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.

Miami lands Florida grad-transfer Keith Stone

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Keith Stone is leaving the SEC but not the state of Florida.

The former Gator will finish his career at Miami as a graduate transfer, he announced Monday via social media.

The 6-foot-8 Stone is from Deerfield, Fla., less than an hour’s ride from Miami Beach. He averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season before tearing his ACL in January. With Dewan Hernandez, Ebuka Izundu, and Anthony Lawrence all gone from the Canes, Stone could be in line for a major role right from the jump if his knee gets back to full strength.

Miami went 14-18 last season to finish under .500 for the first time in Jim Larranaga’s eight seasons, and it was just the second time the Canes failed to win at least 20 games.

Kyle Guy says he’s staying in the draft, will not return to Virginia

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Kyle Guy is off to the professional ranks.

The Virginia junior had already declared for the NBA draft, but announced Monday that he plans to stay in the draft and not return to the Cavaliers next season, as he would be allowed to under NCAA rules.

“I am officially keeping my name in the draft. I know it’s the right step after much prayer and thought with my family,” Guy wrote on social media.

Players retain the option to return to school up until the end of next month, but Guy’s announcement makes it clear he has no intention of utilizing that avenue as he plows ahead toward a professional career after being named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player as Virginia won its first-ever national championship earlier this month in Minneapolis.

The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 15.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in Virginia’s slow-paced offense while shooting 49.5 percent from 3-point range. Right now, Guy’s draft ceiling would appear to be in the second round with going undrafted a possibility as well. If he does make it at the next level, it’s pretty clear it’ll be the 3-point shooting that gets and keeps him there in a league that covets that skill now more than ever.

For Virginia, Guy’s decision simply crystalizes what was likely the reality already – they’re going to have a completely remade roster, which certainly isn’t uncommon for national championship winners. There’s a reason no one since Florida in 2006 and 2007 has repeated as champions. With Guy gone and Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite all having declared, Tony Bennett and Co. could be looking at more modest expectations following the greatest season in program history.

Duke adds to 2019 class with top-30 guard Cassius Stanley

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Duke’s already monster 2019 class got even stronger Monday.

Cassius Stanley, a four-star guard from California, pledged to the Blue Devils to give them their fifth recruit rated in the top-35 nationally in the class.

“I’ll be joining the brotherhood. Go Duke,” Stanley said in his announcement video posted to social media.

“He wants to come in and start or contribute as a starter on a highly competitive team,” Jerome Stanley, Cassius’ father, told 247Sports. “He’s used to winning and he plans to come in there and win. He doesn’t plan to be a project, he wants to step on the floor immediately and help them win.”

Stanley’s commitment only further reinforces how strong Duke is on the recruiting trail as it now has five-stars Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore signed along with top-40 Boogie Ellis of San Diego.

The Blue Devils may have lost their high-profile trio of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, but with these major additions along with Tre Jones, Marques Bolden and Alex O’Connell slated to return, they’ll be looking at another top-10 (and maybe higher) preseason ranking after a disappointing Elite Eight departure from the NCAA tournament last month.

Udoka Azubuike returning to Kansas for senior season

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Injuries have robbed Kansas center Udoka Azubuike of nearly two full seasons of college basketball. They also likely played a major part on while he’ll be back for his fourth year on campus.

The 7-footer will return to Lawrence and the Jayhawks for his senior season rather than declare for the NBA draft, the school announced Monday.

“We’re all very excited about Udoka making the decision not to enter the draft,” Kansas coach Bill Self said in a statement released by the school. “Unfortunately for him, injury is the reason as he still cannot participate (at) what would be the NBA combine or workouts for the NBA teams. We really anticipated that this would be the year he would enter the draft but that was also based on him having an injury-free year.”

Azubuike was averaging 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 70.5 percent from the field before a wrist injury cut his season short in January after just nine games. He also played just 11 games as a freshman due to injury.

In his lone full healthy season, Azubuike averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds per game as he made 77 percent of his shots from the field, making him nearly an unstoppable force for teams across the Big 12. His return makes Kansas, the 10th-ranked team in our preseason Top 25, an even stronger favorite to regain its Big 12 crown after Texas Tech and Kansas State shared the league title last year to deprive Kansas of its spot atop the league for the first time in 14 years as it battled injuries, suspensions and lackluster play.

