The coaches and fans can prognosticate all they want, once the season starts it's all about what happens on the court. The defending Missouri Valley Champion Wichita State begins its season with a test, as does Southern Illinois. The rest hopes to handle their competition relatively easily as they warm up the non conference schedule.
Friday, November 14
Wichita State v New Mexico State
Where: Charles Koch Arena, Wichita, KS
When: 9:00 pm ET
With possibly the most stacked non conference schedule in the Valley, the Shockers start off with a talented and tough Aggies team that has possibly the size the match up well with the Shockers - if they were healthy. Both centers, Tshilidzi Nephawe (Sr-C, 6'10") and Tanveer Bhullar (Fr-C, 7'3") have been injured this offseason, while both senior Remi Barry (Sr-PF) and Anthony January (So-PF) stand at 6'8" and have head health problems. Of those four, only Barry is expected to be ready for the first game against WSU. That would leave only a pair of freshmen forwards as depth in the post.
That being said, the Aggies are much more than their big men, and aren't projected first in the WAC for no reason. The Shockers should still be favored, though, as their defense should focus on senior Aggie DK Eldridge (G) and hope to stop his .400 3P% and 11.1 ppg from last season. Expect to see lockdown defender Tekele Cotton (Sr-G) on him frequently. I think NMSU keeps it close most of the game, but either Van Vleet or Ron Baker drain some clutch buckets midway through the second half to give the Shockers a comfortable lead by the end.
Next Game: Wichita State hosts Memphis Nov. 18
Indiana State v IUPUI
Where: Fairgrounds Coliseum, Indianapolis, IN
When: 8:00 pm ET
Although Indiana State is expected to have a severe drop in output from last season's 23-11 (12-6) team, they should still be heavily favored in this Hoosier State showdown against the IUPUI Jaguars. The IUPUI's train wreck of a season that only tallied six wins resulted in coach Todd Howard being shown the door and former Memphis assistant Jason Gardner being brought in to jumpstart the Jaguars.
The Sycs will have to learn how to move on without their two top scorers from last season, Jake Odum and Manny Arop. Still, they should have enough firepower to down IUPUI between senior Justin Gant (PF) and junior Khristian Smith (G) who each scored just over 10 ppg last season.
Next Game: Indiana State hosts St. Louis University Nov. 18
Missouri State v Eastern Illinois
Where: JQH Arena, Springfield, MO
When: 8:05 pm ET
The coaches predicted the MO State Bears to move up a spot in the MVC ranking this season to third place. To do that, though, they will have to perform better than they did in their exhibition against the DII Missouri Southern State Lions, whom the Bears trailed for most of the game before tightening it up to win 68-66. Missouri State should be able to handle the EIU Panthers, though, who lost top scorer Sherman Blanford from last year's 11-19 campaign. The Panther to look out for is Reggie Smith (Sr-G), a transfer from UNLV who scored 13.1 ppg in nearly 30 minutes a game last season. On the Missouri State side, it will be interesting to see how junior guard and team leader Marcus Marshall will perform in his first regular season game since losing most of last season to injury.
The game is notable for honoring the late Coach Charlie Spoonhour, who coached the Bears from 1983 to 1992, leading them to five NCAA tournament trips before also patrolling the sidelines at St. Louis University and UNLV. Eastern Illinois is coached by his son, Jay Spoonhour.
Next Game: Missouri State hosts NAIA Avila College Nov. 19
Bradley v UT-Arlington
Where: Carver Arena, Peoria, IL
When: 8:00 pm ET
Last season there were some decently high expectations placed on Bradley, only for them to go 12-20 (7-11). This season they've lost a substantial amount of talent, and expectations have been adjusted as Bradley is predicted to place seventh in the MVC. While you would hope that the BU Braves could beat the UT-Arlington Mavericks, who also lost their two best players to graduation, that is in doubt after they lost their exhibition to DIII Augustana by two. Not to take away from Augie's (apparently their nickname) performance, but I have little doubt that UT-Arlington is more than capable of outperforming them. Don't be surprised if the Mavericks take this one away from Bradley.
Next Game: Bradley hosts Robert Morris Nov. 19
Loyola (Chicago) v Rockhurst
Where: Joseph J. Gentile Center, Chicago, IL
When: 8:30 pm ET
Loyola's inaugural season in the Valley didn't elicit much excitement towards the conference newcomer after they posted a 10-22 record while only winning four conference games. The one bright spot was that they featured the spectacular MVC Freshman of the Year, Milton Doyle (So-G), who was hoping to build off a season where he lead the Ramblers in points, assists, blocks, and steals, and was second in rebounds. However, the offseason was devastating to Loyola. Doyle has a torn labrum and is uncertain to play this season and starting PG Jeff White is out for the first few weeks of the season. Essentially the entire frontcourt depth transferred to other schools, and the man expected to fill in for them failed to qualify for enrollment this semester. Just about the only consistency on the team is senior forward Christian Thomas who will definitively be the team's leader on the court. All in all, this is a very young team that likely will not play well this season.
