2020-21 Missouri Valley Basketball Preview

LWOS continues its conference previews with the 2020-21 Missouri Valley Basketball Preview. The MVC is consistently one of the best mid-major conferences in college basketball. Northern Iowa had a fantastic season on its way to a regular-season title in 2019-20.  However, the Panthers slipped up in the conference tournament and would have been squarely on the bubble on Selection Sunday. UNI will be in a great position to defend their crown, but Loyola-Chicago will have something to say about that. The Ramblers will be dangerous in their own right this season.  The Missouri Valley has a chance at getting two teams into the Big Dance this season.

2020-21 Missouri Valley Basketball Preview

10. Illinois State Redbirds

Key Returners: D.J. Horne, Antonio Reeves

Key Losses: Zach Copeland, Jaycee Hillsman

Key Newcomers: Josiah Strong (JUCO), Dusan Mahorcic (JUCO), Alex Kotov (JUCO)

Illinois State had a fairly disappointing 2019-20 season, finishing in ninth place. The Redbirds may not get much better this season, with a young roster on its hands. Keith Fisher opted out of the season, hurting the team even more. Illinois State will end up using this season to focus on the future, which seems bright with players like Horne and Reeves around. Patience is key for Redbird fans.

9. Evansville Purple Aces

Key Returners: None

Key Losses: Deandre Williams, K.J. Riley

Key Newcomers: Jax Levitch (UNC Asheville), Emmette Page (JUCO), Iyen Enaruna (JUCO)

Evansville was easily one of the strangest stories from last season. The Purple Aces shocked the world when they upset top-ranked Kentucky early in the season. However, things derailed after former coach Walter McCarty was released from his duties, with the team going winless in league play. There is enough talent back to see some improvement, but Cunliffe opting out means the team will have to find a go-to guy. The absence of in-season distractions should get Evansville back on track, though that may just translate to finishing out of the basement.

8. Missouri State Bears

Key Returners: Gaige Prim, Isiaih Mosley

Key Losses: Keandre Cook, Tulio Da Silva, Tyrik Dixon

Key Newcomers: Demarcus Sharp (JUCO), Keaton Hervey (JUCO), Nic Tata (JUCO)

Missouri State underwhelmed last season, wasting an opportunity with a talented roster. Now, the Bears will have to figure things out with the roster turnover that has taken place. Prim is the starting point for this team, as he has a commanding presence in the post. The hope is that the incoming junior college transfers will join him in helping with veteran leadership. Otherwise, this team is young and rebuilding. Missouri State’s goal should be to remain competitive for 40 minutes each game.

7. Drake Bulldogs

Key Returners: Roman Penn, D.J. Wilkins, Garrett Sturtz

Key Losses: Liam Robbins, Anthony Murphy

Key Newcomers: ShanQuan Hemphill (Green Bay), Darnell Brodie (Seton Hall)

Drake took a big hit when Liam Robbins decided to transfer to Minnesota. He was primed to have the Bulldogs potentially in the mix for a league title. Still, the program has found a way to surprise over the last few seasons. In order for that to happen this year, the backcourt will have to lead the charge. Wilkins and Sturtz will be expected to step up even more than they have before. Drake will not roll over, but they are also clearly a step or two behind the best the league has to offer.

6. Southern Illinois Salukis

Key Returners: Marcus Domask, Lance Jones

Key Losses: Aaron Cook, Eric McGill, Barret Benson

Key Newcomers: Jakolby Long (Southern Utah), Anthony D’Avanzo (D-II), J.D. Muila (JUCO)

Southern Illinois was the feel-good story of the league last season. Picked to finish in last place, the Salukis surprised everyone by ending up in fifth place. Last year’s team had to rely heavily on newcomers, and that group flashed the talent that they have. Domask was the biggest standout, capturing both the newcomer and freshman of the year awards. He will be a candidate for player of the year before his time is done with the program. There is still room to improve, but Southern Illinois’ stock is rising fast.

5. Valparaiso Crusaders

Key Returners: Donovan Clay, Mileek McMillan, Daniel Sackey

Key Losses: Javon Freeman-Liberty, Ryan Fazekas, John Kiser

Key Newcomers: Goodnews Kpegeol (JUCO)

Valparaiso will not get the chance to find out how good they could have been with Freeman-Liberty, as he transferred to DePaul. However, there is still plenty of talent left. The Crusaders are heavily experienced in the backcourt, even with Freeman-Liberty’s departure. Clay was a standout freshman last season, and he and McMillan will anchor the paint. The Crusaders should be able to finish in the top half of the league and give the top dogs a run for their money.

