2013-2014 Missouri Valley Preview: Wichita State’s favored, but they will be tested

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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.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

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.

source:
AP photo

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.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @ddocket

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Wichita State
2. Indiana State
3. Bradley
4. Northern Iowa
5. Missouri State
6. Southern Illinois
7. Drake
8. Loyola-Chicago
9. Evansville
10. Illinois State

Former Penn coach allegedly took bribes from potential recruit’s father

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Former Penn head coach Jerome Allen allegedly took bribes from a Miami businessman who wanted his son to get into the school as a “recruited basketball player” — increasing his chances to gain entry to the Ivy League school.

According to a report from Bloomberg’s Michael Smith, David Voreacos and Eben Novy-Williams, Allen was involved with Miami businessman Philip Esformes, who had a son, Morris, who was allegedly recruited by several Ivy League schools. When Philip Esformes was accused of health-care fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and bribery, the government uncovered more than $74,000 in gifts that Esformes gave to Allen in 2013 and 2014.

Allen is identified strictly as “Coach-2” in the indictment that alleges that he took multiple cash payments, paid trips from Philadelphia to Miami, and a private jet trip that included Allen, Esformes and his son. The benefits are alleged to be $74,558 — including three separate wired payments of $15,000, $20,000 and $18,000 to Allen from Esformes.

These alleged incidents took place in 2013 and 2014, when Allen was still head coach at Penn and Morris Esformes was a high school basketball player trying to make it to the Division I level. Esformes was eventually granted admission to Penn as he was allegedly going to be on the basketball team. But Allen was fired before Esformes enrolled at the school. So Esformes went to school at Penn, but he never played for the basketball team. Esformes is currently still a senior at Penn.

Allen has been an assistant coach under Brad Stevens with the Boston Celtics since leaving Penn in 2015. He hasn’t been criminally charged for any of these alleged benefits while the NCAA also hasn’t been involved with anything yet.

But this is yet another black eye on college basketball — and this time coming from a prestigious Ivy League institution. It shows that cheating and using leverage happens at all levels of Division I college basketball. Lately, the schools have been paying to get players. This shows there are instances of wealthy people attempting to gain influence through athletics.

This case at Penn is certainly a rare one. Esformes tried to exploit a loophole that would allow his son entry into a great school under the guise that he was a potential Division I-caliber basketball player. And Morris Esformes did end up at Penn — and seems to be doing well. So, this didn’t end poorly for Morris or Allen.

Since Allen is coaching at the NBA level, this likely won’t alter his coaching career, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the NCAA get involved with Penn and Allen going forward.

Elite Class of 2020 point guard to reclassify

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Nico Mannion, a five-star point guard from Arizona, announced on Friday that he will be reclassifying into the Class of 2019.

Mannion was a top 20 player in 2020 but, according to 247 Sports, he will be ranked No. 11 in 2019. The athletic, 6-foot-3 Mannion was long-rumored to be considering a move up a class because of his age. He’ll turn 18 in March of next year, meaning that he’ll arrive on campus the same age as a typical college freshman.

Mannion cut his list to ten schools in June — Duke, Arizona, Villanova, Kansas, USC, UCLA, Oregon, Vanderbilt, Marquette and Utah — but Duke and Arizona appear to be the favorites at this point.

Mannion plays his high school ball for Pinnacle High School in Phoenix and with West Coast Elite on the Under Armour Association circuit. He played for Team USA’s youth ranks, but his mother is Italian and, in June, he was called up to the Italian men’s senior national team, scoring nine points in 29 minutes of a FIBA World Cup Qualifier.

Nebraska to lose junior big man to transfer

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Nebraska’s frontcourt depth took a blow on Thursday as junior big man Jordy Tshimanga informed the program that he will be transferring.

“Jordy called me tonight and asked for his release,” head coach Tim Miles said in a statement that was given to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “The University of Nebraska and our program wish Jordy and his family the best.”

Tshimanga averaged 4.0 points and 4.6 boards in 13 minutes this past season, and a source close to the program told NBC Sports he wasn’t expected to play much more than that this season.

Miles’ has spent the better part of the last two seasons on the hot seat, and this certainly doesn’t make his job easier, but with the talent the Cornhuskers have on their roster, they look like an NCAA tournament team already. They bring back their top four scorers, including former five-star prospect Isaac Copeland and potential first-team all-Big Ten wing James Palmer. With or without Tshimanga, Nebraska has a shot to finish top four in the Big Ten.

North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State part of Las Vegas event

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State and Texas will play in an early season basketball tournament in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Invitational will include games at campus sites, then the final two rounds on Nov. 22-23 in Las Vegas. North Carolina takes on Texas in one semifinal, and Michigan State faces UCLA in the other.

UNC, UCLA and Michigan State are all top 20 teams in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.

The championship is Nov. 23, and the semifinal losers also play each other that day.

NCAA to study possible effects of widespread legal wagering

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA plans to study how the expansion of legalized betting could affect college athletics and member schools.

The NCAA announced Thursday it will create a working group of “subject matter experts” to assess areas such as officiating, NCAA rules, federal and state laws, and the use of integrity services. NCAA leadership has already called for federal regulation on sports betting. NCAA rules prohibit sports wagering by athletes and athletic department employees.

The Supreme Court opened the door for states to have legal wagering on sporting events when it struck down a federal ban in May. Schools in some states such as West Virginia, Mississippi and New Jersey are already exploring the possibility of collecting integrity fees in anticipation of legal sports books opening in their states.

“While we certainly respect the Supreme Court’s decision, our position on sports wagering remains,” said Donald Remy, NCAA chief legal officer. “With this new landscape, we must evolve and expand our long-standing efforts to protect both the integrity of competitions and the well-being of student-athletes.”

The NCAA Board of Governors has already suspended the association’s ban on holding championships in states with legalized sports betting, a policy that only affected Nevada.

“Legalized sports gambling across the country is rather new, but the NCAA and its members have committed significant resources over the years to policy, research and education around sports wagering,” said Joni Comstock, senior vice president of championships and alliances. “With student-athlete well-being as the centerpiece, we will continue to build upon these efforts to assist members as they adapt to legalized sports wagering in their states and regions.”