1. Wichita State
2. Northern Iowa
3. Loyola Chi-Town
5. Illinois State
6. Indiana State
9. Southern Illinois
10. Missouri State
Player of the Year: Fred van Vleet
Coach of the Year: Dan Muller
Newcomer of the Year: Conner Frankamp
G - Fred van Vleet, Wichita St.
G - Ron Baker, Wichita St.
G – Devaughn Akoon-Purcell, Illinois St.
F – Milton Doyle, Loyola (IL)
F - Egidijus Mockevicius, Evansville
G – DJ Balentine, Evansville
G – Wes Washpun, Northern Iowa
G – Paris Lee, Illinois St.
F – Jacob Jensen, Drake
F - Rashard Kelly, Wichita St.
G – Anthony Beane, Southern Illinois
G – Devonte Brown, Indiana State
G – Reed Timmer, Drake
F – Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa
F - Evan Wessel, Wichita St.
5. Illinois State:
Come one, come all Wichita State challengers! This is your last year to get a crack at one of the more perfect backcourt combos in the past decade of college basketball, less commonly known as the “Freddy & Ronnie Show”. So in my super feeble attempt to tease Wichita, I am actually NOT opening the MVC preview with the Shock, but rather, a squad that I sort of swooned for last year: The Redbirds of Normal Illinois.
Despite finishing tied for third with Indiana State a year ago (11-7), this felt like the clear 3rd-best team in the Valley. A gutting injury to leading wing scorer DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell (All-hyphen team nominee) about midway through last year limited this team offensively, but the other mighty-mini guards proved more than capable of scoring in bunches. The combination of Paris Lee, Bobby Hunter & Daishon Knight (all sub-6’0) made big shot after big shot late in games to keep the Cardinals close in big games, while big man Reggie Lynch got high watched in foul trouble on the bench. Knight was definitely the go-to of these 3, but with him and Hunter both graduating, the point guard keys are handed over to Paris Lee. His 102 O-Rating is muffled because of his 26% TO rate, which makes complete sense if you watch how fast he plays. But when he coughs it up, he is more than capable of getting it back on the other end, with lightning-quick hands, as proven by a top-5 steal rate in the country. He can shoot it from deep and loves to score from 6-8 feet in, but he generally will shy away from getting all the way to the hoop (only 62 throws attempted last year).
Playing next to him on the wing will be Akoon-Purcell and, for some god-forsaken reason, Mikyle McIntosh. Let’s just get the barfing out of the way before talking about the remaining upside for this team. As a freshman, McIntosh somehow snuck his way on to the floor for 20 minutes a game and provided the following “value”:
O Rating: 78; 25% TO rate; 37/21/58 %s from 3, 2 & FT respectively
Dan Muller is a coach I respect, so I assume he sees flashes of talent, but there were quite literally zero reasons for optimism based on that offensive performance.
On the flip side, Purcell is a classic versatile wing scorer, who gets to the line often and converts in the high 70s. His shooting was down a little last year from both 2 and 3 (47%, 34%), but the all-mighty eye test feels he’s probably a 50/37 guy in a full year of good health, which matters a lot given that he’ll be the dominant usage guy. His real value is on the other side of the floor anyway, where his defensive versatility, along with the lightning quick Lee and BIG REGGIE LYNCH anchored a top 30 defense from a year ago. Big Reg blocked more shots when he was on the floor than Willie Caullie Stein, Karl Anthony Towns and well and every other single player in the country (1st in block rate !!!!).
The big question marks will be the roles Tony Willis, Deonte Hawkins and Will Ransom. Willis had a blah sophomore campaign, but there aren’t many better perimeter options available for Muller. I suspect he’ll go big and stick with his guy McIntosh at the 2, play Purcell at the 3, and play Hawkins next to Lynch. Hawkins is an athletic, lean 6’8 who likes to shoot outside (93 3s to 91 2 attempts last year 33%), but proved to be a productive rebounder defensively (95th in Def Reb%). Ransom is a man in the Valley at 6’8 260, and should provide at a minimum 5 fouls and a few boards a game.
