College Hoops Preview: The Missouri Valley Conference

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

There’s one thing that everyone can agree on within the Missouri Valley Conference. That is that Creighton is the favorite to win the league. With a veteran starting line-up and a national player of the year candidate in Doug McDermott, there’s really no debate that the Bluejays are the team that every other MVC squad is chasing in 2012-13.

Now, to determine how the rest of the league will do, just post the rest of the team names on a dart board, grab some darts and throw. Because that’s as accurate a way as any to determine how the rest of The Valley will turn out.

Northern Iowa has a ton of talent returning. Wichita State lost a hoard of seniors, but Gregg Marshall has a way of keeping his team competitive. Marty Simmons has his best team since coming to Evansville. Bradley returns four starters off a team that managed just seven wins last season.

Parody in the The Valley. Learn to love it. Because this season, that’s the key word when talking about this conference.

Five Things To Know

1.) Depth isn’t an issue for most teams in the conference. Bradley returns four starters. Illinois State returns nine of 12 players overall. Northern Iowa returns six of its top seven scorers. Evansville has six seniors.

2.) The elite scorers in The Valley return. McDermott (22.9 ppg), Division I’s leading returnee in points per game, and Evansville’s Colt Ryan (20.5 ppg) headline.

3.) Wichita State will have seven new players for this season, including four junior college transfers. They’ve made three straight postseason appearances under Marshall.

4.) Missouri State forward Jarmar Gulley, who averaged 10.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and led the team with 34 steals last season, tore his ACL in the summer and is out for the season. The Bears have only one player taller than 6-7 on their roster.

5.) Drake lost a potential first team all-conference guard in Rayvonte Rice, who transferred to Illinois. Rice was second-team all-MVC last season, averaging 16.8 points and 5.8 rebounds.

Impact Newcomers
D.J. Balentine, Fr., Evansville – The 6-2 Kokomo, Ind. native has had a lot of buzz surrounding him. The point guard was a member of the Indiana All-Stars and a first team all-state guy.
Chris Hines, Sr., Drake – The Utah transfer started 26 games, averaged 9.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.7 spg, and led Utes with 66 threes in 2011-12. The six-footer took advantage of the graduate transfer rule to avoid sitting out this season.
Gavin Thurman, Fr., Missouri State – As a prep, the 6-6 Thurman played alongside Kansas-bound Perry Ellis at Wichita Heights High School, averaging 12.3 points and 8.1 rebounds as a senior. He averaged 8.8 points and 5 rebounds in team’s trip to Costa Rica this past summer.
Cleanthony Early, Jr., Wichita State – A first-team junior college All-American at Sullivan County (N.Y.) Community College last season, the 6-8 swingman averaged 24.2 points, 10.6 boards and 3.5 blocks in 2011-12. The Shockers lost pretty much everyone, so Early will be called upon by Marshall — a guy who loves him some JuCos with seven on the roster — to be a quick study.
Manny Arop, Jr., Indiana State – The 6-6 post man, a transfer from Gonzaga, averaged 4.6 ppg and 2.6 rpg for the Bulldogs in 2010-11. He led the Sycamores in scoring on their trip to the Bahamas.

Breakout Players
Jackie Carmichael, Sr., Illinois State – Carmichael’s breakout is on another level. From a good MVC player to an elite player overall. The 6-9 forward averaged 13.9 points and 9.7 rebounds last season. But this team under first-year coach Dan Muller will rely on him more than any other team for its success. He should average a double-double and be an NBA draft pick.
Dantiel Daniels, Soph., Southern Illinois – Daniels isn’t going to average a ton of points, but this guy can do it all. The 6-6 combo forward averaged 8.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game to go along with a team-leading 46 blocks, with 17 steals and 14 assists last season. He could be the glue guy for the Salukis.
Seth Tuttle, Soph., Northern Iowa –  Tuttle earned praise last season from a smattering of freshman all-american teams and MVC Freshman of the Year honors, with per-game averages of 9.6 points and 5.6 rebounds, paired with 36 assists and 27 steals and shooting 65-percent from the field. This could be an even better year for the 6-8 Iowa native.
Grant Gibbs, Sr., Creighton – The 6-5 point guard is right up there with McDermott in terms of importance for the Bluejays.  The Valley’s Newcomer of the Year last season scored just 7 points per game last year, but averaged 4.5 rebounds to compliment his team-leading 5 assists per game, making him the gas to McDermott’s engine. With D-Mac and center Greg Enchenique back, he could very well be a top-ten guy in the nation when it comes to dimes. He reminds me of another former Valley point guard in Drake’s Adam Emmenecker, who was the 2007-08 MVC Player of the Year. Gibbs is also one hell of a Twitter follow (@DoubleGFor3).

