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.

A season of highs and lows ends for Kansas in the Elite 8 again

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For the second season in a row, Kansas was one-win shy of a Final Four appearance, falling to Oregon, 74-60, in the Elite Eight on Friday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

This comes a year after Kansas, as the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, fell to eventual national champion Villanova in the Elite 8.

Just as stars such as Perry Ellis struggled in that regional final, so did KU’s freshman phenom Josh Jackson, whose quick two personal fouls that saddled him on the bench and appeared to take him out of the game mentally. Devonte’ Graham, averaging 20.0 points per game in the tournament, was 0-for-7 from the field. Frank Mason III’s first-half performance assured that Oregon would completely run away with the game before halftime.

The loss put an end to a tumultuous season for the Jayhawks.

Kansas entered the 2016-17 season as one of the favorites to win the national championship. The Jayhawks went on to win the Big 12 regular season title for an unprecedented 13th consecutive season. Frank Mason III, in the eyes of many, was the wire-to-wire national player of the year.

However, for all its accomplishments on the court, Kansas faced more than its share of issues off-the-court. Lagerald Vick, who was under university investigation for allegedly striking a female student. Carlton Bragg was arrested — and subsequently suspended — for drug paraphernalia. There was also the affidavit released a day before the start of the NCAA Tournament for the Jayhawks, detailing the incident outside a Lawerence bar from December involving both Vick and Josh Jackson. Even Devonte Graham’s arrest for an unpaid ticket made headlines during this string of non-basketball related news.

The Jayhawks downplayed talks of distraction before the start of the NCAA Tournament and backed it up by dominating opponents through the first three rounds. The average margin of victory was 30.0, and that includes victories over Michigan State and a 32-point beatdown of a Purdue team that held a massive mismatch on the interior.

It looked like Self was destined to add to his Hall of Fame résumé; a third trip to the Final Four — first since 2012 — was in front of essentially a home crowd. Instead, Oregon handed the Jayhawks their worst tournament defeat in the Bill Self era.

Seven times under Self, KU has made the Elite Eight and was sent home.

Perhaps, all would have been forgiven — or at the very least, overshadowed — had KU cut down the nets in Arizona.

Instead, its season ended in an all too familiar place.

Elite 8 Preview: Sunday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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No. 4 FLORIDA (-3) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 2:20 p.m., CBS: If you’re a fan of uptempo, wide-open basketball, of teams running beautiful offensive sets, spreading the floor and using the three-point line like it should be used, this game probably is not going to be for you.

This is going to be as physical and as tough as any game you watched all season long. Both the Gamecocks and the Gators are top five teams in defensive efficiency, and both of them get out and pressure defensively, Florida in the full court and South Carolina in the half court. They shun shooters for the toughest athletes on their roster. They pride themselves in being tougher, both mentally and physically, than whoever they end up playing.

And they think that a game played in the 50s is beautiful basketball.

So bet the under if you can.

But the pick I like is Florida here. Their ability to defend is going to make it very difficult for South Carolina’s offensive renaissance to continue, and their guards will be able to make the plays offensively that South Carolina dares you to make.

PREDICTION: Florida (-3)

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-2.5) vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, 5:05 p.m. CBS: This is the rematch we all wanted, right?

Ever since that day three months ago, when Kentucky got 47 points from Malik Monk in a 103-102 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas, I don’t think there is a soul in the country that would have told you otherwise.

There are two major differences between these two teams now and those two teams then. The biggest is the presence of Theo Pinson, North Carolina’s best perimeter defender. Pinson has dealt foot injuries all season long, and when these two got together in December, he was not yet healthy enough to play. I assume that he will draw the assignment of Malik Monk, chasing around the man that had definitively been Kentucky’s most dangerous scorer. Pinson will make life more difficult for Monk than it was the first time around.

But is he going to spend the entire game on him?

Because after De’Aaron Fox’s 39-point outburst against UCLA on Friday night, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Pinson may be better suited to taking on the task of keeping Fox from getting into the paint. Whatever Roy Williams opts to do, the bottom line is pretty simple — if he needs to find a way to keep Kentucky’s back court in check.

