New MVC Favorites
Missouri State Preview – Part 1
(St. Louis, MO) – Why are the Missouri State Bears the favorites to win the new Wichita State-less Missouri Valley Conference? In a word … TALENT. In two words … DEPTH AND TALENT.
Coach Paul Lusk has accumulated the most talented team in his seven years in Springfield, Missouri and his team has experience, numbers, athleticism and yes, TALENT. As Illinois State coach Dan Muller told me months ago, the Bears will be the favorite to fill the gap left by Wichita State’s departure.
Lusk has two upper echelon talents in the front court in pre-season player of the year candidate Alize Johnson and in the muscular Obadiah Church. Johnson was an all-league pick while leading the Valley in rebounding (10.6 per game) and averaging 14.8 points. The Frank Phillips College transfer was last year’s ‘Newcomer of the Year‘ and in so doing, put his name in the minds of NBA executives.
Johnson dabbled with the NBA in the offseason and was the MVP in the Adidas Nations event this summer. He returns for his senior season poised to be the Valley’s ‘alpha dog’ with the ability to dominate games inside and out. As Lusk says the 6’9 Johnson keeps getting better because he works hard and he constantly competes.
Church is a high level rebounder with an improving offensive game. As a freshman, Church was named to the Valley’s ‘All-Freshmen Team‘ and last year landed on the ‘All Defensive Team‘ for leading the MVC in blocked shots. Church looks to be an outstanding ‘Robin’ to Johnson’s ‘Batman’. No Valley team outside of Northern Iowa has two front court players able to come close to matching up with Church and Johnson.
Other returners Jarrid Rhodes, Jarred Dixon and Ryan Kreklow provide some fire power on the wings. Dixon joined Church on that 2016 ‘All Freshmen Team’ and landed on last season’s ‘All Bench Team‘. The 6’4 Kansas City native is an outstanding free-throw shooter and averaged 8.6 points per game, while collecting more than two rebounds AND two assists per game.
Rhodes and Kreklow are both outstanding three-point shooters and are veteran players in Lusk’s rotation.
Lusk says those veteran players were all part of a reboot of sorts for the program just two years ago, and now they appear ready to break out and see their team reach for the championship brass ring.
Missouri State is 88-106 under Lusk (17-16 last season) and this year’s newcomers have the look of a group that could push them at least into the upper echelon of the Valley standings. With Ronnie Rousseau (11.6 points per game) returning after leaving the team in the middle of last season, the Bears have six quality returners to go with the six talented recruits, the Bears have been picked to win the Valley title by both Athlon and Lindy’s annual college basketball previews.
In part two of this series we’ll discuss Rousseau’s return and the other five incoming players.