Missouri Valley Preview: Wichita State once again in the driver’s seat

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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Missouri Valley Conference.

The Missouri Valley Conference became a multi-bid league last season as Wichita State was joined by Northern Iowa as winners of at least one NCAA tournament game in 2015. While it’s hard to say if that will be the case again this season, Wichita State certainly looks dangerous once again, as the Shockers return potential all-americans Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker from a team that made the Sweet 16. That duo, which has reached the 2013 Final Four and led the 20113-14 version of the Shockers to a 35-0 record, is as good as any back court in the country.

Head coach Gregg Marshall has to replace two very good players in former starters Tekele Cotton and Darius Carter, but the transfers of former Kansas guard Connor Frankamp, who will be eligible in December, and former Cleveland State forward Anton Grady should alleviate that burden. The Shockers don’t make mistakes and harass you on the defensive end, two traits they hope help lead them to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament for the third time in the last four years.

There isn’t a second team in the Valley as strong as the Panthers last season, but Illinois State is riding some nice momentum after ending last season strong with an Arch Madness win over Wichita State before pushing Northern Iowa to the limit. Former starters Daishon Knight and Reggie Lynch (transfer to Minnesota) will be tough to replace but versatile wing DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell returns along with junior guard and defensive dynamo Paris Lee and forward Deontae Hawkins. If New Mexico transfer Nick Banyard can help replace Lynch, the Redbirds should be tough.

Evansville brings the Valley’s most potent one-two punch in high-scoring senior guard D.J. Balentine and center Egidijus Mockevicius and the Purple Aces return all five starters from a 24-win team that won the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Head coach Marty Simmons is hoping that his roster — which returns 91 percent of the scoring and 94 percent of the rebounding — can make an additional leap this season.

It’s not likely that Northern Iowa wins another 31 games now that Valley Player of the Year Seth Tuttle has exhausted his eligibility, but you can’t count out this new-look Panther team. Starters Matt Bohannon and Jeremy Morgan return and Northern Iowa also has some key reserves like wing Paul Jesperson and guards Wes Washpun and Wyatt Lohaus returning.

One of the league’s most intriguing teams will be Loyola, who won 24 games and the CBI last season despite 11 missed conference games from star guard Milton Doyle. When healthy, Doyle is a potential first-team All-Valley player and he’s flanked by a talented and productive group that returns four starters. Indiana State boasts one of the league’s best backcourts as starters Devonte Brown, Brenton Scott and Khristian Smith return, but the frontcourt is a very big question mark. The Citadel transfer Matt Van Scyoc should help up front after sitting out a redshirt season.

Drake is beginning to put together a talented roster after back-to-back solid recruiting classes. Sophomore guard Reed Timmer looks like a future all-league candidate and the Bulldogs brought in a lot of size this recruiting class to bolster their overall depth. Missouri State returns a decent amount of experience, but they finished last season losing 14 of their final 17 games and need to make a major leap this season. Among the returnees, seniors Camryn Boone and Austin Ruder are the most productive players.

It was a tough offseason for Southern Illinois as the program lost five transfers, including some promising younger players. But the Salukis will move on with senior guard Anthony Beane, who should put up big numbers like he did last season. Head coach Barry Hinson needs junior forward Sean O’Brien to be consistent while he’s hoping a recruiting class of some junior college players and late signees can get up to speed quickly. New head coach Brian Wardle is essentially starting from scratch at Bradley as the Braves return one starter from a team that was 3-15 in the conference last season. It will be a year of seeing which newcomers can be important pieces for the future, but Wardle was successful at Green Bay and is hoping to turn it around in Peoria.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE

  • Favorite: “As long as VanVleet and Baker are roaming the backcourt, you can write the Shockers as the favorites with a pen. They rarely make mistakes and they always step up in the clutch.
  • Sleeper: “You look at Loyola winning eight conference games last season without [Milton] Doyle [for some of that time] and that’s an impressive feat. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them have another nice season.”
  • Star to watch: “Just sit back and enjoy the ride when it comes to Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker. That’s one of finest backcourts that this game has seen in the last few years and, while I won’t miss playing them, I will miss what they brought to this league.”

PRESEASON MVC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State

It’s a toss-up for this award between Baker and Van Vleet, but Van Vleet gets the slight edge for the way he stepped up at the end of last season. One of the country’s most experienced floor leaders, Van Vleet has already earned 95 wins during his career and he’s coming off of a balanced season. The 6-foot-0 senior averaged 13.6 points, 5.2 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game and he’s a player that isn’t afraid to play in big games and take big shots.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-MVC TEAM:

  • Ron Baker, Wichita State: The better long-term prospect of the Shocker senior duo, Baker is a versatile guard who also brings an absurd amount of big-game experience. Baker has shot 38 percent from 3-point range the last two seasons and he cut his turnovers significantly last season despite playing more minutes.
  • D.J. Balentine, Evansville: One of the best scorers in the country, the senior is coming off back-to-back 20-point seasons and figures to put up big numbers. If Balentine can continue to improve his assist-to-turnover ratio he’ll be tough to stop.
  • DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, Illinois State: The versatile forward was Illinois State’s leading rebounder last year while being named the Valley’s Newcomer of the Year. The Redbirds are hoping for even more production in extended minutes.
  • Egidijus Mockevicius, Evansville: The interior running mate to Balentine, Mockevicius finished top 20 in the nation in both field-goal percentage (59%; 16th) and rebounding (9.9 rpg; 19th) as a junior.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW:

PREDICTED FINISH

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

College basketball broadcaster Billy Packer dies at 82

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Billy Packer, an Emmy award-winning college basketball broadcaster who covered 34 Final Fours for NBC and CBS, died Thursday. He was 82.

Packer’s son, Mark, told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks and had several medical issues, and ultimately succumbed to kidney failure.

Packer’s broadcasting career coincided with the growth of college basketball. He worked as analyst or color commentator on every Final Four from 1975 to 2008. He received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst in 1993.

“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Mark Packer said. “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy to him. And then college basketball just sort of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go crazy with March Madness.”

Packer played three seasons at Wake Forest, and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the Final Four in 1962, but it was his work as an analyst that brought him the most acclaim.

He joined NBC in 1974 and called his first Final Four in 1975. UCLA beat Kentucky in the title game that year in what was John Wooden’s final game as coach.

Packer was also part of the broadcast in 1979 with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State squad in the title game. That remains highest-rated game in basketball history with a 24.1 Nielsen rating, which is an estimated 35.1 million viewers.

Packer went to CBS in the fall of 1981, when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament. He remained the network’s main analyst until the 2008 Final Four.

In 1996 at CBS, Packer was involved in controversy when he used the term “tough monkey? to describe then-Georgetown star Allen Iverson during a game. Packer later said he “was not apologizing for what I said, because what I said has no implications in my mind whatsoever to do with Allen Iverson’s race.?

Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, said Packer was “synonymous with college basketball for more than three decades and set the standard of excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.”

“He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the sport.” McManus said. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinions, yet always kept the focus on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, at his heart Billy was a family man. He leaves part of his legacy at CBS Sports, across college basketball and, most importantly, as a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He will be deeply missed by all.”

Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale took to Twitter as word of Packer’s death spread. “So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball,” Vitale tweeted. “My (prayers) go out to Billy’s son Mark & the entire Packer family. Always had great RESPECT for Billy & his partners Dick Enberg & Al McGuire-they were super. May Billy RIP.”

College basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted: “We fell in love (with) college basketball because of you. Your voice will remain in my head forever.”

Packer was viewed as a controversial figure during his broadcasting days, often drawing the ire of college basketball fans, particularly on North Carolina’s “Tobacco Road.”

“As a kid, I was a big NC State fan growing up, and I would watch a game and the next day I’d be like, `Boy you sure have it out for NC State, don’t you?’ And he would just laugh,” Mark Packer said.

The younger Packer, who is the host of ACC PM on the ACC Network, said it didn’t matter what school – most fans felt the same way about his father.

“He would cover North Carolina game and Tar Heels fans would be like, `you hate North Carolina,”‘ Mark Packer said. “Wake (Forest) fans would be like, `you hate us.’ And Billy just sort of got a kick out of that.”

Mark Packer said that while most fans will remember his father as a broadcaster, he’ll remember him even more for his business acumen. He said his father was a big real estate investor, and also owned a vape company, among other ventures.

“Billy was always a bit of a hustler – he was always looking for that next business deal,” Packer said.

Clemson starter Galloway will miss time after surgery

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson starter Brevin Galloway is expected to miss games for the 24th-ranked Tigers after having surgery on his groin area Thursday.

The 6-foot-3 Galloway has started 20 of 21 games after transferring from Boston College this past offseason.

Galloway posted on social media that he’d had the surgery. Clemson coach Brad Brownell confirmed in a text to The Associated Press that Galloway had the operation.

Galloway said in his post he will be in uniform soon. He is not expected to play at Florida State on Saturday.

A fifth-year player, Galloway has averaged 10.6 points a game this season. He’s second on the Tigers with 55 assists and 18 steals.

The Tigers (17-4) lead the Atlantic Coast Conference at 9-1 in league play.

Clemson is already down two experienced players due to injury.

Point guard Chase Hunter, who started the team’s first 18 games, has missed the past three with a foot injury.

Guard Alex Hemenway, in his fourth season, has missed the past nine games with a foot injury. Hemenway was the team’s leading 3-point shooter (27 of 54) before getting hurt.

Zach Edey has 19 points, No. 1 Purdue beats Michigan 75-70

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Zach Edey had 15 of his 19 points in the first half and Fletcher Loyer finished with 17 points to help No. 1 Purdue hold off Michigan 75-70 on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers (20-1, 9-1 Big Ten) had a 15-0 run to go ahead 41-28 lead in the first half after there were 10 lead changes and four ties, but they couldn’t pull away.

