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Missouri Valley Conference 2016-17 preview

4 March, 2016: The Wichita State mascot during a Missouri Valley Conference Championship basketball game between the Wichita State Shockers and the Loyola University Ramblers. Wichita State won, 66-58. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)
Icon Sportswire

Recap of the 2015-16 Missouri Valley Conference season

The Missouri Valley experienced one of its most successful seasons as a conference in 2015-‘16. Half of the teams in the league won 11 out of 18 conference games, with Wichita State leading the way with a 16-2 record.

While the Shockers won the regular season title, they were upstaged in the semifinals of the conference tournament by the UNI Panthers. The Panthers won the league’s automatic-bid. However, with the loss in the semis, Wichita State was very much considered on bubble for an at-large bid. The Shockers received an 11-seed. With that, the Missouri Valley had two teams who made noise in the NCAA tournament.

Wichita State handily defeated Vanderbilt in the First Four, which set up a match against the sixth seed Arizona Wildcats. The Shockers baffled the Wildcats defensively, winning 65-55 to move to the second round.

Meanwhile, UNI advanced to the second round of the tournament, scoring its own upset against the sixth-seeded Texas Longhorns. The Panthers claimed the win over the Longhorns on a last-second Paul Jesperson half-court heave. Then came the second round for the Missouri Valley.

Wichita State would lose a close game to the Miami Hurricanes while UNI blew a 12-point lead with 34 seconds in regulation to lose in double overtime to the Texas A&M Aggies. Both of these losses would signal the end of some stellar collegiate careers. For the Shockers: Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker. For the Panthers: Jesperson, Wes Washpun and Matt Bohannon.

New talent ready to surge

Since a handful of the Missouri Valley’s best players have graduated, one would assume the conference may not be as competitive this season. However, there is a wealth of young talent ready to make a splash and make sure the conference continues to be one of the most competitive mid-major leagues in 2016-’17.

Although UNI experienced the most heartbreaking loss in the NCAA tournament, Panther guard/forward Jeremy Morgan had a memorable outing against the Aggies. Morgan torched Texas A&M for 36 points on 50 percent shooting.

The 6-foot-5 combo player for UNI was an outstanding shooter last season. Morgan shot 48.5 percent while averaging 11.3 points per game. He was also solid behind the 3-point line, shooting 40.7 percent behind the arc. In addition, Morgan averaged 5.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.9 blocks per game. Morgan is leading candidate for Conference Player of the Year heading into this season.

While UNI has its new go-to player, Wichita State will have to find a new one as well. It’s more than likely will be last year’s Missouri Valley Freshman of the Year Markis McDuffie. The 6-foot-8 forward had a solid first season as a Shocker. He averaged 7.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.

The good thing about McDuffie is that he is a versatile player. He can play either small or power forward for Wichita State. During Missouri Valley play, McDuffie’s 3-point shooting slumped to 27.1 percent. With Baker and VanVleet now gone, McDuffie’s role and statistics should see an increase this season.

McDuffie isn’t the only Shocker who could make an impact in 2016-’17. Former Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp is expected to be an integral part of Wichita State’s success this season. Frankamp figures to be the Shockers’ starting point guard. He will replace VanVleet. Like VanVleet, he is careful with the ball–only five turnovers in 479 minutes in 2015-16.

The thing Frankamp has to improve upon this season is being more creative. Since Baker and VanVleet have both departed from Wichita State, Frankamp needs to produce something special for WSU to retain its place in the conference.

UNI and Wichita State aren’t the only teams with some talent which are ready to make names for themselves. Indiana State has a player who could make a splash in guard Brenton Scott.

Scott was a second-team selection after averaging 14.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game last season. He was also the only non-senior to earn All-MVC honors in 2015-16 as well. Scott benefited from playing with other experienced guards the past two years, but this season he is ready to take over the leadership role for the Sycamores. The one thing that will make or break Scott from taking the next step is his turnover issues. If he can correct that problem, people will more than likely be hearing about Scott toward the end of this season.

