Thursday , Nov , 11 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – Missouri Valley Conference

*** College Basketball Preview – Missouri Valley Conference ***

The Sports Network

By Ralph Lauro, College Basketball Staff Writer

OUTLOOOK: It was another successful year for the Missouri Valley Conference in
2003-04, as it sent four teams to the postseason. The 2003-04 season also
marked the sixth-straight time that the MVC has sent a minimum of two teams to
the NCAA Tournament in Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa. As for the NIT,
the MVC was represented by Wichita State for the second straight year, and
Creighton. Although the league went 0-4 in postseason play, it was certainly
competitive, as three games were decided in the finals seconds, and a fourth
went into double overtime. Still, the MVC has a rich tradition of pulling off
NCAA Tournament upsets and this year should be no exception. SIU is once again
a favorite to take the league crown in 2004-05, but Wichita State may have
something to say about that. The Shockers have put together two solid seasons
and may be finally primed to take the next step and advance to the NCAA
Tournament. Northern Iowa and SMS are also candidates to win the league crown
and a repeat of last year’s MVC Tournament Championship game between the two
schools may not be out of the question this season. Creighton is always a
legitimate team to take the MVC title, and will surely contend for its sixth
NCAA Tournament appearance in the last seven years. As for the middle of the
pack, Evansville is expected to be competitive, and with several starters
returning it should be able to make the jump to the top of the ladder. Drake,
Bradley Illinois State and Indiana State all have holes that need to be
filled and probably wont reach .500 in conference action.

CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Southern Illinois

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Southern Illinois; 2. Northern Iowa; 3. Wichita
State; 4. Southwest Missouri State; 5. Creighton; 6. Evansville; 7. Drake;
8. Bradley; 9. Illinois State; 10. Indiana State

TEAM BY TEAM ANAYLSIS:

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS – It was another outstanding season for the Salukis, as they
won the MVC regular season crown for the third straight year with an
impressive 17-1 mark. The team also received an at-large bid to the NCAA
Tournament after failing to win the MVC Tournament. SIU finished 25-5 overall
and has a 49-12 record over the past two seasons. Its 33-3 mark in the MVC the
past two years is the best back-to-back showing by a league team in the
conference’s 98 year history. This year’s team is expected to be in the hunt,
but things won’t be easy with the departure of head coach Matt Painter, who
won conference coach-of-the-year honors in his first season at SIU last year.
The Salukis now turn to Chris Lowery, who will be the school’s third head
coach in the last three years. Lowery, a former SIU alum, inherits a talented
club that is potentially better than the one that earned a 23rd-ranking in the
polls last season. Although the Salukis lost three starters from a year ago,
they are returning Darren Brooks, who captured league MVP and Defensive MVP
honors last season while leading the league in scoring (16.5 ppg). Last year,
Brooks became the first player in school history to lead his team in scoring,
rebounding, assists and steals. Brooks also has a strong supporting cast in
Stetson Hairston and LaMar Owen. Hairston, an all-MVC second-team pick last
season, will join Brooks in the backcourt and is the team’s only other
returning starter after averaging 9.1 ppg and 4.1 rpg a year ago. As for Owen,
he is the team’s most experienced player in the front court and earned the MVC
Sixth Man of the Year award in 2004 after averaging 8.4 ppg and 4.3 rpg off
the bench. Tony Young (3.8 ppg), Jamal Tatum (7.8 ppg) and Josh Warren (4.3
ppg) were key contributors to last season and will be depended upon even more
this year. Tatum and Young will add depth to the backcourt, while Warren will
be counted upon to hold down the center position.

NORTHERN IOWA – Another team with a target on its back is Northern Iowa, which
was certainly the surprise team of the 2003-04 season. The Panthers tied for
second in the regular season (12-6) and then won the MVC Tournament to claim
their second ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. Matching last season’s 21-10
overall record may be a tall order this year with the loss of all-conference
center David Gruber and forward Matt Schneiderman. The two started all 31
games last year and combined for 23.1 ppg and 13.3 rpg. Still, the club
returns plenty of capable players, including starters Ben Jacobson and Erik
Crawford. Jacobson, a 6-3 guard, averaged 14.0 ppg and 4.0 rpg last year as a
sophomore, and he was the league tournament Most Outstanding Player as the
Panthers earned their first NCAA berth since joining the MVC. Crawford,
another 6-3 guard, was a member of the league’s All-Newcomer team in 2003-04
after averaging 10.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg and 2.7 apg. Guards Chris Foster and Brooks
McKowen combined for 15.7 ppg and 5.4 apg last season and will add depth to
perhaps the best backcourt in the MVC.

