Missouri Valley Conference Preview

Wichita State still on top of MVC


Feb. 17, 2008

By Eric Sorenson

Special to CSTV.com

 

ERIC SORENSON
Eric Sorenson is a regular contributor to CSTV.com, covering football, basketball & baseball.
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The good news is that the Valley remains a two-bid league and has the most respect of any mid-major in the country (Okay WCC fans, I hear ya'. You may have a point). But going into 2008 there are major losses for just about every team up and down the ledger. There are some things that never seem to change, like Wichita State's status as top dog and as a pitching prospect factory. That will keep the Shocks in the catbird seat once again. But the rest of the conference has definitely closed the gap in prestige and there's always an upstart or two that will make this anything but a one-horse race.

 

Favorite: Wichita State

Contenders: Creighton, Southern Illinois

Darkhorse: Bradley

 

Bradley (32-21, 13-11)

 

The Good News:

Last year was the first 30-plus win season since 1996 and first winning mark in MVC play since anyone can remember. Dan Brewer (.313-10-30, 20SBs) was a Cape Cod League All-Star last summer and RHP Brad Altbach (7-2, 2.66, 5svs) was Frosh All-American last spring. RHP Chris Wright (4-2, 2.77, 3svs) is another versatile arm.

 

The Bad News:

Five of the six hitters that hit .290+ in '07 are gone. Transfers like 1B Grant Escue (hit .422 in 45 at-bats at Stanford) and RHP Lendsey Thomson (from Missouri, but went 10-2 at Fort Scott CC in '06) will need to make immediate impacts. Must find more power and steal threats beside Brewer.

 

The Intangible:

Damn Bluejays.

 

Excuse Bradley for circling its games with Creighton on the season calendar. In 2007, BU lost all five games to the Jays, including twice in the MVC tournament. The last lost came by the mercy-shortened score of 17-2.

 

Schedule Note:

Tough road ahead. The MVC has mandated that the Braves play roadies at Evansville, Southern Illinois and the last weekend at Wichita State this season.

 

Creighton (45-16, 19-5)

 

The Good News:

Coach Servais continues to work his magic, leading CU back to the Big Dance again and earning the schools' first MVC tourney title last season. All-MVC slingers like the dual-armed threat of Pat Venditte (8-2, 1.88, 4svs, 99Ks) and Ben Mancuso (10-3, 2.88) are back, as is weekend starter Zak Moore (5-1, 3.63). 1B Darrin Ruf (.374-8-57) was a Valley Gold Glove

 

The Bad News:

Finding a clamp-down arm and offensive power are jobs one and two as saves artist Andy Masten (16svs) and the bats of Chris Gradoville and Chad Ogden are gone. After setting an NCAA record of 35 HBPs, I'm sure umpires are going to be more wary of Robbie Knight's (.270) penchant for leaning.

 

The Intangible:

Obviously, the two-armed wonder.

 

No single player in the country earned their team more free pub than Venditte. He was featured in Sports Illustrated, USA Today, ESPN and of course on CSTV. His dual-armed approach is no novelty act either as his ERA (1.88) and strikeout total (99) will attest.

 

Schedule Note:

Its days are surely numbered now, but CU will get its use of Rosenblatt Stadium while it still can. There will be nine Bluejay games played at the venerable Mecca of baseball in 2008, more than any year before.

 

Evansville (35-23, 13-11)

 

The Good News:

Last season marked the third straight year of 35-plus wins for the Aces. OF Jim Visconi (.374) is a veteran of MVC wars and RHP Wade Kapteyn (2-2, 4.98) was a pleasant surprise. The schedule won't be as daunting as last season's pre-conference headache.

 

The Bad News:

Names like Timulty, Norton, Wahl, Watts, etc., aren't simply replaced in the lineup. Even though they won 35 games, '07 was a disappointment for an EU team that was pre-season Top 25. Only two field starters and three pitchers return for 2008.

