The MVC in 2014-15

As you know, Wichita State breezed through the Missouri Valley Conference regular season, winning all 18 of its games. Fifteen of those wins were by double digits.

Competitively speaking, it has not been the best of years in the MVC.

Will that change next season? I asked the beat writers around the Valley to address that question with some quick facts about the prognosis for 2014-15. Paul Suellentrop, Wichita State’s beat writer for The Eagle, also weighs in.

There is also no Loyola (Chicago) synopsis here because there is no newspaper beat writer who covers the Ramblers on a daily basis. Just one more reason why I question why Loyola was chosen as Creighton’s replacement when the Bluejays departed for the Big East after the 2012-13 season.

Here is what the outstanding beat writers around the Valley had to say about next season’s fortunes for the teams they cover.

Northern Iowa

Transfers/walk-ons: Paul Jesperson transferred from Virginia and is sitting out this year. He was a starter there as a sophomore, has two years of eligibility left and may or may not be a starter at UNI. Word is he’s a good defender. Max Martino will be a walk-on senior. I expect the same kind of limited, but solid contributions we’ve seen the last two years.

Key players returning: Pretty much everybody. Seniors: Seth Tuttle, Deon Mitchell, Marvin Singleton, Nate Buss, Max Martino. Juniors: Matt Bohannon, Wes Washpun. Sophomores: Jeremy Morgan, Ted Friedman. There will be three redshirt freshmen eligible that could contribute – 6-7 forward Klint Carlson; 6-9 forward Bennett Koch; 6-1 guard Robert Knar.

Recruiting outlook: Wyatt Lohaus (high school teammates of Morgan, has longest winning streak in Iowa high school history) will be the only incoming freshman. He could challenge for minutes at point guard, but there are only so many to go around.

Summary: UNI will be loaded with experience and depth. The only losses are Rank and Morrison, who would be considered marginal contributors at this point of the season. The depth could be a good thing or a bad thing. Tuttle is the undeniable leader of the team both vocally and with the best-player-on-the-team type of thing. Making the NCAA Tournament will be huge for the program as a whole. UNI hasn’t been since the Sweet 16 run in 2011 and the best Tuttle and Mitchell have done is two games in the NIT their freshman year. The eggs are in the 2013-14 basket if the program wants to keep enjoying the success it has had for most of the last decade.

Northern Iowa beat writer Carson Tigges, The Courier, Waterloo

Key losses: Walt Lemon, Tyshon Pickett, Jordan Prosser and Mason Alwan.
Key returnees: Starters Auston Barnes, Omari Grier and Xzavier Taylor. Top reserve Ka’Darryl Bell.
Transfers/redshirts: Transfer, 6-8 Mike Shaw, Illinois. A solid 4 or 5 man who can play inside and out offensively. A top 100 recruit out of Chicago De La Salle, he didn’t play much at Illinois, but should replace Tyshon Pickett’s numbers next year.
Fall signees: 5-11 PG Tramique Sutherland from Hill College (Texas). One of the best juco point guards in the nation statistically: 19.9 ppg, 8.5 apg and 7.5 rpg.
6-6 SF Donte Thomas from Thornwood HS (Ill.). An athletic wing who has missed most of the season with an injury.
Summary: At least a couple of the bench guys who don’t play much likely won’t return, which would give the Braves three more scholarships to give in the spring.
This team will have a much different look to it without Lemon. While Sutherland will also have the ball a lot, his assists numbers indicate he’ll get others involved better than Lemon, whose strength is taking it to the basket himself. Sharing the ball generally is a better thing than one-man shows.
But next year’s team is a mystery at this point, a lot of changing parts. How much of an impact will Shaw and Sutherland make? Will the Braves find the right spring recruits to mix in with a decent nucleus? My guess is Barnes will shift to power forward and a more suitable juco wing will come in.
Bradley beat writer Dave Reynolds, Peoria Journal-Star
Missouri State

Transfers/walk-ons: Nothing

Key players returning: Sophomore guard Marcus Marshall (14.3 ppg, suffered season-ending knee injury vs. Wichita St. on Jan. 11. Will attempt to get medical hardship); freshman guard Austin Ruder (8.6 ppg, school freshman record 65 3-pointers in regular season); junior forward Ron Mvouika (hot and cold type of player, talented but very inconsistent, 7 ppg); sophomore forward Gavin Thurman (ditto on inconsistency, 5.7 ppg); junior center Christian Kirk (6.2 ppg); sophomore guard Dorrian Williams (5.4 ppg, 100 assists, 39 turnovers) in 30 games, 21 starts; freshman center Tyler McCullough (6-11, long way to go, avg. 3.3 ppg, 17 starts); freshman guard Devon Thomas (fast, cannot shoot, good passer).

