Missouri Valley Newcomers Attempt to Carry on the Tradition
In this most recent off-season, one coach, Mark Turgeon, left for the money and recruiting benefits of the Big 12. His departure, coupled with the graduation of countless valuable seniors, leaves the MVC fighting for that elusive consistency that power conferences tend to have. Look at the list of names of the departed, leaving gaping holes throughout Valley rosters: Nate Funk, Anthony Tolliver, Jamaal Tatum, Tony Young, Kyle Wilson,
These are guys that took the clutch shots. They are the dependable players; voices for the coach on the floor. When a foul stopped play, you could see Tatum or Tolliver huddling the players together. Fourth and fifth year seniors are invaluable.
“A lot of the teams that have had great success are senior-laden teams,” believes Bradley head coach Jim Les. “Their maturity level…it makes a big difference with leadership.”
The MVC took a predictable step back this year. With five new coaches and younger teams, the likelihood of four to five teams making the Dance is not good.
There are, however, several newcomers in the MVC able to carry on the recent tradition of hard-working and talented leaders. Carlton Fay (Southern Illinois) is shockingly strong for a freshman, Fay is still developing his post moves. His strength allows him to compete immediately in a conference with both “swole” and lanky players. Another advantage of getting Fay into the rotation now is that SIU coach Chris Lowery can move undersized workhorse Matt Shaw out of the 4-spot to the wing. In his first couple of years at as a Saluki, Shaw expanded his game to include a three-point shot; an exceptional outside shot at that. The key will be for Shaw to continue to show his rebounding prowess while contributing in these newer ways, as well. Like his Fresh Prince of Bel Air namesake, Carlton plays second fiddle in the paint.
Returning senior Randal Falker hogs all of the attention, constantly demanding double teams from opponents. Fay, meanwhile, is the only Saluki capable of truly helping around the basket. His ability to spin, pump fake, and take some punishment enables him to capitalize on defenses overplaying Falker. Forward Tony Boyle has a nice soft shot, but generally helps more with 10 to 15-foot jumpers. When subbed in versus a quality Indiana Hoosier frontline, Fay allowed the previously-stifled Falker to attempt three shots in two minutes of play. Overall the heated early-season contest between the Salukis and Hoosiers ended 64-51 in IU’s favor. Even so, the score while Fay while Fay was on the floor was nearly even, 11-10 in Indiana’s favor.
In the Missouri Valley Conference, Southern Illinois has proved you do not need two towering post presences. Against the top teams in the nation, one dominant forward or center will almost certainly get shutdown. A second weapon in the paint can be invaluable.
The pair of talents on Bradley does not necessarily consist of new stars, but it certainly boasts two who qualify as new starters. BU, on the cusp of the NCAA tournament last year, returned three starters with hopes of ascending to crust of the NCAA. The crust, of course, is barely a part of the pie, but alas you can’t make a pie without the fringy crust.
Largely because of an injury to their engine, Daniel Ruffin, Bradley suffered through a painful season only to surge at the most irrelevant of times.
Andrew Warren, a formerly meek, mild-mannered Indianapolis sophomore, really toughened up this season. He showed the kind of maturation winning teams and winning programs rely upon from their upperclassmen.
In a superb show of bravery, Warren showed up for his boys this year. Right alongside Jeremy Crouch, the gifted Warren resides an arm’s length from the Valley scoring title.
Incidentally, in Ruffin’s absence a small, gritty, visually-unimposing Sam Maniscalco has thrived. With a body right out of Rudy, Maniscalco managed to challenge Illinois State’s Boo Richardson for the lead in assist-to-turnover ratio.
“With the baptism by fire that we had to throw Sammy into, he’s really handled it great,” says Les. “He brings a level of toughness and competitiveness to our team.”
Creighto’s P’Allen Stinnett entered Omaha with quick feet, a soft touch, and no idea how to fit into a system.
“He needs to improve his consistency, but he is a talent,” says coach Dana Altman.
Before the year, Altman spoke of his team’s basketball immaturity with a dour face and moping tone. Stinnett clearly was one of many newcomers of which the coach was thinking when he commented.
There have been road bumps for P’Allen. As he learned on the job, Stinnett (11.6 ppg) accumulated three MVC Newcomer of the Week awards.
“With a lot of hard work and a really disciplined approach to the game he could be awfully, awfully good,” admits Altman.
Not one of these players is ready to dominate now. To carry your team through three or four grueling games in as many days, as the MVC Tournament Champion has to do, a basketball player needs more than talent. He needs to understand what his team needs from him. Rationing outbursts of scoring is filed under conference leader. Many players begin their college career with the potential to become one of the best in the league.
Regardless, the journey takes many steps, the first of which Fay, Warren, and Stinnett have already made. As the Chinese proverb admits, “The journey of a 1,000 miles began with a single step.”
With expert tutelage and great support systems in place, which player can make the second and third steps without error?