The other difference between now and then is that Bam Adebayo has been playing up to his potential for the past six weeks. He was solid earlier in the year. He can be dominant at times now, and that is going to be critical for the Wildcats, who are going to be outsized by a significant margin by UNC’s front line. The Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and they are one of the only elite teams that thrives playing two bigs at the same time. In other words, one of Wenyen Gabriel or Derek Willis are going to have to deal with Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley. That’s a matchup that favors UNC, which is why Aebayo is going to have to play up to his size.

In the end, I think Pinson’s presence and North Carolina’s size advantage will be too much.

But if Fox and Monk play their game, they can carry Kentucky a long, long way.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (2.5)

Lawrence Police Department trolls Bill Self following Elite Eight loss

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Kansas had its season ended with a 74-60 loss to No. 3 seed Oregon.

The Jayhawks were the top seed in the South region. They were playing a de facto at the Sprint Center, which is 40 miles away from the school’s campus. As you can imagine, fans in Lawrence were likely unhappy, especially since it’s the second year in a row KU has been bounced one-game shy of the Final Four.

The Lawrence Police Department, while prepping for potential riots, couldn’t help tweeting a joke at the future Hall of Famer’s expense.

Bill Self’s teams have been eliminated seven times in the Elite Eight during his tenure at Kansas. He’s led the Jayhawks to a pair of Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2008.

Kansas finished the season 31-5.

Gonzaga passes the title of best program without a Final Four to Xavier in win

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In 1999, Gonzaga was not yet “Gonzaga”.

A No. 10 seed in just their third NCAA tournament, the Zags won three games against high-major competition, coming within a possession of reaching the Final Four in a loss to No. 1 seed UConn.

UConn, at that point, was one of the best programs in the country under Jim Calhoun, but the knock on the Huskies at that point was that they couldn’t win the big one. They had been to three Elite 8s and three more Sweet 16s in the previous eight seasons, but it wasn’t until they knocked off that Gonzaga team that they finally were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.

For 18 years, Gonzaga tried and failed to get to a Final Four, becoming one of the nation’s premier basketball programs without having the postseason success to legitimize themselves in the eyes of idiots around the country. That ended on Saturday night in San Jose, as No. 1 seed Gonzaga ended No. 11 Xavier’s thrilling run to the Elite 8 and passing on the torch that UConn passed to them.

Xavier can now claim the title of the best basketball program that has yet to make a Final Four, which is both a compliment and a curse.

The Musketeers have been to the NCAA tournament 25 times since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They’ve been to nine Sweet 16s and three Elite 8s. They had a winning record in NCAA tournament play until Saturday’s loss and now lay claim to the title of the team with the most NCAA tournament wins without an appearance in the Final Four.

Xavier is going to get there eventually. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in the business. Hell, if Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner both return to school, it could very well be next season that they snap that streak. It’s coming at some point.

I don’t even think it’s an insult to say this about Xavier. I don’t think it’s a shot at the program or the coaches that have come through it. Getting to the Final Four is hard. Bill Self is a lead-pipe lock to be a Hall of Famer, and he’s been to just two Final Fours in his career. He’s 2-7 in the Elite 8, and if Derrick Rose could make his free throws, the discussion of just how good of a coach Self is if he can’t win a title would be raging with the Jayhawks flaming out of the tournament on Saturday night.

But as with Gonzaga and UConn before them, Xavier is going to have that monkey on their back every time they suit up in March.

VIDEO: Tyler Dorsey hits dagger after dagger in upset of Kansas

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Tyler Dorsey is building himself quite the reputation for being a big-shot maker.

He hit the game-winner that got Oregon to the Sweet 16. He hit two threes at the end of the first half to push Oregon’s lead to 11 points over Kansas. And he hit this three, the dagger through the heart of Kansas:

Dorsey finished with 27 points. He’s scored at least 20 points in every game since the NCAA tournament began.