Missouri Valley Season Preview
Who will earn the MVC crown?
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
Defending Champion: Northern Iowa
Defending Regular Season Champion: Northern Iowa
1) Wichita State
3) Northern Iowa
4) Missouri State
5) Illinois State
7) Indiana State
8 ) Southern Illinois
Summary: In a conference that is usually the deepest of any mid major group, last year was clearly the year of the Panther. Northern Iowa won the regular season handily (beating second place Wichita State by a comfortable three games), won the “Arch Madness” conference tourney, and of course, behind the courageous and borderline idiotic little soul of one Ali Farokhmanesh, beat No. 1 seed Kansas on their way to the Sweet 16. Now three top players from last season’s team, including Farokhmanesh, are gone, and, as so often happens in the Missouri Valley, it may be hard for Ben Jacobsen’s program to sustain it’s March momentum.
While I’m not ready to write off the Panthers as quickly as many people seem to be, last year’s second place Wichita State Shockers seem to be a safer pick to take over at the top of the conference. The Shockers were a shock-ing loss to bottom-feeder Evansville away from a potential at large bid (finished with an impressive 25 wins), and then squandered another opportunity when they lost to Northern Iowa in the conference tournament final. Four starters, including Toure Murry and JT Durley, are back from a team that should be hungry (as hungry as something like this can be) after last year’s disappointing finish.
As usual, though, the MVC is wide open, and the Shockers are hardly a solid favorite. Creighton has a new coach, stealing Greg McDermott from Iowa State (unfortunately for Iowa State, I’m going to have to say this Big 12 to MVC jump is a clear step up) and returning him to a conference where he had his greatest success as a head coach. The Bluejays should be team that relies on a devastating frontline, highlighted by standout center Kenny Lawson. Whether or not this team improves on their disappointing 18-16 season and challenges for a league title depends on how quickly it adjusts to a new coach and battles through the non-conference schedule, which is much easier than the slate Dana Altman put together last year (hardest game should be at home against BYU). That ambitious early schedule, which sent the Jays into league with a poor record and an even more damaged psyche, could have contributed to Creighton sputtering out of the gate in conference play.
I believe the champs have a decent shot at repeating though, especially in a league race as wide-open as the Missouri Valley’s promises to be. Kwadzo Ahelegbe, who is already one of the league’s most explosive players, needs to become a dominant scorer for the Panthers to have a shot. Points won’t be as easy to come by without Adam Koch or big man Jordan Eglseder manning the paint, so players like Jake Koch, younger brother of the aforementioned Adam, will need to make major strides this season for the Panthers to continue to be the class of the conference. Last year’s season proved Ben Jacobsen’s system works at the highest level, but whether Northern Iowa can reload as quickly as Gonzaga and Butler always are able to remains to be seen.
Though Wichita State, Creighton, and Northern Iowa seem to be the class of the conference, this league is there for the taking, so a seemingly random team like Missouri State (which had a great overall record last season but struggled in league play) could emerge as a contender if the favorites don’t take control of the conference early on. Players as versatile as forward Kyle Weems (13.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 40% 3PT) can carry a team for stretches during the conference season. Plus, the Bears fall into that unique category of ending the previous season with a win. Even if it is only the CIT, postseason tournament winners usually see tremendous growth the following season, so it may be worth keeping an eye on these Bears as potential sleepers.
Jon Jaques is a former starter for the Cornell Big Red and current forward for Israel’s Ironi Ashkelon club.