Sunday , Nov , 05 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – Missouri Valley Conference

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) –
OUTLOOOK: The Missouri Valley Conference has emerged as one of the powers of
the so called Mid-majors, and last year’s success opened the eyes of many
critics. The league, which earned the number six rating in the RPI (its highest
ever), sent an unprecedented six teams to the postseason, including four to the
NCAA Tournament. It didn’t end there either, as the league finished with seven
postseason wins and two NCAA Sweet 16 appearances. Of the 10 teams in the MVC,
six finished with at least 20 wins. Wichita State won the regular season title
with a 14-4 mark, while Southern Illinois captured the MVC Tournament
championship. Both clubs return a solid core of players and should once again
contend for the league title. Creighton is another team to keep an eye on, as
it tries to extend its streak of 20-win campaigns to nine. Missouri State will
surely play the season with a chip on its shoulder after failing to qualify for
the NCAA Tournament last year, despite finishing second in the conference.
Another team that has a legitimate shot at winning it all is Northern Iowa,
which returns two all-conference players from a team that went 20-10 last
season. Evansville and Drake are teams that finished in the bottom half of the
MVC standings in 2005-06, but each has enough talent to turn things around.
Bradley posted one of its most successful years in recent memory, but must
replace several key players from that group. Illinois State and Indiana State
tied for last place and another finish near the bottom is likely. Eight of the
league’s 10 members return three or more starters, making the MVC one of the
most experienced leagues around.

CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Southern Illinois

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

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

TEAM BY TEAM ANAYLSIS:

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS – The Salukis have been the MVC’s most successful team over
the last decade and they only added to their legacy last year, finishing 22-11
en route to their fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance. With all five
starters back in the fold from last year’s club that also won the MVC
Tournament championship, Southern Illinois will once again be the team to beat.
Forward Randal Falker improved every game as the season went on last year and
he was named the MVC Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Falker is more of a
rebounder (7.8 ppg) than anything else, but he can also score when needed,
averaging 9.1 ppg last season. Matt Shaw provided a nice complement to Falker
in the low post last year and he averaged 10.0 ppg and 5.7 rpg. The strength of
this team, however, lies in the backcourt with the trio of Jamaal Tatum, Tony
Young and Bryan Mullins. Tatum is the most talented of the three and could be
in the running for the 2006-07 MVC Player of the Year award after averaging a
team-high 15.0 ppg last season. While Tatum may be the most talented of the
trio, it was Tony Young who was voted to the First Team All-MVC team after
averaging 11.6 ppg last season. Young was also a presence at the defensive end,
where he recorded 49 steals. Speaking of defense, Bryan Mullins made a name for
himself by suffocating opponents, as his 94 steals were the most ever by a MVC
freshman. Mullins chipped in with 5.5 ppg in earning the league’s Freshman of
the Year award.

CREIGHTON – The Bluejays made their ninth straight postseason appearance last
year, as they played in the NIT after posting a 20-10 record. Creighton returns
four starters from last year’s squad that lost to Miami-Florida in the second
round of the NIT. Leading the way is guard Nate Funk, who appeared in just six
contests before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in 2005-06. Funk is
one of the premier players in the league and appears to have regained his form
from the 2004-05 season when he averaged 17.8 ppg. Josh Dotzler was a pleasant
surprise filling in for Funk last season and he even was selected to the MVC’s
all-freshman team, averaging 6.4 ppg and a team-high 4.2 apg. With Funk back in
form and Dotzler by his side, the Bluejays will surely have one of the best
backcourts in the league. Up front, Creighton should be just as strong with the
return of starters Anthony Tolliver and Nick Porter. The 6-8 Tolliver tripled
his scoring average from the previous season, averaging 13.2 ppg to go along
with a team-high 6.7 rpg. As for Porter, he was voted the league’s Newcomer of
the Year after posting 9.6 ppg and 4.9 rpg. Dane Watts (6-8) is another player
with decent size, and he is also experienced, posting 7.3 ppg and 5.4 rpg a
year a go.

