MVC Monday: Shockers up, Bulldogs down

mvclogo-Wichita State is one of three undefeated teams left in the nation, and there’s speculation the Shockers could remain unbeaten for a while. They had a scare at Missouri State, but looking at their upcoming schedule, it doesn’t seem like Wichita State will be dropping a game any time soon.

–Seth Tuttle was named MVC Player of the Week this week after posting a career-high 24 points in a win over SIU and followed it up with 21 points against Missouri State. And in his first career start with the Bears, Ron Mvouika scored a career-high 28 points, earning him MVC Newcomer of the Week honors.

–The Indiana State-Wichita State matchup on Saturday featured two 5-0 teams in the conference since 2008.

Standings:

1. Wichita State (6-0, 19-0): Not much needs to be said about one of the best teams in the country, but every Valley team will have their home game against the No. 4 team in the country circled on their calendars. The Shockers are getting offense from anybody and everybody on their team, including sensational, surprising guard Fred VanVleet.

2. Indiana State (5-1, 14-4): Despite a tough loss to the Shockers, the Sycamores are still the second best team in the conference. ISU gets to play Wichita State at home, which is probably the biggest chance the Shockers will be upset.

3. Illinois State (4-2, 11-7): The Redbirds have opened MVC play on their best streak since 2009-10 when they also started 4-2. And they welcome Wichita State to Redbird Arena this week to enact revenge on a 19-point loss a week and a half earlier.

4. Northern Iowa (4-2, 10-8): A surprising loss to Southern Illinois is the only negative for the Panthers so far. UNI has scored at least 76 points in every MVC win and has led by double digits in each of the six games. Unfortunately for them, two of those leads disappeared and turned into losses.

5. Missouri State (2-4, 12-6): The Bears lost Marcus Marshall to a season-ending knee injury, but numerous players have stepped up on offense. Mvouika led the team in scoring in Missouri State’s last game while in the last three games, the Bears have had three different players lead the team in scoring.

6. Evansville (2-4, 9-10): UE is on the rise, winning two of its past three conference games and looks to be avoiding playing on Thursday in Saint Louis for now. But a tough road stretch in the Aces’ schedule looms.

7. Loyola (2-4, 7-11): The Ramblers are a perfect 7-0 when scoring at least 70 points and have two quality wins over Missouri State and Drake in the conference. Milton Doyle continues his impressive scoring average of 15.1 points per game.

8. Bradley (2-4, 7-12): The Braves haven’t won a road game all season and will get a chance to break that streak Sunday at Evansville. The conference road losing streak dates back to 2013, an 11-game drought, and it looks to continue as the surging Aces are one of the strongest home teams.

9. Southern Illinois (2-4, 6-13): The Salukis got a huge win over Northern Iowa last week, erasing a 17-point deficit en route to their 68-66 win. The last time SIU came back from a 17-point deficit? Last season vs. Wichita State.

10. Drake (1-5, 10-8): Just a couple weeks after being the Valley’s biggest surprise, the Bulldogs have fallen to the basement. Drake opened up the conference season with a convincing win over the Aces but have dropped five straight games. Doesn’t look like Ray Giacoletti’s squad is adjusting to the Valley yet, but there’s still plenty of basketball to be played.

The Morning After: Loyola

Stories from UE’s second MVC win over Loyola:

–Courier & Press: http://bit.ly/KsXgI3
–Chicago Sun Times: http://bit.ly/1hGGYqJ

Some observations:

–UE looks like it’s clicking, and the defense took major strides Saturday. Despite poor shooting and offensive execution by both teams, the Aces had numerous steals and great rebounding to not let Loyola break open the game. The biggest Rambler run was 10-0 to give them a nine-point lead, but it could’ve been worse — UE went 0-for-8 from the floor during the run.

–There were lots of big-time plays by inexperienced players on Saturday. Freshman guard Duane Gibson hit a turnaround jumper with less than two minutes to go to give UE a three-point lead. The Aces seemed stuck on offense and Gibson created for himself. UE turned around and forced Loyola to a shot clock violation and that pretty much sealed the game. Two big plays down the stretch that proved the Aces are improving.