Fortunately for Loyola, they start their season by hosting two DII teams before playing Michigan State in their notably weak schedule, which should give their young athletes the opportunity to gain some experience before facing a physically dominant team.
Next Game: Loyola hosts DII McKendree Nov. 17
Saturday, November 15
Southern Illinois v St. Louis University
Where: Chaifetz Arena, St. Louis, MO
When: 8:00 pm ET
Last season the SIU Salukis looked like the worst team in the MVC throughout most of the season - but then somehow clicked to win seven of their last ten regular season games to finish at 9-9 in conference play. Like most teams in the MVC, they lost their top scorer Desmar Jackson to graduation. However, the Salukis showed that they have a number of players ready to contribute, and if they can start off how they ended last season then they could be much more competitive than they look on paper.
St. Louis University, on the other hand, has the brand name to look like a tough opponent, but it's difficult to know quite how talented the Billikens really are. They not only lost six of their seven top scorers from last season, Austin McBroom is the only upperclassman on the team who started last season, and no other upperclassman scored more than 4 ppg last season either.
Next game: SIU visits Tennessee State Nov. 18
Northern Iowa v North Dakota
Where: McLeod Center, Cedar Falls, IA
When: 2:00 pm ET
Unlike most MVC teams, the UNI Panthers return their entire starting five and should expect to improve in Seth Tuttle's senior tour. Last season the Panthers were a dangerous team on both sides of the ball but played a brutal schedule. The Panthers didn't back off this season either with a schedule that features Iowa, VCU, George Mason, Richmond, Stephen F. Austin, and Virginia Tech. If any team is going to unseat Wichita State, UNI must be the favorite.
North Dakota will try to improve on their 17-17 (12-8) record last season that saw them finish third in the Big Sky, but after graduating all of their starters save senior PF Jaron Nash, UND's inexperience will be in stark contrast to UNI's seasoned squad.
Next Game: Northern Iowa visits Stephen F. Austin Nov. 18
Drake v Bowling Green
Where: Knapp Center, Des Moines, IA
When: 3:05 pm ET
Following the Valley's trend, Drake also has a significant amount of roster turnover. However, they do at least return three four guards who played significant minutes last season. Unfortunately, it's the front court that lacks any semblance of experience or reliable depth. Senior forward Trevor Berkeley (4.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg last season) is the only returning upperclassman in the front court, although he is joined by 7'0" Jacob Jensen (So-C) who was a fantastic defensive rebounder last season. The problem for the Bulldogs is that they simply lack offensive firepower.
Bowling Green had a dismal 12-20 season that put them last in the MAC East last time we saw them, and isn't expected to be much better this season. However, they did hire Wichita State's assistant head coach to head the ship this season. If nothing else, Bowling Green's coach will be familiar with Drake and should have his team prepared to play the Bulldogs.
Next Game: Drake visits DePaul Nov. 18
Evansville v Earlham
Where: Ford Center, Evansville, IN
When: 3:05 pm ET
The Division III Earlham College Hustlin' Quakers likely will not upset the Purple Aces after going 5-20 last season, but they shouldn't feel bad. The Aces didn't compose a very difficult non conference schedule after them either. Assuredly, Belmont, Murray State, and Ohio will be a tough stretch in mid-December, but that hardly excuses them for one of the weakest schedules in the MVC (although it is still better than Loyola's).
That being said, Evansville should improve significantly from its 14-19 (6-12) mark last season. They not only return MVC phenom DJ Balentine and his 22.8 ppg, they also have experience and depth at every position in a junior and sophomore heavy roster. The player to watch is Egidijus Mockevicius, who made huge strides in his game last season and should only continue to get better. Last season he was the team's second highest scorer with 10.5 ppg, and dominated in the post with an average of exactly two blocks each game and 8.3 rpg. If he can make a step to the next level of play then he could be one of the most dangerous players in the Valley - on both sides of the ball.
Next Game: Evansville visits Miami (OH) Nov. 19
Sunday, November 16
Illinois State v Utah State
Where: Redbird Arena, Normal, IL
When: 5:00 pm ET
Illinois St. will round off the weekend with a matchup against a Utah State team that is expected to decline from last season's 8th place finish in the Mountain West. The Aggies are known for their dynamic home court crowd, but this game is in Normal, IL, in front of the Redbird faithful. Interestingly enough, USU will play Weber State at home on November 14, giving the Redbirds tape on their first two opponents of the season.
Last season, Illinois State survived a tumultuous offseason to finish 9-9 in the Valley and 18-16 overall. After a relatively stable offseason, look for the Redbirds to improve and start off their season playing to their potential.
Next Game: Illinois State will be the home team against Weber State in the Paradise Jam Tournament Nov. 21