Recruiting outlook: Bears have signed 2 high school seniors. 6-5 wing forward Chris Kendrix of Willard, Mo – avg. 23.7 points, 7.7 rebounds this season); 6-6 forward Robin Thompson of St. Louis MICDS, a post-up type of forward. Avg. 16.2 points, 9.3 rebounds this season at last check. One scholarship currently open. Lusk has said he wants a juco player, preferably someone who can  be a difference-maker in the paint. Bears sorely lack physical presence inside.

Summary:  Missouri State has laid the groundwork to be a top-four team in the Valley again next season. But in order to be a legitimate contender for a title, the Bears need to find a difference-making juco transfer to help out in the paint. Marcus Marshall’s return should bolster the back court, where Austin Ruder has proven to be a legitimate outside threat as a rookie. Mvouika and Thurman are wild-cards. If they step forward and find consistency, that would be big. It’s also a big if for both. Tyler McCullough’s development into a serviceable Valley big man also will be a key

– Missouri State beat writer Lyndal Scranton, Springfield News-Leader


Transfers/walk-ons: Drake has no transfers coming in.

Key losses: The Bulldogs lose three seniors: Richard Carter (leading scorer), Seth VanDeest (good post player, but injured), Aaron Hawley (tall shooting guard). Carter would normally be the biggest void, but Drake is deep at the guard position. They will be thin in the post, with only an inexperienced Jacob Enevold Jensen as their true big man.

Recruiting outlook: They have five recruits coming. Four guards and a big man who will likely redshirt.  None is a four- or five-star recruit.

Summary: I think it’s going to take coach Giacoletti another year or two to really put things in place. But I don’t expect a drop off from this season. In fact, I they might win a couple more games. I’d say somewhere in the 15-18 win category.

Drake beat writer Andrew Logue, Des Moines Register

Illinois State

Transfers/walk-ons: ISU will have two non-qualifiers who sat out this season who might immediately at the start of next season or by the middle of the season.

Teddy Hawkins, a 6-7 power forward from Dayton, Ohio, originally signed with Wichita State in the fall 2012 but didn’t qualify. After going to a prep school in Iowa, he came to Illinois State last fall. The Redbirds are in desperate need not only of size up front, but someone who can step out from 15 feet and Hawkins is expected to fill that bill.

The other newcomer will be MiKyle McIntosh, a 6-6, 240-pound Canadian who played in high school in North Carolina and Kentucky. McIntosh is more of a wing player who can play on the perimeter, but will have the size to battle inside.

Key players returning: There are no seniors on the Redbirds’ roster. That’s not to say a couple players won’t be leaving after the season, but the key players from this season will return and should benefit from a year’s experience.

Reggie Lynch is a low-post presence that is rare to find in the MVC. He is a terrific shot blocker already and surprisingly showed more offensive skill as the season progresses. Once Lynch learns how to avoid picking up fouls, he could be dominant.

Daishon Knight and Bobby Hunter will return in the backcourt along with Paris Lee and Zach Lofton. All four knocked down jump shots at various points, but need to become more dependable shooters. If Lofton could harness his emotions and play more on an even kneel like Hunter, he could be an all-league player. He has that kind of skill. Hunter and Knight are tough competitors who don’t back down despite their size. Lee is a tenacious defender who can score when needed.

Recruiting outlook: ISU is looking for another front-court player that can compliment Lynch, Hawkins and John Jones. The Redbirds are likely to tap their junior college connections to get that player. If another player leaves, ISU would be on the hunt for a wing player with some size who can knock down the 3.

