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  • MVC Beat

Power Rankings & Best Newcomers

Is 2022 turning into another 2020? I have to say I am getting to be a bit concerned. As more and more games get cancelled, COVID is beginning to dictate the season (and day-to-day life) more and more. Fortunately for me I am just a lowly volunteer blogger, so it isn’t my job to worry about those things. I'll just keep plowing forward and deliver you this week's power rankings. These will be my final nonconference power rankings, with league play opening for good January 2nd.

As an addendum to this week’s rankings, I’ll take a look at each team’s best newcomer. This is a very veteran league this year, and newcomers aren’t as big a part of this season’s rosters as they typically are. So, I wanted to highlight the ones that seem to be really making a difference.

10.) Evansville Purple Aces (4-8, KenPom: 235): The Aces haven’t played a game since December 8th after their already sparse late December schedule was put on ice by COVID cancellations. UE is 4-8 so far on the season with three DI wins. The three squads they’ve beaten (Tennessee Tech, Eastern Illinois and IUPUI) have combined for one DI win between them, so they’ve still got a lot to prove. The Aces have been competitive in several losses, though, including a two-point loss at SEMO, a two-point loss to Southern Illinois, and a triple-OT loss to Rice. There are some signs of life here, and the league isn’t so overpowering that Evansville isn’t capable of making some noise. However, based on their performance so far they haven’t accomplished enough to be put anywhere but the cellar. I’ll make a bold claim and say I don’t think the Aces will finish on the bottom, though. Evansville opens at Northern Iowa on Sunday.

Best Newcomer: Evansville leans heavily on four seniors, so newcomers are the exception not the rule. JUCO transfer Antoine Smith Jr has started eight of the Aces’ twelve games and has played the fifth most minutes on the team. He has averaged 7.3 points and 2 rebounds so far, which makes him by far UE’s most impactful newcomer.

9.) Indiana State Sycamores (7-6, KenPom: 171): Considering they lost their leader and best player to injury on the eve of the season, they’re playing with a new coach and a new system, and they depend on a bevy of D2 transfers, Indiana State has done quite well for themselves in getting to 7-6 heading into league play. It should be noted that they have three non-DI wins among their seven triumphs, which leaves them with only four DI wins total. It also should be noted that most of Indiana State’s four DI wins have come against less-than-stellar opponents (their best win is probably over 7-5 Miami of Ohio by 1 at the buzzer at home). And it also should be noted that they’ve gotten knocked around pretty good several times this year. But the Trees are the kind of team that you’d expect to be playing their best ball come Arch Madness time. They play at a brisk pace that isn’t seen among most of the squads in the Valley, and that is sure to cause issues for several teams in league play. I expect this team to get some surprising wins and be a thorn in the side of their opponents this year, but I also would be surprised if they avoided Thursday. Coach Schertz is a winner, though, and I expect ISU Blue to be competing soon. Indiana State hosts Bradley on Sunday.

Best Newcomer: There are several options here. D2 Lincoln Memorial transfer Cameron Henry is second on the team in scoring with 14.3 PPG and is the team’s leading rebounder with 6.3 per game. Another LMU transfer, Xavier Bledson is third on the team in scoring with 12.1 PPG and leads the team in assists with 4.7 per game. Both have been fine contributors, but I am going to give the nod to Henry for now. Both have made a commendable transition from D2.

8.) Northern Iowa Panthers (4-7, KenPom: 120): I didn’t expect to see the Panthers this far down the list, as the league has not exactly been world beaters this year. That said, at 4-7, who do you put the Panthers ahead of? While all the non-purple MVC teams have pulled themselves to at least above .500, UNI is sitting here with only three DI wins. It is true that the Panthers have played a more challenging schedule than most of the rest of the league, and they have two very good wins at St. Bonaventure and at Marshall. But they also lost at home to average Nicholls State and Vermont teams. UNI has not been able to find any sort of consistency. It doesn’t help that they have been beset by injury and illness, especially to their star big-man Austin Phyfe. It doesn’t help that Trae Berhow has been in hiding most of the season. It also doesn’t help that they are already 0-3 in games that came down to the final possession (missing game tying/winning baskets in two-point losses to Liberty and Wyoming and giving up a winning layup against Bradley). They are also 0-5 in games that were within one possession at any point in the final four minutes. Whether that is bad luck, or a product of UNI’s style remains to be seen. Yes, there is good reason to believe Northern Iowa could still be one of the better teams in Valley play this year. But with a backloaded MVC schedule, they better figure it out quick. They can’t afford a slow start to league play. UNI hosts Evansville on Sunday.