Bottom Line: If Paris Lee can mature in to a more in-control, leading point and the other perimeter guys not named Akoon-Purcell can improve offensively, this is my pick to finish 2nd in the Valley. Big Reg took major strides becoming a force on the post last year, but he MUST play smarter and stay out of foul trouble. The big 3 of him, Purcell and Lee will be all league players, and this team will be watching selection Sunday intently come March, if they can continue their success on the road from last year and grab a few noteworthy wins.
UPDATE: Reggie Lynch decided to take his talents to …… Minnesota. I’m working in Minnesota now, and it’s a FLYOVER state, at least compared to the Metropolis that is Normal, IL. Bad move Reggie, but I do think your departure could potentially have some “addition-by-subtraction” value to it. This bumps down my prediction to a 3rd or 4th place finish in the league.
1. Wichita State
Please refer to the first part of Illinois State preview for the Shocker intro. The Shock overcame what was a massively underrated loss last year in Cleanthony Early to grind out another Sweet 16 appearance. And while no was watching early February MVC games, his lack of presence was starting to show, especially on the offensive end. As conference play was coming down the stretch, the grinding, slow pace of the Valley appeared to be wearing on this team’s half-court offense. If Baker couldn’t get open for a 3 running off screens or creating for himself, this team lived and died with Freddy Van Vleet high ball screens late in the shot clock. The supporting cast revealed their offensive limitations, with the exception of Darius Carter. At 6’7, Carter’s wingspan allowed him to play much more like a true 6’9 post player, which in the Valley feels like 7’0. His rim protection, rebounding and emergence as a go-to post scorer were undervalued by most, and his loss will likely be as impactful as Early’s was last year. Throw in the departure of their best perimeter defender, Tekele Cotton, and the Shock have some holes to fill if they want to remain in the elite conversation.
This puts a ton of pressure on 3 players: two rising sophomores, Rashard Kelly and Shaq Morris, and Evan Wessel, who I’m not sure has done anything wrong on a basketball court ever. It’s laughable how Wessel is 6’4, but played the 4 in the Shockers best lineup a year ago. He knows his role better than Sylvester Stallone in action flicks. He’ll defend the post, board and make a respectable amount of outside shots, providing spacing for Fred and Ron to operate up top. Kelly & Morris are tough to distinguish at first glance, both standing ~6’7 with strong lateral movement despite playing the 4 & 5 spots at many times last year. On the offensive end, Kelly appears to be the more polished scorer, and will be relied upon to make open baseline jumpers when Ron & Fred draw attention in penetration. On the other hand, Morris was an animal shot blocking last year, but like so many freshman, had no clue how to do so without fouling. I have some concerns about a lack of overall true post size inside, and I think both of these two will be foul prone against traditional back to basket bigs, especially against bigger schools with more size.
However, Greg Marshall got two godsend additions this offseason that should help alleviate some of the depth concerns. Connor Frankamp steps in from just down the road at KU, where he must’ve fallen in love with the way the Shockers whooped up on his team in the 2nd round last year (though he was actually on the Wichita bench for that). In the Valley, a small ball lineup with Wessel at the 4 and Kelly or Morris at the 5 (probably Morris at first), and Frankamp, Baker, VV on the perimeter will be nightmarish. Their lack of size simply can’t be exposed in this league, outside of maybe Evansville. And with an additional shooter now at Fred’s disposal, his ball screen driving lanes should appear drastically wider, now that help-side defense must stay home. You could argue the more valuable addition is actually lesser known Anton Grady, who comes over from an underachieving, semi-dysfunctional Cleveland State squad. At 6’8, 225 he brings a rare combination of exceptional rebounding, shot blocking & perimeter defending, evidenced by a top 50 DReb rate, top 150 block rate & top 250 steal rate. He, along with Kelly & Morris, should ease the rebounding and rim protection void without Carter. However, I’m hoping he quickly realizes his place on this team, and learns he will be crucified in Wichita if he attempts another 360 shots with the talent around him on the perimeter. Something tells me Ron, Fred & Marshall will make sure he learns well.