–Sophomore center Egidijus Mockevicius was one of the most impactful players on the court Saturday. He had five rebounds, four blocks and three steals, poking his hands in like a guard instead of a 6-foot-10 post player. He altered so many Loyola plays, which don’t show up on the stat sheet, but gets noticed by the coaching staff.

Some quotes:

–Head coach Marty Simmons on the slow start: “They really defended us a lot like Northern Iowa, and we turned it over at the beginning of the game like Northern Iowa. The difference was we were able to get some stops. They extended the lead a little bit, but it never got out of hand. The end of the first half was probably as important as anything.”

–Freshman forward Blake Simmons on the offense: “As the game went on, our offense started clicking more, we started getting more open shots, I think we all came together in the second half and it helped us get this win. It was an ugly game, both teams weren’t making their shots.”

–Gibson on the slowness of the game: “The pace of the game was great. That’s the pace we wanted to play. We just have to make more shots and finish at the rim.”

MVC Monday: Shockers continue historic streak, sit at 17-0

mvclogo–Missouri State nearly upset then-No. 6 Wichita State Saturday night, but the Bears blew a 19-point lead in the 72-69 overtime loss. Now, the Shockers are one of only eight MVC teams to start a season 17-0 and moved up to No. 5 in this week’s AP poll.

–Jarmar Gulley from MSU is this week’s Player of the Week after averaging 20.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in the Bears’ two games. He cashed in on a career-high 14 rebounds in the loss to Wichita State, as well. Northern Iowa’s Wes Washpun is the Valley’s Newcomer of the Week as the Panthers won both conference games.

–Two MVC players are averaging at least 20 points per game this season: D.J. Balentine and SIU’s Desmar Jackson. The two went head-to-head Saturday, as Balentine put up a career-high 33 points while Jackson tallied 13.

Standings:

1. Wichita State (4-0, 17-0): The Shockers are bound to lose at some point, and it looked like Missouri State would be the one to do it. A 19-point comeback and a dominant overtime was enough for the league’s top team to come away with a win. It’ll take a full 40 minutes to beat these guys.

2. Indiana State (4-0, 13-3): The Sycamores have a tough week as they face Missouri State and Wichita State, but Greg Lansing’s team is the most likely to steal the Valley crown from the Shockers this season. Fun fact: Indiana State is the only team in the nation with five scorers in double figures who shoot at least 33 percent from beyond the arc.

3. Northern Iowa (3-1, 9-7): UNI is scoring at its highest rate since the 1986-87 season, as the Panthers average 71.8 points per game. Their 50.9 percent clip against Evansville was their highest road shooting percentage in two years.

4. Missouri State (2-2, 12-4): The Bears should get better from their collapse against Wichita State, and Indiana State and Northern Iowa should be on the lookout for a Missouri State team on a mission this week. What we also learned from the loss? Springfield is no easy place to play.

5. Illinois State (2-2, 9-7): The Redbirds’ defense is a force in the conference that held Wichita State to 11 points below its average and Loyola to a season-low field goal shooting percentage. How they’ll handle D.J. Balentine on Wednesday is another story.

6. Drake (1-3, 10-6): Ray Giacoletti’s squad that surprised many in the Valley is on a three-game losing streak. Richard Carter has strung together six 20-plus point games this season as a key to the Bulldogs’ offense.

7. Evansville (1-3, 8-9): The Aces’ win at Southern Illinois Saturday was the first in which the team shot under 50 percent from the field and won. Rebounding is also a telltale stat for UE, but it faces Illinois State’s defense in a midweek road test.

8. Loyola (1-3, 6-10): Milton Doyle is arguably the league’s best freshman, racking up 234 points in 16 games. He looks to be the first freshman to 500 points in a season since Doug McDermott three years ago.

9. Bradley (1-3, 6-11): The road isn’t getting any easier for the Braves. They wrap up a tough five-game stand with a trip to Wichita — Bradley’s currently on a seven-game road losing streak — before hosting Southern Illinois.

10. Southern Illinois (1-3, 5-12): The Salukis escaped the basement for just a game, but lost to Evansville Saturday and are back at the bottom. Marcus Fillyaw is out for a few weeks with a broken hand, but Jalen Pendleton has filled in nicely for the point guard.

The Morning After: Southern Illinois

Another career game for Balentine this season. The sophomore finished with 33 points.