The 21 most important ‘stay-or-go’ NBA draft early entry decisions

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This single most important and influential decision when if came to this year’s NBA draft belonged to Cassius Winston.

The Grand Maester of the Michigan State offense, Winston put together an All-American season as he led Michigan State to the 2019 Big Ten regular season title, tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. Over the weekend, the 6-foot point guard announced that he will be returning to school for his senior season, immediately ensuring that the Spartans will be the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25 and locking them in as favorites to win next year’s national title.

But he is far from the only important decision that is left to be made in this year’s NBA draft process. At 11:59 p.m. on April 21st, the deadline to declare for the NBA draft came and went. The players who put there name into the mix — more than 130 that we know of — will have until May 29th to pull their names out of the draft.

Here are 21 decisions that will have the biggest impact on the 2019-2020 college basketball season.

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KERRY BLACKSHEAR

Blackshear might be the single-most influential player in all of college basketball, but to figure out where he is going to have influence, the 6-foot-10, 250 pound forward has a couple of decisions to make. For starters, he has declared for the NBA draft, and given that he is 22 years old and more or less fully developed as a player, now may be the best time for him to make the jump to the professional ranks. If he does decide to return to school, he’s going to have to decide where to play: He’s a redshirt junior and a graduate transfer, which means that the Virginia Tech big man may end up being a former Virginia Tech big man. Every school in college basketball will want to get involved. We’ll see where he ends up.

IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS and JORDAN POOLE, Michigan

Michigan essentially had two players on their roster last season that you could trust to be threats on the offensive end of the floor night in and night out: Poole and Brazdeikis. Now it looks like there is a real chance that both of them to could end following Charles Matthews lead and remain in the NBA draft despite the fact that neither look like they will be a first round pick.

That’s a major concern for John Beilein, because with Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers all back, Michigan will have a case to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country if both Iggy and Swaggy Poole return. If both end up gone, the Wolverines may never break 60 points in a game next year.

DEVON DOTSON, QUENTIN GRIMES and UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas

This one is tricky because we have yet to get official word on whether or not Azubuike has actually declared for the draft*; he did last season and ultimately opted to return to school. Of the three, I think Dotson is probably the most important, as the Jayhawks don’t have anyone nearly as good as he is at the point. If Azubuike opts to enter the draft, Bill Self does still have David McCormack on his roster, who will be an adequate replacement. Grimes is the x-factor here. A former top ten recruit, I think he’s probably the most likely to keep his name in the draft this year even if it’s as a second round pick. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the best plan of action — I do think there is still a chance that he could come back to Kansas and play his way into the first round with a big sophomore year — but I get it. If he’s gone, the Jayhawks do have some perimeter pieces that will be able to fill the void in Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett.

With all three back, we’re talking about Kansas as the surefire best team in the Big 12 and potentially as a top five team. If they’re all gone, then it is going to be a long, long season in Lawrence.

*(Since this posting, Azubuike has announced that he is returning to school.)

Grant Williams (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

GRANT WILLIAMS and JORDAN BONE, Tennessee

This may sound counterintuitive, but I think that it is true: Bone is the more likely of the two to leave school this year, but Williams would have a much bigger impact on the Tennessee program if he opts to return. Bone was a bit inconsistent as a junior, but when he was at his best, he was the best guard in the SEC. Losing that hurts, but the truth is that with Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Josiah James in the mix, there is enough backcourt talent in Knoxville to withstand his departure.

I’m not sure that is true with Williams. Tennessee does have some big bodies on their roster, but Williams would be in the conversation with Cassius Winston for preseason National Player of the Year if he opts to come back to Tennessee for another run at a national title. And with Williams back, they would very much be in that conversation. As it stands, Tennessee is No. 22 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

A source close to the situation told NBC Sports that they think there’s a “50-50” chance that Williams is back.