Some other players to watch:

– Milton Doyle, Loyola

– Reed Timmer, Drake

– Dequon Miller, Missouri State

– MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State

– Paris Lee, Illinois State

December 12, 2015: Wichita State Shockers head coach Gregg Marshall celebrates during the NCAA D1 mens basketball game between the Utah Utes and the Wichita State Shockers at Intrust Bank Areana in Wichita, Kansas. Wichita State defeated #25 Utah 67-50 (Photo by William Purnell/Icon)

December 12, 2015: Wichita State Shockers head coach Gregg Marshall celebrates during the NCAA D1 mens basketball game between the Utah Utes and the Wichita State Shockers of the Missouri Valley at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kansas. Wichita State defeated #25 Utah 67-50 (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire)

Preseason conference order prediction

  1. Wichita State: Typically when a team loses two quality players like Baker and VanVleet, one would assume the Shockers would take a dip. However, head coach Gregg Marshall’s new-look Wichita State team has a plethora of talent. With McDuffie, Frankamp, forward Zach Brown and center Shaq Morris, the Shockers should still be at the top of the class in the Missouri Valley.
  1. UNI: The Panthers have to replace Washpun, Bohannon and Jesperson and break in 11 new players this season. While that would spell a down year for most programs, UNI does have Morgan back with Ben Jacobson at head coach. One should never count out a Jacobson-led team.
  1. Illinois State: The Redbirds probably have the best trio of players in the league: Paris Lee, MiKyle McIntosh and Deontae Hawkins. However, if Illinois State wants to dethrone Wichita State or UNI as the top team in the Valley, it will have to be more consistent, which has eluded the Redbirds in years past.
  1. Missouri State: The Bears are ready to make the leap in 2016-’17. Over past three seasons, Missouri State has experienced injuries, defections and upheaval. Since the Bears return five of their top seven scorers, this could be the year they finally crack the upper echelon of the Missouri Valley.
  1. Indiana State: The Sycamores’ frontcourt is deep with Brandon Murphy and T.J. Bell. However, Indiana State will need to find Scott some help in the backcourt if it wants to move up in the conference.
  1. Southern Illinois: The Salukis lost All-MVC pick Anthony Beane, while Bola Olaniyan decided to transfer in June, which are both big blows. They do have an experienced perimeter group, but the talent isn’t there quite yet for Southern Illinois.
  1. Loyola: Two things have to go right if the Ramblers want to have a successful season. One: Milton Doyle needs a healthy and consistent senior season. Two: Loyola will need to become a better rebounding team. It was No. 310 in the nation in rebound margin at -4.7.
  1. Bradley: Brian Wardle struggled in his first season as the head coach of Bradley; the Braves went 5-27. Some of that could be credited to playing nine true freshmen. However, three of them are no longer with the squad. Wardle’s second season with Bradley seems to be another struggle.
  1. Evansville: The Aces had their best season since 1999, but they lost two landmark players, D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius, this offseason. Evansville will look for Jaylon Brown and Blake Simmons to take on larger roles this season.
  1. Drake: The Bulldogs have solid scorers in Reed Timmer (16.8 ppg) and Graham Woodward (10.8 ppg). Besides that, Drake doesn’t have much support around those two. Plus, the Bulldogs lost promising young center Dominik Olejniczak, who transferred to Ole Miss.

Preseason All-Missouri Valley Conference team

  • F Jeremy Morgan, UNI
  • F Markis McDuffie, Wichita State
  • F MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State
  • G Brenton Scott, Indiana State
  • G Conner Frankamp, Wichita State

Missouri Valley Conference Preseason Awards

  • Player of the Year: F Jeremy Morgan, UNI
  • Coach of the Year: Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
  • Freshman of the Year: C.J. Keyser, Wichita State

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