Another career game for Balentine this season. The sophomore finished with 33 points.

Stories from UE’s first MVC win at SIU yesterday:

–Courier & Press: http://bit.ly/1do1ZqJ
–The Southern: http://bit.ly/1a0Tl0U

Some observations:

–The Aces looked a lot more loose, relaxed, and confident than they had since they started 5-0, and now with a conference win under their belt, that feeling will continue. D.J. Balentine looked like his typical self when looking to shoot and Egidijus Mockevicius was a force inside — 12 points and 10 rebounds is nothing to scoff at even if Balentine had 33 points — and had a key and-one in the final minutes of the game to preserve the lead. Blake Simmons had a solid performance and Duane Gibson and Adam Wing contributed when needed. It was a good effort by the five starters.

–That being said, UE still has a lot of work to do. Balentine can’t drop a career-high every night and the defense can’t take 10 minutes to adjust on the opposing team’s shooters. The Aces started out lead-footed and left open shooters in the beginning of the game, allowing Southern Illinois to go on an 11-0 run early.

–The bench was also absent from the game. With Jaylon Brown out with a concussion, UE played just four reserves and Tyler Ptacek was the only player off the bench with points.  Brown, when he’s in, Jaylon Moore and Christian Benzon typically score on energy plays, but I guess those aren’t needed when Balentine’s hitting six of his seven 3-pointers. Usually the bench is a factor, as I’m sure it will be moving forward.

–Gibson and Wing were very important in the final minutes of the game. The freshman was 6-for-6 down the stretch while Wing hit both of his free throws to maintain UE’s four-point lead. The Salukis had two 3-point plays in the final minute of the game in efforts to chip away at the lead point-by-point, and missed free throws would’ve kept SIU in the game longer than they were. Saturday was the first time we saw clutch free throw shooting in over a month — it’ll also do wonders for the team’s confidence from the line, as they’ve been struggling lately.

–Maybe bowling worked? We won’t know for sure until Wednesday. One game is a good start, but UE’s next game against Illinois State will be the true sign of whether or not the Aces are back to competing like they have shown.

Some quotes:

–Head coach Marty Simmons’ first thoughts about the win: “I’m just happy for the guys in the locker room. We’ve had a slow start here and those guys have hung in there and keep battling and they’re a good group and just glad to see them get a victory.”

–Wing on the Aces’ zone: “The zone was really good to us, they hit some big threes and we haven’t played zone all season. We had been planning for it the past two games but we just got so far behind that when we got in the zone they could just pick us apart.”

–SIU head coach Barry Hinson on scouting Balentine: “We obviously didn’t. Seriously, he had 33 points, so whatever we said didn’t work.”

The Morning After: Northern Iowa

Blake Simmons was the only Ace in double figures, scoring a career-high 16 points.

Blake Simmons was the only Ace in double figures, scoring a career-high 16 points.

Stories from UNI’s handling of Evansville:

–Courier & Press: http://bit.ly/1euJH3I
–Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier: http://bit.ly/1glxAaK

Some observations:

–That was probably the worst effort by the team all season. UE seemed deflated right from the start after UNI took an 11-point lead minutes into the game, and it all went downhill from there. The numbers weren’t bad — 40 percent from the field, 43 percent from beyond the arc (just 3-of-7 though), 30 points in the paint — but the effort just didn’t seem to be there. Fifteen turnovers is definitely high, and the Aces have done worse, but when passes into the lane are easily deflected or stolen or a player is stripped on a drive and nothing’s done to change it, that’s an issue.

–I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but missed layups keeps hurting UE. There’s no stat for missed layups, but there were several last night. Lots were off-balance shots or hit a bad angle off the glass. Of course it takes awareness to control your body and shot when a defender is contesting your shot and that happens, but that doesn’t happen every time. If I was a coach, though, I’d rather be seeing my players driving to the basket than taking long-range shots. A few more made layups is a simple fix that should bring more confidence back to the team.