I am attempting to assess this squad amongst the elite groups in the country, and I’m more skeptic about this lineup effectiveness against better athletes. Wessel and Frankamp are both for the most part one dimensional on offense, so my primary concerns with this squad all circle back to putting too much pressure on Ron and Fred to consistently create offense. Please excuse my nitpicking. If you can’t get behind this team, you aren’t a fan of college basketball and if you don’t think they would compete in the top tier of any league in America, you aren’t an intelligent college basketball fan. The Shock are a LOCK to make the second round, and I’m predicting another trip to the Sweet 16.
2. Northern Iowa:
I’m not sure why my eyes continuously bled watching UVA on offense, but I was ecstatic to watch Northern Iowa on offense last year. The Panthers were just as lethargic in pushing tempo, and finished with a similar offensive efficiency, so the numbers don’t at all explain the vast difference in my excitement when both of these teams were naturally televised. The Panthers follow the Valley trend in playing basketball slower than turtles, but watching the boys in purple execute in the half court fully validates their lack of pace.
However, what made this half-court execution so pristine a year ago was the point-forward-scoring-boarding show of Seth Tuttle, who is now gone. Tuttle’s efficiency was absolute unprecedented for a guy of his size, and I think many will actually undervalue his departure when projecting UNIs outlook this year. The returning starters include a ton of names most collegiate fans will recognize, but all were made better with the interior presence of Tuttle. The most famous of these returners is a top-5 all Matt man crush team member, 70s throw back combo guard Wesley “Wash’n’Dry” Washpun. Wes played the super 6 man role, playing behind the more experienced Deon Mitchell and lower-usage, better-shooter Matt Bohannon. No player is more fearless/irrational in the entire country, which is what made him the perfect (yet cliché) off-the-bench scoring spark plug. The luxury for Ben Jacobsen last year was he could easily be sat during cold spells or turnover streaks. Playing only 21 minutes a game last year will feel like a walk-in-the-park compared to the 32-35 I see him being asked to play this year. He will be the only true point guard on the roster, and elite athletic perimeter defender AND proven go-to scorer. His assist rate gives me confidence he has the unselfishness in him to realize the bright spots of competency that return around him.
The brightest of these bright spots are his co-backcourt mates Bohanon and Paul Jesperson. While Bohannon is the more complete player and more potent overall scorer, Jespersons 43% from deep was best on the team last year, and top-100 in the nation. Neither of these 2 know what a turnover is, but both benefitted from minimal usage a year ago. They appear like clones when you watch, but Jesperson is the slightly bigger wing who normally will matchup with 3s. Wyatt Lohaus also got major run as a freshman in this top 15 team, and hit an absurd 47% of his trey bombs, despite only taking 36. I fully expect him to probably get upward of 100-120 shots from 3-land this year and DOUBLE his percentage from a year ago (not really). How well these 3 shoot and help the perimeter scoring around Wes will be massive for the Panthers.
In the paint, linebacker Marvin Singleton graduates, which means more exposure for do-it-all defender Jeremy Morgan. Where he lacks the beef Singleton did, he truly plays a 4 defensively, with the versatility of guarding longer 3s. Ranking close to the top 100 in steal rate and posting a solid 3% block rate is impressive, and only teammate Wesley came close to that defensive impact last year. The major question mark for this team, and specifically for Morgan is controlling the glass. Tuttle cleaned up quite literally a fourth of the rebounds while he was on the floor, and the Panthers truly did the dirty work on a by-committee basis a year ago. The problem is when your 3 top committee members all leave, maintaining sound defensive rebounding prowess is unlikely. Luckily for Jacobsen and Panther fans, the Koch brothers family continues to be a factory for UNI bigs, with Bennet Koch, the final of the Koch bros, returning for his sophomore year. Albeit he projects to be the worst of the older two (Adam and Jake), as a Duke fan I may be looking at a Marshall Plumlee breakout year as a possible precedent for quick development of Bennet. And the purple nation will need it, because without significant contribution from Benny, they may be exposed with rim protection and holding down the glass.