Best Newcomer: There isn’t a single player on UNI’s roster, not even a garbage time-playing walk-on, who hasn’t suited up for the Panthers before this season. So, they don’t have anyone eligible for this list. One could argue Ty Anderson, who only became available late last season, is the closest they have to a newcomer. Anderson hasn’t made much of an impact on the stat sheet in his 12.7 minutes per game (1.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG), but is a classic tough defensive-minded Ben Jacobson style player and started the last two games for UNI with Trae Berhow on the bench. It seems like Jake is hoping Anderson will fill the role of stopper moving forward after Tywhon Pickford graduates.

7.) Illinois State Redbirds (8-6, KenPom: 197): I may be giving the Redbirds more of the benefit of the doubt than some of the other programs because they have more than exceeded my extraordinarily low expectations. But at the end of the day, this is a squad with as many DI wins (7), as UNI and Indiana State combined. And lest you think they have only performed well against poor competition, just last night they took Wisconsin to the brink. Illinois State is poised to be the surprise team of the Missouri Valley. How are they doing it? It starts with two guys who have made gigantic leaps from last season. After averaging 7 points per game as a freshman and 12 last year, Austin Reeves has exploded for 20.8 PPG to lead the league in scoring so far this season. UMass transfer Sy Chatman, who only saw the floor for five games last year, has broken out with 14.3 PPG and 6.5 RPG. Josiah Strong has also emerged as a solid #3. These guys have grown from role players to leaders, and the Redbirds have become a dangerous mid-pack MVC team because of it. ISU Red is at Valpo on Sunday.

Best Newcomer: Of the six guys who average at least 23 minutes for ISU, two are newcomers. Tennessee State transfer Mark Freeman has averaged just short of ten points a game while starting 12 of 13 contests for the Redbirds. But for my money, Appalachian State transfer Kendall Lewis has made the bigger impact. A full-time starter for ISU, Lewis has scored 8.7 PPG and added 5.5 RPG which is second on the team. Both guys have become crucial role players for a suddenly resurgent Redbird squad.

6.) Bradley Braves (7-6, KenPom: 145): The Braves started the season 1-5 with no Division I wins but have been rolling since. They’ve won six out of seven, all against Division I competition. Their lone blemish was a 67-65 loss on the road against a very good Toledo team. Their wins have come against some pretty good mid-major programs including Northern Iowa, Saint Joseph’s, and UTEP. None of those are world-beating wins, but the fact that BU is getting wins against decent competition at all is a positive sign that perhaps this team has turned the corner and is ready to compete in the top half of the league. Several guys have stepped up for BU, including sophomore big man Rienk Mast who is second in the league in rebounding with 8.2 a game, and is also contributing eight points per game. JUCO transfer Malevy Leons has also been very good with 10.8 PPG and 5.2 RPG. The team showed their depth by winning the Sun Bowl Invite without the services of second leading scorer and veteran leader Ja’Shon Henry. I didn’t think BU was going to be able to recover from the mess that was the end of last season, but they are looking like a solid mid-pack Valley team. They are a team that seems to be settling into their roles, and the biggest role goes to the man who has been conspicuously absent from this write up so far. Bradley is at Indiana State on Saturday.

Best Newcomer: Juco transfer Terry Roberts leads the team in points (16.6- 4th in the league), assists (3.8- 6th in the league), and steals (1.6- 2nd in the league). He is not only the current frontrunner for MVC Newcomer of the Year, but also has a shot to be a first-team all-league caliber player. Roberts has been particularly good since December 1, averaging 20 points per game over a stretch where Bradley has won five out of six games. He went for 26 points and 11 boards in their most recent win over UTEP, making up for the absence of Ja’Shon Henry and dragging the Braves over the finish line with the win.

5.) Southern Illinois Salukis (8-5, KenPom: 132): SIU has played a steady two months of basketball. They had a head scratching loss to Arkansas-Little Rock to open the season, and another mediocre one to Northeastern. Other than that, their losses (at the buzzer to Creighton, by 4 at Tulsa, and by 12 at 12-1 San Francisco) have been acceptable. They have a good win against Colorado and narrowly avoided an embarrassing loss against Alcorn State but have otherwise beaten the teams you’d expect them to. They have looked like a solid middle-of-the-pack MVC team that should win some games against teams at the top of the standings, lose a few to teams at the bottom, and finish somewhere in the middle. I’d expect a finish somewhere in the 4th-6th range and Thursday avoidance for the Salukis but wouldn’t be shocked if they finished a little higher or lower. Marcus Domask and Lance Jones have put together one of the best one-two punches in the league. SIU hosts Loyola on Sunday on ESPN2.