–Starting off 0-3 in the conference is obviously not the way UE imagined to start, but losing those three games by an average of 24.7 points per game isn’t acceptable. The Aces play Southern Illinois in Carbondale this weekend, a manageable game, but the Valley schedule doesn’t get easier. UE still has to play Wichita State and Missouri State twice — two of the league’s top teams — and has to play Indiana State in Terre Haute after losing to the Sycamores by 28 last Saturday. With the Salukis’ win over Loyola last night, UE is the last team in the league. So far, no good news for the Aces. Things need to change.

The Morning After: Indiana State

Stories from Indiana State’s 81-62 win over Evansville:

–Courier & Press: http://bit.ly/1gbRtkc
–Terre Haute Tribune Star: http://bit.ly/1a0Pb3y

Some observations:

–Jaylon Moore had a fantastic game, but unfortunately that was overshadowed by the bad loss. For the first time in several games, the Aces played two forwards and benefitted from it. Moore had 14 points, taking advantage of a mismatch with smaller Sycamore defenders as the bigger forwards were focused on defending Egidijus Mockevicius and David Howard. Mismatches like that figure to be common in the rest of the Valley, so maybe we’ll see more games like this from Moore.

–The guards need to get their confidence back. For the second time this season — the first time since the Anderson game — Duane Gibson was held scoreless, going 0-for-4 from the field. At the beginning of the season, Gibson had a nose for the basket and was aggressive in dribble penetration. When you see so many shots fall short or bounce off the rim, yes, confidence is hard to come by, but Gibson is a playmaker around the basket and in transition that UE needs to shoot the ball. Same with Jaylon Brown. Adam Wing hit a couple of baskets Saturday, and he’s been the most consistent guard not named D.J. Balentine, so he can be a leader to the freshmen guards who’ve been struggling recently. With a backcourt full of weapons, the Aces will be a more balanced team.

–D.J. Balentine can’t do it all. The sophomore guard had 23 points, 12 of them in the first 10 minutes of the game, but when the Sycamores started playing tighter and double-teaming him, UE’s offense puttered out. One player doesn’t make a team, and if the guards can get confidence back and the post can continue to be effective (think Moore’s game on Saturday and Mockevicius’ several consecutive double-figure games), UE could return to their 5-0 form.

–Like Moore and head coach Marty Simmons said after the game, the team needs to keep up intensity for 40 minutes. That’s probably the biggest problem right now, is keeping up the energy, effort, and execution for the whole game. Like Simmons said, the past two games have been lost in the second half. With some leadership, a bit more confidence and good practices, that can be fixed.

Postgame thoughts with Loyola women’s head coach Sheryl Swoopes

Sheryl Swoopes

Sheryl Swoopes

Loyola’s first Missouri Valley Conference game didn’t go how it wanted, but with a first-year head coach entering a brand new conference, things will naturally be tough. The Ramblers dropped a 75-57 contest Thursday night to Evansville at the Ford Center. I caught up with Ramblers head coach Sheryl Swoopes after the game to get her thoughts on her first Valley game and how she envisions her first season.

Q: That wasn’t how you wanted your first MVC game to go, but how was it?

Swoopes: We talked a lot about joining a new conference and starting a new conference and making an first impression because you only get one time to do that. It’s unfortunate we didn’t play the way we wanted to play nor the way we’re capable of playing. I think for the girls, it was good to get the first one out of the way. They were definitely nervous for a lot of reasons. I think any time you join a new conference, people are going to be watching you, even though I don’t feel there’s a lot of pressure on us. I don’t think there’s a lot of expectations on us this year, but you always want to go out and play well and have a great performance. Unfortunately we came up short (Thursday night).”

Q: You mentioned expectations, but nobody really knows about Loyola. It’s kind of a new experience for everybody, right?

Swoopes: Absolutely. Being the new team joining the league, all the teams are trying to get to know who we are and what we’re going to do, and vice versa — we have to do the same thing. My biggest thing for the team is ‘let’s go out and play hard; the effort is always going to be there.’ My biggest frustration was the effort. I feel like there were moments where the effort was there, and there were moments where we got tired or felt sorry for ourselves and let up. … The good thing about this conference is we don’t have time to sulk and deal with this loss. We’re on the road (Thursday night) and have another game Saturday, and hopefully we’ll bounce back.

Q: You travel to Carbondale to take on Southern Illinois, but will it be good to get back home to play a conference game?

