College Basketball Betting Preview for Missouri Valley: Loyola, Drake to Duel Atop League?
Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
- Loyola Chicago and Drake will be the cream of the crop once again in the Missouri Valley Conference.
- AJ Green is back for Northern Iowa and could help the Panthers leap into the third spot.
- Tanner McGrath breaks down the league from top-to-bottom.
The biggest offseason news for the MVC: Belmont has decided to leave the Ohio Valley and join the valley in Missouri.
This is massive. Belmont is a top-notch mid-major program, one that has won 20 or more games in five straight seasons. The addition legitimately makes the Missouri Valley an annual two-bid threat.
But that move won’t come until the fall of 2022.
Instead of speaking about the MVC at a nationwide level, I’d rather praise the conference for how entertaining it is.
For this season, the league still features 2021 NCAA Tournament participants Loyola Chicago and Drake, 17-7 Missouri State and an extremely experienced Northern Iowa team.
So, what are we looking for out of the Missouri Valley this season?
The Cream of the Crop
Drake Bulldogs (+110 at BetMGM)
Drake gained some gambling notoriety last season, covering in its first 15 games on its way to an 18-0 record by Feb. 6.
The Bulldogs ended up as one the most profitable teams in the country last season against the spread (ATS).
However, the Bulldogs faltered down the stretch and their unimaginative showing in the NCAA tournament (53-52 win vs. Wichita State, 72-56 loss vs. USC) raised some questions as to if they should’ve been there at all.
The Bulldogs have reloaded and are locked in for the upcoming season, though. They return all five starters from last year’s squad, including three super seniors.
Given its experience, Drake is my top pick to win the MVC this season.
However, the Bulldogs didn’t just bring back the band. They added to it significantly.
Roman Penn is back after an injury last season, and he’s ready to orchestrate one of the nation’s deadliest pick-and-roll offenses.
Get to ESPN2 NOW pic.twitter.com/Un31cRBAR6
— MVC Basketball (@ValleyHoops) February 14, 2021
Additionally, reigning MVC Coach of the Year Darian DeVries spent the offseason complimenting his surface-level talent with depth. That includes his son, incoming freshman and 2021 Iowa Gatorade Player of the Year, Tucker DeVries, as well as Omaha grad transfer and 45% 3-point shooter Ayo Akinwole.
The only major loss is Joseph Yesufu, who was the steady offensive hand of last year’s team. But by bringing back Penn as the main ball-handler, they’ve traded a bit of offensive explosiveness for a more reliable full-court defender.
Considering the Bulldogs finished 33rd in KenPom offensive efficiency and just 101st in defensive efficiency, that’s a trade DeVries is willing to make.
Look for Drake to make its second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance this season.
Loyola is maybe the biggest question mark entering this season. The losses of Porter Moser and Cameron Krutwig are immeasurable.
However, the Ramblers shouldn’t be overlooked. They replaced Moser with longtime assistant Drew Valentine, and Loyola also returns four starters from last year’s historic squad.
This team will be the main threat to Drake’s MVC title hopes (although Loyola is favored to win the conference). They could also make the MVC a two-bid league for the second-straight season.
While Drake’s an offensive powerhouse, Loyola’s team is built around its defensive prowess. At the end of their tournament run, the Ramblers finished second in the nation in KenPom defensive efficiency and allowed just .794 points per possession, which ranks in the 98th percentile, per Synergy.
The Ramblers also return their biggest defensive piece in Lucas Williamson. The super senior was the MVC Defensive Player of the Year last season and he gives Valentine a lot of versatility with his 6-foot-4 frame.
Lucas Williamson’s defense on that final Drake possession was ridiculous. pic.twitter.com/CGr0tdNiVr
— Rush the Other 26 (@other26hoops) February 14, 2021
The question is: Can Williamson step up on the offensive end to compensate for Krutwig’s lost offense?
Probably not, but Loyola has no shortage of shot makers. I’d keep an eye on Ryan Schwieger — who averaged double digits with Princeton — but I’m more intrigued with former Dartmouth’s Chris Knight.
