MVC ShootAround: Can Phelps keep Drake on top?

Updated: August 13, 2008

AP Photo/Tom Gannam

Will no Keno Davis mean no repeat run to the NCAA tourney for Drake?

More magic left in Drake?

It had been 37 years since Drake University was truly a player of any significance in the world of college basketball.

Sure, there were a couple of NIT appearances in the span between the Bulldogs' trip to the 1971 Elite Eight and last season's out-of-nowhere run to the top of the Missouri Valley Conference standings. But in that span, Drake had more seasons in which it failed to win 10 games (nine) than finish above .500 (eight).

So when head coach Keno Davis left for Providence after leading the Bulldogs on last season's run, it wasn't a complete shock. While Providence is far from an elite Big East job, it provided an opportunity for Davis to get a significant raise, test his abilities in the biggest meat grinder of a conference and return to a part of the country where his father, Dr. Tom Davis, had success at Boston College.

That brings us to Mark Phelps, the former North Carolina State and Arizona State assistant who was hired to replace Davis. His charge is pretty simple: Keep Drake in the Missouri Valley's upper division and make sure the NCAA tournament is more than a once-a-generation thing at the Des Moines, Iowa, school.

But can that be done? Phelps, who admits he's a glass-half-full kind of guy, thinks it can.

Despite Drake's struggles over the past several decades, there are reasons for Phelps to be optimistic. Because while losing three key seniors from last season's team -- including Valley Player of the Year Adam Emmenecker -- is a serious blow, Phelps won't be walking into a job in which wholesale changes are needed.

After all, the previous coach wasn't fired, the returning players have a much better understanding of what it takes to win and there's much more buzz in Iowa and the Midwest for Drake basketball. In real estate terms, this is a house that might need some new paint or carpet in spots, but it's not like the whole thing needs to be gutted.

Josh Young and Jonathan Cox are two of the primary reasons for that. Young, who will be a junior, led the Valley in scoring a year ago with 15.9 points per game. He will certainly be targeted more this season and will have to work harder to get open looks at the basket with Emmenecker gone, but Phelps likes him.

"When you go for 16 a game and shoot 42, 43 percent from 3 in this league, you're a special player," Phelps said.

The presence of Cox inside is only going to help Young get room to shoot. While Cox averaged 12.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game as a junior, he got better as the games got bigger. He had a double-double in a Valley tournament semifinal victory over Creighton. He scored 20 in the league championship victory over Illinois State. And in Drake's NCAA tournament loss to Western Kentucky, Cox went for 29 points and 16 rebounds, both career highs.

Phelps said he doesn't anticipate doing things that differently than either Dr. Tom Davis or Keno Davis did in recent years. He's still going to play four perimeter players around Cox. He still wants Drake to push things on the offensive end. And he wants the Bulldogs to make opponents uncomfortable.

One thing Phelps doesn't believe is that his background with Herb Sendek -- a coach who uses some of the Princeton offense -- means he doesn't fit with the offense that Drake has had success using.

"The perception that we played a slower style [under Sendek] isn't right," Phelps said. "I want to play fast. I want to be aggressive, but I don't want to be reckless."

But can Drake's success be repeated? Phelps doesn't see why not.

"Clearly the lifeblood of any program is recruiting, and we need to do a good job with that," he said. "But it's a lot easier to know something can happen when it has happened before."

Five Things To Watch in '08-09

Can the Valley again be a multi-bid league?
For much of the past decade, the Missouri Valley differentiated itself from other mid-major leagues by what happened in March. Every season from 1999-2007, the Valley got at least two teams in the NCAA tournament. Sometimes it was because there was an upset in the championship game of the conference tournament. Other times it was because the league had a team or teams worthy of at-large selection. Last season was different. Drake won both the regular-season and conference championship. Illinois State had hopes of earning an at- large berth, but the Redbirds were passed over. Will things change this season?