Swoopes: It’s always good to play at home, but if you’re going to make some noise and compete and eventually want to be one of those elite teams and win championships, you have to win games on the road. It’s a lot harder on the road — you’re battling the other team, the fans. We’re very young; we’re a young team, and we’re learning things. It was good to get this one under our belt. I think they have a feel what everything’s about, what the valley’s about. It’s conference time; it’s one of those things where you have to step up and what happened in preseason doesn’t really matter. This is a completely different season — everybody’s going to come out to play, everybody feels like there’s something to prove. We’re no different than that.

Q: Will it be easier facing teams the second time around?

Swoopes: I hope so. We know there are a lot of things we can learn from this game. There are players that definitely know they didn’t play up to their potential, didn’t compete. There are also players that I was very pleased with — Troy Hambric and Becca Smith. I thought the two of them really came out and played hard.

Q: Troy had 26 points and 10 rebounds. Was she your bright spot (Thursday) night?

Swoopes: I think with the team last year and what they did in the Horizon League, everybody really talked about what Simone Law and Taylor Johnson did. Nobody really paid much attention to Troy. After this game, I can probably guarantee you everybody in the Valley is going to know who Troy Hambric is. She’s a senior, she wants to go out on top. She’s a competitor, she’s a fighter, no matter what the score is, she’s going to go out and going to play hard and leave everything out on the floor.

MVC Monday: Wichita State at a program-best 10-0

mvclogo–Loyola’s Milton Doyle was named both Player and Newcomer of the Week in the Missouri Valley Conference this week, after scoring a Rambler freshman record 32 points in a win over Campbell. His 32 broke Tony Parker Sr.’s previous record of 31 points, set during the 1973-74 season.

–With a win over Tennessee, Wichita State is one of 14 Division-I teams still undefeated. At 10-0, the best start in program history, the Shockers are ranked No. 9 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 11 in the AP poll.

–The Missouri Valley Conference schools have combined for 18 losses by less than six points. All five of Loyola’s losses have been close, Indiana State’s two losses have been by a single point, and Evansville has dropped three games by six points or less.

Standings:

1. Wichita State (10-0): It was obvious the Shockers would sit atop the standings, but possibly not with a flawless record and its highest ranking in program history. Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early are playing well, as predicted, but Tekele Cotton’s career-high 19 points, all in the second half, was the story of Wichita State’s win over Tennessee.

2. Missouri State (8-1): With Marcus Marshall and Keith Pickens back, the Bears are set to take on the defending national champions this week. Marshall, one of eight on the preseason all-MVC first team, is averaging 13.5 points per game.

3. Indiana State (7-2): The Sycamores are off to their best start under Greg Lansing and have won four of five road games so far this season, thanks in part to their league-leading 79.1 points per game.

4. Drake (6-3): Under first-year head coach Ray Giacoletti, the Bulldogs are the surprise team so far in the MVC, but a season-ending injury to senior guard Gary Ricks, Jr. may hurt the team moving forward. Ricks averaged 12.3 points per game while shooting 45 percent from 3-point range, and now a lot of the scoring burden may fall on Richard Carter, the team’s leading scorer at 20.3 points per game.

5. Illinois State (5-4): The Redbirds have one four straight, including a win over then-No. 25 Dayton, thanks to double-digit performances from several of their freshmen. Daishon Knight and Zach Lofton lead Illinois State with 14.4 and 13.2 points per game, respectively.

6. Evansville (6-5): The Aces have lost five of their last six games after starting the season 5-0 and have just one road win, an 84-78 victory at IUPUI last month. Egidijus Mockevicius has been playing well for UE lately, with five consecutive double-figure games, but the rest of the team has struggled.

T7. Bradley (5-5): Like Evansville, the Braves are on a slump, dropping four of their last five games, but Walt Lemon, Jr. is on the rise. With 14 points in Bradley’s Dec. 10 game, he moved to 20th on the Braves’ all-time scoring list.

T7. Loyola (5-5): The Ramblers are a perfect 4-0 at home this season, and the MVC Player/Newcomer of the Week Milton Doyle has shined at home, averaging 23 points per game.

T7. Northern Iowa (5-5): Though the Panthers have underwhelmed, a win against VCU and a close loss to No. 17 Iowa State may have put naysayers to rest. Nate Buss has played well, leading the team with 14.4 points per game and the leagues second-best field goal percentage (65.7 percent).