 

The Intangible:

Lots, and I mean lots, of new blood.

 

And it's good new blood too. Keep an eye on RHP Tom Heithoff (a JC All-American), UTL Sean Loggins (a 48th round pick of the Angels) and SS/3B Peter Tountas, a two-time pro draftee. It may take some time, but there's a lot of new talent that will gel.

 

Schedule Note:

A softer non-conference schedule than last year will allow the new Aces to get their sea legs. But an MVC season that closes with weekenders against Creighton, Wichita State and SIU will mean EU should stockpile their wins early.

 

Illinois State (20-32, 8-16)

 

The Good News:

Illinois State had their moments in '07. Starters Eric Theisen (3-9, 4.54) and Ryan Copeland (4-3, 5.19) and key 'penner Jim Sajewich (3-2, 2.89) will have battery mate Kevin Dubler (.317) to throw to. Incoming transfer UTL Quinn Ewart (2-1/.333 at Michigan State) will be a necessary addition.

 

The Bad News:

This team finished '07 on a 4-16 skid from Tax Day on. Coach Jim Brownlee will have to rely on a lot of youth in '08. 3B Ryan Anelsberger and OF Matt Bolt were clutch hitters that are now gone.

 

The Intangible:

They're not that far away.

 

ISU may have won only 20 games in '07, but it proved it could play with the best after getting wins over the likes of Arkansas, Louisville and Memphis in the first month of the season.

 

Schedule Note:

There are no real ball-breakers on the docket. Before Wichita State comes calling in mid-March, the Redbirds will have plenty of easy opponents to build up some newfound confidence.

 

Indiana State (26-26, 7-17)

 

The Good News:

A senior-laden outfield will pose problems for opponents with Chris Schmidt (.368, 13SBs), Dave Brumagin (.339) and Nick Ciolli (.307-7-35), who were also the best hitters on the '07 team. Starters Matt Shelton (5-2, 3.65) and Chad Dawson (2-2, 5.86) will see their expectations increase.

 

The Bad News:

That's two straight last place finishes for the Sycamores and it's been since 2002 since ISU has had a winning MVC campaign. A lot of quality arms are gone, including do-it-all bullpenner Adam Lindsey. The staff walk total of 242 can't rear its ugly head again.

 

The Intangible:

Playing with a heavy heart.

 

Tragically, the Indiana State University family lost Jordan Shaw-Tyler, a promising home-grown freshman who was killed in a car accident in December. Shaw-Tyler had a great fall session with the team and was expected to be a phenom.

 

Schedule Note:

This isn't quite fair. Between now and March 21st, the Sycamores will have played at USF, at Ole Miss, at Missouri and at College of Charleston. The first two weekends of MVC play is roadies at SIU and Bradley as well.

 

Missouri State (23-34, 7-17)

 

The Good News:

Despite the rough season, MSU still had a team ERA of 4.27, 4th best in the MVC. Young arms Tim Clubb (6-3, 4.07) and Matt Frevert (2-1, 0.47, 4svs) will throw to All-American candidate Kyle Paul (.323-4-37) behind the plate. OFs Nolan Keane (.314-9-32) and Ben Woodbury (.309) will provide much-needed seniority as well.

 

The Bad News:

The Bears? Finishing in a tie for last? That's GOT to be a typo! As strange as it sounds, it's true. Not a good '07 for MoState. Losing All-Everything Ross Detwiler and fellow starter Scott Carroll leaves wicked-huge holes.

 

The Intangible:

The bottom fell out.

 

On April 7th of last season, MSU was 19-12 and still expecting to live up to its contending status in the Valley. But from April 8th to May 5th the Bears went 0-fer. It was that school record 14-game losing streak that put the 2007 season on ice.

 

Schedule Note:

MoState won't get any post-season favors this year. Despite the last-place finish, MSU was awarded a spot in last year's MVC tourney, but only because it was the host school. No such luck this year as it heads back to Wichita.