WICHITA STATE – The Shockers posted their best season in quite sometime last
year, as they won their first regular season crown since 1982-83, in addition
to advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1981. With four of its
five starters back from last year’s club that finished 26-9 overall, Wichita
State is once again in position to be among the elite teams in the league. The
club, however, will have to find a way to replace the MVC Player of the Year in
Paul Miller, and trying to fill his shoes will be Kyle Wilson. The 6-8 Wilson
averaged 11.3 ppg and 5.8 rpg last season, and also connected on 42.9 percent
of his three-point attempts. P.J. Couisnard will accompany Wilson in the low
post, and although he stands just 6-3, he is the team’s top returning rebounder
(6.2 ppg). He also chipped in with 10.2 ppg and he will help in developing 6-10
center Ryan Bradley, who played in just nine games last season. Still, the
strength of this team lies in the backcourt with the return of starters Sean
Ogirri and Matt Braeuer. Ogirri is the team’s top returning scorer (12.0 ppg)
and he is also deadly from long distance (.442). As for Braeuer, his production
fell off a bit last season, shooting just 30.1 percent from long range, and his
starting job could be in jeopardy. One player that will give Braeuer a run for
it is Karon Bradley, who averaged 8.0 ppg in mostly a reserve role last season.

MISSOURI STATE – Despite a league-best 21 RPI and a 22-9 record last season,
the Bears were denied a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Missouri State didn’t let
the snub bother it, as it posted two wins in the NIT before losing to
Louisville. Seven of last year’s top nine players are back for the Bears, who
will be out to prove they belong in the Big Dance. Guard Blake Ahearn heads the
charge for Missouri State, as he was the only player on the roster to average
double figures in scoring last season with 16.2 ppg. Ahearn is one of the top
free throw shooters in the nation as well, knocking down 93.6 percent of his
attempts last season. Tyler Chaney (8.8 ppg) will accompany Ahearn in the
backcourt, but needs to cut down on the 68 turnovers he was guilty of a year
ago. In the low post, Missouri State returns a plethora of experience and
talent. Sky Frazier, at 6-10, is the team’s most talented big man and he could
be primed for a breakout season after posting 7.0 ppg and 4.1 rpg a year ago.
Forward Nathan Bilyeu (6-6) is a bit undersized but that didn’t stop him from
leading the team in rebounding (6.5 rpg) last season. He also chipped in with
9.0 ppg. Drew Richard (4.2 ppg) and Dale Lamberth (7.3 ppg) are two guys who
will see significant time in the frontcourt for the Bears.

NORTHERN IOWA – The Panthers made their third straight NCAA Tournament
appearance in 2005-06 and gave Georgetown all it could handle before bowing to
the Hoyas, 54-49, in the first round. Despite losing All-MVC guard Ben
Jacobson, Northern Iowa still has enough firepower to contend for the league
title. Leading the way is a pair of all-league performer in Grant Stout and
Eric Coleman. Stout, a 6-8 forward, averaged 11.8 ppg and led the league with
8.9 rpg last season, while the 6-6 Coleman added 11.5 ppg and 7.0 rpg. Incoming
freshman center Jordan Eglseder (7-1) should give the Panthers another presence
in the low past. Out on the perimeter, Brooks McKowen started all 33 games for
Northern Iowa last season and averaged 5.6 ppg and 2.8 apg. Reserves Travis
Brown (3.5 ppg) and Jared Josten (1.6 ppg) are expected to compete for a spot
alongside McKowen in the backcourt.