10. Southern Illinois (2-7): Desmar Jackson is the league’s second-leading scorer (20.4 points per game) and at 1,454 career points, has the highest total of any active player in  the MVC. Aside from him, the Salukis are hoping for their third win when they travel to Murray State Tuesday.

From MVC Media Day: Panelist perspectives

During the MVC media day luncheon, the Valley brought in a panel of college basketball experts to discuss some hot topics in today’s game.

The panelists discussed some of today's hot topics in college basketball at Missouri Valley media day at Loyola on Wednesday

The panelists discussed some of today’s hot topics in college basketball at Missouri Valley media day at Loyola on Wednesday

CBS’ Jerry Palm, Big Ten Network’s Stephen Bardo, ESPN’s Debbie Antonelli, and Mark Adams joined MVC head coaches Gregg Marshall and Tanya Warren on the panel, discussing scheduling, the state of the Valley, and the new rules, among other topics.

On the new rules
Marshall: “We’ve tried to call fouls in practice with hand-checking and body checking, and bumping cutters and anytime you set an illegal screen. The emphasis is freedom of movement. I must say I’m not a very good referee, but I try to blow the whistle when I see it in practice. Other than that, I guess you live and learn. We had a scrimmage against Baylor and they shot 23 free throws in a 20-minute session. That’s a lot. … In the interim, we’re just trying to teach our guys to play good, solid, man-to-man defense, show their hands, and not be excessive with the body contact.”

Warren: “I am very concerned. We had a closed scrimmage on Saturday and each team shot over 30 free throws. We have to be able to adapt.”

Adams: “Why legislate common sense? When you legislate common sense, you turn into an idiocracy, and that’s what we have in college basketball right now. … I think we should give the game back to the referees and let them use their good judgment.”

On the great deal of conference realignment
Palm: “Conference realignment, in terms of headline-shaking conference realignment, is probably done. But if you go back in college basketball, every year somebody’s in a new conference. There are always changes. … Conferences are going to start adding more conference games, and that means fewer non-conference games, which makes it harder to compare teams from different leagues.”

Bardo: “At the larger level, I think we’re done with the movement, but not at other levels.”

On the state of the Missouri Valley 
Warren: “On the women’s side, we were consistently in the top-nine RPI out of 31 conferences, which would put us four or five against non-BCS conferences. We have great teachers of the game who are committed to developing the young people both on and off the floor, we have phenomenal facilities, we have great education and we’re consistently getting four to five teams in postseason play every year.”

Antonelli: “When I think of the MVC, I think of the branding that (commissioner) Doug Elgin and his staff have put on the league. … It’s going to be really important whatever branding and marketing strategies you put together, as long as the product remains good — and the product has always been good in the Missouri Valley — good things are ahead. … It’s a great league with good talent, with excellent teacher and coaches. Last year, getting multiple bids in the NCAA Tournament was absolutely huge.”

On the difficulty and unfairness of non-conference scheduling
Marshall: “We’ve tried — because of the RPI and because of where we are right now as a program — to schedule the absolute best teams that we can get o play us. We put the line out there to any BCS school that we can.”

Palm: “The Valley has done a good job of finding ways to schedule themselves opportunities to become an at-large team in the NCAA Tournament. Scheduling is as much art as it is science. You can schedule for the RPI, but you have to know your own team, you have to know the quality of your opponents — what they’re going to be like next year, not now — and that’s hard. … You’re better off playing the best teams that you can beat, whatever level your program is at, and let the chips fall as they may.”

Adams: “The system we use to evaluate teams is patently unfair. How do we fix it? We throw away all the records from November, December — they don’t count towards the computer rankings. We set up 16 sites, where we invite 20-plus teams to those 16 sites, they play between Christmas and New Years, they play it out, that way we get an opportunity to evaluate every program I the country and where they fit going into January. Those 16 winners, I think they deserve automatic bids.”

On the progression of the women’s game
Antonelli: “Basic economic theory. Four “p’s”: product, price, promotion, and place. On the women’s side, we spend too much time on the price, promotion, and place. We need to work on the product. That’s why the rules are in place, because we need a free-flowing offensive game to showcase the great skillset that we have. If the game can be more offensive-minded, all the other things will fall into place. If the product is good, it doesn’t matter the price, promotion, or place.”