Summary: Dan Muller retooled after last season and then had to do the same after four games this season when Michael Middlebrooks, the Redbirds’ best interior player, was suspended and then later declared academically ineligible. ISU still was able to finish in the middle of the MVC pack with the least experienced Division I team in the country. There will be experienced talent returning next season, along with a couple key additions in Hawkins and McIntosh that could make ISU immediate contenders and give the Shockers their toughest challenge.

Illinois State beat writer Jim Benson, The Pantagraph

Indiana State

Transfers/walk-ons: There are no transfers coming in this year. There are two redshirt freshman who will be eligible to play: PG Brenton Scott and SG-SF Alex Etherington.
Scott, 6-1, is being molded as one player who could be Jake Odum’s successor. He averaged 16.3 points for a good Fort Wayne Northrop team in 2013. His twin brother, Bryson, plays at Purdue. Scott is a scoring point guard. His future was thrown into question after he was arrested on March 1 for operating while intoxicated, possession of marijuana and paraphernalia and false reporting. As of now, he is indefinitely suspended.
Etherington, 6-5, is a swingman who has a skill set closer to a shooting guard than a small forward. His brother, Austin, plays at Indiana. He averaged 18 points and 6.1 rebounds for Hamilton Heights, a mid-sized school just outside Indianapolis.
Key players returning: Power forward Justin Gant and swingman Khristian Smith are the two most important players back for Indiana State. Together, they average 20.9 points. Smith, who won the MVC’s Sixth Man Award, will be the focal point of the offense and figures to get a far greater role than he already has. Gant (9.8) is the most important player back as the Sycamores return their entire frontcourt. Jake Kitchell, Demetrius Moore and T.J. Bell return. In the backcourt, guard Devonte Brown should take on a larger role with the departure of Odum and Dawon Cummings. Brandon Burnett, a forward who floats out to the perimeter and plays like a guard, should have a more prominent role too.
Recruiting outlook: Indiana State has turned its focus to the Sun Belt for recruits and its entire incoming class is from Gulf coast states. There’s one JUCO transfer — point guard Charles “Tre” Bennett — who currently plays at Lamar State College in Texas. He is another possible Odum replacement and is averaging 20.6 points and 4.7 assists for Lamar State. The other two recruits are freshmen-to-be. Laquarious Paige is a combo guard from West Orange, Texas who can score, rebound and distribute. Forward Brandon Murphy is a 6-foot-7, 270-pound power forward from Montgomery, Ala. and he will give Indiana State bulk it’s not had in some time.
Summary: Indiana State was one of the few MVC teams — perhaps the only one aside from Wichita State — set up to win big in 2014. Replacing Odum will obviously be the key, but the two-spot is vacant as well. Both backcourt positions figure to be filled by inexperienced guards or Brown, who has played, but not as a starter. With Smith assuming a starting role and the frontcourt back, the Sycamores have a backbone to build on. Smith will be the key. If he plays to his potential, Indiana State can still be in good stead. As far as the Sycamores’ fortunes, because of its inexperienced backcourt and maturing teams elsewhere in the league, the Sycamores figure to be a middle-of-the pack team. There should be enough talent on-hand, however, to prevent a fall into the bottom four.
Indiana State beat writer Todd Golden, Terre Haute Journal-Star


