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.

Player of the Week: Tayler Persons, Ball State

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In a week where Jy Bowman put 30 on Duke, Tra Holder had 29 in Phog Allen Fieldhouse and Mikal Bridges popped off for 28 in Madison Square Garden, the Player of the Week this week was shockingly easy to pick.

Tayler Persons, Ball State.

And I know what you’re saying. “Who?”

That was my reaction, too, when I found out that Persons was the man that hit the game-winning 25-footer to give the Cardinals a victory at No. 9 Notre Dame on Tuesday. When he hit another game-winner against Valpo on Saturday, I knew who he was.

And when I realized that, in those two games, Ball State’s leading scorer had averaged 23.5 points, 5. boards and 4.0 assists in those two wins, it made sense.

If you’re going to hit the game-winning shot in the two biggest wins of the season for your team, chances are that you’re a pretty good player.

I do have some advice for young Tayler, however.

He left 1.5 seconds on the clock at Notre Dame and 3.3 seconds on the clock against Valpo. Next time, make the shot at the buzzer. It’s cooler that way, and you’ll probably get on Sportscenter.

THE ALL-‘THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • KY BOWMAN, Boston College: Bowman damn near had a triple-double on Saturday, finishing with 30 points, 10 boards and nine assists to lead Boston College to a 89-84 upset win over No. 1 Duke. His partner in crime, Jerome Robinson, was pretty good as well. He finished with 25 points, including a pair of massive threes in the final five minutes of the game.
  • MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova: Bridges has been having a terrific season, but he finally had his moment on Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic. Bridges went for 28 points and six boards, including an emphatic dunk, as the Wildcats knocked off No. 12 Gonzaga is fairly uneventful fashion.
  • TERANCE MANN, Florida State: Mann has been Florida State’s best player this season, and he was certainly their best player on Monday, when the Seminoles went into the O-Dome and knocked off their rival, Florida, by 17 points. Mann went for 25 points in that one.
  • TRA HOLDER, Arizona State: Holder had 29 points and seven assists as the Sun Devils went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and knocked off No. 2 Kansas, 95-85, and you can make the argument that it wasn’t one of his two-best performances of the season. That’s pretty good.
  • LANDRY SHAMET, Wichita State: After going for 21 points and eight assists to lead the Shockers past South Dakota State on Tuesday night, Shamet had a career-high 30 points to help Gregg Marshall’s club come from behind to beat Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

Team of the Week: Arizona State Sun Devils

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Arizona State had themselves a week, didn’t they?

It was impressive enough before they went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Sunday after. They had already beaten St. John’s in the Staples Center for the opener of the Hall Of Fame Classic. With a blowout win over Xavier and wins over San Diego State and Kansas State already on their résumé, the Sun Devils were playing with house money on Sunday.

No one would blame them if they took a loss in the Phog. All but ten teams that have played their while Bill Self has been the head coach have taken a loss. You don’t just walk into Lawrence, Kansas, and expect to leave with a win.

But … they did win.

And suddenly, there is a totally different vibe around this Arizona State program.

They’re going to be ranked in the top five on Monday. They’re going to be receiving first-place votes in both top 25 polls. They’re going to be looked at as the best team out west, the favorite to win the Pac-12, the best program in Arizona. Hell, you’ll probably start hearing people say that Bobby Hurley is the answer to the ‘who replaces Coach K?’ question.

That’s when you know you’ve got something rolling.

When people like me start talking about your next job.

Personally, I’m far more interested in seeing if Arizona State can keep this thing going. They are 154th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and while they are the second-best team in the country at getting to the foul line, their bet performances have all come when they shot the grip off the ball.

But as of now, that doesn’t really matter.

Arizona State is the most fun team in the country and totally deserving of whether they end up being ranked.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles did something on Saturday that no one else has been able to do this season: They outplayed Duke for 35 minutes and then managed to avoid choking the game away down the stretch as Marvin Bagley III took over. Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson were nothing short of sensational.
  • ARIZONA: The Wildcats are back. They picked up a pair of impressive wins this week, knocking off Alabama at home on Saturday night after landing a marquee win over No. 7 Texas A&M in Phoenix on Tuesday night. Throw in the win at UNLV last weekend, and Sean Miller’s club has officially turned this thing around.
  • MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE: The Blue Raiders won at Vanderbilt and beat Ole Miss at home this week, meaning that Kermit Davis is now 5-0 against the SEC over the course of the last two-plus seasons.
  • TCU: The Horned Frogs moved to 10-0 on the season this week by landing their two best wins to date. They knocked off SMU at home on Tuesday night before going into LA late on Friday evening to beat No. 22 Nevada.
  • LOYOLA-CHICAGO: The MVC should be on the lookout for the Ramblers after they went into the O-Dome and landed a win over No. 5 Florida.

College Basketball Power Rankings: After a wild week, let’s start this thing over

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This has been an unbelievably weird season to date, which feels about par for the course for college basketball in the era of the FBI investigation.