Madison Memorial alum Chris Knight (6'7) is having HUGE freshman season at Dartmouth #IvyLeague
13.4 PPG / 4.8 REB / 1.3 BLK
NCAA leading 75.9% FG
In 18.3 MPG pic.twitter.com/EhYx61ovMq
— Wisconsin Hoopz (@hoopz_wisconsin) December 2, 2017
Knight owned the Ivy League’s paint during his two-year span as a starter. He can score in the post (.952 PPP posting up, 76th percentile) and as the roll man (1.263 PPP as P&R roll man, 85th percentile). He also blocked 72 shots in his 59 games during that stretch.
The Ramblers are experienced, well-coached and defend at a high level. If any MVC team is primed to shock the college basketball world, it’s Valentine’s Ramblers.
Missouri State has made massive strides in the last few years.
Although they have finished between 16 and 18 wins over the past five seasons, the Bears were a KenPom top-100 team in 2020-21. The last time the Bears accomplished that feat was in 2012 underneath Paul Lusk.
When Dana Ford took the Missouri State job, the Bears ranked 200th in KenPom offensive efficiency. Last year, this team finished 90th in that stat and had the Valley’s leading scorer on their team.
Isiaih Mosley finished with 19.8 points per game while shooting over 50% from the field. He captained the Bears but was backed up by Gaige Prim, who averaged nearly a double-double (16.7 PPG, 9.1 RPG) in the Bears’ 12-6 conference season.
— Missouri State Basketball (@MSUBearsHoops) January 2, 2021
Ford doesn’t just return both of his top scorers, he returns all five starters from last year’s squad. This team could have the highest ceiling in the MVC, especially after finishing 17th in the country in 2-point shooting last season (55.2%).
The Bears also have a very low floor.
Missouri State added depth, but there are questions surrounding additions like Jaylen Minnett (IUPUI) and Donovan Clay (Valparaiso). Specifically, the questions are regarding how overcrowded the backcourt will get, along with their potential inconsistent perimeter shooting and questionable defense.
But you could flip that, and instead, point to the team’s high level of experience and depth as nothing but a strength.
Again: High ceiling, low floor. However, I wouldn’t mind taking a shot on the Bears at 8-to-1 to win the MVC title.
UNI is similar to Missouri State. Ben Jacobson returns almost his entire roster, including all five starters from last season, and has an explosive offensive weapon leading his squad.
AJ Green managed only three games last season before being knocked out for the rest of the year due to a hip injury. He’s the best pure scorer in the conference when healthy, having earned the 2019-20 Player of the Year award thanks to his 19.7 points per game.
AJ Green has been 💰💰💰 for UNI all game pic.twitter.com/JUnnf31bcL
— SI College Hoops (@si_ncaabb) March 10, 2019
Green’s injury last season has its silver linings, specifically that other players on the roster stepped up and received valuable experience in return.
Then-freshman Bowen Born ran the offense from the point guard position, led the team in 3-pointers made and earned MVC Freshman Player of the Year honors.
UNI only ran the pick-and-roll 14% of the time, per Synergy, but Bowen posted .925 points per possession as the ball-handler in those sets, which ranks in the 84th percentile among Division I players.
BORN FROM DEEEEP 🤯
— MVC Basketball (@ValleyHoops) January 30, 2021
Upperclassmen Austin Phyfe and Trae Berhow shouldered more of the scoring load with Green hurt. Phyfe was particularly effective from an efficiency standpoint, taking almost 60% of his shots at the rim and making almost 70% of them, per Hoop-Math.
Both those guys return with more experience and less defensive pressure now that Green will be the No. 1 option.
The Panthers won four of their final five games, including an MVC Tournament game before COVID-19 protocols knocked them out of the postseason tourney.
Jacobson’s team is hungry, experienced and features tremendous upside, especially if Green can score as lethally as he did pre-injury.
I’d take a good look at Southern Illinois, which returns all five starters and gets back a fully healthy Marcus Domask.
Domask was the MVC Freshman of the Year in 2020-21 and averaged over 16 points per game before losing the rest of his year to injury.
The are experienced and dynamic on offense with Domask back.
Valpo is a very intriguing team.
They were punished by the transfer portal, but Matt Lottich managed to recruit four Big Ten players to his team, including three from Wisconsin (Kobe King, Trevor Anderson and Joe Hedstrom).
Plus, the university has made a significant (and controversial) re-brand. The newly-formed Beacons could become dangerous as soon as this season.