From MVC Media Day: Notes, quotes, and thoughts on the MVC preseason polls

UPDATED: The men’s and women’s preseason all-MVC teams were released Wednesday morning in preparation for MVC media day at Loyola University’s Gentile Arena. Below is a rundown of the poll, preseason all-conference teams, and some thoughts and observations from around the league.

Men
The UE men’s squad was picked to finish sixth in the conference, finishing with 186 points in the poll, ahead of Illinois State and behind Bradley. The pick seems just about right for the Aces, who are sporting a very young, athletic team this season. Wichita State is the favorite to win the conference, receiving all 40 first-place votes.

The entire preseason poll is as follows:

1. Wichita State (40) 400
2. Indian State 352
3. Northern Iowa 318
4. Missouri State 258
5. Bradley 244
6. Evansville 186
7. Illinois State 139
8. Southern Illinois 123
9. Loyola 95
10. Drake 85

Coaches and players from around the conference gave the Shockers the respect they deserve after a great NCAA Tournament run, but also think the conference is going to be as tough as it has in years past (which it probably will).

Dan Muller, Illinois State head coach: “Wichita State deserves it, first of all. Of course their success last year, They’ve got some returners who are really good, but until you beat them, they deserve it. I think Indiana State is going to be really good this year — they only lost one player to a transfer, they’ve got some really good kids coming in that are extremely talented. The rest of us have so many new guys it’s hard to know who’s going to be good. There’s not a team in this league that didn’t lose significant starters.”

Walt Lemon, Jr., Bradley senior guard: “I don’t see it as Wichita State versus everybody, I see it as Bradley versus everybody. I think it’s us against the world. People have their own opinion of what they want to pick us, but we have to show up on the court. If you pick us last, we’re still going to go out and play hard and try to win every game. I just see it as a sign of picking us as an underdog as usual.”

The biggest surprise was probably SIU picked to finish eighth after a 5-12 MVC finish and a 14-17 season, and head coach Barry Hinson was not shy with saying how he felt about that:

“I was really surprised. I really want to smoke what those guys were smoking who picked us above 10th. You have one returning starter and you finish 10the and you’re in last place in virtually every category statistically, and somebody picks us better than 10th.”

On a more serious note…

“I think it shows several things. I think it shows the legacy of SIU, of what SIU did in the 2000s, which I’m happy about. We have to earn it, it’s not given, but it’ll be interesting to see what we do. I like our guys.”

The preseason all-MVC included seven players instead of the typical five, most likely due to ties in voting. Here are all seven honorees:

Ron Baker, Wichita State
Cleanthony Early, WSU
Desmar Jackson, Southern Illinois
Walt Lemon, Jr., Bradley
Marcus Marshall, Missouri State
Jake Odum, Indiana State
Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa
POY: Early

Women
The Aces women team was picked to finish ninth in the MVC, earning 104 points in the ballot, ahead of Southern Illinois and behind Illinois State. Indiana State was the favorite to win and got a majority of the first-place votes. Wichita State and Loyola also received first-place votes.

The poll:

1. Indiana State (26) 378
2. Wichita State (13) 360
3. Northern Iowa 259
4. Drake 221
5. Missouri State 216
6. Loyola (1) 211
7. Bradley 194
8. Illinois State 166
9. Evansville 104
10. Southern Illinois 91

Of course the Sycamores and Shockers are going to be the top two teams heading into this season, each led by two of the best players in the conference. Wichita State is coming off of its best season in program history with its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid, and Indiana State is coming off a WNIT appearance.

What might be shocking, though, is the Ramblers receiving a first-place vote. Loyola finished third in the Horizon League last season and hired former WNBA player Sheryl Swoopes as head coach in April. The Ramblers also have Simone Law, a preseason all-MVC pick, who was a first-team all-Horizon honoree last year.

Swoopes: “The competition in the Valley, anybody can beat anybody on any night. From top to bottom, the teams are pretty good, the players are good, the coaches are good. I do think adding Loyola into the Valley, being in Chicago — it’s a media market, it’s a sport city — I do think us joining the valley will strengthen the quality of play, the competition.”

