Monday, October 29, 2012 | Men's Basketball
Creighton Picked to Win MVC Basketball Title
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Doug McDermott, Creighton

Creighton has been tabbed as the favorite to win the Missouri Valley Conference men's basketball title in 2012-13. The Bluejays, slated as high as No. 10 nationally in pre-season polls, received 398 of a possible 400 points (38 of 40 first-place votes) in a poll of league coaches, sports information directors and media.

Excerpts (PDFs of the preview and review) from the league's 2012-13 yearbook are available at the right.

Illinois State received the remaining two first-place tallies and finished second in the poll, receiving 327 total points to edge UNI (316). The defending regular-season champ Wichita State placed fourth in the pre-season picks with 298 total points, while Evansville -- one of five teams that tied for third place in the 2011-12 conference race -- rounds out the upper division with 240 points and a fifth-place slot in the poll.

Drake is picked sixth with 184 points, and the Bulldogs are followed by Indiana State (165), Missouri State (122), Bradley (84) and Southern Illinois (66).

Pollsters have accurately predicted the league’s regular-season champ only 12 times out of 28 since 1985-86, but the pre-season favorite Bluejays can take solace in that 25 of those 28 predicted champs have gone on to post-season play, with 17 of those 25 playing in the NCAAs.

The Bluejays, meanwhile, have been picked to win the MVC eight previous times since 1989-90, and in those years, they won the league three times and finished second five times.

No.  Team (First-Place Votes)  Points
 1. Creighton (38)  398
 2.  Illinois State (2)  327
 3.  UNI  316
 4.  Wichita State  298
 5.  Evansville  240
 6.  Drake  184
 7.  Indiana State  165
 8.  Missouri State  122
 9.  Bradley   84
10.  Southern Illinois   66


Doug McDermott of Creighton, meanwhile, heads a list of nine players who received pre-season recognition by the conference. McDermott, the reigning Larry Bird Player of the Year and a first-team All-American, was voted preseason Player of the Year by the voters. He is joined on the pre-season first-team unit by Colt Ryan of Evansville; Jackie Carmichael of Illinois State; Jake Odum of Indiana State; and Ben Simons of Drake.

Honorable-mention selections include Gregory Echenique of Creighton; Anthony James of UNI; Carl Hall of Wichita State; and Seth Tuttle of UNI.

McDermott - a consensus pre-season All-American this year, and the lone returning first-team All-American from 2011-12 - was rated the No. 2 "big man" by CBSSports.com; while Carmichael also made the list, clocking in at No. 30. Odum is rated the nation's No. 49 point guard by CBSSports.com

Preseason All-Conference
Doug McDermott, Creighton (Pre-Season Player of the Year)
Colt Ryan, Evansville
Jackie Carmichael, Illinois State
Jake Odum, Indiana State
Ben Simons, Drake

Honorable Mention
Gregory Echenique, Creighton
Anthony James, UNI
Carl Hall, Wichita State
Seth Tuttle, UNI

PREVIEW
Eight of ten Valley teams return the majority of their starting fives from last season with Indiana State and Wichita State being the exceptions. A total of 41 returning players started 10 or more games in 2011-12, and the league returns 33 projected starters.

Last season was full of several firsts and a number of positive events that hadn’t happened for the league in quite some time.

Creighton and Wichita State snapped a four-year drought of only one NCAA Tournament team as both represented the league in the Big Dance. For the Bluejays, it marked their first NCAA bid since 2007, while Wichita State won the MVC’s regular-season title, and the Shockers reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since winning the league regular-season title in 2006.

Illinois State made its fourth NIT Tournament trip in the past five years, while UNI claimed its first-ever NIT bid -- both teams won their first-round games.  Those four were joined by Drake, Evansville, and Indiana State in the post-season, giving the MVC seven post-season bids for just the second time in league history. The Valley has had four or more post-season bids in the same season 18 times, including each of the last nine years.

In 2011-12, the MVC was 82-51 in non-conference play (2-6 vs. the Top 25, and 13-16 against BCS schools), and only six of the 29 games against the BCS leagues were at home (the MVC was 4-2 in those.)

BRADLEY
Bradley will be looking to improve upon last year’s 7-25 record. Increased experience should prove helpful as the Braves return four of last year’s five starters and seven lettermen overall. Geno Ford enters his second year at the helm for the Braves.  Individually, the Braves will look to senior Dyricus Simms-Edwards, junior Walt Lemon, Jr., and sixth year senior Will Egolf for leadership. Simms-Edwards is the teams’s active career scoring leader, and Lemon, Jr. is the top returning scorer from last year. Egolf was a key contributor on the 2010-11 squad, but missed last season with the second torn ACL of his playing career.