4. Indiana State Sycamores

Key Returners: Tyreke Key, Jake Laravia, Tre Williams

Key Losses: Jordan Barnes, Christian Williams

Key Newcomers: T.J. Howard (Towson), Randy Miller Jr. (North Carolina Central), Kailex Stephens (JUCO)

Indiana State finished strong last season, giving everyone a preview of what they are capable of entering 2020-21. Most of the roster returns for a squad that finished in third place last season. Key is, well, the key for this team. He was a first-team selection after averaging 15.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last season. He will have his name thrown around for player of the year. Meanwhile, Laravia showed he is a playmaker in his own right. The Sycamores are a sleeper this season.

3. Bradley Braves

Key Returners: Elijah Childs, Ja’Shon Henry, Danya Kingsby

Key Losses: Darrell Brown, Nate Kennell, Koch Bar

Key Newcomers: Kevin McAdoo (Eastern Michigan), Terry Nolan Jr. (George Washington), Sean East (Massachusetts)

Brian Wardle has been building Bradley into a force to be reckoned with in the Missouri Valley. He has led the Braves to two straight conference tournament titles, getting denied a game in the NCAA Tournament this past season due to the pandemic. The losses of Brown and Kennell hurt the backcourt, but the trio of transfers are expected to fill those holes. Bradley always finds a way to be there at the end, and this season will be no different.

2. Northern Iowa Panthers

Key Returners: A.J. Green, Trae Berhow, Austin Phyfe

Key Losses: Isaiah Brown, Spencer Haldeman

Key Newcomers: None

Northern Iowa was one of the most dangerous mid-major teams in the country last season. There is no reason to believe that will change this season. Green is the reigning player of the year, averaging 19.7 points and three assists per game last season. He has a great chance of repeating that honor. The one thing that also does not change with this team is the lack of depth behind the mainly six-man rotation. However, that did not stop this group last season. Expect the Panthers to push for an NCAA berth, whether automatic or at-large.

1. Loyola-Chicago Ramblers

Key Returners: Cameron Krutwig, Tate Hall, Keith Clemons

Key Losses: None

Key Newcomers: None

Loyola-Chicago gets a slight edge as the preseason favorites here, in large part to their returning cast as well. Krutwig will look to put his last stamp on the program after an illustrious four-year career. The Ramblers still have two players, including Krutwig, left from their Final Four run. That kind of experience will help Loyola-Chicago push through any potential adversity they face. Cinderella’s slipper may find its way back to the Windy City this season, though this team will be in a battle with Northern Iowa all season for the conference title.

2020-21 Missouri Valley Basketball Preview Award Projections

Player of the Year: Cameron Krutwig, Loyola-Chicago

This is one honor that seems to keep eluding Krutwig during his time in the league. He averaged 15.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game last season on his way to earning first-team recognition. Krutwig is a sound big man who can facilitate the offense from the paint. He should finally breakthrough here and remind the MVC one more time why he is such a great player.

Defensive Player of the Year: Lucas Williamson, Loyola-Chicago

Lucas Williamson landed on the league’s all-defensive team last season. He earned that honor by averaging 1.5 steals per game while also finishing in the top five in the league in defensive rating and defensive win shares. However, an increase in all of those categories means he would be able to win the MVC’s top defensive award.

Freshman of the Year: Darius Hannah, Bradley

As if the Braves were not talented enough, Darius Hannah comes in as a solid recruit. He should see time in the rotation down low immediately. He was a standout at the Milwaukee Academy of Science as a senior, averaging 17.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 3.9 blocks per game. Hannah will be tested by the quality bigs the league has to offer, but he will be up for the challenge.

Newcomer of the Year: Randy Miller Jr., Indiana State

Miller had an outstanding junior campaign at North Carolina Central and was on his way to doing the same as senior before a foot injury sidelined him for the rest of the season last December. He is a guard with NCAA Tournament experience that will help the Sycamores right away. If he can shoot close to 37.3 percent from behind the arc and average 13.5 points per game like he did during his career at NCCU, he can easily be the newcomer of the year.

Sixth-Man of the Year: Marquise Kennedy, Loyola-Chicago

Marquise Kennedy is looking to capture this award for the second-straight season. He averaged 9.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.2 steals last season for the Ramblers as their first option off the bench. He also shot just over 51 percent from the field. Kennedy is effective at spelling the starters because he is an efficient shooter and can be relied upon to score when needed.

Coach of the Year: Porter Moser, Loyola-Chicago

Moser is looking to take home his second career MVC coach of the year honor. The other came during the Ramblers’ run to the Final Four. He is responsible for the resurgence of this program and getting them nationally recognized. Moser has a team that will be on the national radar again this season, and if they play to their capabilities, he can be the coach of the year once more.

All-Conference First-Team Projection: A.J. Green (Northern Iowa), Tyreke Key (Indiana State), Austin Phyfe (Northern Iowa), Marcus Domask (Southern Illinois), Cameron Krutwig (Loyola-Chicago)

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