WICHITA STATE – The Shockers have made progress in each of Mark Turgeon’s
three seasons, and earned back-to-back postseason appearances for the first
time in 15 years. Wichita State, which went 21-11 overall last season, hosted
Florida State in 2004 in an NIT game and lost at Iowa State in the NIT first
round in 2003. The Shockers have higher goals in 2004-05 with four starters
returning from last year’s squad that finished in a tie for second place in
the MVC at 12-6. The four returning starters include forwards Jamar Howard and
Rob Kampman and center Paul Miller and guard Randy Burns. Howard, a First-Team
all-MVC performer last season, averaged a solid 13.8 ppg and 5.8 rpg, while
Kampman added 9.0 ppg and 5.2 rpg. Second-Team All-MVC member Burns will also
need to step up his play if the Shockers hope to advance to the field of 65
after posting 12.4 ppg and 4.4 rpg a year ago. As for Miller, he averaged 8.6
ppg and 5.6 rpg last season and should be amongst the top centers in the MVC
this year. If Wichita State can find a way to replace starting point guard
Fridge Holman (10.4 ppg and 5.8 apg), it will certainly be a favorite to win
the MVC.

SOUTHWEST MISSOURI STATE – The Bears unveiled the best group of young players
in the MVC last season, with the likes of Blake Ahearn, Nathan Bilyeu and
Deven Mitchell. The trio were the main reason why SMS was able to make a late-
season run that ended with a double-overtime loss to Northern Iowa in the MVC
Tournament championship game. With nine lettermen returning from that team the
Bears are ready to improve on their 19-14 overall mark and fifth place finish
(9-9) in the MVC. Anthony Shavies and Ahearn are two of the team’s three
returning starters and will give SMS one of the top backcourts in the league.
Shavies averaged 6.4 ppg and 2.4 rpg last season, while Ahearn, who led the
nation in free throw percentage last season as a freshman, is the top
returning scorer for the Bears (10.5 ppg). His 117 of 120 accuracy (97.5
percent) from the line established an all-time NCAA single-season record.
Tamarr Maclin is the team’s other returning starter and is expected to lead
the frontcourt after averaging 5.1 ppg and 5.2 rpg a year ago. As for Bilyeu
and Mitchell, they both played a big role as freshmen and will be counted upon
even more this year. Bilyeu averaging 5.0 ppg and 3.4 rpg a year ago, while
Mitchell added 4.2 rpg and 3.8 rpg.

CREIGHTON – The Bluejays sputtered down the stretch last season, losing nine
of their final 17 games, and saw a string of five straight NCAA Tournament
appearances come to an end. Still, Creighton finished 20-9 overall and earned
a seventh-straight postseason appearance with a spot in the NIT. The Bluejays
have won at least 20 games in six-straight seasons, but keeping that streak
alive this year may be asking too much. Creighton returns just two starters
from a year ago, although there are several other players with experience.
Guards Nate Funk and Johnny Mathies are the lone returning starters and
combined for 18.9 ppg a year ago. The Bluejays’ most experienced big
man is sophomore Anthony Tolliver, who saw very limited playing time last
season. The team will look to juco transfer Dennis Howard and two freshmen,
Steve Smith and Dane Watts, to provide help in the low post.

EVANSVILLE – Steven Merfeld’s Purple Aces regressed last season, as they
finished just 7-22 overall and 5-13 in the MVC. However, with the more depth
and more returning starters this season, the ingredients are there for
Evansville to turn the corner. All five starters return from a year ago,
including guard Lucious Wagner, who became the first Evansville player in
seven years to score 200 points and hand out 100 assists in a season. He will
be joined in the backcourt by Andre Burton and Kyle Anslinger. Burton averaged
9.3 ppg and 2.8 apg last season, while Anslinger chipped in 5.9 ppg as a
freshman last year. Matt Webster and Bradley Strickland provide a solid one-
two punch in the frontcourt after posting big seasons in their first year at
Evansville in 2003-04. Strickland (6.3 ppg) earned a post on the league’s
All-Freshman team, while Webster led Evansville’s newcomers in scoring at 7.7
ppg last year.

