College basketball season is just sixteen days away for Shocker fans, and I can’t believe it. The USAToday Coaches Poll ranked Wichita State at #11 this preseason. The Shockers are the lone ranked team to start the year in the Missouri Valley Conference. WSU returns four of five starters from a year ago after Cleanthony Early graduated and was drafted by the New York Knicks. The biggest question for the Shockers will be who steps up at the power forward position.
UNI appears to be the best candidate out of the other nine universities to take a stab at eventually breaking into the Top 25, but Ben Jacobsen’s Panthers need to make use of their out-of-conference schedule and navigate the conference schedule carefully. It’s easy to make a misstep in the minefield that is the MVC regular season. Aside from UNI, I don’t think any other team will challenge WSU for the MVC Championship this year, but Evansville and Missouri State could battle for second if UNI fails to deliver in Seth Tuttle’s senior campaign.
Missouri State’s Marcus Marshall is back, which provides a play-maker that MSU desperately needed last year. Austin Ruder and Gavin Thurman add additional scoring presence for the Bears and I honestly think they give UNI a run for second place. Evansville returns D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius while adding All-American JUCO transfer, Willie Wiley. The Purple Aces have a dynamic and potent offense under Marty Simmons, and this could be the year for them to break out.
Shocker Hoops 2014-15 MVC Preseason Rankings
1. Wichita State
2. Northern Iowa
3. Missouri State
5. Indiana State
6. Southern Illinois
7. Illinois State
Once you get past the quintet of WSU, UNI, MSU & Evansville, we get to what I refer to as the cellar of disparity. All of these teams either have dealt with graduation, transfers out of the program, and/or injury. Loyola’s star player Milton Doyle is possibly out for the season, and at this point you could count it as a miracle if Doyle returns from a shoulder injury. Bradley graduated Walt Lemon Jr. and Tyshon Pickett and Indiana State graduated Jake Odum.
Illinois State returned 2 players last year. This year Illinois State returns 6 players. Last year the Redbirds had to run a four guard lineup for most of the year, this year they added size, but the big question will be if inexperience shackles them to the bottom half of the MVC. Southern Illinois lost Desmar Jackson, and is currently dealing with a debacle of eligibility with Smithpeters. Recent university disciplinary punishment which resulted in a 2 year ban from campus, was overturned until a second investigation into the currently unknown incident happens. Lots of mystery revolve around the situation, and not that Smithpeters had the keys to SIU’s success, but I can’t help but think this doesn’t help the situation for the Salukis. Drake is Drake and that’s about it. Gary Ricks Jr. received an extra year of eligibility at Drake, but many new faces will keep Drake at the bottom for this year.