CREIGHTON
After last year’s run into the third round of the NCAA Tournament, Creighton looks to be the top team in the Missouri Valley Conference heading into the 2012-13 season. Boasting a roster that returns four of five starters and 10 letterwinners, the Bluejays have both depth and star power. Greg McDermott returns for his third season as the Jays’ coach with a 52-22 record in his tenure.  The team showcases one of the most dynamic father-son duos in all of sports. Doug McDermott enters the season as a bona fide star. As a preseason All-American, McDermott is tasked with the gargantuan feat of improving upon last year’s campaign, which saw him shoot a mind-boggling 63.3 percent on 2-point attempts and 48.6 percent on 3-pointers. Inevitably, the Jays will be the centerpiece of national attention for the Missouri Valley Conference.

DRAKE
The Bulldogs return as one of five teams that finished tied for third last season in the MVC with a 9-9 conference record. Drake brings back four of five starters and five lettermen, and hope to make a push towards the top of the conference. Coach Mark Phelps has seen unprecedented success as Drake’s head coach, winning more games in his first four seasons than any coach in school history in that time span. The Bulldogs will continue to look to senior forward Ben Simons on the floor as he enters 2012-13 as the MVC’s third-leading scorer and member of last year’s All-MVC Second Team.

EVANSVILLE
Evansville has helped perpetuate the Valley’s ventures into the post-season in three of the past four years, and the Purple Aces hope to continue this trend in 2012-13. A large part of the Aces’ success going forward will depend on the performance of senior Colt Ryan. Having finished as the No. 11 scorer in the nation, Ryan will certainly be a focal point of opponents as he looks to earn All-MVC First Team honors yet again.  Ryan will be aided by fellow seniors Troy Taylor, Lewis Jones and Ned Cox and 2011-12 starter Ryan Sawvell. With 11 returning letterwinners comprising the majority of an experienced squad, Evansville’s outlook is bright.

ILLINOIS STATE
So, so close. The Redbirds nearly became the Valley’s third NCAA Tournament representative last season after a heartbreaking overtime loss to Creighton in last year’s MVC Tournament Championship. Last year’s late season push should certainly help bolster Illinois State’s hopes for a successful 2012-13 campaign.  Four of five starters return including All-MVC Second Team star Jackie Carmichael. New coach and Illinois State alumnus Dan Muller will look to lead the Redbirds into this season with an NCAA Tournament trip as the ultimate goal.

INDIANA STATE
The Sycamores face the always difficult task of replacing four starters. Coming off an 18-15 season, the Sycamores will rely on Coach Greg Lansing to move the team in a positive direction. The Trees represented the MVC in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament for the first time last year, losing in the first round. Junior guard Jake Odum returns as the Sycamores’ only starter from last year’s team. He will be tasked with following up on his All-MVC Second Team worthy performance from last season.

MISSOURI STATE
Rebuilding is never easy, especially when a projected starter (Junior Jarmar Gulley) tears an ACL. But, such is the situation facing second-year Head Coach Paul Lusk. After the departure of 2010-11 Larry Bird Player of the Year Kyle Weems and three other starters, Missouri State’s make-up is all of a sudden quite youthful. Guard Anthony Downing feels the call to leadership as the lone senior on the team. The Bears do have experience, however, as Nathan Scheer and Keith Pickens -- both part-time starters in the past -- return for 2012-13.

NORTHERN IOWA
The Panthers look to be one of the Valley’s biggest movers in 2012-13. As one of the five MVC teams that tied for third last year, UNI is perhaps best equipped to take the next step up into the elite of the conference hierarchy. UNI returns four of five starters including MVC Freshman of the Year Seth Tuttle, MVC All-Freshman team selection Deon Mitchell, and MVC Honorable-Mention selection Anthony James. With a powerful combination of youth and experience present in the starting five, UNI could challenge again for the MVC crown.

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS
The Salukis will aim to continue their trek back to the top of the MVC as they continue to rebuild during the 2012-13 season. The process may well be expedited thanks to the influence of new Head Coach Barry Hinson. Hinson has had tremendous success as a Valley coach at Missouri State, and hopes to continue the trend in his new locale. After an 8-23 season, four returning starters will be determined to improve the Salukis’ standing. None of the four averaged double figures last year in any significant category, and if SIU is to succeed, Dantiel Daniels, Jeff Early, T.J. Lindsay, and Kendal Brown-Surles must help provide a cohesive core.

WICHITA STATE
The tallest challenge for the Shockers this year might just be putting last season in the past. Coming off of a 2011-12 crusade that saw Wichita State win 27 games, a new core must establish their presence if the Shockers are to enjoy continued success. The Shockers, in fact, have won 56 games over the past two seasons -- the second-best two-year stretch in MVC history.  Although the majority of starters in this year’s Shockers lineup will be new to the role, two returning seniors -- Carl Hall and Demetric Williams -- will help ease the transition. Hall and Williams both averaged over 20 minutes per game last season, while Hall also averaged 8.5 points per game and 5.0 rebounds per game. And Hall was the league’s Newcomer of the Year. Wichita State will aim to fuse senior leadership with new talent in hopes of making a return to the Dance.