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Missouri Valley Basketball: 2024 Conference Tournament preview and predictions

Is Indiana State the team to beat in this season's Missouri Valley Conference Tournament? And who are the key players to watch? 

2023 Indy Classic - Indiana State v Ball State
2023 Indy Classic - Indiana State v Ball State / Michael Hickey/GettyImages
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Team to Beat – Indiana State

The Sycamores lost just one conference game when Jayson Kent was healthy. That loss came at Drake. Indiana State’s offense wears teams down and their pace of play wears them out. Avila is impossible to defend and Swope, Conwell and Larry are so dangerous off the bounce and from beyond the arc that there is no obvious way to play defense. 

Swope has a lingering knee problem and that has contributed to a late season shooting slump so some Valley squads have attempted zone defenses in recent weeks, but Schertz’s crew has adjusted and Avila makes them pay by scoring from either block with either hand. 

Kent and Avila were high school teammates at Oak Forest High (in Illinois) and they feed off one another. The wide open dunks of ‘Mahomes-like' passes for Kent must be in the dozens.

They play fast and will turn the ball over on occasion, but ISU’s greatest weakness is that their five starters log a ton of minutes. They rarely leave the floor. Forcing the issue and getting some of their starters in foul trouble is probably the best bet for chopping down the ‘Trees’. 

Top Contender – Drake Bulldogs

Drake and Indiana State split their two games this season. Each won on its home floor. Drake won by eleven points at home and lost by eight on the road. The Bulldogs are long enough, athletic enough and have enough fire-power to stay with the explosive Sycamores. 

Big man Darnell Brodie is bigger (255 pounds) and stronger than Avila and the league’s leading rebounder is the type of player that could give Avila trouble on the defensive end and may force him into foul trouble. Back up center Nate Ferguson brings a quicker dimension to the Drake post game. 

While DeVries is an offensive monster, transfer Atin Wright (13.9 ppg) and freshman Kevin Overton (12.3 ppg) are dangerous scoring options. Both the 6’1 Wright and 6’5 Overton hurt teams from deep and are quick enough to drive to the rim. Wright is lethal from the free throw line. 

Point guard Conor Enright and his backup Colby Garland keep the ball moving and make sure DeVries’ game plan doesn’t get interrupted. Each is ranked in the league’s top five in assist/turnover ratio.

Darkhorse Surprise – Northern Iowa 

Ben Jacobson’s team seems to have figured it out. It took the preseason favorites a while understand how to play with so many starters. Their non-conference schedule was insanely difficult and Jacobson had so many players that are used to starting that role definition was difficult. 

Since Jacobson went to a faster-paced offense and making sure he was getting nine or ten different players double-digit minutes, his team has taken off. The Panthers have won three straight and five of their last six games. Defeating Southern Illinois Sunday in Carbondale secured them a fourth place finish and a first round Arch Madness bye. 

One of those final three victories was a fourteen point home win over Drake. 

Star guard Bowen Born struggled with early season leg problems but is now healthy and terrorizing opposing defenders with his quickness and ability to score from anywhere. Energetic Tytan Anderson can rebound with anyone in the league and newcomer center Jacob Hutson is another post player that has a chance against Indiana State’s Avila. 

Guard Nate Heise and Born lead the team offensively as each averages around 13 points per game. 

Jacobson is the ‘dean of the Valley coaches’ and has won four Arch Madness titles. He is the MVC’s all-time wins leader in conference games and has won four regular season titles. ‘Coach Jake’ has taken eight teams to postseason play and seven times they’ve won at least one postseason game. 

UNI’s 2009-10 team went to the Sweet Sixteen team.