The preseason all-conference team for the women is as follows:

Kyndal Clark, Drake
Alex Harden, WSU
Simone Law, Loyola
Cartaesha Macklin, SIU
Anna Munn, ISU
POY: Harden

Men’s and women’s basketball preseason ballots

Basketball season is (finally) right around the corner, so here’s a rundown of my MVC preseason ballots.

For the men’s side, the top four spots were pretty clear; then it turns difficult. Though this is my first year covering the Valley, I have just as good a guess as any picking spots 5-8 in the conference. So without further ado, here’s my ballot:

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

Wichita State is the obvious favorite for many reasons I need not list here, but the Sycamores and Panthers are contenders, too. Jake Odum for ISU is a playmaker in the backcourt and UNI brings back two starters and most of its bench. Don’t count out the Bears, though — I think sophomore guard Marcus Marshall will have a fantastic season after a good rookie campaign.

Bradley, Evansville, Illinois State and Loyola all have questions to answer, and any of those squads could finish in a variety of ways. Walt Lemon Jr. will be the floor leader for the Braves, the Aces will have to find a replacement (or two or three) for Colt Ryan, the Redbirds have to replace Jackie Carmichael, and no MVC team really knows much about the Ramblers, so they could be a surprise.

The Bulldogs and the Salukis could also be surprises, but first-year head coach Ray Giacoletti will have a tough task on his hand turning the program around and Southern Illinois will probably have another down year.

Also part of the poll is the Preseason All-Conference team and Player of the Year. My picks are as follows (in alphabetical order):

1. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
2. Walt Lemon Jr., Bradley
3. Marcus Marshall, Missouri State
4. Jake Odum, Indiana State
5. Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa

POY: Cleanthony Early

If Early wasn’t on NBA scouts’ radars after last year’s Final Four run, he certainly will be after this season — the senior is going to dominate the paint just as he did last season.

 

On the women’s side, things were difficult, too. Here’s my preseason ballot:

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

Anna Munn is going to lead a Sycamore offense that returns four starters from last year’s WNIT team, which is why I picked ISU for the top spot. The Shockers lost four starters from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, but I think they should still field a strong squad.

The Ramblers also return four starters from last year’s team, and Sheryl Swoopes will have success in her first year at the helm. Northern Iowa and Illinois State don’t have a single major scorer returning this season, but that could be beneficial if multiple players can develop into threats.

The Braves are full of upperclassmen, which is why they’ll have a good year after losing three of last year’s starters and the Aces should have a healthy Khristian Hart and Mallory Ladd for the start of MVC play. Drake, Missouri State and Southern Illinois round out the bottom of the conference, but any of those teams could be surprises.

A Preseason All-Conference team and Player of the Year was also included on the women’s side, so here you go (in alphabetical order):

1. Kyndal Clark, Drake
2. Alex Harden, Wichita State
3. Khristian Hart, Evansville
4. Simone Law, Loyola
5. Anna Munn, Indiana State

POY: Anna Munn

Munn should have another great season, but I believe any of the five players I selected could have excellent years. Clark could help pace the Bulldogs to exceed expectations; Harden — the lone returning starter for the Shockers — should be the obvious go-to player for WSU; Hart, if fully recovered from an ACL tear, can pair up with Ladd to be the dynamic duo the Aces need on offense; and Law dominated the post in the Horizon League last season.

UPDATE: UE men’s basketball MVC schedule released

Per the official UE release, here’s the Aces Missouri Valley Conference schedule:

Jan. 1        at Drake

Jan. 4        Indiana State

Jan. 8        Northern Iowa

Jan. 11    at Southern Illinois

Jan. 15    at Illinois State

Jan. 18    Loyola

Jan. 21    at Missouri State

Jan. 26    Bradley

Jan. 29    at UNI

Feb. 1     at Wichita State

Feb. 5      Missouri State

Feb. 9      at Bradley

Feb. 12    Illinois State

Feb. 16    Wichita State

Feb. 19    at Indiana State

Feb. 22    Southern Illinois

Feb. 25    Drake

March 1    at Loyola

March 6-9 MVC Tournament

Check back Thursday morning at courierpress.com/sports for a full story detailing the men’s basketball schedule.