2017-18 Missouri Valley Conference preview: Who steps up with Wichita State gone?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Missouri Valley Conference.

The biggest story regarding the MVC is the team that’s no longer in the league. Wichita State left the conference after winning at least a share of every regular season title since the league’s other stalwart, Creighton, bolted for the Big East in 2013. The Shockers’ departure is a serious blow to the conference, diminishing its national relevance and making it that much more difficult for the conference to earn a second NCAA tournament bid some years, and that was tough enough as evidenced by Illinois State’s exclusion after 28-7 (17-1) season last year.

The Shockers’ departure, though, does clear the way at the top of the league, and the program that may be best suited to fill the void is Northern Iowa, which has enjoyed the most success outside of Wichita State in the league in recent years. The Panthers had their first losing season in coach Ben Jacobson’s 11 years last year and lose all-conference wing Jeremy Morgan, but they look poised for a comeback season with Bennett Koch and Klint Carlson as potential all-league players. Jacobson’s teams have never been the most exciting offensive squads, but they’ve been efficient. That disappeared last year to a dearth of shooting. Adam McDermott, cousin of former Creighton national player of the year Doug McDermott, shot 40 percent from 3-point range at North Dakota before transferring to Cedar Falls and could help fix UNI’s shooting issues. If the Panthers can put the ball in the basket with more consistency, they could be looking at their third NCAA tournament in four years.

Despite going 17-16 overall and finishing in the bottom half of the MVC, Missouri State has the look of a contender this season thanks largely due to Alize Johnson, a first-team all-conference performer last year and the only returnee from the league’s top-two all-conference squads. Paul Lusk has three others returning from his 2016-17 starting lineup plus adds reinforcements from the transfer wire and junior college ranks. The defense will likely be the difference for the Bears, who were roundly mediocre at that end last season, allowing opponents to convert both inside and out.

Illinois State initially appeared as though it would be the team to step into the Shockers’ vacuum immediately, but, in addition to the scheduled departure of MVC player of the year Paris Lee to graduation, the Redbirds saw MiKyle McIntosh (Oregon) and Deontae Hawkins (Boston College) both headed out of Normal via grad transfer to put a serious damper on the team’s short-term prospects. Phil Fayne is the only starter back, but transfers Milik Yarbrough and Christian Romine should be able to make immediate impacts.

Loyola will also be in the mix with three returners – Aundre Jackson, Donte Ingram and Clayton Custer – who averaged in double-figures. The Ramblers rely heavily on the 3-point shot, but that trio of returners are all excellent from deep and should make the team incredibly dangerous on the offensive end.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

REALIGNMENT MOVES

  • In: Valparaiso
  • Out: Wichita State

PRESEASON MVC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Alize Johnson, Missouri State

The 6-foot-9 forward recorded 17 double-doubles, finishing the year averaging 14.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. He was one of the best defensive rebounders in the country last year as well as an inside-out threat, shooting 52.9 percent from inside the arc and 39.2 percent from outside it.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON MVC TEAM

  • Donte Ingram, Loyola: Shot 52.9 percent overall and 45.8 percent from 3-point range while averaging 13.6 points per game
  • Brenton Scott, Indiana State: A third-team all-conference performer last year, put up nearly 16 points and 5 rebounds per game.
  • Tevonn Walker, Valparaiso: The 6-foot-2 guard is the Crusaders’ best chance of instantly competing in a new league.
  • Bennett Koch, Northern Iowa: Needs to be more productive on the glass, but will be a big part of UNI’s offense

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @ValleyHoops

PREDICTED FINISH

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