The year that Wichita State just so happens to be coming off of a trip to the Final Four, the season where they just so happen to play like a National Title contender for the first four months of the season also happens to be the year that Creighton leaves the Valley for the Big East.
The teams the Bluejays left behind?
Well, outside of the Shockers, there really isn’t all that much there. In fact, I don’t think that it’s crazy to say that this is as down as the Valley has been in at least a decade, which may make it seem like it should be a cakewalk for Gregg Marshall’s club to take home a title they haven’t won since 1987. They’re playing for something much bigger than an automatic bid: an undefeated season as a No. 1 seed.
The Shockers are one of the best teams in the country, let alone the Valley. They have the three leading contenders for Conference Player of the Year: Ron Baker, Cleanthony Early and Fred Van Vleet, who actually won the award. They’re awesome.
And if they lose?: … Wichita State?
Yeah, they’re that good. All kidding aside, the second best team in this league is Indiana State, a group that has made a run through Arch Madness before and is led by one of the league’s best point guards in Jake Odum. The Sycamores have also picked up a win at Notre Dame already this season.
Northern Iowa: UNI finished in third place in the Valley this season, having won five of their last six games. That includes a win at Indiana State to close out the regular season.
Southern Illinois: The Salukis started the season 4-11, but they have turned things around in league play. They won three of their last four and seven of their last ten games.
Jake Odum, Indiana State: Odum is one of the best mid-major point guards in the country, averaging 13.0 points and 4.6 assists.
Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa: Tuttle might be the best front court player in the conference. He averaged 15.4 points and 7.7 boards.
Desmar Jackson, Southern Illinois: Jackson averaged 18.6 points, 5.5 boards, 2.4 steals and 2.1 assists for the Salukis.
D.J. Balentine, Evansville: Evansville was just 6-12 in the Valley this season, but Balentine averaged 22.3 points and 4.3 assists.
Indiana State saw a 16-point halftime lead quickly evaporate, as Belmont scored 63 second half points to come from behind and defeat the Sycamores 96-95 on Thursday night.
The Sycamores had a major collapse three days before they traveled to South Bend with a meeting against No. 21 Notre Dame. But like an experienced team, Indiana State bounced back to come away with a huge 83-70 upset victory over the Fighting Irish, justifying the Sycamore’s preseason hype entering the season.
Indiana State shot 11-of-20 from three as a team, hitting eight in the first half and connecting on all three attempts in the second half. The eight first half threes built the lead while the last triple — from Justin Gant — provided the dagger, putting the Sycamores up 73-60 with two minutes to play.
It appeared to be another long-second half for Indiana State when Notre Dame came out of the gate with a 15-4 run to take a 54-45 lead. Indiana State regrouped and responded with 10 unanswered points, eventually upping the lead to 15 points with six minutes to go in the game. From that point on, Notre Dame would cut the lead to single digits, but nothing closer than eight.
Past the midway point of the first half is when Indiana State began creating separation via the 3-ball. In less than a three-minute span, five different Sycamores connected on shots from behind the arc, which turned what was a six-point lead to a 28-14 ISU advantage, which helped the Sycamores take a 40-30 lead into the break.
Wichita State is the clear-cut favorite in the Missouri Valley Conference, but Indiana State is being pegged as the Shockers top competition. Sunday afternoon, Indiana State handed Notre Dame a rare home loss, taking an early first half lead, absorbing a second half shot the Irish gave them before ultimately pulling away midway through the second half. That gives you some idea of what they are capable of this season.
The Sycamores are led by senior Jake Odum, one of the best mid-major point guards. Odum didn’t connect on his first field goal until 13 minutes to go in the game. But he was able to do other things on the floor to give ISU a boost (seven boards, five assists, two steals to two turnovers). Gant and Manny Arop combined for 6-of-8 shooting from deep while Khristian Smith and Devonte Brown added production off the bench.
This a team that beat Wichita State on the road and knocked off Creighton last season during conference play. But ISU stumbled losing seven of its last nine games. Once again, this is a dangerous team, and they showed it Sunday afternoon. But can the Sycamores make this noise come late-February/early March?
GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 10 Ohio State at No. 17 Marquette, 1:00 p.m. ET Sat. (FOX Sports 1)
One of the more interesting matchups of the non-conference season. Even with Jameel McKay’s decision to leave the program, Marquette is absolutely loaded up front. Davante Gardner, Chris Otule, Jamil Wilson, Steve Taylor. But Buzz Williams’ club is young in their back court, which just so happens to be where Ohio State’s strength lies. The combination of Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott may be the most terrifying back court duo try and handle the ball against. Throw in Sam Thompson at the three, and OSU’s perimeter defense is as good as it gets, but they don’t have much front court size. Who takes advantage?
THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 7 Michigan at Iowa State, 5:00 p.m. ET Sun. (ESPN2)
The biggest question mark in this one is whether or not the two teams will be at full strength. Mitch McGary is dealing with a back issue that potentially can keep him out of the lineup until the conference season begins. And Iowa State is missing a big man of their own in Melvin Ejim although there is a chance Ejim could be back by Sunday. You know what will be fun about this one? Threes. Lots of them will be shot.
FIVE MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON:
No. 20 Wisconsin at Green Bay, 8:00 p.m. ET Sat. (ESPN3): Green Bay is a very good mid-major team, led by Kiefer Sykes and Alec Brown. They’ll give the Badgers a fight.
Indiana State at No. 21 Notre Dame, 12:00 p.m. ET Sun. (ESPN3): The Fighting Irish are loaded on the perimeter, but Indiana State has a talented guard of their own: senior Jake Odum.
Creighton at St. Joseph’s, 7:00 p.m. ET Sat.: Doug McDermott is going to be tested going up by the athleticism of the Big East, and he’ll have a good gauge against Ronald Roberts.
Louisiana-Lafayette at No. 23 Baylor, 5:00 p.m. ET Sun. (ESPN3): Elfrid Payton is the best player you’ve never seen, but can the Ragin’ Cajuns deal with Baylor’s big front line?
Towson at Villanova, 5:00 p.m. ET Sun.: Villanova is better than you think, but Towson is one of the nation’s best mid-majors this season.
WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?
No. 25 Virginia at Davidson, 12:00 p.m. ET Sat. (ESPN3): Davidson is in a bit of a rebuilding year, but the Wildcats are still one of the best-coached teams in the country. Tough road test for the ‘Hoos.
Seton Hall at Mercer, 3:00 p.m. ET Sat.: So we all love Florida-Gulf Coast, right? Well, Mercer not only won the Atlantic Sun last season, they’re the favorite this year as well.
Minnesota at Richmond, 7:00 p.m. ET Sat. (BTN): Minnesota’s first road game under Richard Pitino comes against a good-not-great Richmond team.
Boston U. at No. 19 UConn, 12:00 p.m. ET Sun. (ESPNU): UConn is playing great basketball right now, but BU has some really, really good guards.
Stanford at Denver, 3:00 p.m. ET Sun. (ROOT): Denver got waxed at Cal last weekend, but the Pioneers are a good team and Stanford is still trying to work through their rotations.
FIVE MORE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:
1) Marshall Henderson returns to the court on Saturday evening at 7:00 p.m. as Ole Miss takes on Coastal Carolina.
2) Jake Odum might be the best mid-major point guard in the country. He’ll be tested on Saturday afternoon when he takes on Notre Dame guards Jerian Grant, Eric Atkins and Demetrius Jackson.
3) If Odum isn’t the best, than Elfrid Payton is. The Louisiana-Lafayette stat-stuffer takes on Baylor on Sunday evening.
4) Kentucky’s season ended in hideous fashion last season when they lost to Robert Morris on the road in the first round of the NIT. They’ll get a chance for their revenge on Sunday evening as the Colonials come to visit.
5) UC-Santa Barbara is coming off of a 21 point win at UNLV. They visit Utah State on Saturday night, a team that can theoretically play themselves into NCAA tournament contention with a strong MWC season. Are the Gauchos for real?
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.
To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.