The Wolverines (11-9, 5-4) were without standout freshman Jett Howard, who missed the game with an ankle injury, and still hung around until the final seconds.

Joey Baker made a 3-pointer – off the glass – with 5.9 seconds left to pull Michigan within three points, but Purdue’s Brandon Newman sealed the victory with two free throws.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said Michigan slowed down Edey in the second half by pushing him away from the basket.

“They got him out a little more, and got him bottled up,” Painter said.

The 7-foot-4 Edey, though, was too tough to stop early in the game.

“He’s one of the best in the country for a reason,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “He’s very effective, especially if he’s 8 feet and in.”

With size and skills such as a hook shot, the junior center from Toronto scored Purdue’s first seven points and finished the first half 7 of 12 from the field and 1 of 2 at the line.

“He did a great job in the first half, going to his right shoulder and using his left hand,” Painter said. “He made four baskets with his left hand which is huge.”

Freshman Braden Smith had 10 points for the Boilermakers.

Purdue’s defense ultimately denied Michigan’s comeback hopes, holding a 22nd straight opponent to 70 or fewer points.

Hunter Dickinson scored 21, Kobe Bufkin had 16 points and Baker added 11 points for the Wolverines, who have lost four of their last six games.

Dickinson, a 7-1 center, matched up with Edey defensively and pulled him out of the lane offensively by making 3 of 7 3-pointers.

“Half his shots were from the 3, and that’s a little different,” Painter said. “His meat and potatoes are on that block. He’s the real deal.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Boilermakers got the top spot in the AP Top 25 this week after winning six games, a stretch that followed a loss to Rutgers on Jan. 3 that dropped them from No. 1 in the poll. Purdue improved to 7-2 as the top-ranked team.

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: Edey can’t beat teams by himself and he’s surrounded by a lot of role players and a potential standout in Loyer. The 6-4 guard was the Big Ten player of the week earlier this month, become the first Boilermaker freshman to win the award since Robbie Hummel in 2008.

“Fletcher is somebody who has played better in the second half, and on the road,” Painter said.

Michigan: Jett Howard’s health is a critical factor for the Wolverines, who will have some work to do over the second half of the Big Ten season to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Howard averages 14.6 points and is the most dynamic player on his father’s team.

ROAD WARRIORS

The Boilermakers were away from home for 12 of 23 days, winning all five of their road games. They won at Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan for the first time since the 1997-98 season and beat the Spartans and Wolverines on their home court in the same season for the first time in 12 years.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Hosts Michigan State on Sunday, nearly two weeks after the Boilermakers beat the Spartans by a point on Edey’s shot with 2.2 seconds left.

Michigan: Plays at Penn State on Sunday.

Miller scores 23, No. 10 Maryland tops No. 13 Michigan 72-64

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Diamond Miller scored 23 points, and No. 10 Maryland closed the first quarter with a 13-2 run and led the rest of the way in a 72-64 victory over No. 13 Michigan on Thursday night.

Abby Meyers contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Terrapins (17-4, 8-2), who won for the 10th time in 11 games. Lavender Briggs scored 14 points and Shyanne Sellers added 13.

Maryland gained a measure of revenge after losing twice to Michigan last season – including a 20-point rout in College Park.

Leigha Brown led the Wolverines with 16 points.

Michigan (16-5, 6-4) led 13-9 in the first quarter before a three-point play by Miller started Maryland’s big run. Briggs and Faith Masonius made 3-pointers during that stretch.

The Terps pushed the lead to 16 in the third quarter before the Wolverines were able to chip away. Miller sat for a bit with four fouls, and Michigan cut the lead to seven in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines still wasted too many possessions with turnovers to mount much of a comeback.

Michigan ended up with 24 turnovers, and Maryland had a 25-5 advantage in points off turnovers.

Miller fouled out with 2:19 remaining, but even after those two free throws, the Terps led 65-57 and had little trouble holding on.

Michigan lost for the second time in four days against a top-10 opponent. No. 6 Indiana beat the Wolverines 92-83 on Monday.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan: Whether it was against Maryland’s press or in their half-court offense, the Wolverines turned the ball over too much to score consistently. This was a lower-scoring game than the loss to Indiana, but the margin ended up being similar.

Maryland: While Miller clearly led the way, the Terps had plenty of offensive contributors. They also held Michigan to 13 points below its season average entering the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wolverines have appeared in 48 straight AP polls, and although a two-loss week could certainly drop them, the quality of their opponents could save them from a substantial plunge.

Maryland is tied for 10th with an Iowa team that beat No. 2 Ohio State on Monday night. Now the Terps can boast an impressive victory of their own.

UP NEXT

Michigan: The Wolverines play their third game of the week when they visit Minnesota on Sunday.

Maryland: The Terps host Penn State on Monday night.

 

Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

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STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.

UP NEXT

Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.