Drake, Loyola Chicago leader
Biggest offseason news for the MVC: Belmont has decided to leave the Ohio Valley and join the Missouri Valley.
It’s huge. Belmont is a top-notch mid-major program, which has won 20 or more games in five consecutive seasons. The addition rightfully makes the Missouri Valley an annual two-bid threat.
But this decision will not come until the fall of 2022.
Instead of talking about the MVC at the national level, I prefer to praise the conference for its entertainment.
For this season, the league still has 2021 NCAA tournament participants Loyola Chicago and Drake, 17-7 Missouri State and an extremely experienced team from northern Iowa.
So what are we looking for in the Missouri Valley this season?
Drake gained some notoriety in the game last season, spanning his first 15 games en route to an 18-0 record on February 6.
The Bulldogs finished as one of the nation’s most profitable teams last season against the spread (ATS).
However, the Bulldogs faltered, and their unimaginative performance in the NCAA tournament (53-52 win over Wichita State, 72-56 loss to USC) raised questions as to whether they should have been there at all.
The Bulldogs have reloaded and are stranded for the coming season, however. They are sacking the five starters from last year’s squad, including three super seniors.
Given his background, Drake is my top pick to win the MVC this season.
However, the Bulldogs didn’t just bring the group back. They have increased considerably there.
Roman Penn is back after an injury last season, and he’s set to orchestrate one of the nation’s deadliest pick-and-roll offenses.
In addition, reigning MVC Coach of the Year, Darian DeVries, has spent the offseason complimenting his surface talent with depth. That includes his son, incoming freshman and 2021 Iowa Gatorade Player of the Year, Tucker DeVries, as well as transfer from Omaha graduates and 45% 3-point shooter Ayo Akinwole.
The only major loss is Joseph Yesufu, who was the team’s regular offensive hand last year. But by bringing Penn back as the primary ball handler, they traded a bit of offensive explosiveness for a more reliable defender across the court.
Whereas the Bulldogs finished 33rd in KenPom offensive efficiency and only 101st in defensive efficiency, it’s a trade DeVries is willing to make.
Look for Drake to make his second straight appearance in the NCAA tournament this season.
Loyola is perhaps the biggest question mark entering this season. The losses of Porter Moser and Cameron Krutwig are immeasurable.
However, the Ramblers should not be overlooked. They replaced Moser with longtime assistant Drew Valentine, and Loyola also sacked four starters from last year’s historic squad.
This team will be the main threat to Drake’s MVC title hopes (although Loyola is favorite to win the conference). They could also turn the MVC into a two-candidate league for the second straight season.
While Drake is an attacking powerhouse, Loyola’s squad are built around his defensive prowess. At the end of their tournament, the Ramblers finished second in the country in KenPom defensive efficiency and allowed just 0.794 points per possession, which ranks at the 98th percentile, per Synergy.
The Ramblers are also returning their biggest defensive chunk to Lucas Williamson. The super senior was MVC’s Defensive Player of the Year last season and he gives Valentine a lot of versatility with his 6-foot-4 frame.
The question is: Can Williamson step up the offensive to make up for Krutwig’s lost offensive?
Probably not, but Loyola has no shortage of shooters. I’d keep an eye out for Ryan Schwieger – who had a double-digit average with Princeton – but I’m more intrigued by former Chris Knight from Dartmouth.
Knight owned the Ivy League paint during his two years as a starter. He can score at the station (0.952 DPI displayed, 76th percentile) and as a roll man (1.263 DPI as a P&R roll man, 85th percentile). He’s also blocked 72 shots in his 59 games during that streak.
The Ramblers are experienced, well trained and defend at a high level. If an MVC team is up to shock the college basketball world, it’s the Valentine’s Day Ramblers.
The state of Missouri has made tremendous progress in recent years.
Despite having scored between 16 and 18 wins over the past five seasons, the Bears were among KenPom’s Top 100 teams in 2020-21. The last time the Bears accomplished this feat was in 2012 under Paul Lusk.
When Dana Ford took over from Missouri state, the Bears placed 200th in KenPom offensive efficiency. Last year, this team finished 90th in that stat and had the Valley’s top scorer on their team.
Isiaih Mosley finished with 19.8 points per game while shooting over 50% from the field. He was captain of the Bears but was backed by Gaige Prim, who averaged nearly a double-double (16.7 PPG, 9.1 RPG) in the Bears’ 12-6 conference season.
Ford isn’t just firing its top two scorers, he’s firing all five of last year’s squad starters. This team could have the highest MVC cap, especially after finishing 17th in the country in 2-point shooting last season (55.2%).
The Bears also have a very low floor.
The state of Missouri added depth, but questions surround additions such as Jaylen Minnett (IUPUI) and Donovan Clay (Valparaiso). Specifically, the questions revolve around overcrowding in the backcourt, as well as their potentially inconsistent perimeter shooting and questionable defense.
But you can reverse that and instead state that the team’s high level of experience and depth is nothing but strength.
Again: High ceiling, low floor. However, I wouldn’t mind shooting the Bears 8-1 to win the MVC title.
UNI is similar to the state of Missouri. Ben Jacobson is sacking nearly his entire roster, including last season’s five starters, and has an explosive offensive weapon at the helm of his squad.
AJ Green only managed three games last season before being eliminated for the remainder of the year with a hip injury. He is the conference’s top pure goalscorer when in good health, having won the 2019-20 Player of the Year award thanks to his 19.7 points per game.
Green’s injury last season has its positive sides, especially the fact that other players on the roster have stepped up and received valuable experience in return.
Then freshman Bowen Born led the offense from a point guard, led the team to 3 points and won MVC freshman of the year honors.
UNI only performed the pick-and-roll 14 percent of the time, per Synergy, but Bowen posted .925 points per possession as a ball handler in those sets, which ranks in the 84th percentile among players in the division I.
Upper classes Austin Phyfe and Trae Berhow carried more of the scoring load with Green injured. Phyfe was particularly effective from an efficiency standpoint, taking almost 60% of his shots to the edge and achieving nearly 70% of them, for example Hoop-Math.
These two guys are coming back with more experience and less defensive pressure now that Green will be option # 1.
The Panthers have won four of their last five games, including an MVC tournament game before COVID-19 protocols knocked them out of the postseason tournament.
Jacobson’s side are hungry, experienced and have huge potential, especially if Green can score as deadly as he did before his injury.
I would watch Southern Illinois, which sacked the five starters and recovers a healthy Marcus Domask.
Domask was MVC Freshman of the Year in 2020-21 and averaged over 16 points per game before losing the rest of his year to injury.
They are experienced and dynamic on offense with Domask back.
Valpo is a very intriguing team.
They were punished by the transfer portal, but Matt Lottich managed to recruit four Big Ten players to his squad, including three from Wisconsin (Kobe King, Trevor Anderson and Joe Hedstrom).
In addition, the university has made a significant (and controversial) rebranding. The newly formed Beacons could turn dangerous as early as this season.