Talk about having to blend together a bunch of new parts. Braves coach Jim Les has seven new players to work with. Four of them -- forward Rashad Austin
, guard Tyrone Cole-Scott
, center David Collins
and wing Theron Wilson
-- are junior college transfers. While Bradley fans will need a program to figure out who's who, it doesn't mean that the Braves don't have anything back. Guards Jeremy Crouch
and Daniel Ruffin
are the Missouri Valley's top returning scorers after averaging 13.8 points per game a season ago.
While the Bluejays have been as steady as any Missouri Valley program over the past decade, this season will be a significant challenge for Dana Altman. Creighton is going to have to replace more than 75 percent of its scoring and 65 percent of its rebounding. Only four players -- Dane Watts
, Nick Bahe
, Pierce Hibma
and Josh Dotzler
-- were in Altman's nine-deep rotation a season ago. One player who should play a bigger role is Kenny Lawson Jr.
, who played only two games last season because of knee problems. … Louisville transfer Chad Millard
is one of four Creighton players who redshirted last season.
The good news is that Drake went 17-15 last season and registered its first winning season in 20 years. The bad news is that there aren't many faces left from that team. Four starters are gone and coach Tom Davis has retired. But don't expect the Bulldogs' style of play to change. Between Keno Davis, the son of the former coach, taking over the Drake program and the fact that only two players are taller than 6-6, the Bulldogs are still going to press, try to play fast and shoot 3-pointers. Sophomore guard Josh Young
is going to have to continue to do some heavy lifting for Drake. A member of the Valley's all-newcomer team, Young played at least 28 minutes in Drake's final 12 games.
No coach in the Missouri Valley has a more difficult job than new Evansville coach Marty Simmons. While Evansville has a strong basketball tradition, victories have been difficult to come by of late. The Aces haven't posted a winning season since the 1999-2000 campaign, and former coach Steve Merfeld went just 54-91 and 29-61 in Valley play. The one thing Simmons has going for him is that he is part of the Evansville tradition. Simmons played two standout seasons at Evansville and was later an assistant coach under Jim Crews. Simmons takes the job after spending five years as the head coach at Division II Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. During his final three seasons there, Edwardsville went 63-29, reaching the NCAA Tournament twice.
In a conference in which many teams have significant holes to fill, new Redbirds coach Tim Jankovich inherits a team that returns five of its top six scorers. Included in that group is 6-11 Levi Dyer
, the Valley's most improved player; MVC freshman of the year Osiris Eldridge
; and all-newcomer team members Boo Richardson and Anthony Slack
. In the spring, Jankovich added some frontcourt help in the form of junior college transfer Brandon Sampay
, who had originally committed to play at Wichita State.
Call this hiring an example of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. When Royce Waltman's contract was not renewed, the Sycamores plucked Creighton assistant Kevin McKenna as Indiana State's next head coach. A former Creighton player, McKenna had a pair of stints as an assistant to Dana Altman with a head coaching job at Division II Nebraska-Omaha in between. … Last season, seven players averaged at least 15 minutes of playing time for the Sycamores. Six of those players return. That team, however, had something of a split personality. Early in the season, Indiana State beat eventual NCAA Tournament teams Butler and Purdue. But then the Sycamores closed the season by losing 14 of 16 games.
Think all that matters in college basketball is the NCAA Tournament? Apparently the regular season doesn't mean all that much to the Missouri State administration. Because while Barry Hinson has led the Bears to 82 victories over the past four years, he was nearly fired over the offseason in part because Missouri State was among the last few teams left out of the tournament each of the past two years. Still employed, Hinson is going to have to coach without Blake Ahearn
. Deven Mitchell
(10.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg) was the Valley's top sixth man, but his role will have to expand. Spencer Laurie
(5.9 ppg, 4.3 apg) was the league's newcomer of the year. The Bears will have four seniors in their rotation, something that's rarely a bad thing.
One of Ben Jacobson's biggest goals in his second season as a head coach is finding some consistency. That's because the Panthers were all over the board last season. There was a 13-2 start, but the Panthers also lost eight out of nine at one point during the season. … One key member of the Panthers will be sophomore point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe
. Ahelegbe averaged about 14 minutes per game as a reserve. With Brooks McKowen
gone, Ahelegbe will be UNI's primary ball handler and will have to improve on his 1.1 assists for every turnover. … Carlton Reed
should help Northern Iowa create offense, something that was a challenge at times last season. The transfer from Iowa can put the ball on the floor and attack the basket.
A true big man is something of a rarity in the Missouri Valley. But it's clear that Salukis coach Chris Lowery has made securing size a recruiting priority. Two of Southern Illinois' freshman -- 6-8 Carlton Fay
and 6-11 Nick Evans
-- are frontcourt players. Going against Randal Falker
, Matt Shaw
and Tony Boyle
every day in practice, Fay and Evans should be better prepared a season from now when they are going to have to play bigger roles.
Of the five new coaches in the league, Gregg Marshall comes into the Valley with the highest profile. Marshall led Winthrop to seven NCAA Tournament appearances in nine years. He takes over a Wichita State program that reached the Sweet 16 of the 2006 NCAA Tournament but failed to live up to expectations last season. After starting last season 9-0, the Shockers went 8-14 the rest of the way and closed on a five-game losing streak. Marshall's first Wichita State team will be small and inexperienced. Of last season's top five scorers, only P.J. Couisnard
(11.8 ppg) returns. In addition, the eligibility of recruit Ehimen Orupke
-- a 7-footer from Nigeria -- is up in the air. The Shockers could end up with only one player taller than 6-7 on the roster.