Not since 1991-92 has a defending Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball championship team been picked as low as the Missouri State Bears are in 2011-12. The MVC preseason poll and all-conference team were announced Tuesday (Oct. 25) in St. Louis as part of the league’s annual Media Day festivities with the 2010-11 champion Bears tabbed sixth in the 10-team league.

Creighton (389 total points), a team the Bears defeated three times last winter, took 29 of the 40 first-place votes to land the honor as preseason favorites, followed by Wichita State (350) with seven first-place votes, and Indiana State (331) with the other four top votes. Northern Iowa (245), Evansville (234), MSU (216), Drake (159), Illinois State (111), Southern Illinois (90) and Bradley (75) rounded out the preseason voting.

“I don’t get too high or too low with polls,” said first-year head coach Paul Lusk who snagged three juco all-Americans and a Big East transfer in his inaugural signing class at MSU. “Preseason polls are just that, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re picked first or last, you still have to win games on the floor. We’re just looking forward to the season and seeing how we stack up.”

Lusk took the Missouri State head coaching job on April 1 and returns the MVC Player of the Year in senior forward Kyle Weems (Topeka, Kan.). Weems, an AP All-America pick last year, was named to the Preseason All-MVC squad today and honored as the league’s Preseason Player of the Year. He averaged 16.0 points and 6.9 rebounds to go with 66 three-pointers and 48 steals a year ago while helping the Bears to a 26-9 campaign and the program’s first-ever MVC regular season title after a 15-3 league record.

Weems is ranked as the No. 38 Division I player by, No. 27 by and is one of just three returning DI players who averaged at least 16.0 points and 6.0 rebounds with at least 60 three-pointers.

Weems is one of six lettermen back from the MVC championship squad. He and Keith Pickens (So., G/F, St. Louis, Mo.), a starter on the 2009-10 CIT championship team, are the only two returning starters for the Bears who graduated four starting seniors. Pickens missed the entire 2010-11 campaign recovering from an off-season knee injury. MVC All-Freshman selection Nathan Scheer (So., G/F, Washington, Mo.) also returns.

Weems is joined on the Preseason All-MVC team by Jake Odum (So., G, Indiana State), Doug McDermott (So., F, Creighton), Toure’ Murry (Sr., G, Wichita State) and Colt Ryan (Jr., G/F, Evansville). It is believed to be the first time in the Valley’s history that two sophomores were named to the preseason all-conference squad.

Missouri State opens a three-game exhibition schedule at JQH Arena this Thursday at 8:05 p.m. against Truman State. William Jewell comes to JQH Arena this Saturday at 7:05 p.m. before the Bears travel to Missouri Southern on Nov. 5 for a double-header fund-raiser to assist in the Joplin recovery efforts.

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