Missouri Valley Conference Preview: Wichita State stays the favorite even amid new era

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Missouri Valley Conference.

It’s the end of an era in the Valley with the graduation of Wichita State’s Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, but it doesn’t look like the end of the Shockers’ reign atop the league. Coach Gregg Marshall is the constant and Wichita State figures once again to be ahead of the league once March rolls around, especially with sophomore Markis McDuffie around to run the conference ragged.

Wichita State also returns Connor Frankamp, the former top 50 recruit and Kansas player, who should be ready to step into a larger role in the back court, while Landry Shamet should be healthy after missing last season. Bet against Marshall at your own risk.

The Shockers won’t be without competition, however. Northern Iowa and Illinois State both look like serious contenders to the crown. The Panthers, whose epic collapse in the second round cost them a Sweet 16 trip, may be without last year’s senior trio of Paul Jesperson, Matt Bohannon and Wes Washpun, but wing Jeremy Morgan might be the best player in the conference and Klint Carlson figures to take a step forward to make UNI a problem for the rest of the league.

The Redbirds’ duo of Paris Lee and MiKyle McIntosh is one of the strongest in the Valley, and in total, they return three double-figure scorers and four starters from a team that finished tied for second in the league last season.

Missouri State returns four starters in a league that will be short on experience, making the Bears an interesting team compared to the rest of the conference. Coach Paul Lusk has two double-digit scorers back in Dequon Miller (12.7 ppg) and Chris Hendrix (12.1 ppg) for one of the better one-two punches in the Valley.

It’ll be interesting to see how Evansville moves on from D.J. Valentine and Egidijus Mockevicius era as those two were major cogs in the Purple Aces’ attack the last two seasons, when they won 25 and 24 games. Jaylon Brown is back after averaging 10.8 points and 2.8 assists per game last season. Southern Illinois will also be competitive. They won 20 games and finished 11-7 in the MVC a season ago and return three starters.

Indiana State (Brenton Scott) and Loyola-Chicago (Milton Doyle) both have potential first-team all-MVC performers that look stuck on bottom-half teams.

As a whole, the MVC will be in a year of transition, but it’ll be competitive at the top and one of the more interesting mid-major league races to monitor throughout the winter as the conference tries to dethrone the Shockers after a dominating three-year run.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON MVC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa

The Panther senior averaged 11.3 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 48.5 percent from the floor and 40.7 percent from 3-point range. The 6-foot-5 wing will take over a huge role for UNI with the graduations of Paul Jesperson, Matt Bohannon and Wes Washpun.


  • Markis McDuffie, Wichita State:The post-Baker and VanVleet era is in good hands in last year’s conference freshman of the year.
  • Brenton Scott, Indiana State: The junior is the only returning player among last season’s first- and second-team all-conference selections after averaging 14.9 ppg.
  • Paris Lee, Illinois State: Lee is a capable offensive player, but his real talent is on the defensive end of the floor.
  • Reed Timmer, Drake: The Bulldogs’ hope of moving up the conference standings will rest on Timmer’s shoulders.



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

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK

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.