78-76, the final score of Kentucky’s Round of 32 win over the #1 seed Wichita State Shockers last season. Fred VanVleet’s shot at the buzzer bounced harmlessly off of the rim and ended Wichita State’s undefeated season and dreams of a Final Four or more. That was how close WSU came to beating the team that went on to lose to UConn in the national championship game. But despite the heartbreaking way their season ended last year, the Shockers have plenty to look forward to in 2014-15. While Cleanthony Early is gone, VanVleet does return along with Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton, Darius Carter and more. WSU is clearly the favorite to win the MVC this season, and should be good enough for an at-large bid (if needed) and another high seed in the NCAA tournament (though a repeat as a 1 seed is not likely).
Wichita State was the MVC’s only NCAA tournament team last year, though Indiana State did get an invite to the NIT, while Illinois State played in the CBI and Missouri State was in the CIT. Indiana State looks to be taking a step back this year, but both Missouri State and Illinois State will be tough teams to beat. However, the two teams with the best chance of spoiling Wichita State’s run for another conference crown, or at least getting into the Field of 68 via an at-large bid, are Northern Iowa and Evansville. Both schools return virtually their entire rosters from last season, and the Purple Aces look to be especially dangerous with D.J. Balentine, the MVC’s top scorer last season, leading the way.
Predicted Order of Finish:
1. Wichita State: VanVleet, Baker and Cotton will lead the way. Look for Darius Carter to step up now that Early is gone.
2. Evansville: Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius (a legitimate double-double threat every night) should have this team not only chasing the Shockers, but also in range for an at-large berth. By the way, the Purple Aces do not have a single senior starter.
3. Northern Iowa: Former Virginia starter Paul Jesperson’s addition to an already loaded, experienced team will make the Panthers dangerous and could have them in the at-large bid discussion come March.
4. Missouri State: Marcus Marshall is healthy again after missing most of last season with a knee injury. His return should make the Bears difficult to beat.
5. Illinois State: Four returning starters from a team that played in the postseason last year will make this team dangerous as well. If Reggie Lynch can break out as a star in his sophomore year, they could be a surprise contender.
6. Southern Illinois: Anthony Beane should put up a lot of points, but the Salukis need to find enough other pieces to complement him.
7. Bradley: Mike Shaw transfers in from Illinois and freshman Josh Cunningham is a top 100 recruit. However, the rest of the pieces may not be there yet, though the program is definitely heading in the right direction.
8. Indiana State: Khristian Smith and Justin Gant will lead the way, but there are too many questions in the rest of the lineup with the loss of the team’s top two scorers from last season.
9. Loyola (Chicago): Milton Doyle was the MVC Freshman of the Year last season and should be even better this year. The rest of the pieces are not there yet to significantly improve on last year’s 22 losses.
10. Drake: This looks like a long season for Ray Giacoletti’s team in his second season trying to rebuild the Bulldogs.