Missouri Valley Conference basketball media day is Oct. 27 in St. Louis. Our preseason ballots are due Friday. Here is mine.
1. Wichita State — Even I can’t mess up this pick.
2. Northern Iowa — The Panthers backcourt is strong and I’ll count on coach Ben Jacobson to make his big men solid. While none of them possess much of a track record, Ted Friedman, Klint Carlson and Bennett Koch are entering their third season in the program. They should be able to defend, rebound, screen and let the guards do the rest.
3. Illinois State — Reggie Lynch, you’re killing me. The Redbirds are capable of good things even without Lynch, who transferred to Minnesota. His departure takes some of the sizzle out of the season, however. I expect DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell to take a step and become an All-MVC player.
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4. Loyola — Here’s where it gets interesting. I like what the Ramblers appear to be building and a healthy Milton Doyle will help a lot. Loyola has a little more size and a little more experience than last season. If it’s deeper and more physical, Loyola can keep rising.
5. Evansville — If the Aces do finish fifth, the MVC is probably a strong conference. With all five starters back and size on the bench, Evansville might finish second, but I’m in prove-it mode with the Aces. Depth seems to be the key. The Aces assembled some good starting fives in the past, but the drop-off to the subs hurts. With three seniors and eight juniors, this is the time for Evansville to play in the NIT or NCAA.
6. Indiana State — Nobody will be high on the Sycamores. But they return three starters from a team that went 11-7 in the MVC and I’ve heard good things about transfer forward Matt Van Scyoc. Size appears to be an issue. Indiana State is 12-6, 8-10, 9-9, 12-6 and 11-7 in the Valley the past five seasons, so there is not much money in predicting a flop. Except in the MVC Tournament.
7. Missouri State — A year with fewer injuries and less roster turmoil has to help. I fear all the turnover has set this program back and what appeared to be a team on the rise a year ago is rebuilding again. Sometimes I look at the roster and think “Williams is solid and Kendrix is a talent and Boone and Gerring … maybe.” I can’t convince myself to keep the Bears out of Thursday.
8. Drake — Five freshmen and six sophomores. One senior. We’ll know after this season if Drake is headed in the right direction. Transfers Graham Woodward (Penn State) and Kale Abrahamson (Northwestern) need to adjust quickly.
9. Southern Illinois — Not good. Sad to see a strong talent such as Anthony Beane riding this out at the bottom of the MVC.
10. Bradley — New coach Brian Wardle has a great reputation and a good sense of humor. I like his chances of getting Bradley back toward the top of the MVC, where it should reside often. It won’t be this season or next.
G — Ron Baker, Wichita State
G — Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
G — Milton Doyle, Loyola
F — DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, Illinois State
C — Egidijius Mockevicius, Evansville
Player of the Year — Baker
My bet is Baker finishes his career with a great senior season. I think he’ll benefit from a little more help on offense from a deeper team, his Pan Am Games experience and no expectations of leaving WSU early for the NBA. I think he’s got play-making abilities he hasn’t shown all of and will improve his mid-range and finishing game to bump up his shooting percentage. There’s at least another half-step there for Scott City’s guy, maybe more.
VanVleet is solid, too.