DRAKE – The Bulldogs were expected to break through last season, but instead
stumbled to a 12-19 finish. However, with four starters back in the fold, Drake
could be ready to post its first winning campaign in 20 years. Forward Ajay
Calvin was the team’s top scorer (10.2 ppg) and rebounder (5.3 rpg) last
season, and he should do even better this time around. Center Aliou Keita (4.8
ppg) will join Calvin in the frontcourt along with Klayton Korver. The younger
brother of NBA sniper Kyle Korver, Klayton missed last season while recovering
from a knee injury, but appears healthy and ready to build off his 2004-05
campaign in which he averaged nearly 10.0 ppg. On the outside is where Al
Stewart will lead the team. Stewart dished out a team-best 4.7 apg last season
and was also a presence at the defensive end with 61 steals. Nick Grant, who
averaged 6.4 ppg while starting 17 games last season, will join Stewart in the
backcourt.

EVANSVILLE – The Purple Aces were among the worst teams in the MVC last season,
as they finished just 5-13 in conference and 10-19 overall. Evansville,
however, should have no trouble improving on those win totals with the return
of all five starters and several key reserves. Leading the way is the trio of
Matt Webster, Bradley Strickland and Kyle Anslinger, all of whom are seniors.
At 6-7 and 250 pounds, Webster is a load to handle in the low post and he is
coming off a campaign in which he led the team in both scoring (14.2 ppg) and
rebounding (6.4 rpg). Joining Webster in the frontcourt is Strickland, who
averaged 9.6 ppg and 5.2 rpg last season, while shooting 55.5 percent from the
floor. As for Anslinger, he netted 10.0 ppg, in addition to shooting 46.2
percent from the floor. Jason Holsinger, who was named to several freshman All-
America teams after averaging 12.6 ppg and 4.1 apg, will join Anslinger in
forming a solid backcourt duo.

BRADLEY – The Braves were one of the two MVC teams to reach the Sweet 16 last
season, as they defeated Kansas (77-73) and Pittsburgh (72-66) before bowing to
Memphis (80-64). Bradley, however, will have a new look this time around, as
only two starters are back from a club that went 22-11 a year ago. Unlike last
year, the strength of this Bradley team will be its backcourt thanks to the
return of Daniel Ruffin and Will Franklin. Ruffin averaged 7.7 ppg last season,
but more importantly led the league with 5.2 apg. Franklin, in a reserve role,
posted 5.0 ppg and 2.9 apg, and should easily improve on those numbers with
more playing time. Up front is where Bradley must rebuild with the departure of
Marcellus Sommerville (15.7 ppg) and seven-foot standout Patrick OBryant (13.4
ppg, 8.3 rpg). Zach Andrews (5.3 ppg) is the most experienced candidate to step
into a starting role in the frontcourt and he will be joined by newcomer Matt
Salley.

ILLINOIS STATE – The Redbirds finished in a tie for last place (4-14) in the
league last season, but did manage to post a solid 9-3 mark against non-
conference foes. Illinois State lost four of five starters from a year ago, but
it does welcome a highly touted incoming class. Forward Greg Dilligard is the
team’s lone returning starter and he led the Redbirds in both scoring (9.9 rpg)
and rebounding (5.9 rpg) last season. On the perimeter, Robert Flores could
step into a starting role after finishing last season with six straight double-
digit scoring games. A pair of juco All-Americans in Keith Richardson and
Dominitrix Johnson will join Flores in the backcourt and should provide some
immediate scoring punch to a team that averaged just 55.5 ppg a year ago.

INDIANA STATE – Since making NCAA Tournament appearances in both 2000 and 2001,
the Sycamores haven’t finished higher than eighth in the MVC. Last year was no
exception, as Indiana State tied for last place with a dismal 4-14 league
ledger. With their top two scorers now gone, the Sycamores could easily find
themselves at the bottom of the standings once again. Guard Gabriel Moore is
the team’s top returnee, as he averaged 10.3 ppg and 3.7 ppg while starting all
29 games a year ago. Eric Gray missed the first half of last season, but
returned to average 6.7 ppg and will team up with Moore in the backcourt. Up
front ISU will look to the tandem of Jay Tunnell and Trent Wurtz. Tunnell was a
member of the league’s all-freshman team after posting 8.7 ppg and 3.6 rpg last
season, while Wurtz led the team in rebounding (5.9 ppg) to go along with his
average of 7.7 ppg.