 

Southern Illinois (34-22, 13-11)

 

The Good News:

It all starts with RHP Cody Adams (11-5, 3.01, 89Ks) who had a great '07 season. LHP Shawn Joy (5-2, 3.54) and closer Bryant George (11svs, Frosh All-American) are part of a well-stocked staff. They'll throw to All-MVC C Mark Kelly (.379). Seven other starters return, led by OF Aaron Roberts (.349, Frosh All American) and All-MVC senior Adam Hills (.319).

 

The Bad News:

Despite a 10-5 finish, SIU went belly-up in the post-season with 0-2 trip to the Valley tourney. The leadership of longtime mainstay Kevin Koski must be replaced. The schedule isn't an RPI-builder. Conference opponents hit a brisk .313 against the staff. That must change.

 

The Intangible:

Getting the pub.

 

People are taking notice of the Salukis, with Collegiate Baseball ranking them at No. 33 in their pre-season rag. Who knows, a good season here and they might just have a baseball team that this basketball school can be proud of.

 

Schedule Note:

For a club with such high expectations, there won't be many chances to prove their worth. Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, Xavier and the Irish Classic down in San Antonio (with Prairie View A&M, UTPA and Notre Dame) are the four pre-conference weekends. C'mon people!

 

UNI (23-28, 8-16)

 

The Good News:

CF Daric Manrique (.351, 30SBs) is one of the most exciting table-setters in the country and teams with SS Brandon Douglas (.339) to kick-start the O. On the hill, Nick Kirk (4-3, 3.50) and Guido Fonseca (5-4, 4.09) are a good lefty-righty starting weekend combo with cool names.

 

The Bad News:

UNI wasn't fundamentally sound, issuing more walks (270) and committing more errors (93) than anyone in the Valley. Staff ace Aaron Jenkins and saves man Jason Barry have hit the bricks. A .278 team average won't cut the Grey Poupon in the Valley.

 

The Intangible:

Develop some consistency.

 

Last year, NIU swept only one weekend opponent (North Dakota State) and won only one MVC weekend series, the season-ender vs. Bradley. No repeats of that please.

 

Schedule Note:

Just like last year, UNI will open with trips to Centenary and Arkansas-Little Rock in the first two weekends. Only last season it was in reverse order. Interesting tournament in the Metrodome following that with Cal, New Mexico and the host Gophers.

 

Wichita State (53-22, 20-4)

 

The Good News:

This is still the blueprint for any mid-major hoping to build into a national power. Is there ever a year that a Gene Stephenson-coached team DOESN'T have an All-American (or two) on the mound? This time its the trio of LHP Anthony Capra (7-1, 1.76), LHP Rob Musgrave (10-2, 2.59) and high-draftee-to-be Aaron Shafer (8-2, 2.23). These guys can freakin' mow! 3B Conor Gillaspie (.325-6-63) and OF Andy Dirks (.320, 19SBs) will lead a rebuilding offense.

 

The Bad News:

The law firm of Sublett, Schermerhorn, Booth, Brown and Banwart won a lot of cases over the years. Though it doesn't sound bad, a .299 team average is still not up to par with Mean Gene's expectations and the 478 strikeouts committed by the '07 offense still has him fuming. 20 of last year's 21 saves have left the roster.

 

The Intangible:

Hunger... No, starvation!

 

For a program with a ridiculous winning tradition, it's still been since 1996 that WSU has been to Rosenblatt in June. And it's been since 1993 since they've earned a W when there. Last year should've left the Shockers starving for more as they dropped two incredibly-tight games to UC Irvine in the Supers. If pain is a motivation...

 

Schedule Note:

Well there's bad news and good news. For the first time in modern memory, WSU won't be going on a trip to Hawaii in the early going. Sorry Shock fans. But the good news is that for once the "anchor effect" of playing five games against Hawaii-Hilo won't hurt Wichita come selection Monday. Oh and the MVC tournament returns to Wichita this May.

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