Arizona fell off a cliff in the Bahamas before returning stateside and reeling off four straight wins, three of which came at UNLV, on a neutral against Texas A&M and at home against Alabama. Duke lost at Boston College after playing like they deserved to lose four or five times already this season. Florida lost to Florida State and Loyola-Chicago. Kansas lost to Washington and Arizona State, who actually has a shot of being ranked as the No. 1 team in college basketball on Monday.

Seriously.

But wait.

There’s more.

Notre Dame lost to Ball State. Minnesota got blown out at Nebraska and Arkansas. Purdue lost to Western Kentucky. I could go on but you get the point. Nothing makes sense anymore. My best guess is that we’re all watching basketball in the upside-down.

I’m starting anew. Instead of trying to figure out who goes up because they beat Team A who beat Team B after Team B upset Team C who lost by 30 to Team D. I’m just going to rank who I think are the 25 best teams in the country in order.

So bear with me as I try to figure out just what to make of college basketball in the year of our lord, 2017.

1. Villanova, 10-0 (Last Week: No. 4)
2. Michigan State, 9-1 (2)
3. Miami, 8-0 (7)
4. Wichita State, 8-1 (8)
5. Duke, 10-1 (1)
6. Arizona, 7-3 (22)
7. Arizona State, 9-0 (18)
8. Texas A&M, 8-1 (6)
9. Xavier, 9-1 (10)
10. West Virginia, 9-1 (17)
11. Seton Hall, 8-1 (15)
12. North Carolina, 9-1 (19)
13. Kansas, 7-2 (3)
14. Gonzaga, 8-2 (9)
15. Notre Dame, 8-2 (11)
16. Purdue, 10-2 (20)
17. Kentucky, 7-1 (14)
18. Virginia, 8-1 (16)
19. Oklahoma, 7-1 (NR)
20. Tennessee, 7-1 (NR)
21. Florida State, 9-0 (NR)
22. Florida, 6-3 (5)
23. Cincinnati, 7-2 (13)
24. Texas Tech, 7-1 (20)
25. TCU, 10-0 (21)

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 19 Oklahoma, No. 20 Tennessee, No. 21 Florida State

DROPPED OUT: 12. Minnesota, 23. Texas, 24. Baylor, 25. Creighton

No. 16 Arizona State hands No. 2 Kansas second-straight loss

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No. 16 Arizona State got a combined 72 points, 14 assists and nine steals from their three-headed monster of Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Remy Martin as the Sun Devils went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and handed Kansas their second-straight loss, 95-85. ASU went on an 18-0 second half run to turn a 52-47 deficit into an 65-52 lead they would never relinquish.

It’s the first time since Dec. 2013, when Kansas lost to Colorado and Florida in back-to-back road games, that the No. 2-ranked Jayhawks lost two in a row. The difference, of course, is that neither of these losses came on the road; Kansas was beaten by Washington in Kansas City on Wednesday.

Arizona State now owns wins at Kansas and over St. John’s and No. 14 Xavier on a neutral floor. They were, without a doubt, the favorite to win the Pac-12 title at this point. They are probably the best team on the west coast, and there is a valid argument to rank them as the No. 1 team in the country.

Here are four things to take away from this result:

1. YES, WE CAN RANK ARIZONA STATE NO. 1 IN THE COUNTRY

I probably won’t be the guy to do that, not when Villanova and Michigan State still exist, but there is more than enough reason to do so.

Namely: their wins.

Is there a program in the country that has put together a better trio of wins than at Kansas, Xavier on a neutral and St. John’s on a neutral? The Sun Devils also own wins over San Diego State and Kansas State, and perhaps the most impressive part of it is that each of those wins, with the exception of Kansas State, came by double-digits. They put up 102 points on Xavier despite trailing by 15 in the first half. They put up 95 points on Kansas despite trailing by 13 in the first half.

If you’re the kind of person that does your rankings based totally on the rèsumè that a team has produced – a completely valid way to rank – then putting Arizona State at No. 1 makes total sense.

So don’t be surprised when they get some of them in this week’s AP poll.

2. ARIZONA STATE’S ACHILLES’ HEEL IS NOT THREES, IT’S DEFENSE

One idea that I’ve seen bandied about is that Arizona State’s performance early on this season is something of a mirage. These guards, as talented as they are, are just tough-shot makers that are running hot right now, and there might be something to that. I’m not going to pretend that shooting 14-for-28 from three at Phog Allen Fieldhouse or 13-for-27 from three against Xavier is the kind of thing that is going to happen every single time that Arizona State plays this season, but I also don’t think that’s why their offense has been so successful this season.

The Sun Devils get to the line more than just about any other team in the country; Cal St.-Fullerton is the only program with a higher free throw rate than the Sun Devils. That has everything to do with the ability of Evans, Holder and Martin to put the ball on the floor and get into the paint. It’s why they get to the line so often, and it’s why Romello White gets to the line so often.

