, Terre Haute Tribune Star
It’s probably an ominous sign when fall semester classes are underway and the roster is not written in ink. That’s where Missouri State finds itself, losing one player and adding another as school begins.
Junior college guard Kevin Baker apparently did not make his qualifying grades out of Pensacola State College and has been removed from the roster. But the Bears, anticipating the scholarship opening, added 6-6 wing forward Aldonis Foote out of Trinity Valley Community College in Texas.
Foote is billed as an athletic type who could provide immediate help to a team that will have a much-different roster after an 11-20 season in Paul Lusk’s fourth year. Two other juco transfers and four freshmen join seven holdovers – but two of those veterans had offseason surgery.
Junior center Tyler McCullough had shoulder surgery for a torn ligament in June and might not be able to play until December. Senior guard Dorrian Williams had surgery for a torn labrum in his left shoulder in the spring and should be back by the start of the regular season.
— Lyndal Scranton, Springfield News-Leader
The major news over the summer dealt with the schedule Northern Iowa will play in 2015-16.
Earlier this week, the Panthers learned they would once again be part of the field for the ESPN 24-hour College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon. UNI's opponent on Nov. 17 will be a familiar one — Stephen F. Austin. This time, though, the game is set for the McLeod Center at 7 a.m. Nov. 17.
Last season, UNI ended SFA's 34-game home winning streak with a 79-77 win during the Tip-Off Marathon.
Head coach Ben Jacobson's team also learned it will face host Hawaii in the first round of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic Dec. 22.
The non-conference portion of the Panthers' 2015-16 was completed with the announcement that North Texas will come to Cedar Falls Nov. 30.
Overall, UNI will open with four straight home games, a stretch that includes the Nov. 21 matchup with North Carolina and Iowa native Marcus Paige.
— Jim Sullivan, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier
Southern Illinois had a busy last two months of the summer as it finalized its roster, coaching staff and schedule.
SIU's three main newcomers, junior college guards Mike Rodriguez and Leo Vincent and prep school forward Rudolfs Stradnieks, were unable to come to Carbondale over the summer to work out with the returnees. Rodriguez and Vincent were finishing up academic work at their respective schools and Stradnieks, a 6-foot-9, 225-pound power forward, played for the Latvian National Team at the FIBA Under-20 Championship in Italy. Stradnieks played sparingly, but competed against NBA lottery pick Kristaps Porzingis in practice and got some good international experience.
The Salukis are counting on redshirt freshman forward Austin Weiher (6-8, 205 pounds) and Stradnieks to help them inside, along with returnees Bola Olaniyan and Ibby Djimde. Junior Sean O'Brien also may play more inside this season.
SIU added three players late, 6-5 guard Sean Lloyd out of Mount Zion Prep in Baltimore, walk-on guard Aaron Siler from Lincoln Trail College and 6-6 junior college guard Jeremy Postell, and hired Brad Autry from Hawaii as its last assistant coach.
Lloyd is the nephew of two-time Missouri Valley Conference player of the year Lewis Lloyd, who has his number retired at Drake. Sean Lloyd averaged 15 points and seven rebounds per game this past season and, according to coach Barry Hinson, will help SIU out on the perimeter, defensively. Postell could also help SIU on the perimeter and is its fourth junior college transfer.
One of the youngest teams in the country this past season, SIU suddenly has three seniors, seven juniors and four freshmen, two of them redshirt freshmen.
SIU also announced its non-conference schedule, which includes seven home games, the most in school history in that portion of its schedule. The Salukis play almost all of their toughest opponents on the road: Sam Houston State, either Portland, Colorado State or UTEP at the Corpus Christi (Texas) Coastal Challenge, Murray State and Saint Louis.
--Todd Hefferman, The Southern
The summer ended on a down note when Wichita State’s coaching staff committed a minor NCAA violation for contact with a recruit one day before permitted. WSU reported the violation to the MVC and NCAA and will take a small hit to its recruiting calendar.
Peyton Allen, a transfer from Texas A&M, committed to WSU the next day while on his official visit, providing one of the highlights to the summer. Allen, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, will sit out this season and have three seasons of eligibility remaining. He canceled his look at schools such as Butler, Illinois State, Drake and Northwestern. Along with Conner Frankamp, he should give the Shockers a good start on their 2016-17 backcourt, when Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet are no longer around.
Reports from practice and pickup games highlight transfer center Anton Grady and freshmen Markis McDuffie and Landry Shamet as the fastest-rising newcomers. McDuffie projects as a talented scorer with significant athletic potential.
Baker played for Team USA in the Pan Am Games, starting all five games, and drew praise from ESPN's Fran Fraschilla as the top college athlete on the roster. VanVleet made the final 16 for the 12-man roster before getting cut. He is using that to fuel summer workouts and wants to come back quicker and more athletic.
— Paul Suellentrop, The Wichita Eagle