Best Newcomer: On a team of veterans, Little Rock transfer Ben Coupet Jr. stands out as a great newcomer. A starter in eight of the Salukis’ games this year, Coupet has averaged double figures (11.6 PPG) and 4 rebounds per game. Coupet is an experienced player who started all 57 games he played for UALR after transferring from UNLV three years ago. It shouldn’t be surprising he has been able to establish himself as a big contributor for SIU. After a relatively slow start, Coupet has scored in double figures in each of his last six games.

4.) Valparaiso Beacons (7-6, KenPom: 198): I am more bullish on Valpo than most, but I am really intrigued by what they are capable of with Kobe King and Ben Krikke together on the floor. Valpo is 6-2 with Krikke in the lineup, with only a one-point loss to Charlotte and a seven-point loss at Drake in the L column in that time. Charlotte is a pretty good team, and Valpo went toe-to-toe with the 49ers despite Krikke making only a small contribution due to foul problems. The Beacons have a very intriguing lineup of Big Ten transfers led by former Wisconsin starter Kobe King who has averaged 16 points per game in his four games since becoming eligible. Wisconsin transfer Trevor Anderson, D2 transfer Kevion Taylor, and Michigan State transfer Thomas Kithier have all averaged double figures for Valpo as well (as has sophomore Sheldon Edwards who seems to have taken a big step forward this year). It is entirely possible I am jumping the gun here, and I know transfers do not always work out (they are transferring for a reason, after all). But the results so far with their full team on the floor have been good, and they were already competitive before King and Krikke were in the lineup. I just have a feeling Valpo will be closer to the top than the bottom this year. They host Illinois State on Sunday.

Best Newcomer: Unlike most MVC teams, there are a lot of options here. Wisconsin transfer Trevor Anderson has been a starter since day one and has delivered 10.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG and 2.7 APG. He is probably most deserving of this honor. Kevion Taylor has made a solid transition from D2 Winona State and is also averaging double figures, as is Michigan State transfer Thomas Kithier. This probably isn’t fair, because he has only played four games, but I have to go with Kobe King based on pure potential alone. He started 19 games and averaged double-figures for Wisconsin last year, and has averaged 16 PPG, and 4 RPG in his four games this year. I think he has a great chance to be the MVC Newcomer of the Year when it is all said and done.

3.) Missouri State Bears (9-5, KenPom: 73): Missouri State has been steady if not spectacular. After a rough loss to SEMO to open the season, the Bears have played OK the rest of the way. Sitting at 9-5, their other four losses are to an OK East Tennessee St team (the Bucs are 8-5), BYU, Saint Mary’s and at Illinois State. Their best win is probably a 12-point triumph over South Dakota State (who is 11-4) and the rest of their slate is unspectacular. Still, this is the second highest rated MVC team on KenPom, 11 spots ahead of 3rd place Drake and 47 spots ahead of 4th place UNI. As expected, Isiaih Mosley and Gaige Prim have been the team leaders for the Bears. Mosley’s 17.8 PPG is second in the league, while his 4.9 rebounds are third on the team. Prim is 6th in the league in scoring at 15.4 PPG and leads the league in rebounds (with 8.8 per game) and blocks (with 1.5 per game). On paper, it seems like Mosley and Prim’s supporting cast is stronger than last year with guys like Jaylen Minnett, and Ja’Monta Black averaging double figures and Donovan Clay, Ly’Cye Patterson, Demarcus Sharp and Keaton Hervey making big contributions. MSU hasn’t done anything to thrill me, and I don’t see them as league title contenders. But there is no reason to believe they won’t be one of the better teams in league play. They’ll get a chance to prove how good they are when they host Drake on Sunday.

Best Newcomer: Does Donovan Clay count as a newcomer? The Valpo transfer has made a huge contribution to the Bears this year while starting every game. He is currently fifth on the team in scoring and second in rebounding (he’s also fifth in the league in blocks). But he has played in the Valley each of the last two years (just with a different team). Luckily, I don’t have to answer that question because 5th year IUPUI transfer Jaylen Minnett has been better. Minnett is third on the team in scoring despite coming off the bench. He also leads the team in steals with 1.4 per game. He averages 24 minutes a contest while shooting 45% from distance.