P'Allen Stinnett

Tom Gannam/AP Photo

Creighton's super soph P'Allen Stinnett helps make the Bluejays one of the favorites in the Valley.

Will the big boys rebound?
While Bradley and Wichita State both made deep NCAA tournament runs in 2006, Creighton and Southern Illinois have been the Valley's consistently elite teams. In the seven seasons between 2000-01 and 2006-07, the Bluejays and Salukis combined to win six regular-season titles. Last year, however, neither was really a factor in the league race. Creighton was extremely young, and Southern Illinois had problems with injuries and struggled on the road. Both teams should be better this season. Dana Altman's Creighton team will be one of the favorites -- if not the favorite -- to win the league. Southern Illinois might be a year away from returning to the top of the standings, but Chris Lowery has a number of very good newcomers arriving in Carbondale.

Will a change make a difference?
Barry Hinson did everything but get to the NCAA tournament at Missouri State. In 2006, the Bears went 20-8 in the regular season, finished tied for second in the Valley standings and were 21st in the RPI on Selection Sunday. But that wasn't enough to get in. A year later, Missouri State beat Wisconsin early in the season but then went 0-6 the rest of the way against eventual NCAA tournament teams. Despite a 22-10 regular-season record and an RPI of 36, Hinson's team again was NIT-bound. When Missouri State struggled last season, there was little doubt that Hinson had run out of time in Springfield, and two days after the season ended, he was fired. Now the guy in charge of getting Missouri State over the hump is former Purdue player and assistant coach Cuonzo Martin. This is Martin's first head coaching job, but he did work the past two seasons for Matt Painter at Purdue. Painter was previously an assistant and head coach at Southern Illinois. Martin will have significant work to do to make Missouri State competitive, as the Bears won't return a player who averaged in double figures.

Everybody advances
When Drake became the surprise team both in the Missouri Valley and nationally, the Bulldogs did more than just reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1971. Drake also ensured that every Missouri Valley team has now reached the NCAA tournament in an 11-year span. That's something the Big East, Big Ten and Pac-10 can't claim. Illinois State now has the Valley's longest NCAA tournament drought, as the Redbirds last danced in 1998.

A quick decline
Remember back in March 2006 when Wichita State was one of the hottest teams in a hot Missouri Valley? Remember the early part of the 2006-07 season when the Shockers were undefeated and ranked? It seems a long time ago now. That's the rub of playing in a league that is as competitive as the MVC. When Wichita State -- then coached by current Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon -- defeated Kennesaw State on Dec. 19, 2006, it improved to 9-0 on the season. Since that game, the Shockers are only 19-34 overall. After going 8-14 the rest of the way in '06-07, Wichita State was only 11-20 in '07-08. Its 4-14 league record led to a ninth-place finish.

If I were MVC commish …

The Missouri Valley has to stop sending its teams on the road for four out of five games. There has to be a better way to schedule. Southern Illinois went through that last season. The Salukis started January with games at Drake, at Illinois State, home against Bradley, at Indiana State and at Evansville. They went 2-3 during that stretch. It may end up balancing out with different teams, but it's still not a good idea to help some of the top teams in the league.

The television schedule is solid for the Valley, but the WCC passed the Valley on ESPN. The Valley doesn't have a regular spot. Finding the Valley on television on a weekly basis is difficult.

2007-08 MVC Standings

Overall record MVC record
Drake* 28-5 15-3
Illinois State^ 25-10 13-5
Southern Illinois^ 18-15 11-7
Creighton^ 22-11 10-8
Bradley# 21-17 9-9
Northern Iowa 18-14 9-9
Missouri State 17-16 8-10
Indiana State 15-16 8-10
Wichita State 11-20 4-14
Evansville 9-21 3-15
*NCAA tournament
^NIT berth
#CBI berth

For all the MVC news and notes, check out the conference page.

