ST. LOUIS — They don’t announce a preseason favorite at their media day, but Missouri Valley Conference coaches were nearly unanimous in declaring that Missouri State is the league’s team to beat.
Head coach Dana Ford has amassed so much transfer and freshmen talent that his Valley rivals see the Bears as the most talented Valley team since Wichita State left the league.
Ford says it’s up to him to help his players learn how to perform as a cohesive unit.
“We have a program and we have certain standards that you have to fit into,” said the second year head coach. “We have good kids. The common denominator with our players is they all want to win. It’s on me to get those guys to play together and mesh together and be the best teammate you can possibly be.“
Transfers Will Shape the Race
For a league that prides itself on winning by developing its own players, the Valley has dug deep into the transfer portal to jumpstart postseason hopes. Illinois State will likely start three Division I transfers. Four other league teams will likely start at least two.
Seventh-year Illinois State coach Dan Muller has been on the leading edge of the transfer movement. San Jose State transfers Keith Fisher and Jaycee Hillsman will transform the Redbirds’ frontcourt. Muller says there’s no reason to ignore a vast number potential contributors.
Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson hasn’t jumped into the “free-agent” market like many of his contemporaries. The dean of the MVC coaches’ fraternity prefers to recruit high school seniors and train them in the Panther Way.
“We’ve stuck to our plan,” Jacobson said. “We’ve had conversations about it for three or four years in a row. We do look at it. We’ve stuck to our plan of recruiting guys early, when they’re freshmen and sophomores and getting to know them. We like where we’re at. There are challenges. The teams around you are adding terrific players and all of a sudden their teams are changing in a snap.”
California Dreaming - 206
A recent California Senate bill is attempting to open the door to NCAA student-athletes receiving compensation for their names and likenesses. While the national conversation focuses on elite players from Power 5 conferences, what will be the effect on mid-major programs?
Indiana State’s Greg Lansing says he wants the student-athletes to be cared for and supported well, but feels paying players is the proverbial slippery slope. Entering his tenth season in Terre Haute, Indiana, Lansing says the Power 5 conferences are continually distancing themselves from the rest of college basketball in terms of a competitive advantage.
Valparaiso head coach Matt Lottich says those kinds of rules will affect a very small amount of players, so those types of rule changes are not the game-changer some people believe it to be.
“I just wonder how many college basketball players can actually get paid?” Lottich asked. “It’s just hard to tell, but I think we have to look at it as a college athletics question rather than just a college basketball question.”
Loyola’s Porter Moser says it will be a balancing act. The enthusiastic Moser believes each new change in the system provides new opportunities for his players and program.
“They’re constantly looking for ways to balance everything on this issue,” he said. “Obviously it has to be consistent. I’m one of those that believe that college educations [have] an incredible amount of value and that we’ve made some great progress particularly with the cost of attendance change.”
Missouri Valley commissioner Doug Elgin says great strides have been made in helping the student-athletes. The cost of attendance improvements, the unlimited nutrition and training opportunities, and of course the chance at a great education are outstanding benefits.
In spite of those improvements, Elgin says California legislators aren’t the only ones looking at changing the benefit packages for college athletes.
“It’s gaining momentum across the country,” Elgin said. “Other states are formulating similar legislation. I sort of believe that playing in college athletics is a privilege. If players want to be compensated, there are other options for compensation in Europe and other professional leagues.”
Elgin says college athletics fills its own niche.
“The reason there is such passion for college basketball and college athletics is how it unifies large groups of people,” he said. “The fans own the game. I think there has to be a reasonable compromise. There has to be collaboration and there has to be an understanding of the educational piece.”
Ford says if players are going to get paid they should be looked at more like employees.
“If they’re going to give them money, then we ought to be able to release them if they’re not performing and we should not be penalized,” Ford said. “There’s not a lot of common sense involved right now. If you’re going to pay them, then we ought to be able to cut them if they don’t go to class or take care of their responsibilities.”
New Three Point Line
The NCAA has moved the three-point line to the international distance of 22 feet, 1 ¾ inches with the hopes of opening up the interior and creating mid-range opportunities. Ford says he’s glad the NCAA didn’t also change the size of the lane, but says moving the line will show which players can truly shoot from deep.
“It’s a different game,” Ford said. “I can already tell. Coaches that have done foreign trips tell me guys are stepping out of bounds in the corners. Guys that made 35 percent of their threes last year won’t make 30 percent this year. It’s changed the way we will defend because of the change.”
The Valley’s preseason poll of both team rankings and all-conference teams will be released on Oct. 17.