Bottom Line: Whether or this team can again challenge the Shock for the Valley crown will be set by the mindset and balance that Washpun plays with. If he can realize he has elite shooting around him and think pass-first when he attacks the basket, he’ll create a ridiculous amount of open shooting for the array of shooters that return. With continuity and a great coach in Mr. Jacobsen this is the 2nd or 3rd best team in this league. They’ll need a gawdy Valley record, and one or two significant non-conference wins to ensure they are in the hunt come spring.
3. Loyola Chicago:
Ahhhh yes, I love when I get the opportunity to focus my analysis way too much on a single game when I have seen a team play live. On a semi-unsuccessful quest to tour all major Chicago D1 venues to see a game in-person, the highlight BY FARRRR was seeing the Ramblin Ramblers of Loyola, Chicago host the mighty Wichita Shock. Despite the fact that my high-school team had a taller starting lineup, the Rambler were outplaying the Evil Empire of the Valley for the first twenty minutes of action. And I have to admit the sell-out crowd of 4,500 (stretch) was actually OUTSTANDING (We now end this segment to focus on the actual roster construction of the Ramblers).
The North Side Chicago boys were on a roll early on last year, starting off 12-2 before the game aforementioned, and had cracked the top 80 of the almighty KenPom rankings. And it was almost EXCLUSIVELY because of the incredible rate that they were raining threes. Their 4 and 5 guard offense that effectively played no one over 6’5 at times always featured unselfish passers and capable shooters. The poster-boy example of this is Devon Kurk, who returns for his senior campaign after knocking in 43% of his 177 attempts from deep last year. The Ramblers sported 7 dudes who hit at least 36% of their bombs, and return 6 of them this year. Their only major loss is Christian Thomas, (shout out to Clayton high in the Lou), who feels a little overvalued by the advanced metrics, and was a clear liability on the defensive side.. Watching the Wichita State, Loyola matchup, it was disheartening seeing what was supposed to be a top Valley team get noticeably frustrated by a significant height disadvantage against a team whose center was only 6’7 (Darius Carter).
Thomas, along with pretty much every other role player on this team, is elevated by the play of perhaps one of the most important players to his team in the nation, Milton Doyle. If you are for some ridiculous reasons unfamiliar with Milton Doyle, please refer to below picture. (insert pic of Milton from office space)
Good, so now you remember who I’m referring to, BUT before I articulate his important to this team, let me mention the rest of supporting cast for next year. The perimeter around Doyle is actually quite formidable, and fits all the needs, with Turk shooting and playing a great floor game, and Earl Peterson, who is efficient getting to the rim and drawing contact. I assume Porter Moser (I swear I’m not making up these names) will probably give Jeff White another chance to start, despite his limited minutes in starting role and inefficient junior year. The 5th starter will be the tallest player on this roster, 6’7 Montel James, who played the exact same role as Thomas, but seemed to play behind Thomas, as a result of Mosers commitment to playing 4 and 5 guards. He’ll be in a much more featured role this year, with Donte Ingram giving some depth as a rising sophomore. Again, the theme in this conference is undersized, physical, but skilled forwards, so 6’7 in this league plays more like 6’9 on a relative basis.
Ok so back to Mr. Doyle. After being sidelined due to a bizarre stapler accident, this team went 5-7 in his absence, and saw their kenpom rank free fall to 170th by late February. He reps the 75th highest usage rating, which actually feels low given his talent and how desperately this team needs his slashing and vision to create shots for others. His O rating was head-scratching-ly lower than I thought (100), which appears to be driven by his semi-high TO rate and semi-poor 2pt%. From what I saw, both of these can be explained directly by late in shot-clock situations, where Poser would let him create at will, many times without even ball-screen support. So these misses inside the arc and TOs I don’t put on shot selection or poor-decision making, but more on a product of his environment. He shoots 3s at an over 40% clip, draws fouls and creates steals on the other end. His ball-handling skill is exceptional, and his ranginess makes him play more like a 6’6 point guard (6’4 court height).
Bottom Line: Doyle MUST stay healthy for this team to compete near the top of this league. But with the returning unselfishness and core on the perimeter, this squad is a lock to finish in the top 5, and could very well end up finishing 3rd. And yes, Milton Doyle also makes my all man-crush team, in case you skipped over the entire preview.
