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MVC round table: Look back and ahead around the Valley, part two

Indiana State’s Brenton Scott is the lone returning All-MVC pick from the 2016 first and second teams.
Indiana State’s Brenton Scott is the lone returning All-MVC pick from the 2016 first and second teams. The Wichita Eagle

The long-awaited part two for the season-ending MVC round table. Beat writers around the conference sum it up and look ahead. Part one is here.

Bradley

Grade the past season:

D. Through an outsider's eyes, the worst won-loss record in school history (5-27) might be considered utter failure regardless of the circumstances. But credit goes to a roster of 10 freshmen, one sophomore and one injury-plagued senior that maintained a strong effort level through a brutally tough non-conference season and showed marked improvement during the Valley slate.

This was a rebuilding season in its purest form as new coach Brian Wardle showed remarkable patience teaching and keeping his team upbeat and together through all of the losing.  

Who is a key player or two who returns next season with a bigger role on tap?

The five players who showed the most promise — guards Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye, Ronnie Suggs and Antoine Pittman and forwards Luuk van Bree and Donte Thomas — should all continue to have major roles next season. They were the Braves' top five scorers this season, all averaging between eight and 10 points per game.  

Who is a newcomer (or two) who needs to produce quickly?

Texas Tech transfer Alex Foster, a 6-8 forward/center, should provide necessary depth up front. Also, one or both of the two incoming freshmen point guards — Darrell Brown, Jr. and Jayden Hodgson — have to bring consistent playmaking skill to a squad severely in need of it. Bradley's turnover rate of over 17 per game has to be reined in for improvement to occur. With two open scholarships this spring, junior college forwards have been targeted. A pair of incoming freshmen — guard Nate Kennell and center Koch Bar — can be brought along more slowly. 

How does the non-conference schedule look?

Still some work to do, but so far it's not nearly as challenging as the all-road Arizona/Virginia/Seton Hall/Towson/Delaware/Texas-Arlington/Boise State death march along with home games vs. Ole Miss and TCU sprinkled in that the baby Braves endured last season.

Road trips to Ole Miss and TCU and home games against Nevada and Delaware are currently contracted with a neutral-court tournament in the process.  

— Dave Reynolds, Peoria Journal Star

 

Drake

Grade the past season.

D: That may actually seem high, considering Drake finished 7-24, 2-16 in the Valley. But the team never stopped hustling. The Bulldogs snapped a seven-game losing streak by beating Loyola in their home finale, and narrowly lost to Missouri State at the Valley tournament.

It seemed they suffered a serious lack of confidence after a promising 4-3 start in November. They became beaten down, and didn’t have the sort of athleticism that could result in quick/easier scores. That contributed to Drake ranking 293rd offensively with 67.5 points per game (out of 351 NCAA Division I programs).  

Who is a key player or two who returns next season with a bigger role on tap?

With the departure of Dominik Olejniczak, which was announced last week, Drake needs to develop depth in the post with 7-foot senior-to-be Jacob Enevold Jensen (who was replaced in the starting lineup by Olejniczak), 6-11 Kory Kuenstling and 6-10 Casey Schlatter. Olejniczak averaged 10.3 points over his last nine games and made 72.2 percent of his shots on the season (83 of 115). So his leaving is a serious blow. But the Bulldogs have talented players on the perimeter with guards Reed Timmer, Ore Arogundade and C.J. Rivers. 

Who is a newcomer (or two) who needs to produce quickly?

De’Antae McMurray, a point guard from Southwestern Illinois College, will compete for playing time in 2016-17. The 6-foot-1 McMurray could give the Bulldogs a true distributor of the ball. He drew interest from Loyola, Eastern Illinois and Tulsa, while averaged 12 points and seven assists this past season. 

How does the non-conference schedule look?

The Bulldogs will play Iowa State in the annual Big Four Classic in Des Moines, and they’ll be part of the Great Alaska Shootout. Drake is also set to play Fresno, which went 25-10 this season, as part of the MVC/MWC challenge. So there won’t be a lot of easy dates in November and December.

— Andrew Logue, Des Moines Register

Indiana State

Grade the past season:

Indiana State was picked sixth and finished sixth. The manner in which it got there was cause for concern. Early contention followed by poor play in February. Sycamores get a C. Can't grade less for meeting expectation, can't grade more for how modest that expectation was to begin with.

Who is a key player or two who returns next season with a bigger role on tap?

Brenton Scott is obviously the best-known product and the only player on the first or second All-MVC team to return. He was magic in the first half of MVC play, but needs to broaden his game, as once teams keyed on him, he faded. 

Brandon Murphy's development will be interesting. He wasn't supposed to be a starter in 2016 — T.J. Bell's season-killing injury saw to that — but he showed signs of quality and he's a matchup problem for many teams. ISU will have frontcourt depth next year, a trait few MVC teams will share. Murphy will have more of a defined role and it should serve him well.

Who is a newcomer (or two) who needs to produce quickly?

