College Basketball Preview – Mid-Continent Conference
*** College Basketball Preview – Mid-Continent Conference ***
The Sports Network
OUTLOOK: For close to a decade now the Mid-Continent conference has been
dominated by Valparaiso and that includes last season when the Crusaders went
11-5 in conference play en route to yet another conference championship. The
team should be one of the elite in the Mid-Continent once again, however, it
will have to do battle with a very strong Oral Roberts squad to remain at the
top. The Golden Eagles enter the 2004-05 campaign as the favorite to unseat
Valpo and a large part of that prediction is due to the super tandem of Ken
Tutt and Caleb Green. If coach Scott Sutton can keep his team focused
throughout the season, Oral Roberts has a very good chance at being there when
the dust settles in early March. Another team that can compete for the
conference title will be IUPUI, which despite losing its best player from a
year ago, Odell Bradley, has enough talent in its starting lineup to give Oral
Roberts and Valpo a run for their money. After those three teams there is a
huge drop-off. Chicago State returns a couple of starters from last season,
but the rest of the lineup will be riddled with youth which could be trouble
considering help from the bench will be hard to find. As for the Golden
Grizzlies of Oakland, they have the ability to create some headaches for the
top teams due to strong play from its starting lineup, but with just three
seniors on the roster, inexperience could be their downfall. As for UMKC,
Centenary, Southern Utah and Western Illinois, they will round out the bottom
of the conference, as they fight for victories against each other.
CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Oral Roberts
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Oral Roberts; 2. Valparaiso; 3. IUPUI; 4.
Chicago State; 5. Oakland; 6. UMKC; 7. Centenary; 8. Southern Utah; 9.
TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:
ORAL ROBERTS: The Golden Eagles come into the 2004-05 campaign with high
expectations and those expectations are largely due to Tutt and Green. The duo
enters the season as the best one-two punch in the Mid-Con. Last season, Tutt
averaged a team-high 20.7 ppg, while Green was second with 17.1 ppg, but led
the team in rebounding with 9.9 boards per game. The two super sophomores will
be joined by Luke Spencer-Gardner, who missed last season due to an injury.
Tutt and Spencer-Gardner along with Jonathan Bluitt, who led the team in
assists a year ago, averaging 6.1 per game, give the Golden Eagles depth and
considerable punch in the backcourt. The level of talent in the frontcourt,
however, declines tremendously after Green. Matt Gastel, who started 15 games
last season, led the Golden Eagles with 16 blocked shots and could see himself
in a starting spot if he can play at a high level on a more consistent basis.
Coach Sutton knows his team will go as far as Tutt and Green take it, and with
a year of experience behind them, they could take Oral Roberts straight to the
top of the Mid-Continent.
VALPARAISO: Coach Homer Drew’s Crusaders have been the cream of the crop for
close to decade in the MCC, but their ability to repeat as conference champs
might be tough with the improvement of the other teams in the conference. The
play of Dan Oppland is one of the major keys for Valpo if it’s to be serious
about repeating. Last season, Oppland was one of the better players in the
MCC, ranking in the top ten in scoring (15.7 ppg), rebounding (7.2 rpg), field
goal percentage (.546) and free throw percentage (.781). The scoring ability
of Oppland gives senior guard Miguel Ali Berdiel, who was second in the league
in assists (6.0 apg) last season, someone to dish the ball to throughout the
season. Although Berdiel and Oppland are a tremendous one-two punch, the rest
of the team is riddled with inexperience. The Crusaders enter the season with
just one senior and four juniors on the roster.
IUPUI: There is no doubt that the Jaguars will miss star Odell Bradley this
season, especially the 23.1 ppg along with the 8.5 rpg he averaged last year.
But his departure gives way to senior guard Akeem Clark, who has been picked
as an All-MCC First Teamer in the preseason. Clark was extremely impressive
last year, averaging 15.8 ppg and he set a school record with 109 three-point
field goals, giving the Jaguars a definite threat from behind the arc. Brandon
Cole, who averaged 11.7 ppg last season, should supply help to Clark in the
backcourt, while David Barlow should see quality minutes at the point. The
addition of Michal Vavrek from Joliet junior college should give the Jags good
size underneath. Last year, Vavrek averaged 18.6 ppg along with 11.1 rpg.
Overall, the Jaguars come into the season with an experienced squad, as the
roster features four seniors and six juniors.