The only other teams entering the 2015-2016 season hotter than the Violet Aces of Evansville are Duke and Stanford(!!!). That was a really poor way of hyping up the fact that Evansville won the CIT and thus finished the year with 5 straight wins against the GAUNTLET schedule that was IPFW, Eastern Illinois, Louisiana Lafayette, Tennessee Martin & ARIZONA (Northern Arizona). Despite my initially trolling, the Aces actually have a very bright outlook heading in to 2015-2016. Myself and a few others had probably larger expectations for this team a year ago, and now that I think about that perspective in hindsight, they probably ended the year right not much lower than their talent base.
There actually are little to no concerns with this squad, given the fact they return quite literally everyone, including all major production from a year ago. When you sport an outside-inside skill combo like DJ Balentine and Edg Mock – e – VICIOUS (Mockevicius), you have a chance to be really good. Balentine will now return in his 3rd year as the go-to guy for this team, and I do mean go-to guy. Playing 36 minutes a game, and shooting less than only 12 other players in the entire country, he is Mr. Usage. The Aces motion offense features him running off a flurry of screens, where he is comfortable shooting from almost anywhere on the floor, particularly in the mid-range (363 2pt attempts a year ago at 45%). He needs to shift his shot allocation to more 3 balls and rim attacks, where he shot 40% and 75% respectively last year. On the interior VICIOUS may be the most underrated big in the country. He posted a top 50% shooting percentage, going 58% from inside the arcpaint circle, and hitting an absurd 83% of his throws (115/140 last year). To round it all off, he finished in the top 50 of all shot blockers (9% block rate with significant minutes) and ranked relatively high in rebounding. And by relatively high I mean he literally led the country in defensive boards (!!!). Finally, it’s refreshing when your top 2 scorers also don’t turn it over, Balentine & Mock posting less than 15% TO rates last year.
The other dudes are play an eerily similar role in the 5-man motion offense, with all of them being excellent screeners, cutters and finishers at the basket. Adam Wing and Duane Gibson both shot over 100 2s and less than 25 3s, proving they do their damage in the flow of the offense. The key guys however are Blake Simmonds and Mislav Brzoja, who are more comfortable stepping away from deep. Both shot just 100 3s, and hit ~ 30% of those between the two of them. As big Mock takes a more prominent scoring role this year, the spacing will be even more important in the half-court, meaning they must knock down a more efficient clip of deep balls. Finally Jaylon Brown handles primary pg duties, but does share some of this role with Gibson. Brown is much less turnover prone, but neither are real shooting threats.
Marty Simmons will also add a critical JuCo piece to this rotation with Willie Wiley. Dubbed as one of the top JuCo guys on the market, an ex-member of the St. Louis Eagles (shoutout to Brad Beal & Ben McLemore, Wiley may be in-fact the best pure athlete on this team, and could easily emerge as a 3rd or 4th scoring option, behind Balentine & Mockevicius
Bottom Line: The inside, outside punch of Balentine and big E will make this a sure fire top 5 valley team. The ceiling depends on the growth of the role players, all of whom played significant and meaningful minutes last year down the stretch. I like the Aces to be a top 4 NIT seed, and be brought up in discussions with the committee come March.
My parents are proud alums of my home state powerhouse institution, otherwise known as Missouri State. While I’ll get to their bleak outlook shortly, I thought I’d first touch on their ex-head coach, 6’6 5’6 Barry Hinson’s squad of Carbondale, Illinois. An under-the-radar fall-from-grace has seen the Salukis trickle down to the cellar of the MVC, since their “glory” days of Chris Lowery and Bruce Weber. Hinson has followed this decline of his current employer, since his days at Missouri State, where he secured the highest RPI team not to make the tourney (21 in 2006). The more well-known claim to fame of Hinson is his unique ability to use his wife as a model example for his players.