That is sustainable, more so than shooting nearly-50 percent from three is.

What may not be sustainable, however, is winning games like this while posting a sub-150 adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom. That’s where Arizona State has problems they need to solve. We saw it on Sunday, as Kansas had a never-ending parade of dunks. Ironically, what may have ended up being the difference is the fact that the Sun Devils had a handful of run-out layups – pick-six turnovers, if you will.

Bobby Hurley’s team allowed 1.39 points-per-possession on possessions where Kansas did not turn the ball over. That, quite simply, has to improve if you assume that Arizona State doesn’t shoot 50 percent from three every night.

3. KANSAS DESPERATELY NEEDS THEIR REINFORCEMENTS

We talk about it over and over again, but it’s the truth. Right now, Kansas goes seven-deep. One of those seven is Mitch Lightfoot, a 6-foot-9 back-up center that is the only big man on the Kansas roster not named Udoka Azubuike. He’s fine as a back-up. He’s not fine as a guy that is going to have to provide 15-18 minutes a night as the only big man on the floor. He doesn’t provide rim protection. He doesn’t provide post scoring. He’s not a great rebounder. He can commit five fouls and but Bill Self some time with Azubuike on the bench. That’s it.

They need Silvio De Souza to get his test score and enroll early. They need to find a way to get Billy Preston cleared to play this season. If they don’t, we probably need to start entertaining the idea that this might be the Kansas team that sees their Big 12 title streak come to an end.

The other issue is that the only other player on the KU bench is Marcus Garrett, who is a freshman that doesn’t quite seem ready for the minutes he’s getting. Malik Newman has not been as good as advertised this season, and on Sunday, Svi Mykhailiuk reverted back to the Svi Mykhailiuk of the last three years. What that means is that …

4. … KANSAS HAS ONE GUY THAT CAN CREATE FOR HIMSELF RIGHT NOW

And I’m not quite sure when that is going to change.

I just don’t think Newman is all that good. Svi is at his best as a spot-up shooter and a guy that attacks close-outs. Garrett, as of now, cannot be relied upon, and I’m not convinced that Sam Cunliffe or Lagerald Vick are guys that can be more than finishers; at the rim, as a spot-up shooter, etc.

Even Azubuike is someone that has to more or less rely on getting the ball in a position where all he has to do is catch it and dunk it.

That’s a massive burden to ask Devonte’ Graham to carry, especially when he has to do so while playing every second.

Ayton leads Arizona to 88-82 win over Alabama

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Deandre Ayton had 29 points and 18 rebounds, Allonzo Trier scored 20 of his 25 points in the second half and Arizona outlasted Alabama 88-82 Saturday night.

Arizona’s first real home test and the fans were ready, making McKale Center louder than it’s been all season.

The Wildcats (7-3) responded with their second quality win of the week, backing up a victory over No. 7 Texas A&M with a strong all-around performance to win their 45th straight nonconference home game.

Alabama (7-3) matched Arizona nearly shot for shot in one of college basketball’s toughest road environments, pulling within 84-80 on Riley Norris’ 3-pointer with 38 seconds left.

Trier, who took just six shots, hit three free throws in the final 34 seconds to seal it for Arizona.

Freshman Collin Sexton scored 21 of his 30 points in the second half to keep the Crimson Tide close.

Arizona’s defense was a sore spot to start the season, leading to three straight losses in the Bahamas that dropped the Wildcats out of the AP Top 25 from No. 2 — a first since Louisville in 1986.

Even when the Wildcats rolled over Long Beach State, coach Sean Miller lamented their defensive effort in a 25-minute postgame rant.

Arizona shored up its defense on Tuesday, when it grinded out a 67-64 victory over No. 7 Texas A&M in Phoenix.

For their first big home test, the Wildcats got back sophomore guard Rawle Alkins, a tough, emotional player who Miller hoped would give them a lift.

Arizona had a spark before Alkins even entered the game, efficiently working its offense during a 10-0 run that put the Wildcats up 24-13. The Crimson Tide fought back behind their defense, using a 13-2 run to tie it at 26-all.

Alabama had no one who could stop Ayton in the first half — 15 points and nine rebounds — but Sexton banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to put the Tide up 40-38.

The Crimson Tide went on a quick run to start the second half, but Arizona rallied and the teams traded athletic plays, neither to gain much separation.

Alabama closed in around Ayton to limit his shots, but Trier got free multiple times to keep the Wildcats around the lead.

Sexton was Alabama’s go-to player, confidently stroking in long 3-pointers and driving to the basket.

BIG PICTURE

Alabama came up short, but handling a hostile environment at McKale Center and keeping it close against a good team should only help the Crimson Tide later in the season.

Arizona could find itself back in the AP Top 25 next week after two quality wins.

UP NEXT

Alabama hosts Mercer on Dec. 19.

Arizona plays at New Mexico next Saturday.