With three top players returning, including the 2004 Mid-Con Player of the Year Caleb Green, the Golden Eagles are primed for a run at a second consecutive Mid-Continent Conference title. Green averaged 19.4 points and 9.3 rebounds, both second-best in the league, while leading his team to the best record in the Mid-Con last season. Also returning are guards Ken Tutt (17.1 ppg) and Jonathan Bluitt, who led the league in assists (5.39) last season, while senior Larry Owens (9.2 ppg) could be the team’s secret weapon. ORU coach Scott Sutton also added Oklahoma Player of the Year Marchello Vealy and expects him to have an immediate impact on his 2005-06 squad. The Golden Eagles led the Mid-Con in scoring last season (77.3) and return players who accounted for 84 percent of that mark.
2. Valparaiso (15–16, 10–6)
The Crusaders will be good without him, but if Kenny Harris (6-foot-10, 310 pounds) returns to full strength, coach Homer Drew’s club could be very good. Harris collapsed in the spring while working out in the school’s weight room and was hospitalized for over two months, but he is recovering. Also up in the air is the return of shooting guard Ali Berdiel, who has suffered from a foot ailment for two years. Valpo returns All-Mid-Con first teamer Dan Oppland, (18.6 ppg), one of the most consistent scorers in the league. The Crusaders should still be strong inside with Moussa Mbaye, who has reportedly added 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason.
3. IUPUI (16–13, 9–7)
With a talented and deep team, Jaguars’ coach Ron Hunter could be in the mix when the Mid-Con tournament rolls around. IUPUI is led by 6-6 Brandon Cole (14.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg), who can hurt opponents inside and outside while creating tough matchups on the perimeter. The Jags are especially deep on the wings with George Hill (10.7 ppg) and Maushae Byles (8.8) returning. Hunter should get help from Penn State transfer Brandon Cameron and Xavier transfer Angelo Smith.
4. Western Illinois (11–17, 7–9)
The Leathernecks will have to overcome the loss of Mid-Con Newcomer of the Year Eulis Baez, who led the team last season in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. But with four returning starters and a stellar recruiting class, third-year coach Derek Thomas should contend for the league title. Other returning starters include forwards Eliz Cepeda (5.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and NaVonta Kentle (5.4, 3.7), along with guard Troy Okeson, who tied for the team lead with 51 3-pointers.
5. UMKC (15–12, 12–4)
The Kangaroos lost seven players, including three starters, to graduation or transfer but return a backcourt that should be one of the best in the league. Former USC guard Quinton Day (13.1 ppg, 4.8 apg) and Tim Blackwell (10.1, 88 percent from the line) will be called upon to lead the team. The loss of All-Mid-Con first teamers Carlton Aaron and Mike English, who combined to average 30.4 points and 15.7 rebounds per game, means coach Rich Zvosec will have to find some quick scoring help from returnees Blake Crawford, Brian Gettinger or Mark Huppe. Newcomers Dee Ayuba, Kalu Guasco and Kyle Spears could contribute inside.
6. Oakland (13–19, 7–9)
The Grizzlies were last season’s surprise team in the Mid-Con, putting on a late run that catapulted them to the league’s postseason tournament title and into the NCAA tournament. But four starters are gone, including two of the best players in the league in Rawle Marshall (19.9 ppg) and Cortney Scott (18.1). Coach Greg Kampe will depend on returnees Brandon Cassise (8.3) and Patrick McCloskey (5.0 ) and Rutgers transfer Calvin Wooten for scoring.
7. Chicago State (9–19, 7–9)
The Cougars must replace their top three scorers and top three rebounders from last season’s squad. The biggest loss was 7-1 sophomore Deji Akindele, the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, who declared for the NBA Draft. Returning starters are guards Royce Parran (10.0 ppg) and Kevin Jones Jr. (5.9). Senior forwards Marin Mulic and Nate Carter should help inside.
8. Southern Utah (13–15, 6–10)
The Thunderbirds lost both of their double-digit scorers from last season but return three starters who averaged a combined 19 points per outing. Rand Janes will need to step up his scoring average (8.7), and coach Bill Evans will need to get help inside from 7-0 center Fernando Bonfim. Senior Lubor Olsovsky could have a breakout season by playing on a regular basis.
9. Centenary (3–24, 1–15)
The Gents are the unknown quantity of the league this season after replacing six-year coach Kevin Johnson with former Arkansas assistant coach Rob Flaska during the offseason. Flaska cleaned house, keeping just three players off last season’s last-place team. Sophomore guard Tyrone Hamilton (12.5 ppg) is the only returning starter for a team that will feature eight new roster members.