Losing Wichita State to the American was a blow to the Missouri Valley Conference, especially on the heels of Creighton’s departure for the Big East a few years back. The conference did invite Valparaiso to join, and the Crusaders are certainly a quality addition to this conference capable of making noise in their very first season here. However, at least for this year, the discussions of the Valley potentially being a multi-bid league do not appear to be worth having.
The silver lining in Wichita’s departure is that it does open things up for almost anyone to come in and grab the regular season and tournament crowns. Although Missouri State, with size, depth and experience, is the preseason pick to win it, cases can be made for as many as 8 different teams. Loyola appears to be the second best, but keep an eye on newcomer Valparaiso and a rebuilding Bradley team. Another potential darkhorse may be Drake, with a core of returning seniors and Niko Medved taking over as head coach.
Predicted Order of Finish
- Missouri State – The Bears are set to have a big season, not only because they no longer have to deal with Wichita State, but because they welcome back four returning starters and add in several key new additions, most notable 7-2, 278 pound Tanveer Bhullar from New Mexico State.
- Loyola (Chicago) – The Ramblers should be right in the thick of the conference title race this season with three double-digit scorers returning and the addition of Fairleigh Dickinson transfer Marques Townes.
- Valparaiso – The preseason media picks for Valpo range all over the conference standings; however, that may be mostly a lack of respect for their former conference, the Horizon League. Alec Peters and Shane Hammink may be gone, but three returning starters and two players that are over 7 feet tall on the roster should make this an exciting first season in the MVC for Valpo.
- Bradley – The Braves could be this year’s surprise team with their top nine players from last season all returning. On top of that, four of the five projected starters are sophomores, led by the team’s top player last season, Darrell Brown.
- Drake – The Bulldogs welcome in new head coach Niko Medved, who did an amazing job building Furman’s program the last four years. He already has a start on building in Des Moines with freshman recruit Jalen Gibbs, but even more importantly for this season, he has four returning starters led by Reed Timmer.
- Illinois State – The Redbirds had 27 wins in a conference ranked 10th overall by kenpom.com on Selection Sunday, yet did not hear their name called and ended up in the NIT. While getting a measure of revenge for their snub could be on the team’s mind this season, having only one starter (Phil Fayne) back from that team probably makes this a rebuilding year for Dan Muller’s squad.
- Northern Iowa – The Panthers lost two of their top three scorers in the offseason, so an improvement on last year’s 14-16 record seems doubtful. That being said, Ben Jacobson is one of the top Under the Radar coaches in the nation and his team should never be counted out.
- Southern Illinois – The Salukis should be competitive, but with their top two scorers gone, one of whom was the point guard, former bench players and newcomers will need to step up.
- Evansville – The Aces finished last season a game below .500, and that was with the conference’s top scorer, Jaylon Brown, in the lineup. Without him, don’t be surprised to see them take another step back.
- Indiana State – Brenton Scott should score a lot of points this season, but there are a ton of questions, and very few answers, in the frontcourt. It may be a battle for the Sycamores to avoid the conference basement this year.