Top Returning Scorers

Player PPG
Josh Young, Drake, Jr. 15.9
Osiris Eldridge, Illinois State, Jr. 15.8
Shy Ely, Evansville, Sr. 14.4
Andrew Warren, Bradley, Jr. 13.2
P'Allen Stinnett, Creighton, Soph. 12.6

Top Returning Rebounders

Player RPG
Jonathan Cox, Drake, Sr. 8.6
Ramon Clemente, Wichita State, Sr. 6.9
Theron Wilson, Bradley, Sr. 6.2
Adam Koch, Northern Iowa, Jr. 5.8
Osiris Eldridge, Illinois State, Jr. 5.7

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2008-09 Team Capsules

MVC
BradleyBradley
While some of the names will be different, Bradley will again go small, spread the floor and shoot from the perimeter. Jeremy Crouch and Daniel Ruffin -- who combined to make 185 3-pointers and average 29.9 points per game last season -- are gone, but Andrew Warren (13.2 ppg), Theron Wilson (11.7) and Sam Maniscalco (7.7) all return. Wilson and Maniscalco were both named to the Valley's All-Newcomer team. One thing coach Jim Les is going to have to do in the fall and in the nonconference season is figure out a blend and a rotation, especially on the perimeter. Nine of the 14 players on the Braves' roster are listed as guards, and Les signed three junior college perimeter players, a group that includes former Iowa State player and Bloomington, Ill., native Dodie Dunson. As a rule, junior players don't have much interest in sitting on the bench. Bradley, which reached the final of the College Basketball Invitational last spring, is attempting to win at least 21 games for the fourth consecutive season.

CreightonCreighton
Hopefully the rest of the Missouri Valley teams enjoyed Creighton's struggles last season. Because if they didn't get the Bluejays last season, they're going to have a much more difficult time doing it this season. Despite having an extremely young team a year ago -- nine players were in their first season of Division I basketball -- Creighton still managed to go 22-11 and finish fourth in the Valley. A year later, Dana Altman's team returns 73 percent of its scoring and 66 percent of its rebounding. One of the biggest reason's for optimism in Omaha is the return of explosive guard P'Allen Stinnett. The Las Vegas native led Creighton with 12.6 points per game and was the top freshman in the Valley. He also has the potential to be the Bluejays' next "name" guard in the way that Kyle Korver and Nate Funk became known outside the MVC. In addition to Stinnett, guards Booker Woodfox and Cavel Witter each averaged just under 10 points per game last season. The biggest concern for Creighton will be rebounding after the departure of Dane Watts (6.4 rpg).

DrakeDrake
New coach Mark Phelps had one week of individual workouts last spring after being hired as the replacement for Keno Davis. That means the former NC State assistant has seen sophomore point guard Josh Parker play a couple of times. He has never seen junior college transfer Craig Stanley play, as the guard was recruited and signed by the previous staff. "It's a little bit of an unknown," Phelps said. Despite that lack of knowledge, Phelps is optimistic that one or both of them can be an effective point guard for the Bulldogs. "I'm definitely a glass-half-full guy," he said. He's going to need to be, because there is no bigger question for Drake than at point guard. A year ago, Adam Emmenecker was named the Missouri Valley Player of the Year almost exclusively because of how he ran the Bulldogs' offense and led Drake on the floor. Emmenecker was actually fifth in scoring for the Bulldogs (8.6 ppg), but he constantly found players in the right spot for easy baskets. While neither Stanley nor Parker is going to immediately become the best point guard in the Missouri Valley, they have to be steady and can't make so many mistakes that they become a negative for Drake.