While the motives of this comparison is up for debate, what isn’t debatable is how intense Hinson is, and how hard his teams usually play on the defensive end. Unfortunately his personnel in recent years hasn’t reflected this personality, and he has fallen prey to incredibly inexperienced and undisciplined play, specifically on the offensive end. And the question marks get even bigger this year, with 5 players deciding to jump ship for other destinations, including all-freshman forward Jordan Caroline, who showed early promise as the second-leading scorer and a monster on the boards. Joining him on the road out of Carbondale are fellow froshies Deion Lavender, Chaz Glotta and KC Goodwin, along with junior Jalen Pendleton. Lavendar and Pendleton were both starters down the stretch, so I haven’t the slightest clue who will provide productivity this year, outside of lone bright spot returner Anthony Beane
Like many low-tier mid major leading scorers, Boone is a streaky scorer, with questionable shot-selection, that alienates his teammates during offensive lulls. He rarely comes off the floor and rarely distributes (30% of his teams shots), but also rarely throws it away. SIU as a team was 289th in turnovers, so Beane controlling the ball isn’t necessarily a bad thing, his decision-making just needs to improve to help his team’s efficiency. Specifically, given his above average first step and athleticism, getting the rim more and getting to the line, where he hits 82% of his attempts, is a preferred offensive outcome, than a forced 2 or 3 (45% & 33% respectively).
Bottom Line: Typical of most Hinson teams, the Salukis proved stout on the defensive glass, despite having no significant contributor over 6’7. With the departure of Caroline, it’s unclear what personnel will fill this void. The Salukis will comfortably hold down a bottom 3 spot in this league, and may be a good pick to finish in the sole top bottom spot.
6. Indiana State
You had no idea Indiana State finished 3rd in the Valley last year did you? Well I did!!! I didn’t either, but from the brief eye-test I watched last year, this squad is anchored by a stout perimeter threesome of Brenton Scott, Khristian Smith & leader Devonte Brown. It’s a good thing that all 3 of the backcourt return this year, especially when they are all the top usage dudes, with Brown entering his senior year starting at point guard. Brown backed up and watched an ex man-crush Jake Odom run a clinic at point for 2 years, playing the off the bench, lock-down defender role, before assuming the starting job last year. He is solid on both ends, and is relied upon heavily to create and stop the many lead guards the Valley has to offer, so it’s no surprise he plays close to 90% of his team minutes. His true forte is getting steals and pushing in the open court, along with Smith, Scott and Charles Bennet, whom each had a TO by committee role that contributed to a Sycamore team that turned over opponents a top 75 clip in the nation.
The concern is that Justin Gant and Jake Kitchell, the 2 starting bigs, will both graduate and leave the ‘Mores with quite literally 0 shot-blocking. Both ranked in the top 500 in the nation, but as a team ISU was 225th in the country. The Sycamores may have to extend pressure even more than less year to generate turnovers, and keep other teams away from the rim. But this maybe a blessing in disguise, and allow them to play even more to their identity, which is a guard-dominant and unselfish approach on offense, that has good spacing and allows for open looks at 3. I always like when a team ranks highly in both assists offensively and limiting 3s on the defensive side, and the ‘mores do both.
Bottom Line: If the frontline can provide any level of consistency, the Mores look to be the front of the 2nd tier of the Valley (albeit it is a major drop off to this tier in my opinion). However that is a big fat if, and TJ Bell will need to play much better in his junior campaign in an increased role. I expect the guard-play will be there, and enough shots will drop from deep for Indiana State to secure a 6th place finish in the valley.
Take a shot for meeeeee Drakeeeeee, ohhhhhhh oh oh oh ohhhhh. The Iowa Bulldogs have made the big Dance only once since 1971, only to have that invitation spoiled in an letdown, forgettable loss to Western Kentucky.
Not to worry Drake nation, you probably had the best offseason of any team in America, per the story that broke on April 24th earlier this year.
… and then all that suspense ended in early October …
Now that I’m convinced the inspiration will be courtside on a leash, I can focus on the returning talent and X’s and O’s. Head coach Ray Giacoletti said in an interview prior to the 2014-2015 season, “In year 3, we’re going to be ready.” This is year 2 of his envisioned rebuilding process, so I expect him to rotate as many of the young guys in when possible. The leader of these youngsters is sophomore Reed Timmer, who attended the alma-mater of three-man-weave co-owner Jimmy Root, so naturally we have much love.