In: Loyola (Ill.) Out: Creighton
There’s a changing of the guard in the Missouri Valley this season, as one of the faces of the conference won’t be in the league anymore. Creighton and their all-american Doug McDermott moved on to the Big East, but in their stead steps Wichita State, who is more than prepared to handle the target of MVC favorite.
The Shockers are coming off of a memorable run to the 2013 Final Four, and while they graduate a number of key pieces — Carl Hall, Malcolm Armstead, Demetric Williams — Gregg Marshall returns a group that’s deserving of their top 25 ranking. Cleanthony Early is a legitimate NBA prospect as an athletic, 6-foot-8 wing with three-point range. Ron Baker and Tekelle Cotton return in the back court, Armstead’s graduation opens the door for talented sophomore Fred VanVleet to take over the point guard role, and Evan Wessel is finally healthy. Find some consistent production in the paint, and the Shockers could be headed for another tournament run.
Wichita State is the heavy favorite, but that doesn’t mean that the MVC will be a cakewalk. It never is. Indiana State is fairly loaded this season and will be WSU’s biggest contender. Jake Odum is the prototype mid-major point guard, and he returns for his senior season. Manny Arop and Justin Gant are back as well. The Sycamores piled up a number of quality wins early in the year — Miami, Ole Miss, at Wichita State, Creighton — but they went 3-5 against the bottom four teams in the league and lost seven of their last nine games.
Bradley will be improved this season. Walt Lemon Jr. returns, as does MVC all-freshman team member Tyshon Pickett. Geno Ford has also brought in eight new players — freshmen, JuCos, transfers — and if they live up to their expectations, the Braves can finish in the top four in the league. Northern Iowa should be good as well despite losing three of their top four scorers. Seth Tuttle is back, Deon Mitchell should be in line for a big year and Tennessee transfer Wes Washpun will be eligibile.
The sleeper in the MVC will be Missouri State. The Bears were young and struggled early last season, but they won some games down the stretch and return the Freshman of the Year in Marcus Marshall,
PRESEASON MISSOURI VALLEY PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
This really isn’t all that difficult of a pick to make. Early (13.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg) is easily the most talented player in the conference, a 6-foot-8 wing that has drawn quite a it of attention for folks in the NBA. Consistency will be the key for Early. He’s an explosive, but streaky, scorer.
FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Jake Odem, Indiana State: Odum is one of the most underrated point guards in the country. He led the Sycamores to the tournament as a freshman but hasn’t been back in two years.
Walt Lemon Jr., Bradley: Lemon is coming off of a season where he averaged 15.6 points, 4.2 boards and 3.8 assists. The Braves should be much improved this year.
Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa: The Panthers lost quite a bit of production from last season and Tuttle will be one of the guys counted on to improve this year..
Ron Baker, Wichita State: Baker’s story is well-known by now. He spent much of last season injured, but was one of the team’s stars in their postseason run.
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.
To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of our preview lists,click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.
Prior to delving into the All-Americans, it is important to identify who we are considering “mid-majors” this season, especially after realignment saw many teams jump from one conference to another during the offseason. The following conferences are not included in any mid-major discussion: AAC, Atlantic 10, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Mountain West. The WCC is still considered a mid-major league with the exclusion Brigham Young, Gonzaga, and St. Mary’s.
G Jake Odum, Indiana State, Sr. (13.6 ppg, 4.5 rbg, 4.5 apg, 1.5 spg): Odum has been a fixture in the starting lineup for Indiana State dating back to his freshman year, when he led the Sycamores to the NCAA Tournament. He was named First Team All-MVC last season.
F Cleanthony Early, Wichita State, Sr. (13.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg): His numbers won’t blow you away, but his game will. After twice being named the NJCAA Player of the Year, Early burst onto the national scene during the NCAA Tournament leading Wichita to the Final Four, averaging 16.2 ppg and 7.6 rpg in the five games.
F Augustine Rubit, South Alabama, Sr. (19.4 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 1.2 bpg): Rubit has often flown under the radar playing for South Alabama, but his numbers are impossible to ignore. There aren’t many four year college basketball players out there that average a double-double for their career, but Rubit is on his way to doing just that despite coming from humble beginnings.