DRAKE – The Bulldogs were expected to finish at the bottom of the MVC last
season simply because they fielded the youngest team in the league. Drake
completely overachieved and finished sixth in the league standings with a 7-11
mark. Head coach Tom Davis implemented a press style of defense in his first
season at the helm and it was more than successful to say the least. The
Bulldogs ranked third in nation in steals per game last season (11.5 spg), in
addition to becoming just the fourth team in MVC history to collect 300 or
most steals in a season (321). Drake returns eight players who averaged 10
minutes or more per game last season, including all five starters. Guard
Lonnie Randolph heads the team after averaging 12.04 ppg and 4.2 rpg a year
ago. He is joined in the backcourt by Chaun Brooks, who averaged 8.1 ppg and
3.1 rpg as a starter last season. In the frontcourt, the Bulldogs welcome back
the trio of Klayton Korver (7.8 ppg), Pete Eggers (5.4 ppg) and David Bancroft
(12.0 ppg), who combined to average 10.3 rpg. Guard Nick Grant (8.3 ppg) and
forward Josh Powell (6.7 ppg and 4.4 rpg) could easily crack the starting
lineup during the season and give the Bulldogs the depth they need to run
Davis’s press defense.

BRADLEY – With the loss of five seniors and three starters, the Braves will
have a hard time improving on their 15-16 overall record and 7-11 league mark
from a year ago. Bradley does welcome back one of the top players in the MVC
in Marcellus Sommerville. The 6-7 forward was an all league performer and the
2004 MVC Newcomer of the Year after leading the conference in rebounding (7.3
rpg) and finishing third in scoring (15.6 ppg). Center Brandyn Heemskerk is
the only other returning starter, but averaged just 1.3 ppg and 2.3 rpg last
year. Forwards Mike Suggs (5.7 ppg) and Michael Rembert (2.1 rpg) will be
called upon to take some of the pressure off of Sommerville. J.J. Tauai and
Danny Adams are the team’s most experienced guards, but combined for just 5.1
ppg a year ago. Newcomers Daniel Ruffin and Tony Bennett will also be counted
on and need to produce immediately if Bradley is to improve from a year ago.

ILLINOIS STATE – Since dominating the MVC in the mid 1990s, the Redbirds have
stumbled and finished last in the league at 4-14 a year ago. The team also
posted a dismal 10-19 overall mark in Porter Moser’s first season at the
helm. This year’s team should be much improved with the return of four
starters, including Trey Guidry, who led the league in three-point percentage
(.460) Guidry also finished fourth in the league in scoring (15.2 ppg), in
addition to pulling down 3.2 rpg. Vince Greene will accompany Guidry in the
backcourt after averaging 8.3 ppg and 2.0 rpg a year ago. Up front the
Redbirds must replace Marcus Arnold, who averaged 12.3 ppg and 4.6 rpg.
Forwards Gregg Alexander and Greg Dilligard combined for 15.4 ppg and 6.6 rpg
as starters a year ago and will try to fill in the gap left by Arnold.

INDIANA STATE – The Sycamores moved in the right direction last season, as
there 5-13 finish in the MVC was certainly an improvement from the team’s 2-16
league mark the previous year. Indiana State went just 9-19 overall last
year, but with four starters returning it should at least be able to post a
double-digit win in 2004-05. Among the returning starters is forwards David
Moss and Amani Daanish. Moss averaged a team-best 13.6 ppg and 4.6 rpg last
season, while Daanish added 7.0 ppg and 5.0 rpg in his first year. Guards Eric
Gray and Tyson Schnitker give the Sycamores a formidable backcourt that will
surely give opposing teams trouble. Gray averaged 7.6 ppg last year, while
Schnitker started 27 games and made 40.3 percent of his three-point attempts
as a freshman last season. Forward Jerod Adler (3.8 ppg) and guard Russell
Trudeau (3.3 ppg) are also expected to play a big role for the Sycamores after
seeing limited playing time off the bench last year.