Generally, I wouldn’t put the Missouri Valley in as a power conference but this year they have a chance to place at least two teams into the Big Dance. Similarly, the Atlantic 10 could have another multiple bid season. The other “Big Six” conferences we know about. Today, I’ll tell you who’s in, who has a shot and who’s out in the Missouri Valley Conference and the A-10.
Missouri Valley —Predicted Order of Finish
1. Northern Iowa
3. Southern Illinois
4. Illinois State
5. Wichita State
6. Indiana State
9. Missouri State
1. Northern Iowa Panthers—With everyone back from last year’s NCAA team, you have to figure that the Panthers are strong favourites to repeat in the Valley. Seven-footer Jordan Eglseder and forward Adam Koch man the strong frontline while sophomore Johnny Moran looks to build off of a solid rookie season. They will be the team to beat and quite possibly an eight or nine seed come March.
2. Creighton—Almost like a “gimme” pick that the Blue Jays will contend. Coach Dana Altman has a talented cast of guards in Cavel Witter, Kaleb Korver and P’Allen Stinnett, a candidate for Valley player of the year. The frontcourt is anchored by Kenny Lawson Jr., a 6'9" junior who shoots a high percentage from the field. Depth is always key for the Jays and this will get tested right off the hop with a tilt at Dayton to open the season.
3. Southern Illinois Salukis—Time for Chris Lowery to earn his money, or so critics seem to think. The Salukis have had two very bad years in a row and the Carbondale faithful won’t tolerate another. There is hope for this year, however. Kevin Dillard emerged as a fine shooter and playmaker as a freshman, despite having to play way too many minutes. Anthony Booker will hopefully get to show why he was one the highest recruits ever to land in the Valley, after a lost freshman season. Gene Teague is an intriguing player as well. At 6'9", 290lbs., he could be the low block player SI needs. He redshirted last year at South Florida (Big East) before landing in Carbondale. Also, much needed experience for the backcourt arrives in Tony Freeman, Iowa’s leading scorer two years ago before transferring. They need to start fast and hope to gain momentum and confidence or it could be another long season.
4. Illinois State—Many have them challenging for the league crown but I can’t see it. Osiris Eldridge may be the best player in the Valley but he needs some help.
5. Wichita State—This is a team that could move up quickly. A very young team last year now has some experience to go along with a pretty solid finish to last season. The Shockers could easily be the surprise (or maybe not so surprising) team in the league.
6. Indiana State—Another team that has some potential to surprise. Still, I don’t like their overall depth compared to some others. Jake Kelly (transfer from Iowa) is not eligible until next season.
7. Bradley Braves—Nobody does more with Les (Coach Jim Les, that is—sorry, couldn’t resist). The Braves will have some difficulty at the beginning of the season but much like most Les teams will be tough by the end of the season. Sam Maniscalco is a pretty solid point man, but the Braves need some work beyond that.
8. Drake—Rebuilding continues. They will be decent at home but won’t contend for the title.
9. Missouri State—The good news? Many freshmen and sophomores will get heavy minutes for Coach Cuonzo Martin. The bad news? Many freshmen and sophomores will get heavy minutes for Coach Cuonzo Martin. The Bears should be better than last season but are at least a year from competing in the top half of the conference.
10. Evansville—Shy Ely (one of the most underrated names in college hoops), leading scorer in the MVC last year is gone and Marty Simmons is locked in with as many as 9 freshmen and sophomores. After going 8-10 in conference last year, the Aces could step back sharply this year.
Atlantic 10 —Predicted Order of Finish
6. Rhode Island
8. St. Joseph’s
11. St. Louis
12. George Washington
13. St. Bonaventure
1. Dayton Flyers—Four starters return from a 27-8 team that made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament last year, including guards London Warren and Marcus Johnson and forward Chris Wright. Brian Gregory has plenty of depth and likes to use it. Nine players averaged ten or more minutes last year. The Flyers are looking to get out of the gate quick with a home win against Creighton. The A-10 pick.
2. Richmond Spiders—In addition to returning every regular but one from last year’s team, the Spiders regain the services of Dan Geriot, an all-Conference performer who sat out last season with a knee injury. Assuming he comes back at 100 percent, Richmond will be a very dangerous team that will win those close games that haunted them last season. David Gonzalvez and Kevin Anderson are a very dangerous duo in the backcourt.
3. Xavier Musketeers—Despite the departure of head coach Sean Miller, the early departure of Derrick Brown and only two starters returning, Xavier will challenge for the A-10 crown. Jason Love is the team’s top returning scorer (seven ppg) but he will have help from caustic seven-footer Kenny Frease, who played valuable minutes last year as a freshman. Add transfer Jordan Crawford into the mix and the Musketeers should contend.
4. Lasalle Explorers—This may depend entirely on how much Aaric Murray can contribute right away. With four senior starters returning, Lasalle has a very good chance to improve on their fifth place finish from last year. Murray was a highly touted recruit who, because of the experience surrounding him, might not feel the pressure to carry the team but to contribute. Or, he could be a bust. The Explorers need to do it this year.
5. Temple Owls—I’m never counting them out. Consecutive A-10 tournament wins has convinced me. Returnees Lavoy Allen and Ryan Brooks will provide scoring and leadership for Fran Dunphy’s squad. This team could be anywhere from first to seventh in this tough conference but another upper echelon finish may be in the cards.
6. Rhode Island Rams—Replacing your top scorer is never easy. The Rams slide could be even greater after a solid 11-5 conference record last year.
7. Duquesne Dukes—A season removed from the A-10 tournament final and Ron Everhart is still looking up. Off court problems have plagued this program but he seems to be able to keep it going. I wish I could be more optimistic about their chances this year because I like the way his teams play.
8. St. Joseph’s Hawks—This might be a generous pick unless Phil Martelli has done some serious recruiting. Ahman Nivins is gone and so is any presence they had in the post.
9. Massachusetts Minutemen—Could be the surprise of the A-10. Derek Kellogg’s recruiting class was the best in the A-10 and this is a very young team. If not this year, look out for this team in 2010.
10—14 The Rest—Until something remarkable happens, George Washington, Fordham, St. Louis and St. Bonaventure are resigned to be in the bottom tier of this conference. Charlotte is in rebuilding mode but hasn’t had much success lately either. Rick Majerus is having difficulty recruiting and his best two players from last year are gone.