Daily Egyptian

Men’s basketball projected to finish fifth in MVC preseason poll

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Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

By Nathan Dodd

For the second season in a row, the SIU men’s basketball team is selected to place fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference.

The Salukis surpassed expectations last year with a tie for third place in the conference with the University of Northern Iowa.

In the past five seasons, Wichita State University sat atop the MVC standings. With the WSU Shockers moving on to the American Athletic Conference, the door to a Valley championship is wide open.

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The poll ranking the projected finishing order of the 10 MVC teams is voted on by coaches, media and league sports information directors.

The final results for the 2017-18 preseason poll are as followed:

1st – Missouri State University (381 points)

The Bears are the overwhelming favorite to top the MVC charts in 2017, receiving 30 out of 40 first-place votes.

MSU brings elite talent with senior forward Alize Johnson, who scored a unanimous decision as MVC’s Preseason Player of the Year. He was also selected to the All-MVC First Team in 2016-17.

When his career ends, the six-foot-nine-inch senior is projected as a second-round draft selection in the 2018 NBA Draft by ESPN.

Missouri State returns three starters from last year’s club to complement Johnson’s 14.8 points per game and 10.6 rebounds per game from 2016-17.

This preseason’s first-place selection represents the first time the Bears have earned the honor.

2nd – University of Northern Iowa (337 points)

Head coach Ben Jacobson’s Panthers never seem to be out of contention in the MVC and this season is no exception.

Nothern Iowa is the only team in the conference to receive multiple first-place votes (eight) outside of Missouri State.

UNI carried a disappointing 14-16 overall record in 2016 but found redemption in conference play, finishing 9-9 in a third-place tie with SIU.

The Panthers have a strong core of players centered around senior forwards Bennett Koch and Klint Carlson. Koch earned a selection to the MVC Preseason First Team while Carlson received Second Team honors.

The scoring and rebounding combination of Koch and Carlson will help set the tone for the Panthers, making them a dangerous opponent once again in the MVC.

3rd – Loyola University (321 points)

No longer the newbie in the MVC — thanks to the addition of Valparaiso — the Ramblers are projected to rank ahead of their fifth-place finish from 2016.

Despite losing Loyola-great Milton Doyle to graduation, head coach Porter Moser has the luxury of returning his remaining four starters from last season.

Two of Moser’s starters — senior guard/forward Donte Ingram and senior forward Aundre Jackson — are selections of the MVC Preseason First Team.

In 2016, Ingram was a Third Team All-MVC honoree as well as a member of the MVC Most Improved Team with his 13.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

Jackson made history in 2016-17 when he became the first rambler to ever win the MVC Sixth Man of the Year. The six-foot-five-inch forward also earned recognition as part of the MVC All-Newcomer Team and was voted by media members to the MVC All-Bench Team.

While only receiving one first-place vote, the improving Ramblers are poised to make some noise in the Valley this season.

4th – Illinois State University (256 points)

The Redbirds tied Wichita last season with a 17-1 record in MVC play and ultimately took their impressive run into the second round of the NIT Tournament.

ISU lost four of its five starters from last year. The most notable departure for coach Dan Muller’s team is 2016-17 Larry Bird Player of the Year and MVC Defensive Player of the Year, point guard Paris Lee.

Despite losing four starters, the Redbirds still received a first-place vote in the polls thanks to junior forward Phil Fayne running the show for Illinois State.

Named MVC Preseason First Team, Fayne comes off a sophomore season in which he averaged 9.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, earning him a selection to the MVC All-Newcomer Team.

With a much different looking squad this season, the rest of the MVC looks to change their recent misfortunes against the Redbirds.

5th – Southern Illinois University (226 points)

Head coach Barry Hinson’s squad turned a fifth-place preseason rank into a third-place finish in 2016-17.

Voters clearly put a lot of emphasis on the loss of floor leaders Sean O’Brien and Mike Rodriguez to bump the Salukis down to the middle of the pack.