Bronson Kessinger, who sat out his freshman season with a broken leg and a wrist injury suffered in a nasty takeout on a dunk during his senior year of high school, would have been a big contributor in 2016 if healthy. He will be counted on to be so in 2017 and could be an immediate starter. Once he gained his mobility midway through the 2016 season, he began to show flashes of real talent. He'll be a 3 or 4 and can spread the floor. 

Incoming freshman Jordan Barnes is finally a point guard ISU can plan around after two years of compromises at that position in the wake of Jake Odum's exit and Bryant McIntosh's de-commitment and subsequent (successful) commitment to Northwestern. It will be interesting to see what Barnes' role will be next year. If he's a quick study, he will make ISU's offense much better.

How does the non-conference schedule look?

The Sycamores are walking into a buzzsaw with its MTE tournament. Indiana State plays in the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando, Fla. The field? Florida, Miami, Gonzaga, Iowa State, Seton Hall, Stanford and Quinnipiac. That is far and away the most rugged field ISU has faced in one of these tournaments. Just playing in this field should help ISU's RPI. If it wins a game or two, it could be massive.

The rest? Butler visits Hulman Center to conclude a 2-for-1, a rare two where the pair was at Hulman Center. ISU plays at Utah State in the Mountain West/MVC Challenge. 

There's the mix of the traditional in-state/nearby mid-major foes (Valparaiso, Ball State, Eastern Illinois). Western Kentucky visits Hulman Center and so will a likely Division II team. ISU might do a buy game, but given its schedule, it might not have to.  

— Todd Golden, Terre Haute Tribune Star

Southern Illinois

Grade the past season:

I’d give Southern Illinois’ men’s basketball team a B for the 2015-16 season. With six new guys in the rotation, expectations were for a winning season and a move up but nothing close to 22 victories. Anthony Beane had a great senior season and finished third all-time in scoring in school history. SIU’s offense averaged nearly 20 points more than last season.

Not playing in any postseason was a disappointment and a cruel halt to any momentum the team earned in the regular season. 

Who is a key player or two who returns next season with a bigger role on tap?

Leo Vincent, who will be a senior, will likely move up into a starting role and have to produce a bit more to make up for the loss of Beane. Tyler Smithpeters must be more consistent and improve his defense, and point guard Mike Rodriguez may have to pick up some of the scoring slack, as well, on a nightly basis. SIU recruited one freshman point guard for the 2016-17 season and another wing. 

Who is a newcomer (or two) who needs to produce quickly?

Aaron Cook, a recruited point guard from Westminster Academy in St. Louis, comes from a small school but will likely have to play a lot of minutes as a true freshman. He will likely back up Rodriguez, who had 94 assists but struggled in MVC play. Forward Brendon Gooch, a pretty good-sized wing at 6-6, 185, will probably play on the perimeter like another Armon Fletcher but will have to produce if SIU is to compete for a conference title. 

How does the non-conference schedule look?

Very, very empty. SIU has Sam Houston State and Saint Louis at home, as well as Murray State at home and SIU-Edwardsville on the road. That’s it. The Salukis are pursuing a big tournament, according to coach Barry Hinson, which will improve the team’s schedule strength, as well as a guarantee game against a Power 5 conference. SIU will play a non-Division I opponent as part of the said multi-team event (MTE). I’m not sure if Southeast Missouri State is on the schedule again or not. 

— Todd Hefferman, The Southern Illinoisan 

Wichita State

Grade the past season:

A-. The Shockers won two NCAA Tournament games and the MVC regular-season title. While they considered a Final Four realistic, falling to a No. 11 seed and the First Four made that path difficult. 

While Wichita State didn't meet all expectations (including another flop in St. Louis), it's hard to knock too many points off a season that included an NCAA at-large bid and convincing tournament wins over Vanderbilt and Arizona.

Who is a key player or two who returns next season with a bigger role on tap?

Landry Shamet played in 59 minutes over three games this season before an injury sidelined him. With point guard a question, Shamet may develop into the best option. He is regarded as a smart, mature player with above-average physical gifts. 

Sophomore guard Conner Frankamp is in much the same position after coming off the bench in 28 games. He showed flashes of offense, rarely turned the ball over and improved his defense. With two experienced guards ahead of him, however, he showed little ability to run the team. 

Who is a newcomer (or two) who needs to produce quickly?

Forward Darral Willis is Wichita State's best hope to juice up the offense in the front court. He averaged 18.4 points and made 59 percent of his shots in junior college. Transfer Daishon Smith, a speedy guard, is an option at point, if he can learn WSU's system and channel his wheels in the right direction. 

How does the non-conference schedule look?

A bit overwhelming for a roster that no longer includes Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. The Shockers play in the Battle 4 Atlantis with a field that includes Michigan State, Louisville, Baylor, LSU, VCU, Saint John’s and Old Dominion. WSU plays Oklahoma in Oklahoma City and at Colorado State. Tulsa, Saint Louis and South Dakota State visit Koch Arena.

— Paul Suellentrop, The Wichita Eagle

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