F Jerrelle Benimon, Towson, Sr. (17.1 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.9 bpg): Think John Thompson III wish Benimon didn’t transfer? The learning curve and development time is always longer for big men, and Benimon flourished last season at Towson after having to sitting out after transferring from Georgetown. His offensive game improved by leaps and bounds, and now Benimon is one of the top forwards in the country.
MID-MAJOR ALL-AMERICAN SECOND TEAM
G Travis Bader, Oakland, Sr. (22.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.0 apg): Bader has never seen a three-point shot he hasn’t liked. Not only does he shoot at a high percentage (40.4% from the perimeter for his career), but he is a volume shooter averaging just shy of 11 three-point attempts per game. Assuming this pace continues, he will set the all-time three-pointers made record; he needs 101 more. Bader has a very good chance at being the nation’s leading scorer this coming season.
G R.J. Hunter, Georgia State, So. (17.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.7 spg): With Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow and Devonta White running alongside in the backcourt, there’s no telling how big a year R.J. Hunter will have. The son of head coach Ron Hunter, R.J. burst onto the scene as a freshman to lead Georgia State and scoring and three-pointers made with 73.
G Anthony Ireland, Loyola Marymount, Sr. (20.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.7 spg): Often overshadowed by top players at the likes of Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, and BYU, Ireland is a scorer in the purest form. He was named to the First Team All-WCC the past two seasons, and will be a front runner for the Player of the Year award this season.
G/F Wesley Saunders, Harvard, Jr. (16.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.5 apg 1.8 spg): When Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry were forced to leave the program last season, Saunders was forced into a larger role and responded accordingly. He became Harvard’s top player after being not much more than a role player as a freshman.
F Javon McCrea, Buffalo, Sr. (18.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.3 spg, 2.6 bpg): If Bobby Hurley is to have success in his first season as Buffalo head coach, it will be because of Javon McCrea. The top returning scorer in the MAC, McCrea could have a 20 and 10 type of season.
MID-MAJOR ALL-AMERICAN THIRD-TEAM
G Corey Hawkins, UC Davis, Jr. (20.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.5 spg): The transfer from Arizona State immediately turned into UC Davis’ top player after sitting out the 2011-12 season. The son of NBA veteran Hersey Hawkins, Corey led the Big West in scoring last season.
G Damion Lee, Drexel, Jr. (17.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.8 apg): Drexel underachieved last season, but Damion Lee certainly didn’t. If the Dragons are going to win the CAA this season, Lee will have to be the one to carry the load.
G Taylor Braun, North Dakota State, Sr. (15.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.5 spg): A mid-season foot injury to Braun derailed North Dakota State last season. Prior to the injury, the Bison were 16-3 and 7-0 in the Summit League, but during his absence they went 5-5 and never got their mojo back the rest of the season. When on the floor, Braun is one of the purest shooters around, and figures to have a big senior season for North Dakota State.
F Torrey Craig, USC Upstate, Sr. (17.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.9 apg): Craig has started all but six games for USC Upstate and has been an immediate impact player for Eddie Payne. He has led the Spartans in scoring for this first three seasons, and led the Atlantic Sun in scoring for the past two.
F/C Adjehi Baru, College of Charleston, So. (9.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.3 bpg): The top rebounder in the Southern Conference last season, Baru will make his presence immediately felt in Charleston’s first year in the Colonial.
G Sean Armand (Iona), G Billy Baron (Canisius), Jason Brickman (LIU Brooklyn), Rhamel Brown (Manhattan), F Murphy Burnatowski (Colgate), G Siyani Chambers (Harvard), G Brett Comer (Florida Gulf Coast), G Johnny Dee (San Diego), G D.J. Irving (Boston University), F David Laury (Iona), G Rian Pearson (Toledo), G Devon Saddler (Delaware), G Kenneth Smith (Louisiana Tech), G Bernard Thompson (Florida Gulf Coast), F Alan Williams (UC Santa Barbara)