SIU brings two advantages to competition this season: size and experience.

Transfers such as junior guard Marcus Bartley and junior center Kavion Pippen help the Salukis fill the void left by their departed seniors from last year.

Hinson and his staff are encouraged that three-point specialist Tyler Smithpeters is returning to the squad as a fifth-year senior to help improve the team’s Valley-worst three-point percentage from 2016-17.

Senior forward Thik Bol received MVC Preseason Second Team honors and looks to add offensive skill to his already impressive defensive abilities.

The Salukis have a reputation of finishing above their expectations and hope to continue the trend in 2017-18.

6th – Valparaiso University (216 points)

The Crusaders have not missed postseason play since the 2009-10 season. Voters seem to think that their streak will end in their first season as members of the Valley.

Valpo claimed the Horizon League regular season title in five of the last six seasons.

Head coach Matt Lottich enters his second season at the helm of the Crusaders with a young roster. The team only features four upperclassmen in 2017-18, including senior guard Tevonn Walker.

Walker returns for his senior season after withdrawing his name from the 2017 NBA Draft. He was selected as a member of the Horizon League All-Defensive Team and averaged 11.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.

The Crusaders hope to prove voters wrong in 2017-18 and compete in the postseason as a representative of the MVC.

7th – Bradley University (182 points)

Voters expect the Braves to finish in the same position as last season.

Bradley continues to mature and compile valuable experience after not featuring a senior on the 2016-17 roster.

The team’s leading scorer, sophomore guard Darrell Brown, led the Braves in scoring last year as a freshman with 12.6 points per game. The impressive offensive effort earned Brown a spot on the MVC All-Freshman Team.

There is still work for the Braves to do to be considered a serious contender in the Valley. However, head coach Brian Wardle has done significant work in rebuilding the Bradley basketball program and can lead his team to overachieve expectations this season.

8th – Indiana State University (116 points)

Indiana State is more than likely to continue working on rebuilding a program that consists of a predominantly young squad.

The Sycamores, under the direction of head coach Greg Lansing, have the luxury of dressing three seniors and two juniors to help mold their young roster.

Senior guard Brenton Scoot is the focal point of the 2017-18 INS team after a junior year that earned him All-MVC Third Team honors. Scott ranked second in the Valley in scoring last season with 15.9 points per game. This year, Scott was voted to the MVC Preseason First Team.

The Sycamores look to remain competitive in the MVC but do not offer much reason to believe that they will not be a bottom-half team.

9th – University of Evansville (88 points)

Much like the other teams ranked towards the bottom of the conference, the Purple Aces continue to rebuild the program in hopes of regaining their former glory.

A positive that Evansville has going is it has two more years of eligibility from standout junior guard Ryan Taylor.

Taylor’s 14.1 points per game last season was second on the team and ranked seventh in the MVC. Taylor’s scoring abilities earned him recognition as an MVC Preseason Second Team member.

Head coach Marty Simmons can never be underestimated as his squads regularly compete and play hard.

Case in point: After losing the school’s all-time leading scorer D.J. Balentine, as well as all-time rebounder Egidijus Mockevicius before the start of the 2016-17 season, the Aces found themselves only three games behind a third-place finish after winning six of their final nine games.

10th – Drake University (79 points)

In March, the Bulldogs named Niko Medved as the new coach of Drake basketball. Medved was hired in large part due to his ability to build a successful program at Furman University.

Drake only won five conference games last season despite averaging a lofty 71.2 points per game. The Bulldogs also surpassed the 100-point mark in a game twice last season.

Returning for his senior season is sharp-shooting guard Reed Timmer. Timmer was voted to the MVC Preseason First Team after receiving Third Team honors from his 15.3 points per game in 2016-17.

Timmer and Medved look to help the Bulldogs avoid the cellar in the MVC for the second straight season.

Sports reporter Nathan Dodd can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @NathanMDodd.

To stay up to date with all your SIU sports news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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