The Missouri State Bears picked up 30 of a possible 40 first-place votes and were announced as the preseason favorite to win the Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball title this season, according the league’s preseason poll of coaches, media and communications professionals released Tuesday.
It marks the first time since joining the MVC in 1990-91 the Bears have been picked to win The Valley title. The Bears received 381 points in the poll just ahead of UNI (337) which also picked up eight first-place votes, Loyola (321) with one first-place vote, and defending champion Illinois State (256) which was picked fourth and snagged the final first-place vote.
Rounding out the poll were Southern Illinois (226), Valparaiso (214), Bradley (182), Indiana State (116), Evansville (88) and Drake (79) in the 10-team league.
Likewise, MSU senior forward Alize Johnson (Williamsport, Pa.), the only returning first-team All-MVC selection from last season, has been named as the MVC Preseason Player of the Year.
Johnson is the first MSU player since Kyle Weems in 2011-12 to earn the preseason honor. He is one of six preseason first-team picks, along with Loyola’s tandem of Donte Ingram and Aundre Jackson, Indiana State’s Brenton Scott, Northern Iowa’s Bennett Koch and Drake’s Reed Timmer.
Johnson was the 2017 Newcomer of the Year in the Missouri Valley Conference and attended a pre-draft workout with the Boston Celtics in April. In 2016-17, Johnson also earned All-MVC first-team and NABC All-District honors while being named to the MVC All-Tournament Team. He was a two-time Valley Player of the Week and six-time Valley Newcomer of the Week in his first campaign in Springfield.
He led the conference in rebounding at 10.6 per game last season, which ranked 11th nationally. He also led MSU in scoring at 14.8 points per game while producing 17 double-doubles -– the 15th-most in the nation — and 21 double-figure rebounding games. He also finished with the second-highest season rebounding total of Missouri State’s Division I era (351) while converting 48.8 percent of his field goals and 39 percent of his 3-point attempts.
Last week, Johnson was announced as one of 20 nominees for the 2018 Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award.
The Bears return four starters for coach Paul Lusk’s seventh season at the helm. His club is coming off a 17-win campaign that included a run to the MVC Tournament semifinals last March.
The Missouri State Lady Bears are predicted to finish second in the Missouri Valley Conference this season and senior guard Liza Fruendt is the Preseason Player of the Year according to a vote of the league’s head coaches, media representatives and sports information directors, it was announced Tuesday (Oct. 24) at MVC Media Day in St. Louis.
The Lady Bears collected seven first-place votes and 323 total points for the No. 2 spot, while Drake is the choice to repeat as champion with 356 points and 31 first-place votes. UNI picked up the remaining two No. 1 votes and 311 points for third, and Southern Illinois (256) came in fourth.
Indiana State finished fifth in the polling with 231 points, followed by Bradley (216), Illinois State (139), Evansville (132), Valparaiso (131) and Loyola (105).
Fruendt is the MVC’s top returning scorer, averaging 16.7 points and starting all 31 Missouri State games last season on the way to first-team all-MVC honors. She boosted her averages to 18.2 points, 6.0 boards and 2.7 assists on conference games as the only player to rank in the top 12 in each category.
The Batavia, Ill., native scored in double figures 27 times last season, including a 46-point outburst at 22nd-ranked Drake, the fifth-best total in school history behind only Jackie Stiles. She led MSU in scoring 21 times, and had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds against Evansville. Her 518 total points tied for 16th in MSU history, her 72 3-pointers ranked eighth, and she surpassed the 1,000-point barrier in February.
Fruendt is joined on the all-conference squad by Drake’s Sammie Bachrodt and Becca Hittner, Kylie Giebelhausen of Southern Illinois and UNI’s Ellie Howell.
The Lady Bears begin exhibition play Nov. 5 at 2 p.m. with Lindenwood, and tip off the regular season Nov. 13 with a 6 p.m. game at Ball State.
Missouri State has now been picked to finish either first or second in 17 of the 26 MVC preseason polls since joining the league for the 1992-93 season, and have accompanied those with a total 14 top-two conference finishes. MSU went 16-15 last season and advanced to the postseason for a third consecutive year. The Lady Bears return nine players from that squad, including 121 of the team’s 155 starts, for Kellie Harper’s fifth season in Springfield.