EvansvilleEvansville
The goals are modest in coach Marty Simmons' second year at Evansville: Finish with a winning record. That, simply put, hasn't happened in a while for the Aces. Evansville, which went 9-21 last season and 3-15 in the MVC, has had eight consecutive losing seasons. But there is some reason for optimism that Evansville can again be competitive in the Valley. Led by Shy Ely (14.4 ppg and 15.7 ppg in league games), the Aces have seven of their top eight scorers back. In addition, Simmons landed a recruiting class that will provide some much-needed depth. If Evansville is going to be more than just an automatic win for the upper-division teams, the Aces are going to have to have much more success offensively. Last season, Evansville reached the 70-point mark only twice and scored 55 or fewer points on seven occasions in Missouri Valley play. Evansville didn't even shoot 40 percent from the floor against conference opponents. The Aces are going to get a pretty good idea of where they stand early in the season as Evansville plays at North Carolina. The game is part of a 3- for-1 series with the Tar Heels. Roy Williams' team is scheduled to travel to Evansville in 2011 because Carolina recruit Tyler Zeller is from nearby Washington, Ind.

Illinois StateIllinois State
A year ago, Tim Jankovich arrived from his time as a Kansas assistant and helped a Redbirds team that floundered at times under Porter Moser finish second in the Missouri Valley, be under consideration for a NCAA tournament berth and reach the NIT. Year 2, however, is going to be much more difficult. Because even though Osiris Eldridge (15.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg) returns, Jankovich is going to have to fill considerable holes. Five of the Redbirds' top seven scorers from a year ago have departed, including point guard Boo Richardson. The good news for Eldridge -- who shaved the letter "O" into his hair last season -- is that he's going to get a little bit of offensive help. Former Oregon wing Chamberlain Oguchi will be eligible for Illinois State after sitting out his transfer season. Junior Dinma Odiakosa (6.9 ppg) is the second-leading returning scorer and showed signs of improvement. The biggest question mark is going to revolve around the ability to rebound. Senior forward Brandon Sampay was expected to see significant action, but he will miss at least the early part of the season because of offseason hip surgery.

Indiana StateIndiana State
Harry Marshall wasn't recruited to play basketball at Indiana State. He arrived in Terre Haute on an academic scholarship and came with a desire to be a walk-on for the Sycamores. This season, Marshall is going to be one of the most important players in Kevin McKenna's second season at Indiana State. A year ago, Marshall -- who is now on a basketball scholarship -- was the Sycamores' third-leading scorer (10.1 ppg) and played just shy of 30 minutes per game. Largely an off guard, Marshall seems likely to see time at both guard positions this season. While junior college transfer Rashad Reed is a point guard, Marshall will see time there as Indiana State tries to replace Gabriel Moore and his team-high 12.2 points per game at point guard. In the role of team leader, Marshall needs to ensure that Indiana State is tougher mentally than a year ago. While Indiana State showed some progress in going 15-16 overall and finishing 8-10 in the Valley, the Sycamores were sickly away from home. In a season in which they won seven home conference games, the Sycamores were only 2-13 in true road games. That has to change if Indiana State is going to make another step. The other thing that has to improve is rebounding. The Sycamores were clearly last in the Valley in league games in offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding and rebounding margin. McKenna tried to address that late in the spring by signing former Iowa big man Josh Crawford. The 6-11 Crawford spent last season at a junior college. Cole Holmstrom, who played significant minutes as a true freshman but struggled to adapt to McKenna's style, did not have his scholarship renewed and will not return.

Missouri StateMissouri State
Not much will be the same for the Bears entering this season. There's a new coach in Cuonzo Martin, a new building in the 11,000-seat JQH Arena and a lot of new faces. With Dale Lamberth, Deven Mitchell and their combined 28.8 points per game gone, the Bears won't return a player that averaged even nine points per game last season. Wing Chris Cooks averaged 8.6 points per game as a junior, and Justin Fuehrmeyer (7.2 ppg) played better as the season went along. Missouri State did receive good news after the season in that the NCAA awarded Spencer Laurie a sixth year of eligibility. Laurie, who started his career at Missouri, played only seven games in his sophomore season with the Tigers before a season-ending injury. With all the personnel losses, there will be immediate playing time for at least several newcomers. Isaiah Rhine and John Hayward-Mayhew should see immediate playing time on Missouri State's thin frontline. The Bears will get help in December when Boston University transfer Will Creekmore becomes eligible.

