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.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.