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A capsule look at the Missouri Valley Conference in predicted order of finish by Pantagraph sportswriter Jim Benson:

1. Northern Iowa

Coach: Ben Jacobson (12th season, 234-134 record)

Marquee nonconference game: At North Carolina, Friday

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2016

Outlook: The Panthers are coming off the first losing season in Jacobson's  tenure and graduated Jeremy Morgan, their best player. Fifth-year seniors Bennett Koch and Klint Carlson need to play like the league's best frontcourt duo, while point guard Juwan McCloud must improve after struggling as a freshman.

FYI: UNI has won nine or more MVC games the last 14 years, the league's longest active streak, and has finished in the top four for nine straight years.

2. Missouri State

Coach: Paul Lusk (7th season, 88-106 record)

Marquee nonconference game: Colorado State, Nov. 28

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 1999

Outlook: Without a doubt, this is the most talented and deepest team Paul Lusk has produced. The Bears have never had a winning MVC season under Lusk, but that should change with preseason MVC Player of the Year Alize Johnson leading the way. Point guard Ronnie Rousseau left the team for personal reasons in early January, but has returned and could be the key. 

FYI: One of the biggest bodies to be seen around the MVC in years will be 7-foot-2, 278-pound Tanveer Bhullar, a graduate transfer from New Mexico State.

3. Illinois State

Coach: Dan Muller (6th season, 104-65 record)

Marquee nonconference game: At Mississippi, Dec. 16

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 1998

Outlook: Freshman point guard Elijah Clarance and 7-foot junior center David Ndiaye are out until December with stress fractures, leaving the Redbirds with only eight scholarship players. When everyone is healthy, ISU might not fall far in the league standings despite losing four starters from last season's MVC regular-season co-champions.  

FYI: Paris Lee was the third ISU player to earn the MVC Player of the Year award last season, joining Rico Hill (1998) and Tarise Bryson (2001).

4. Loyola

Coach: Porter Moser (7th season, 89-105 record)

Marquee nonconference game: At Florida, Dec. 6

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 1985

Outlook: Replacing versatile Milton Doyle won't be easy, but Porter Moser has plenty of veterans ready to take up the slack led by swingman Donte Ingram and guard Ben Richardson. The Ramblers finally have some size in 6-9 freshman Cameron Krutwig and 7-foot graduate transfer Carson Shanks from North Dakota. 

FYI: Forward Aundre Jackson, the MVC Sixth Man of the Year, set a Loyola record last season by shooting 66.9 percent from the field, which ranked fourth in the nation. 

5. Southern Illinois

Coach: Barry Hinson (6th season, 79-83 record)

Marquee nonconference game: At Louisville, Nov. 21

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2007

Outlook: Finally, Barry Hinson has put together a team with plenty of size and experience. But, like Illinois State, injuries have hit the Salukis hard in the preseason. Thik Bol, a 6-8 senior who shored up the front line last season, is out at least six weeks after knee surgery. Point guard Marcus Bartley, who was a teammate of ISU's Milik Yarbrough at Saint Louis, has a broken hand and will miss the first few weeks.

FYI: The Salukis added 6-10 juco transfer Kavion Pippen, the nephew of former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen. Senior Tyler Smithpeters returns after missing most of last season and should boost the Salukis' 3-point shooting.

6. Valparaiso

Coach: Matt Lottich (2nd season, 24-9 record)

Marquee nonconference game: At Purdue, Dec. 7

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2015

Outlook: The Valley's newcomer was hit hard by graduation, including forward Alec Peters from Washington, who is now with the NBA's Phoenix Suns. Senior guards Tevonn Walker and Max Joseph provide experience in the backcourt, while transfers Joe Burton (Oklahoma State) and Bakari Evelyn (Nebraska) should contribute immediately. 

FYI: Valparaiso typically brings in several foreigners and this season is no different with players from Canada (Walker, Joseph), Germany (freshman Marten Linssen) and Spain (sophomore Jaume Sorolla).

7. Indiana State

Coach: Greg Lansing (8th season, 120-108 record)

Marquee nonconference game: At Indiana, Friday

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2011

Outlook: The natives in Terre Haute are restless after three straight losing seasons. The Sycamores need a big season out of senior guard Brenton Scott, an all-MVC second-team pick in 2016 and third-team choice last season who has 208 career 3-pointers. Sophomore Jordan Barnes figures to be Scott's running mate in the backcourt. 

FYI: Two newcomers being counted on heavily will be freshman guard Tyreke Key, the all-time leading scorer in Tennessee prep history, and 6-8 juco transfer Devin Thomas.

8. Bradley

Coach: Brian Wardle (3rd season, 18-47 record)

Marquee nonconference game: At Mississippi, Dec. 22

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2006

Outlook: Brian Wardle hopes to start seeing a massive rebuild that began two years ago pay off. Bradley returns all five starters that includes 96.8 percent of its scoring and 95.8 percent of its rebounding. Darrell Brown, a 5-10 guard, led all MVC freshmen in scoring last season (12.6 ppg). Elijah Childs, a 6-7, 220-pound freshman, should see plenty of playing time.

FYI: Senior forward Donte Thomas is the lone player still remaining from former coach Geno Ford's tenure.

9. Evansville

Coach: Marty Simmons (11th season, 167-160 record)

Marquee nonconference game: At Duke, Dec. 20

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 1999

Outlook: Ryan Taylor, a 6-6 junior guard, figures to become the focal point of Marty Simmons' motion offense after scoring 14.1 points per game in his first season at Evansville. Point guard Duane Gibson also returns as does swingman Blake Simmons, who missed last season after knee surgery. The inside remains a huge question mark. 

FYI: Taylor is trying to extend Evansville's streak to five years of having the MVC's leading scorer, joining Jaylon Brown last season and D.J. Ballentine the previous three years. Bradley last accomplished the feat from 1987-91.

10. Drake

Coach: Niko Medved, 1st season

Marquee nonconference game: At Minnesota, Dec. 11

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2008

Outlook: Niko Medved came from Furman, where he led the Paladins to the Southern Conference regular-season title last season. Medved has an experienced roster with five seniors and three others who have spent two seasons at Drake, but the lack of an inside game remains. The Bulldogs could be using a four-guard lineup a lot.

FYI: Senior guard Reed Timmer is the Valley's active leading scorer with 1,348 points and could become Drake's all-time leader (Josh Young had 1,789 points from 2006-10).



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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