KYLE GUY and MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia

I fully expect that both Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter will remain in the NBA draft for good. That leaves Guy and Diakite as the players who are up in the air. Everyone should know about Guy by now. The reigning Final Four MOP, Guy led Virginia in scoring last season and is one of the best shooters in all of college basketball. For a program that lacks perimeter depth, Guy’s return would obviously be enormous.

But Diakite’s return is just as impactful. He’s such a monster on the defensive end of the floor, and I’m not sure people realize just how good he is. His offensive game is coming along, but the value is that he would be a perfect pairing next to Jay Huff if Virginia wants to play big and that he is versatile enough to defend on the perimeter if needed when Virginia plays small. It’s not a coincidence that the most productive six-game stretch of Diakite’s career came during the run to the NCAA title, when he averaged 10.5 points, 8.2 boards and 2.7 blocks.

Kyle Guy (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

There are a few Louisville players that have declared for the NBA draft, but for my money, Nwora is the one that matters the most, and it is not close. One of college basketball’s most improved players, Nwora is will be a first-team All-ACC player and a potential All-American if he comes back. He will be the veteran scorer that the Cardinals need as Chris Mack brings in a loaded, six-man recruiting class. With Nwora back, the Cards will be a top ten team.

KILLIAN TILLIE and ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga

Assuming that Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are both gone, Tillie becomes the most important player on Gonzaga’s frontcourt if he opts to return to school. And Norvell slides right in as the projected leading scorer. Frankly, with those two and Corey Kispert on the roster, I think the Zags will have more than enough scoring to keep things rolling as their talented six-man recruiting class gets some experience.

The reason they are as low on this list as they are is that I still think there is a ceiling to what Gonzaga can be because of their point guard situation. Right now, they are in a position where they’ll have to decide between freshman Brock Ravet and sophomores Greg Foster Jr. and Joel Ayayi. I would not be surprised if there was a grad transfer that was in the mix here at some point.

ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland

The Terps already got word that they are getting Jalen Smith back for his sophomore season. With the rest of last year’s promising recruiting class in the mix — Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Ricky Lindo — the only thing they need to ensure that they are a preseason top ten team is their star point guard. Cowan, if he returns, will be in the mix for preseason All-American honors.

MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

This one isn’t difficult. Seton Hall returns basically everyone from last season if Powell comes back. They should still be relevant in the Big East if he doesn’t, but he was arguably the most dangerous scorer in college basketball this side of Markus Howard last year, and assuming he’s back in the fold, we have the Pirates at No. 12 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Myles Powell (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

PAYTON PRITCHARD and KENNY WOOTEN, Oregon

Assuming that Louis King ends up staying in the draft, Pritchard and Wooten are the two guys that will matter for Oregon next season. They are the two pieces that allow Dana Altman’s system to work the way that it is supposed to work — a high-scoring lead guard and an uber-athletic five that can protect the rim and finish lobs. With both of them back, I think Oregon is a top 10-15 team and the best team in the Pac-12.

E.J. MONTGOMERY, Kentucky

Montgomery is interesting here. He’s super-talented, and he plays a position for Kentucky where the Wildcats are going to really lack some depth this season, but we’ve yet to see him prove that he is anything more than ‘loaded with potential’ at the SEC level. I think Kentucky needs him because they need to keep bodies in their frontcourt, but I’m on a wait-and-see mode before I decide just how much of an impact I think that he is going to make.

CHUMA OKEKE and JARED HARPER, Auburn

I would make the argument that these two were the two most important players on Auburn’s team this past season. If I had to guess, I would say that Okeke is probably gone. He proved just how good he is this past season, and his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in the NCAA tournament likely won’t be complete until December. If he returns to school, it might end up being a two-year decision, but if he comes back and is fully healthy, he is miles better than Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and the other options the Tigers have in their frontcourt.

Harper is a bit more up in the air, and while he was terrific this past season, especially in March, I do think that J’Von McCormick’s emergence has given Bruce Pearl some breathing room. He can do a lot of the things that Harper does, just not quite as well.

NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State

Utah State is currently the No. 16 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25, and much of that has to do with the fact that we are assuming Queta ends up returning to school. His size, his ability to protect the rim and how well he finishes makes him extremely valuable in the Mountain West and helps the Aggies matchup with teams from bigger conferences.