2.) Drake Bulldogs (10-4, KenPom: 84): I have seen a lot of folks have Missouri State in this spot ahead of the Bulldogs. While Drake hasn’t lived up to expectations and is dealing with key injuries, I still think they have been more consistent than the Bears. Remember, if you take away one bad weekend Drake is 10-1 with only an OT loss to an ACC team as a blemish on their record. Unfortunately for Drake (and the rest of the league), there are no mulligans in college basketball and their disastrous run at the ESPN Events Invitational counts just as much as the rest of their schedule. That said, the Valley hasn’t exactly been killing it so a 10-4 record with an OT loss to mediocre ACC team, and competitive losses to Belmont, Alabama and North Texas keeps you pretty high on this list. Drake had been playing with fire against mediocre teams (close wins over the likes of Jackson State, Omaha and St. Thomas) until three recent blowout wins over very weak teams (SUCK IT MOUNT MARTY). They’re entering Valley play with high confidence and without Roman Penn. Are they are good enough to contend for the league title? We shall see. The could start off with a pretty big win if they can take down Mo State on the road on Sunday.

Best Newcomer: You can probably go ahead and give the MVC Freshman of the Year award to Tucker Devries. On a team of seasoned veterans like Tremell Murphy, Shaq Hemphill, and Garrett Sturtz, Tucker Devries has already emerged as the leading scorer (13.7 PPG, almost 3 full points ahead of #2 Murphy), and #4 rebounder (4.7 RPG) on the team. He has become Drake’s go-to guy and should be one of the best players in the MVC for the next four years or until the A-10 decides it wants the Des Moines market.

X.) Belmont Bruins (10-3, KenPom: 55): The Bruins and Murray State are once again far-and-away the favorites in the Ohio Valley Conference. Belmont’s three losses were to Ohio (who are now 9-2) on opening night, LSU, and Dayton by 2 points. They have wins over the likes of Evansville, Drake, Iona, Furman, Saint Louis and Chattanooga. The Bruins are led by two veteran players in senior center Nick Muszynski (16.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.7 APG) who has started 102 of his 103 career games at Belmont, and junior guard Ben Sheppard (16.1 PPG, 3.5 RPG) who has started 39 of his 40 games over the last two years. This is a veteran team that could still be bringing many guys back for their 4th or 5th years next season as they start their time in the MVC.

Best Newcomer: The Bruins play five guys 25+ minutes per game and the only one that isn’t a junior or a senior is freshman Will Richard. Richard is third on the team in scoring with 11.7 PPG and third in rebounding with 5.9 per game. Valley fans should get familiar with the name, as Richard appears to be the heir apparent to being the leader on the team when the current veterans are gone in a year or two.

1.) Loyola Ramblers (9-2, KenPom: 22): While the dream of a #ThreeBidValley is long dead, there is still a path for the league to get two teams into the dance and it involves Loyola dominating the regular season and then falling on their face in St. Louis. The only team in the league with a realistic shot at an at-large bid, Loyola enters the conference portion of the schedule as prohibitive favorites to win the league in their swan song season. There is a tradition of this in the MVC, as Wichita State went out as regular season and tournament champs in 2017 and Creighton did the same in 2013. In fact, the tradition even goes back to 1996 when Tulsa won Arch Madness in their final go-round. Loyola enters Valley play with three P6 wins (Arizona State, DePaul and Vanderbilt) and good standing in the computer rankings. I don’t think the Ramblers will dominate the league, but I do think they’re better than everyone else in it and will win by more than one game when the dust settles.

Best Newcomer: There are a lot of players on Loyola who have been around a long, long time, and there aren’t a lot of big contributions coming from newcomers. There are a few, though, and the biggest by far is coming from Princeton transfer Ryan Schwieger. Schweiger has stepped into Cam Krutwig’s position quite decently. No one can completely fill the shoes of Krutwig, but Schweiger’s 11.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG, and 1.7 APG have certainly helped ease the loss. Schweiger was a regular contributor in his first three seasons at Princeton, but his stats this year have been better than any he had in the Ivy League. He doesn’t start and hasn’t even averaged 20 minutes per game for the Ramblers, but he is their second leading scorer.

And that is it for these power rankings! I am excited for the start of league play on January 2nd! Let’s all cross our fingers that it gets underway without issue.

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