All-Conference Team
G: Colt Ryan, Evansville
G: Jake Odum, Indiana State
F: Jackie Carmichael, Illinois State
F: Doug McDermott, Creighton
C: Greg Echenique, Creighton

Player of the Year
Doug McDermott, Jr., Creighton – Duh. Last season’s MVC Player of the Year averaged 22.9 points and 8.6 boards and there hasn’t been any off-season signs he’ll slow down. Sure, teams will key on the 6-8 future lottery pick, but they did last season and nothing stopped him. I probably could’ve just stopped this explanation at “duh.”

Coach Under Pressure
Marty Simmons, Evansville – In his five previous seasons, Simmons has guided the Purple Aces to three post-season tournaments. All three were tournaments that have been created in the past five years. Tournaments no one really brags about winning. With a senior scorer in Colt Ryan and his best recruiting class since taking the job, Simmons’ team should make an NCAA Tournament or NIT appearance this season. If not, he may start to hear it from Evansville’s concentrated, but passionate fanbase.

Predicted Finish

1.) Creighton – The Bluejays return a bulk of last season’s team, including national player of the year candidate Doug McDermott. Look for Greg Enchenique to have a big year. Grant Gibbs could be the most underrated point guard in the nation.

2.) Northern Iowa – Ben Jacobson gets six of his top seven scorers back on a team that won 20 games last season. The Panthers always seem to find a way to compete in the Valley.

3.) Evansville – This has to be the Purple Aces year for a legitimate postseason berth under Marty Simmons. It’s time to put up or enjoy mediocrity in southern Indiana.

4.) Illinois State – Dan Muller inherits a good team, even with Nic Moore’s transfer to SMU. The Redbirds have only one true freshman on the roster.

5.) Wichita State – It wasn’t just one player coach Gregg Marshall lost, it was pretty much everyone. Fortunately, no coach in America loves and develops junior college talent like him.

6.) Bradley – Geno Ford, you survived the worst part. Now the Braves return a solid backcourt of Walt Lemon, Jr. and Dyricus Simms-Edwards (a combined 24.1 ppg, 173 assists) and a steady front-court of Shayok Shayok, Jordan Prosser and Jake Eastman (combined to play in all 32 games, with a total of 36 starts).

7.) Southern Illinois – Losing do-it-all man Mamadou Seck might be a good thing. Expect Jeff Early, Kendal Brown-Surles and Dantiel Daniels to up their production.

8.) Indiana State – The Sycamores lose leading scorer Dwyane Latham, but get Manny Arop eligible. This team has some unanswered questions at guard behind Jake Odum.

9.) Drake – The Bulldogs were on the uptick, going 18-16, 9-9 in The Valley last year, after three straight 7-11 records in-conference. Then they lost Rayvonte Rice. Gaining Utah transfer Chris Hines helped a bit, but they’ll need more production out of Ben Simons (16.4 ppg in 2011-12) and company to compete this season.

10.) Missouri State – The Bears were already going to struggle with a paper-thin front line, then Jarmar Gulley tore his ACL this summer. Bruce Marshall, a 6-10 freshman, is the only legit big man on the roster. It’ll be tough to stay competitive in the league relying mainly on guards.

David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

The end was disappointing, but Kentucky’s season outpaced all expectation

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In yet another example of what makes March Madness the greatest and most unpredictable sporting spectacle on the planet, Kentucky’s run to the Sweet 16 this season is going to be looked at as a disappointment.