Southern Illinois
Transfers/walk-ons: Ibby Djimde, 6-8, 255, junior from Illinois will be eligible in 2014-15. Big guy who could help SIU protect the rim and gives the Salukis a big body in the middle.
Key players returning: G Anthony Beane (junior in 2014-15), G Tyler Smithpeters (sophomore in 14-15), guard/forward Sean O’Brien (sophomore in 2014-15), forward Bola Olaniyan (sophomore in 2014-15), forward Jalen Pendleton (junior in 14-15), shooting guard Mike Balogun (one of only two seniors next season), point guard K.C. Goodwin, who redshirted this season. Beane was a second team all-conference pick and the leading scorer in the Valley the second half of the season at 22.6 points per game. Pendleton is a hybrid forward who made the All-Bench Team. Smithpeters, O’Brien and Olaniyan all started almost the whole second half of the season, when SIU finished the regular season 7-3.
Recruiting outlook: Not bad. Four high school kids, two of which could start right away, and when you add in Djimde and Goodwin you add size and quickness. Recruits are F Jordan Caroline, 6-6, 235, Montverde (Fla.) Academy, the No. 1 prep school in America, G/F Armon Fletcher, 6-6, 185, Edwardsville (Ill.) High School, G Charles “Chaz” Glotta, 6-2, 175, Fort Zumwalt North (Mo.) High School, leading scorer in the St. Louis metro area in 2013-14, and G Deion Lavender, 6-4, 185, Alton Marquette (Ill.) High School. Lavender is averaging close to 25 points and eight rebounds per game.
Summary: SIU needs more 3-point shooting, size and an inside scoring threat to go with Olaniyan. Caroline, the son of former NFL linebacker Simeon Rice, could give the Salukis a threat down low right away. With Montverde he’s already played against some players better than some in the Valley. Fletcher is a bit like O’Brien, a hybrid who can score inside and out, can pass and dribble. His length is a bit better than O’Brien’s, and he played at the top of Edwardsville’s 2-3 zone some of the season, so he could help the Salukis there as Desmar Jackson does now. Playing O’Brien and Fletcher at the same time could be dynamite. Glotta is a great scoring lefty, but I would guess SIU would redshirt him with the abundance of shooting guards the team has. Lavender has verbally committed but not signed a letter of intent yet. He scored 30 points, including the game-winning jumper, in a district playoff game on Tuesday night. Djimde didn’t play much at Illinois his last season there, but gives SIU immediate size and a potential shot-blocker that could protect the rim. That’s something SIU hasn’t had since Randal Falker graduated. Things are looking up for a possible run at the top half for SIU.
Southern Illinois beat writer Todd Hefferman, Southern Illinoisan

Transfers/walk-ons: UE has a scholarship available after the surprising departure of forward Ryan Sawvell in December, but no word from the coaching staff as to where they’ll fill it. The Aces will get the services of 6-foot-4 guard Mislav Brzoja, though, who sat this year out after transferring from Villanova. He’ll add to the backcourt depth as well as provide a mismatch in the paint, the most improved part of his game. Look for him to be a nice scoring compliment to D.J. Balentine.

Key players returning: UE’s keeping it simple: everyone. As the fourth-youngest team in the nation, the Aces don’t have a senior and the lone junior is forward Jaylon Moore. They’ll keep D.J. Balentine, Egidijus Mockevicius, Blake Simmons and Co., — nothing’s going to change except for experience. Kind of a scary thought for the rest of the Valley.

Recruiting outlook: Currently, the only recruiting possibility is bringing in a junior college player with that available scholarship or snagging a late signee this spring. UE doesn’t have a commitment in the class of 2014, mainly because it didn’t have scholarships available during the early signing period. Not much happening on this front.

Summary: The Aces have nowhere to go but up. A year older and a year wiser, UE will definitely improve on its 9th place finish in the conference this year. The team had a year to get adjusted to playing together and learning the system, and the three-game win streak at the end of the season showed the team had already started gelling — good sign if you’re Marty Simmons. ​

Evansville beat writer Colleen Thomas, Evansville Courier-Press

Wichita State

Transfers/Walk-ons: Center Shaq Morris and guard Ria’n Holland are redshirting. Both are talented enough to turn into good players. Morris is a tantalizing talent who needs to continue improving his conditioning. It is hard for him to play more than a few minutes at peak levels. Holland is an excellent scorer who needs to get stronger.

Key players returning: Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton, Darius Carter.
Recruiting outlook: WSU is looking for a big man, likely a transfer, to fill the void left by Cleanthony Early, Chadrack Lufile and Kadeem Coleby. It signed five players in November: forwards Zach Brown, Eric Hamilton and Rashard Kelly, juco center Bush Wamukota and guard Corey Henderson Jr. Of those players, my guess is Brown and Kelly may be the most ready to contribute. Both spent the year at a prep school. Wamukota is relatively new to basketball and his stats (6.3 points, 7.1 rebounds) don’t indicate he will be a player who is ready to play a lot of minutes.
Summary: With Baker, VanVleet and Cotton back, the Shockers will be MVC favorites again. Coaches expect Carter to continue to improve. WSU needs one or two big men to improve and contribute and one or two of the newcomers/redshirts to pan out quickly if it expects to be as deep as past teams.
Wichita State beat writer Paul Suellentrop, The Wichita Eagle