CHICAGO STATE: 7-1 center Deji Akindele is integral to the success of the
Cougars in 2004-05, and that is why he must learn to be more disciplined on
the court. Last season, Akindele averaged just a little over 20 minutes a
game, mainly because of foul trouble, including nine contests in which he
fouled out. While Akindele is causing trouble for opponents inside the paint,
the tandem of Tony Weeden and Craig Franklin in the backcourt give coach Kevin
Jones’ Cougars the ability to score inside and out. Last year, Franklin
averaged 14.3 ppg, while Weeden posted 13.6 ppg and also led the team with 46
steals. Sophomore guards Kevin Jones and Royce Parran should give Chicago
State solid depth in the backcourt. For Chicago State to have a strong season,
Akindele must find a way to stay in every contest and keep himself out of foul
trouble, if he can’t the Cougars will struggle at points during the season.
OAKLAND: The Golden Grizzlies enter the 2004-05 season with one of the best
players in the Mid-Con in Rawle Marshall. Marshall is the complete package and
proved that last season when he averaged 17.6 ppg along with 4.5 rpg and 2.0
steals ppg. Despite his solid play, the senior guard will have to take his
abilities to the next level, since Mike Helms has departed. Helms led the
Golden Grizzlies with 23.1 ppg a year ago, but with him gone it is Marshall’s
year to lead the Grizzlies. He will have help from senior forward Cortney
Scott. Scott finished last season as one of the best offensive rebounders in
the conference, averaging 7.8 rpg to go with his scoring average of 12.4 ppg.
Unfortunately for Oakland, the rest of the team is far too inexperienced,
leaving Marshall and Scott with the burden of carrying the load all season
UMKC: Four starters return for the Kangaroos this season in hopes of making a
run at the top spot in the MCC. Unfortunately one of those players is not the
MCC’s all-time leading scorer, Michael Watson. Last season, Watson led the
‘Roos with 23.4 ppg, but with his departure, head coach Rich Zvosec must look
for another team-leader and he feels Mike English can be that guy. English,
who is a preseason All-MCC selection, had a strong season in 2003-04,
averaging 12.4 ppg while leading the team with 7.3 rpg and 31 blocked shots.
Brandon Lipsey will join English in the frontcourt once again, giving coach
Zvosec and the Kangaroos strength underneath. Quarterbacking the team will be
senior guard Brandon Temple, who last season led UMKC with 112 assists, while
posting 8.9 ppg. UMKC has played solid defense throughout the years and for
the team to continue to make noise in the MCC, it will have to be extremely
tenacious in that area once again.
CENTENARY: The Gents enter the season with a lot of questions that need to
answered, mainly who is going to lead the team both on the floor and in the
locker room. Four of the top five scorers from a year ago are gone, including
Andrew Wisniewski who averaged 21.9 ppg and 4.3 apg. Coach Kevin Johnson has
no choice, but to look at Chad Maclies as the guy who can take the squad under
his wing. Maclies was among the league leaders in rebounds (6.3 rpg) last
season, but must improve on the 7.4 ppg he averaged. Although Centenary’s
roster is filled with eight upper classmen (two seniors and six juniors),
there is not one player on the team, with the exception of Maclies, that seems
able to instantly contribute on the floor.
SOUTHERN UTAH: Last season the Thunderbirds finished last in scoring (64.4
ppg) and rebounding (28.1 rpg) and this year should not be much different
considering the team lost its leading scorer from a year ago in David Palmer
(15.1 ppg). Jason Baker does return, but he must be more consistent on offense
than he was last year when he netted 10.8 ppg. Southern Utah may struggle on
the glass this season despite the return of DeAngelo Newsom who led the team
with 6.9 rpg while averaging 10.2 ppg last year. Newsom will be joined by
forward Tim Gainey under the basket and hopefully he can improve on the 3.5
rpg he grabbed a year ago. Overall, the Thunderbirds should show minimal
improvement, but that won’t be good enough for the team to make that long
climb up the MCC ladder.
WESTERN ILLINOIS: Not much went right for the Leathernecks last season as they
finished with just a 3-25 overall mark, along with a league-worst 1-15
conference record. T.J. Gray, who averaged 10 ppg last season as a freshman,
is back, along with senior forward Will Lewis. Last season, Gray showed signs
of brilliance and was an All-Freshman selection, but more pressure will be on
the youngster since three of the top five scorers from a year ago are gone.
Lewis, who averaged 9.9 ppg last year, will need improve on the glass, as the
6-6 forward averaged just 4.7 rpg in 2003-04. Gray comes into this campaign
with more experience, but with little help around him, this should be another
long season for the Leathernecks.