Who saw that coming back in January?

Who thought that this team had second weekend potential when they were in the midst of the first four-game losing streak of John Calipari’s tenure in Lexington?

And please, show me who, at that point in time, predicted that Kentucky media would be calling a loss in the Sweet 16 “the worst loss” in the Calipari era back when there were actual discussions being had over whether or not the Wildcats were going to get into the NCAA tournament?

It’s amazing how quickly the tide turns in college basketball

Kentucky lost on Thursday night. The fifth-seeded Wildcats fell to the ninth-seeded Wildcats of Kansas State in a game that turned into drama-filled slugfest down the stretch. The final score was 61-58. Kentucky had two shots at the end of regulation to force a tie or take the lead. They also gave up an offensive rebound to a 6-foot-3 no-name with 40 seconds left that led to the game-winning bucket.

The narrative is going to be that Kentucky choked this game away, that their inability to run offense — and P.J. Washington’s free throw yips — cost them the Final Four that seemed a given Thursday morning and a pipe dream on Selection Sunday.

The truth is that Kentucky was a flawed basketball team that got hot at the right time before running into a team that executed a game-plan to perfection while getting the benefit of a couple of bounces and whistles going their way.

And let me be perfectly clear: In no way, shape or form am I saying that Kentucky or Big Blue Nation should be happy with this loss. It should be disappointing. It should hurt — more so for the players than the fans, but whatever. The bracket broke perfectly for them. Everyone in their region was a cinderella. We weren’t wrong in thinking that Coach Cal’s kids were the heavy favorites to get to San Antonio out of Catlanta.

But we need to say that while also acknowledging this: There is a reason that Kentucky was a No. 5-seed this season.

This was a flawed basketball team.

They were young. They didn’t have enough shooting. Their offense was entirely too predictable, even when they were winning. If Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox weren’t carrying the load for them on that end, they didn’t really have anywhere to turn. And on Thursday night, they ran into a team that had the personnel and a game-plan to take away Kentucky’s two go-to guys.

Kansas State is not overly talented, but what they have in abundance are tough, athletic and older guards that are going to put in a shift on the defensive end of the floor. Kentucky fans may not know who Barry Brown is, but I guarantee you that fans of every Big 12 team can tell you just how good he can be. I guarantee that coaches in the Big 12 can tell you just how annoying their guards are, and those little guards played that role to perfection.

To put it another way, it wasn’t a fluke that Gilgeous-Alexander struggled to make plays off the dribble the way he has for the last two months of the season. It wasn’t an accident that Kevin Knox struggled to find a way to get the looks he had become accustomed to getting coming off of Kentucky’s circle sets.

And in a 40 minute basketball game, when one team matches up well with another, something as simple as Xavier Sneed catching fire and Washington going 8-for-20 from the foul line will get you beat.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because the real point that I am trying to make here is that this particular Kentucky team just wasn’t all that good. They were young. They were injured. They had their flaws masked by the improvement of a couple of kids who played out of their minds for long stretches of the season, and I just don’t think that’s something that should be overlooked.

Maybe this is just my mindset as a fan. I enjoy the ride more than I need to celebrate the ending. Give me a reason to tune in every game. Make me excited to have the monotony of a week broken up when the ball tips. I’m good.

And I think this Kentucky team accomplished just that.

But two weeks ago, no one thought this team had a shot of getting to the Elite 8. Two months ago, every Kentucky fan would have taken a trip to the second weekend in a heartbeat.

The ending sucked.

No doubt about it.

But this team kept fighting and kept improving and, in the end, lost because someone took makeup remover to the cosmetics that Calipari applied.

Be disappointed, but don’t lost sight of the big picture.

VIDEO: Townes’ late 3 seals Loyola’s win over Nevada

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Nevada was faced with a dilemma. The Wolf Pack were down just one possession – just one point – and were on defense with with a five-second differential between the game and shot clocks.

Foul and extend the game or play it out and hope for a stop?

Nevada opted to play it straight-up, and Loyola hit them with the worst-case scenario – a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock.

