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October 23, 2009

League preview: Missouri Valley

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Northern Iowa
2. Creighton
3. Southern Illinois
4. Wichita State
5. Illinois State
6. Bradley
7. Indiana State
8. Drake
9. Missouri State
10. Evansville
PRESEASON PICKS
First team
C Jordan Eglseder, 7-0/280, Sr., Northern Iowa
F Adam Koch, 6-8/255, Sr., Northern Iowa
G Osiris Eldridge, 6-3/190, Sr., Illinois State
G P'Allen Stinnett, 6-3/185, Jr., Creighton
G Josh Young, 6-1/174, Sr., Drake
Second team
F/C Bryan Bouchie, 6-10/255, Soph., Evansville
F Kyle Weems, 6-6/230, Soph., Missouri State
G Kwadzo Ahelegbe, 6-2/200, Jr., Northern Iowa
G Kevin Dillard, 6-0/170, Soph., Southern Illinois
G Harry Marshall, 6-0/190, Sr., Indiana State
Player of the Year
G Osiris Eldridge, 6-3/190, Sr., Illinois State
Newcomer of the Year
F/C Bryan Bouchie, 6-10/255, Soph., Evansville
AT A GLANCE
Regular-season winner last season: Creighton and Northern Iowa tied
Tournament winner last season: Northern Iowa (lost in first round of NCAA tourney to Purdue as a No. 12 seed)
2010 conference tournament: March 4-7. Scottrade Center, St. Louis
New coach: None.
Best frontcourt: Northern Iowa.
Best backcourt: Bradley.
Coach on the rise: Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa.
Last NCAA tourney win: 2007, Southern Illinois advanced to the Sweet 16 as a No. 4 seed.
Today, we continue our conference countdown. We're working backward, from our No. 31 league to the top league in the nation.

We started with the low-major leagues, unveiling three per day, and the mid-major leagues, unveiling two per day. Each of the top 12 leagues gets a day to itself. .

Now that the Missouri Valley has earned the nation's respect by earning multiple postseason bids - claiming a league-record seven last season, though only one was to the NCAA tournament - throughout this decade, it's out to win more postseason games to further stamp itself as the top mid-major conference in the nation.

In the past five seasons, the MVC has won a combined 26 postseason games. Last season, the Valley won five postseason contests.

Coaching stability should help. The Valley returns all 10 of its coaches. In the past two offseasons, the MVC had seven combined head-coaching changes.

"It will be crucial for our league to have early season success in non-conference play to help establish our conference as a league that will receive multiple bids into the NCAA tournament," MVC commissioner Doug Elgin said.

Seven MVC teams have reached the Sweet 16 since 1994, and while league officials proudly can talk about postseason wins, everyone knows it's what you do in the NCAAs that really matters.

PROGRAM ON THE RISE
Bradley: Coach Jim Les has a veteran squad poised to reach the postseason for a fifth season in a row, which would be a school record. It might not show this season, when the Braves could finish in the bottom half of the league, but this has become a solid program that usually is going to be in the title mix.

PROGRAM ON THE DECLINE
Southern Illinois: The Salukis need to rebound in a big way from an uncharacteristic 13-18 season. It was Southern Illinois' first losing season since 1997-98 and ended SIU's run of seven consecutive postseason bids. It would behoove coach Chris Lowery to get on the plus side of the ledger this season.

COACH ON THE HOT SEAT
None, really: Seven league coaches are in their second or third seasons. But SIU's Lowery would be resting uneasy if the Salukis finish under .500 again.

BIGGEST SNEAKERS TO FILL
Guard Booker Woodfox, Creighton: The Bluejays will be hard-pressed to find a replacement for Woodfox, the league's player of the year last season. He was one of the top shooters in the country.

MOST OVERRATED PLAYER
Guard P'Allen Stinnett, Creighton: He arrived at Creighton as a four-star recruit and the No. 21 shooting guard in the nation. He has had his moments, but Stinnett hasn't developed into the superstar many envisioned.

MOST UNDERRATED PLAYER
Guard Sam Maniscalco, Bradley: Maniscalco, a 6-0 junior, is an all-out hustler who always makes things happen. Is Maniscalco the most talented player on the floor? Never. But he almost always is the hardest working and most productive.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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