Adjusting to ‘Favorite’ Status
Missouri State Preview – Part 3
(St. Louis, MO) – Several national outlets are calling Missouri State the favorite to win this year’s Missouri Valley Conference race. So how is head coach Paul Lusk adjusting to wearing the proverbial target on his back? How have they put together their schedule and what will life look like in the Valley with the absence of former top dog Wichita State?
Lusk is the first to admit that preseason rankings don’t mean anything, and that his team can’t go around ‘sticking out their chest’, but he likes the makeup of his team and believes his squad has a chance to be very good.
With national pundits looking at the Bears, and the scrutiny all teams go through with scheduling, the Bears’ schedule doesn’t jump out at you with name recognition nor does it have that ‘wow factor’, but Lusk is quick to point out that Missouri State’s opposition is better than some believe. I also asked Lusk what it’s like to play at Loyola’s Gentile Arena.
While there are no ‘money conference’ teams on the schedule, there are solid mid major programs. The Bears host Colorado State (24-12) as part of the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge. Western Kentucky is a traditional power in Conference USA and coach Rick Stansbury has one of the strongest recruiting classes in Hilltoppers history. There are three Summit League teams and two of them are dependable winning programs. South Dakota State (18-17) is an early favorite to win the conference race, and North Dakota State has won 62 games the last three years. Oral Roberts is not good, but they are a short travel distance for the Bears.
MSU’s MTE (multi-team event) is nothing to write home about and that is the one place that Lusk seems to be disappointed with the crafting of the schedule. That tournament didn’t turn out like he had hoped, however their early opponent Georgia Southern did win 18 games last season.
Wright State was a 20-game winner and Hampton went (14-17).
Another part of a weaker schedule is the departure of nationally ranked Wichita State from the league schedule. The seventh year coach says all the Valley teams have to adjust, but believes Valparaiso’s addition was a good one.
Because of the make up of the Bears’ roster and their outstanding front line of Alize Johnson and Obadiah Church, I asked the Bears head man about what should be an exciting show down of his bigs against Northern Iowa’s Bennett Koch and Klint Carlson.
Preseason publications “Lindy’s Sports” and “Athlon” have picked Missouri state to win the Valley this year, while “Street & Smith’s” gives the nod to Northern Iowa. Predictors look at Loyola as the next best team to challenge the Bears or the Panthers.