The 3-pointer from Marques Townes made it a two-possession game and the clock all but ruled out the possibility for two possession.

And that’s why Loyola is now in the Elite Eight.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Saturday’s tip times, TV channels, announcer pairings

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Half the spots in the Final Four are up for grabs Saturday. Be sure you know where your TV needs to be before the nets are cut down.

Atlanta: Brian Anderson, Chris Webber and Lisa Byington

  • 6:09 p.m. – No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 11 Loyola, TBS

Los Angeles: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner and Dana Jacobson

  • 8:49 – No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 9 Florida State, TBS

VIDEO: This is the shot that ended Kentucky’s season

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Barry Brown has spent all season being underrated.

And Kentucky found that out the hard way on Thursday night.

This bucket with 18 seconds left gave Kansas State a lead they would never relinquish in a win over Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

Florida State advances past Gonzaga to Elite Eight

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Florida State was an afterthought heading into the season in an ACC that was as loaded as it was top-heavy.

They were a No. 9-seed in the NCAA tournament in part because they were able to pick off North Carolina and Clemson at home by a combined three points.

They needed three overtimes to hold off Miami and Syracuse at home. They needed a win over Boston College on Senior Night to avoid heading into the ACC tournament with a losing record, and they ended up going and losing in the first round of the ACC tournament to a Louisville that never really sniffed the bubble and parted ways with their interim head coach as soon as their NIT run ended.

They were almost universally picked to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Missouri because everyone knew Michael Porter Jr. was back and secretly hoped that the potential top five pick might actually make some noise as a collegian before his run came to an end.

The Seminoles have been written off and ignored for the entire college basketball season.

And now they are a win away from the Final Four.

Terance Mann scored 18 points and Florida State held fourth-seeded Gonzaga to 35 percent shooting as the Seminoles advanced to their first Elite 8 since 1993 with a 75-60 win on Thursday night. The Seminoles will advance to take on No. 3-seed Michigan with a trip to the Final Four on the line. They have not been to a Final Four since 1972, which was the last Elite 8 before their last Elite 8.

Put another way, the program that has been ignored all season long has been to precisely one Elite 8 since 1972.

That’s a long time to be irrelevant.

So I guess it’s time that we all started to pay attention.

And here’s the interesting part of this: The Seminoles are actually a fun team to watch this year. This is not the kind of grind-it-out Florida State teams that we have become accustomed to with Leonard Hamilton at the helm of this program. They don’t try to play as many enormous human beings at one time as they can. Florida State plays a lot of small-ball. They have a lot of physical, athletic and switchable defenders. They press. They try to force turnovers. They get out and run in transition. They have a couple dudes; Mann and Braian Angola and M.J. Carter. They’re not exactly VCU and they’re not exactly West Virginia and they’re not exactly last season’s South Carolina, but there’s a little bit of all of them there.

And that’s what did Gonzaga in.

The Zags entered this game short-handed, as their starting five-man Killian Tillie was unable to go due to a hip injury that he aggravated during warmups, but that would not have made all that much of a difference in the Staples Center.

The issue was guard play.

Florida State’s pressure simply overwhelmed Gonzaga’s guards. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Zach Norvell were a combined 10-for-36 from the floor and had a nightmare-of-a-time trying to get the ball into the lane. The Zags committed 13 turnovers, trailed by 12 within the first ten minutes of the game and never really made a run keeping this thing within striking distance.

If there was an issue with Tillie being out, it came when Gonzaga tried to space the floor.

The Zags were playing without enough shooters, particularly in the front court. That clogged the paint and made it difficult for the likes of Johnathan Williams III and Rui Hachimura to get some space down there to operate. Perhaps the most telling stat on Thursday — more than Gonzaga’s 34 percent shooting or the 5-for-20 that they shot from three — was that the Zags were 8-for-27 on layups on the night.


For 27.


And it makes me wonder just how Michigan is going to be able to handle this group, but that’s neither here nor there.

We’ll get to it in time.

For now, it is time for the Seminoles and their fans to basket in this moment.

They were right, we were wrong.