The Sycamores men’s basketball team opens up its season at Dayton this Saturday, which will hopefully be the start of improving from last season’s 15-16 overall record, 7-11 in Missouri Valley Conference play.
The Sycamores played excellent at the Hulman Center, with a 9-5 record, however on the road they were 4-9. A preseason poll has Indiana State ranked sixth in the conference after finishing eighth last season. Here’s a look at how conference foes match up against Indiana State.
The Missouri Valley Conference features many great teams. ISU Head Coach Greg Lansing acknowledged the tough competition ISU has within the conference. “The other teams are very balanced. It’s a great league.” Knowing how they finished last season, and the road they face ahead, coach Lansing set his expectations for the team. “To be a good team that gets better every day, and at the end of the year, has a chance to compete for a conference championship, and a tournament championship.”
The Drake Bulldogs were the best team in the conference last season. They had a 12-6 conference record, and a 24-10 overall record. Furthermore, they were 2-0 against the Sycamores. Drake Head Coach Darian DeVries found success in his first season with the team. He led the team to a win against Illinois State in the first round of the MVC tournament, but lost to sixth-seeded University of Northern Illinois the next round. Furthermore, they had a postseason appearance in the College Insider Tournament. Moreover, the Bulldogs have new players joining the team, sophomore transfer guard Roman Penn and transfer junior guard Jonah Jackson. Both are considered to be impactful players.
Loyola Chicago Ramblers had a 12-6 conference record last season as well, a special season. A trip to the final four captivated the nation. Since then, they’ve lost some key players such as Marques Townes and Clayton Custer. However, multiple new players are coming in. Freshman guard Marquise Kennedy, and three transfers in Tate Hall, Jalon Pipkins and Keith Clemons, are all expected to be immediate contributors. The Ramblers were ranked fourth in the MVC preseason poll.
A third place finish for the Southern Illinois Salukis last season has the team looking ahead to a bright future. New Head Coach Bryan Mullins is the youngest head coach in the conference. However, this is a team that has experienced major changes. Six seniors graduated, including their top three scorers. Two key players return: guards Aaron Cook and Eric McGill. Barret Benson and Sekou Dembele are two new faces that are going to be huge contributors in the Salukis frontcourt. The team has faced major changes, and were ranked last in the MVC preseason poll.
Last season, Missouri State Head Coach Dana Ford had the honors of being the youngest head coach in the conference. He’s one of the reasons this team is going to be great. He has a great basketball mind, and set his expectations high for his team. Another reason to be excited is senior Tulio Da Silva, a 6-8 forward. He has the Bears gaining some respect as the team was selected No. 1 in the MVC preseason poll.
Bradley Braves quietly had a solid season. They gave Michigan State a tough time in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Their upset bid fell short, but there is plenty to build on. Expectations are higher, and the team had a 20-15 record last season. Junior forward Elijah Childs returns after winning MVC Tournament Most Outstanding Player, and will be the leader of the Braves. After a successful season last year, the Braves have been ranked second in the MVC preseason poll.
Similar to Bradley, both Illinois State and Northern Iowa had 9-9 conference records. Illinois State had a letdown season after projecting to finish high in the standings. Additionally, they lost in the quarterfinals to Drake in the State Farm MVC Tournament. It won’t get any easier for the Redbirds as almost the entire roster is new. They lost standouts Phil Fayne and Milik Yarbrough. The only two returning starters are senior guard Zach Copeland and junior guard Matt Chastain. The Redbirds were selected to finish seventh in the MVC.
On the other hand, the Northern Iowa Panthers are looking to turn it up. They lost the Arch Madness title game, but are led by sophomore guard A.J. Green, who exploded onto the scene last year as a freshman. The team features many players who are returning, so the depth of the team is there. That’s one of the reasons the team was selected third in the MVC preseason poll.
After finishing in the bottom of the conference standings, that’s where Valparaiso and Evansville were ranked again. The Valparaiso Crusaders have the talent to compete as evidence of their beat down of ISU last year in the opening round of the State Farm MVC Tournament. They lost some key contributors, but still have sophomore guard Javon Freeman-Liberty and senior Ryan Fazekas. They are the leaders of the team.
The Evansville Aces were very unsuccessful last season (5-13 conference record), but Head Coach Walter McCarty sees plenty of reasons for optimism. One of those reasons is senior guard K.J. Riley, who was the team’s leading scorer with 13.6 points per game. Additionally, the Aces have a deeper team this year with an infusion of talent in new players such as junior guards Sam Cunliffe and Artur Labinowicz, and sophomore forward DeAndre Williams.