Best of CKS – #UNIWBB 2nd in #MVCHoops Preseason Poll

UNI hopes to break through in 2014-15

UNI hopes to break through in 2014-15

In the Missouri Valley Conference’s “MVC Hoops Tip Off” on Tuesday, the UNI women’s basketball team was recognized with a 2nd-place finish in the 2014-15 MVC preseason poll (with two of 40 first place votes). The Panthers also drew a Preseason All-Conference selection for Jen Keitel.

Each preseason poll is comprised of four votes from each school – head coach, sports information director, and two media ballots. On the heels of this year’s results, here is a small snapshot of all 10 teams from top to bottom:

1. Wichita State (395 points, 36/40 first place votes)
Last Season: 26-7 overall, 14-4 MVC (T-1st, picked 2nd)
Returning/Lost: 7/5 players, 4/1 starters
Full Roster: 11 (3 Sr., 1 Jr., 6 So., 1 Fr.)
Why No. 1: No surprise to see the back-to-back champs take the top spot, highlighted by two-time MVC DPOY and MVC Championship MOP Alex Harden. If the Shockers can play through a grinding season with another small roster, Wichita State could grab another MVC title.

2. UNI (338 points, 2/40 first place votes)
Last Season: 17-13 overall, 13-5 MVC (3rd, picked 3rd)
Returning/Lost: 13/3 players, 5/0 starters
Full Roster: 14 (4 Sr., 4 Jr., 4 So., 2 Fr.)
Why No. 2: After falling just shy of a regular season co-championship, almost everyone is back from a senior-less roster that is now full of experience and camaraderie. Reigning MVC COY Tanya Warren, Jen Keitel, and the Panthers look to take the next step to a championship.

3. Drake (315 points, 2/40 first place votes)
Last Season: 17-15 overall, 9-9 MVC (5th, picked 4th)
Returning/Lost: 8/4 players, 4/1 starters
Full Roster: 12 (1 Gr., 4 Sr., 1 Jr., 3 So., 3 Fr.)
Why No. 3: The reigning MVC finalist brings back nearly every core player that carried Drake to a great run through the season’s second half. 2013-14 MVC POY Kyndal Clark, MVC Co-FOY Lizzy Wendell lead the Bulldogs, which are easily a strong contender for a league crown.

4. Evansville (252 points)
Last Season: 15-16 overall, 10-8 MVC (4th, picked 9th)
Returning/Lost: 6/6 players, 4/1 starters
Full Roster: 12 (3 Sr., 2 Jr., 3 So., 4 Fr.)
Why No. 4: When healthy, Evansville was a competitive team last season and could be a dark horse to win the Valley this season. The senior core of Khristian Hart, Kat Taylor, and Mallory Ladd has battled injuries with the Aces and needs to stay healthy for a potential title run.

5. Indiana State (234 points)
Last Season: 20-12 overall, 14-4 MVC (T-1st, picked 1st)
Returning/Lost: 12/4 players, 2/3 starters
Full Roster: 15 (7 Sr., 3 Jr., 3 So., 2 Fr.)
Why No. 5: Indiana State’s top three scorers and its head coach are gone from last year’s regular season co-champion. Specifically with the losses of 2013-14 NOY Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir and Anna Munn at guard, the Sycamores need new leaders from the backcourt for this season.

6. Missouri State (190 points)
Last Season: 14-17 overall, 8-10 MVC (T-6th, picked 5th)
Returning/Lost: 7/6 players, 3/2 starters
Full Roster: (1 Sr., 3 Jr., 3 So., 6 Fr.)
Why No. 6: The past season was buoyed by a pair of big win streaks, and enough key players come back to keep the Lady Bears as a competitive squad. Missouri State closed the past season at 3-7 without Kenzie Williams, who is coming back from an ACL tear last February.

7. Loyola (166 points)
Last Season: 11-21 overall, 6-12 MVC (8th, picked 6th)
Returning/Lost: 8/8 players, 3/2 starters
Full Roster: 14 (4 Sr., 1 Jr., 3 So., 6 Fr.)
Why No. 7: Injuries and a change in conferences entering last season make it difficult to pinpoint how good Loyola fits in to the Missouri Valley Conference. Simone Law, Taylor Johnson, and Tiana Karopulos could boost the Ramblers with healthier campaigns in 2014-15.

8. Illinois State (125 points)
Last Season: 10-20 overall, 8-10 MVC (T-6th, picked 8th)
Returning/Lost: 9/3 players, 3/2 starters
Full Roster: 12 (2 Sr., 6 Jr., 4 So., 0 Fr.)
Why No. 8: Coming off an up-and-down 2014-15 season with an incredibly young and small roster, the Redbirds bring back some experience but not a lot of firepower. This year’s older roster needs to find the consistency that last year’s team lacked to move forward in the MVC.

9. Southern Illinois (116 points)
Last Season: 5-25 overall, 3-15 MVC (10th, picked 10th)
Returning/Lost: 10/4 players, 4/1 starters
Full Roster: 13 (3 Sr., 5 Jr., 3 So., 3 Fr.)
Why No. 9: Southern Illinois’ recent struggles have kept the Salukis near the bottom of the standings. However, with almost a dozen returning players, featuring a few players that redshirted last season, the Salukis have a talent pool to surpass their expectations.

10. Bradley (60 points)
Last Season: 8-22 overall, 5-13 MVC (9th, picked 7th)
Returning/Lost: 5/7 players, 2/3 starters
Full Roster: 12 (1 Sr., 2 Jr., 3 So., 6 Fr.)
Why No. 10: Nine of the 12 Braves have never played with Bradley, including six true freshmen and three transfers. Having lost so many key players and bringing together a nearly-new team for this upcoming season, this seems like a building year for the Braves.

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I will not divulge my entire ballot, but it looks very similar to the league results. I voted with a tight three-team race in mind between UNI, Drake, and Wichita State for the regular season title. I think Evansville poses a solid threat, too, while the other six teams are not separated by much. It should be an extremely fun season to cover…

As we get closer to UNI’s exhibition game against the DII Sioux Falls Cougars on November 9, I will take a closer look at the Panthers with a preseason review and a look ahead at the 2014-15 season. Thanks for reading! U-N-I Fight!

Best of CKS bonus: If you read this entire post, give yourself a pat on the back. As another reward, this is a quick look inside UNI’s new team area at the McLeod Center (prominently featuring video coordinator Greg Stadler):

Film room and lobby inside UNI's new locker room suite

Film room and lobby inside UNI’s new locker room suite