The Shockers finished first in the MVC with a 16-2 conference record. Wichita State was especially successful at home, compiling a 15-1 record at Charles Koch Arena. The university relied on its stellar defense last year to grab hold of the MVC regular season title, averaging a 39.3 percent defensive field goal percentage. The Shockers had the largest scoring margin in the conference at 14.7 and led the conference in rebounding with an average 38 per game. However, the Shockers lost major leadership and production from seniors Joe Ragland and Garrett Stults. Witchita State will need 6-foot-6 freshman Zach Bush and 6-foot-7 freshman Derail Green to fill the rebounding void in the minutes they are on the court.
The Bluejays scorched the MVC last year as they averaged a 50 percent field goal percentage offensively and hit 42 percent from 3-point range. Creighton’s high quality shots last year were made possible by the team’s conference-leading 17.6 assists per game. The Bluejays also protected the ball well last year as they averaged a 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio. This season, Creighton returns All-American junior Doug McDermott, who won MVC Player of the Year in the 2011-2012 season as the only sophomore to accomplish this feat.
Illinois State is one of five teams that tied for third place in the conference. The Redbirds were decisively better at home (14-3) than they were at away games (4-9). ISU was one of the better teams to shoot free throws last year at 75 percent, but the Redbirds have to pressure opposing teams into more turnovers to see a better conference finish. ISU ended last year with a -0.9 turnover margin and averaged 5.1 steals a game, which is good for eighth in the conference. The Redbirds return four seniors this year, and only one freshman is on the team. The Redbirds must use their experience and length at the guard position if they hope to remain as one of the conference’s better teams.
The Panthers saw success last year primarily because of their stellar defense. UNI led the MVC in defensive rebounding percentage at just below 75 percent. They also led the conference in scoring defense, allowing an average 61.9 points per game last year. The Panthers weren’t as good rebounding on the other end, as they finished last in offensive rebounding with an average 7.9 per game and secondto last in rebounding offense at 31.7 per game. The team could use more tenacity from its front court players to rebound on the offensive glass. The progression of sophomore Deon Mitchell, who was named to the MVC all freshman team last year, will also be a determinate for the success of the 2012 season for the Panthers.
The Bulldogs finished with an overall 18-16 record with a 9-9 conference record last year. Drake was the conference’s best perimeter defender last year as it held teams to 31 percent shooting from deep. However, they finished last in the conference in assists per game (10.3). If Drake wants to be the conference’s top dog, the team’s guards must give other players more scoring opportunities.
Notching back-to-back seasons of 16-16 after finishing 9-21 in the 2009-2010 season, the Purple Aces are the conference’s up-and-coming team. Evansville led the conference in free-throw percentage (76 percent) and was second in 3-point field goal percentage (39 percent) last year. The Purple Aces must improve defensively as they were last in both defensive field goal percentage and scoring defense, allowing 48 percent shooting from the field and 72.7 points per game.
The Missouri State Bears regressed a little last season as they won only 16 games after winning 26 in the 2010- 2011 season. Second-year coach Paul Lusk hopes to right the ship this year and improve his young team’s defensive prowess. The Bears were eighth in the MVC in blocked shots per game (2.1) last season, and they were last in steals per game (4.6).
The Sycamores finished seventh in the MVC with an 8-10 conference record, but they were 10-5 against non-conference competition. Indiana State must improve its offensive production without any senior leadership. The Sycamores were eighth in both scoring margin (-0.6) and offensive field goal percentage (49 percent).
The Braves finished last in the conference last year and were 1-12 in games outside of Peoria. Bradley was last in three offensive categories: scoring offense, scoring margin and field goal percentage. Bradley also finished last in defensive rebounds. The Braves could use production from underclassmen, and the second team coming off the bench has to score more points or this could be another long year for the Braves.