ST. LOUIS — The rest of the Missouri Valley Conference might need a roster to tell who is playing for Illinois State’s basketball team this season. The Redbirds have seven newcomers who have yet to play a Division I game.
“I don’t know the numbers, but either us or Southern (Illinois) is the least experienced team in our league,” said ISU coach Tim Jankovich. “History tells us, at least in the Missouri Valley, youth is not served very well.
“Somehow we need to change history.”
There was no surprise when ISU was picked to finish sixth in the preseason poll of coaches, sports information directors and media released Tuesday at the Missouri Valley Conference Media Day.
It was ISU’s lowest preseason ranking since 2006 when the Redbirds were selected ninth and wound up tied for seventh in Porter Moser’s last season as coach.
Wichita State, which returns four starters from last season’s team that won 25 games, gathered 33 of 39 first-place votes to top the poll. Missouri State, which has its top seven scorers returning, was next, followed by defending champion Northern Iowa, Creighton and Bradley.
Guard Alex Rubin, one of three ISU seniors, had a little fun with the Redbirds’ preseason ranking. He has been on teams that have finished second, third and third the last three seasons in the Valley.
“We could have been picked 100th. If you get points for being picked higher then I would be a little upset,” said Rubin. “Why not pick us sixth? We have seven new guys and are inexperienced, but we don’t see it that way.
“If anything it gives us a little chip on our shoulders just knowing people don’t expect anything from us and (expect) mediocrity.”
Senior center Kenny Lawson Jr. of Creighton was the preseason Player of the Year. He was joined on the preseason all-conference team by UNI’s Kwadzo Ahelegbe, Sam Maniscalco of Bradley, Wichita State’s Toure’ Murry and Kyle Weems of Missouri State.
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said he doesn’t know — and didn’t seem to care — if the Shockers realize the expectations of trying to win their first league title since 2004.
“They’ll find out when they read it in the paper tomorrow,” he said. “Right now they’re trying to figure out how to pick themselves up because we’ve been tearing them down as coaches (in practice) and telling them what they’re doing wrong.”
Creighton coach Greg McDermott is making his return to the Valley. McDermott was at Iowa State the last four years after leading UNI to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
McDermott would like to see the Valley end its three-year run of being a one-bid NCAA tourney league, but watched UNI’s march to the Sweet Sixteen last spring — including an upset of top-ranked Kansas — with pride.
“When that happens it speaks volumes for the league and helps the league have a little more attention the next season on how last season ended,” said McDermott. “The last time I was in the Valley we would get two, sometimes three teams in the (NCAA) tournament. But those Sweet Sixteen runs do a lot for your league.”
School (first-place votes) Total
1. Wichita State (33) 382
2. Missouri State (1) 313
3. UNI (3) 289
4. Creighton 282
5. Bradley (2) 264
6. Illinois State 165
7. Indiana State 136
8. Drake 121
9. Southern Illinois 120
10. Evansville 73
Preseason all-conference team: Kwadzo Ahelegbe, UNI; Kenny Lawson Jr., Creighton; Sam Maniscalco, Bradley; Toure Murry, Missouri State; Kyle Weems, Missouri State.
Honorable mention: Taylor Brown, Bradley; J.T. Durley, Wichita State; Adam Leonard, Missouri State; Colt Ryan, Evansville; Seth VanDeest, Drake; Andrew Warren, Bradley.
Preseason Player of the Year: Kenny Lawson Jr., Creighton