As a freshman, Timmer immediately emerged as their go-to guy, and was reasonably efficient (102 O Rating). He wasn’t very turnover prone and is a good distributor, even playing off the ball mostly. Drake was 5th in the nation in 3point shooting last year, you’d assume the 6’1 white lefty Timmer would be the primary reason for this. But he shot almost 3 times as many 2’s as 3’s, and watching Drake you see how much he likes attacking the rim, but especially pulling up off the dribble in mid-range. The 2 primary reasons Drake posted this clip were Gary Ricks and Chris Caird, who both graduate this year and shot a combined 104/250 from deep. This leaves massive questions marks on where shooting will come from in year 2 of this re-building process. Giacoletti said when he was first hired he would focus on building from recruiting and relying very little on the transfer market. Ironically, two major contributors this year are expected to be just that, including Kale Abrahamson from Northwestern and Graham Woodard from Penn State. Woodward shot just under 40% from deep in his first year at Penn State, albeit in a small sample size and will be the primary shooting threat this year, along with rising sophomores Ore Arogundade and CJ Rivers. Arogundadae hit 14/25 from 3-land, while CJ Rivers knocked in 8/20. These 3 will need to maintain these clips with higher usage this year, if Drake wants to maintain a respectable level of efficiency offensively.
However, you could argue the strength for this team lies on the interior, as Giacoletti is developing a reputation for bringing in foreign size to the Valley. 7’0 Jacob Jensen was outstanding in his sophomore campaign a year ago, particularly on the glass and protecting the rim. His 95 O rating is a big misleading IMO, given he was 56% from the field and knocked down a respectable 71% from the stripe, while leading the dawgs in blocks and boards on both ends. Abhrahamson will play a stretch 4 role, while defending bigs on the other end, along with rising sophomore Kory Kuenstling, who is still very raw at 6’11.
The leap of Jensen and Timmer is a huge question mark for the Dawgs in 2016, but they should have steady enough perimeter shooting to support them on the offensive side. Drake should be a tough out in the Valley tournament come March, but they lack real talent and athletes on the perimeter to make a major jump this year.
Braves nation must be starting to regret its decision to fire Jim Les four years ago, especially given the noise UC Davis made last year. Over that time, the Braves have cracked the top 200 in KenPom one time (2013). Geno Ford tried to build a stretch zone defensive identity that relies on turnovers, but it simply didn’t seem to translate in to easy runouts and layups at the other end. Each of the last two seasons, the Braves have ranked in the top 50 in forcing opponents to throw it away, but have ranked 275th or lower in adjusted tempo (crawl). Given the fact that they were 346th in EFG% a year ago, perhaps getting easy buckets when at all possible may not be such a bad idea.
However, Bradley got a slam-dunk hire this offseason in Brian Wardle from Green Bay, who led a top 20 defense a year ago. His man-to-man focus will be a major shift for the few returning players, who have gotten use to life playing zone under Ford. With such high roster turnover, there is no better time than to instill a new defensive identity in Peoria.
The Braves somewhat proven defensive competency and Wardle’s proven defensive chops at Green Bay makes me feel they avoid the last place position in what will be a tough opening campaign for Wardle. He simply doesn’t have near the talent he had a year ago, but he should get immediate buy-in from his absurdly young team, 8 of which are incoming freshman.
10. Missouri State
Shoutout to my makers alma-mater, as I previously alluded to. Such a shame the dive this program has taken since the departure of Hinson. Paul Lusk had an encouraging first two years, before massively underachieving last year, thanks to some gut-wrenching injuries. The Bears featured two of the most prolific shooter/scorers in the league when Austin Ruder & Marcus Marshall both were healthy and fully engaged. Marshall took freshman of the years honors two years ago, but proceeded to quit the team this offseason, after missing much of his last year in Springfield with a leg injury. Ruder returns as the only real scoring threat, but really is only a shooting threat, and isn't capable creating for others. He took 161 3s last year (making a blah 35%), but his percentage is directly a factor of tough shot-selection because no one else on this team could score once Marshall went down.
The Bears are gutted, and have no real young talent to be excited about this year. Lusk has had to bring in some JUCO guys to fill holes and minimize the bleeding, but I doubt this team competes at all this year.