Northern IowaNorthern Iowa
Of the teams that finished outside of the elite in the Missouri Valley, Northern Iowa has as much potential to make a big leap this season as anybody. That's because after point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe injured his shoulder before the start of the season, the Panthers had no real replacement available. Without a point guard, Northern Iowa floundered to an 18-14 record and a 9-9 conference record. The Panthers were at or near the bottom of the Valley in assists, steals and turnover margin. That's one of the contributing factors to a season that included a four-game conference losing streak and a stretch in which UNI lost five of six games. Ahelegbe is expected to be back healthy, and that will be important for Northern Iowa. Coach Ben Jacobson's team returns seven of its top 10 scorers from a year ago. Jordan Eglseder is a 7-foot-1 junior who averaged 8.9 points per game. Eglseder, however, will have to be a better rebounder after graduation of Eric Coleman (8.8 rpg). Carlton Reed, an Iowa transfer who had to sit out until December last season, showed some signs of being a solid Valley scorer. Jacobson will also have to blend seven newcomers into the rotation.

Southern IllinoisSouthern Illinois
Having three starters back -- including very solid point guard Bryan Mullins -- would be a good thing for most coaches. What makes things even better for Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery is that his incoming recruiting class is so good that at least two of those returning starters -- Josh Bone and Wesley Clemmons -- are going to have to work hard to keep their starting jobs. In many ways, last season was a disappointing one for the Salukis, as they finished 18-15 and failed to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001. Like Creighton, don't expect the Salukis to be down for long. That's because Lowery and his staff have been recruiting like crazy. Lowery has called his current class the best in school history. Power forward Anthony Booker, ranked 80th by Scouts Inc., is the star of this class. And despite the Valley's success in recent years, the conference doesn't land too many top 100 players. In addition to Booker, wings Torres Roundtree and Ryan Hare have a chance to start immediately. The biggest question for the Salukis is going to revolve around rebounding. Because while SIU is deep and talented on the perimeter, it has to find a way to replace the scoring, rebounding and toughness of Matt Shaw and Randal Falker.

Wichita StateWichita State
The second season for a new coach is often filled with significant change. That will certainly be the case at Wichita State. After going 12-20 overall and finishing ninth in the Missouri Valley with a 4-14 record, Gregg Marshall essentially blew things up and started over. The top four scorers for the Shockers are gone after sophomore Gal Mekel (9.3 ppg) opted for a pro contract in his native Israel. It's possible that all five starters for Wichita State will be new players. Garrett Stutz is a 7- footer who will play immediately as a freshman. Wing A.J. Hawkins is eligible this season after transferring from St. Bonaventure. Toure Murry is a freshman who will see action, as will David Kyles. Junior college guards Reggie Chamberlain and Clevin Hannah will likely split the duties at point guard. Three returning players are all recovering from some sort of health setback. Ramon Clemente (7.0 ppg) -- who seems to be a likely starter if cleared -- collapsed during a July conditioning workout. Undersized big man J.T. Durley (7.0 ppg) had surgery to repair a broken left foot. And Mantas Griskenas (4.9 ppg) had last season end early because of a knee injury. Returner Aaron Ellis (2.5 ppg) should see action as well. The Shockers would have had another significant contributor in 7-foot Nigerian center Ehimen Orukpe, but he will enroll in a junior college after the NCAA would not clear him to play immediately.

Final Shots

• The MVC may not have had a team in the Top 50 in the Prestige Rankings since 1984-85, but the Valley has five teams in the top 110. Which team ranked the highest? Prestige Rankings

• Drake earned a No. 5 seed last March with its magical season. It's doubtful the Valley can get a 5 seed again, but who will win the conference's autobid? Bracketology

• Missed the other conference breakdowns? Click here to check out the ShootAround archive.