One note from each team from Monday’s teleconference:
Center Will Egolf is back for a sixth season (after two injuries) and made 4 of 5 threes in Monday’s exhibition win over Upper Iowa. He entered the game 0 for 16 from three-point range.
“It’s a much better team than a year ago,” coach Geno Ford said. “The only two things I’ve learned about our group so far is that if we played last year’s team I would feel very confident that this year’s group would win by 15 points. The second thing I’ve learned is that last year’s team is not on our schedule.”
The Bluejays return four starters from a team that won an NCAA Tournament game. That leaves sophomore Austin Chatman at point guard, replacing Antoine Young. Chatman is more of a passing point guard. Young did more scoring and Creighton relied on him late in the shot clock to create.
“He is a very different player from Antoine, and we have to adjust to that as time goes on,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “We played 10 guys last year and nine of them are back. I’d like to think all nine of them made some improvement.”
Coach Mark Phelps loves his depth and the scoring newcomers such as Richard Carter, Gary Ricks Jr. and Chris Hines will contribute. All three are transfer guards (Hines from Utah) who will help replace Rayvonte Rice’s points.
“We have more guys that can shoot, dribble and pass,” Phelps said. “All of those guys score. We move the ball. We play well with each other. And when guys are open, they’re typically knocking down shots.”
Freshman center Egidijus Mockevicius might give the Aces much-needed size. He is 6-foot-10, 225 pounds and the only true center on the roster.
“He’s doing real well right now, and it’s been a slow transition in that he’s actually been in America 50 days now,” coach Marty Simmons said. “He gets better every day, and he’s definitely somebody that as we move forward is going to make an impact on our team.”
Eastern Washington transfer Geoffrey Allen, a 6-6 guard, recently received immediate eligibility from the NCAA. Freshman guard Kaza Keane gets the task of taking over for Nic Moore, who transferred to SMU.
“Kaza is a good, solid player who will be fighting for minutes,” coach Dan Muller said. “I’d rather come into a situation like this than a rebuilding process, where you have to go out and get better players and maybe run some bad kids off. There are some expectations because of it, but that’s OK.”
Transfer center Mike Samuels is out with a broken foot, robbing the Sycamores of their biggest player. Guard Jake Odum is healthy after leg injuries slowed him last season and kept him out of many practices.
“We’ve got a lot of inexperience,” coach Greg Lansing said. “Last year, I think (Odum) felt at times he couldnt’ be the leader that he wanted to be, or the leader that he is because we did have four seniors. Jake’s got to pick these guys up along the way because I’m more a critical guy and a hard-driving guy. He’s got to be the positive one. He relishes that role.”
With forward Jarmar Gulley out for the season with a knee injury, much of the scoring burden will fall on guard Anthony Downing, from Atchison. Coach Paul Lusk doesn’t want Downing to try to do too much.
“The thing I’ve tried to impress upon Anthony is be the same player you’ve always been,” Lusk said. “You don’t have to reinvent yourself. I think he’ll get more scoring opportunities, but he’ll also have a bigger target on his back.”
With an experienced team, coach Ben Jacobson scheduled up. The highlight is a tournament in the Bahamas, where UNI opens with Louisville and will face Missouri or Stanford in the second round. UNLV, Iowa, George Mason and Saint Mary’s are also on deck.
“We return seven or eight guys that played fairly significant minutes for us last year,” he said. “I do feel like we’ve got some more guys and have an opportunity to have more depth, more quality depth, than what we’ve had the past two years.”
Injuries are a big problem for the Salukis. Center Dantiel Daniels is out at least five weeks with a leg injury. Guard Josh Swan may return this week from a sprained ankle. Forward Chase Heins had surgery recently and will miss three months. Forward Davante Drinkard has a bad foot which limits his practice time. Also, guard Diamond Taylor is suspended for disciplinary reasons.
“If we can ever get healthy, I think we can play guys without having to have oxygen tanks behind our bench,” coach Barry Hinson said.
Shockers coach Gregg Marshall is enjoying the challenge of building a new look after losing five seniors from last season’s MVC champions. Most of the time, it’s enjoyable.
“It is fun,” he said. “One of the cooler things about being a college basketball, or any, coach is taking your individual ingredients and making a cohesive unit that can win basketball games. When people play (fantasy sports) that’s what they do. They pick teams they think can win. But they don’t have to do any Xs and Os. That’s part of the fun of having our job.”