MVC men’s basketball 2021-22 preview

UNIs+AJ+Green%2C+who+won+the+MVC+Player+of+the+Year+in+2019-20%2C+was+named+the+Preseason+Player+of+the+Year+for+2021-22.

TONI FORTMANN

UNI’s AJ Green, who won the MVC Player of the Year in 2019-20, was named the Preseason Player of the Year for 2021-22.

DREW HILL

The men’s college basketball season opens Tuesday, Nov. 9 with the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) having several teams playing non-conference games on that day to open the season. As has become the norm for each season, the MVC looks like a deep conference. As many as five teams could contend for the title, and several of the teams are returning the majority of their players. 

Foremost among the players returning is UNI’s AJ Green, who was the Larry Bird Conference Player of the Year two seasons ago but missed most of last season with a hip injury. In the three games he played, he averaged 22.3 points per game. He is a leading contender for MVC Player of the Year and was named the MVC Preseason Player of the Year. Forward Austin Phyfe also returns for UNI after averaging 12.4 and 7.3 rebounds per game. He has finished on the all-conference teams the last two years and him and Green will return as one of the best duos in the conference. Together with Trae Berhow and Bowen Born (last season’s MVC Newcomer of the Year), they will lead UNI to contend for a conference title.

Loyola-Chicago, who is a perennial favorite, is an interesting team to watch this year. They won the MVC regular season and conference tournament last year, and reached the Sweet Sixteen behind their 2021 Larry Bird Award-winning center Cameron Krutwig, including a shocking upset over No.1 seed Illinois. Then, this summer, Krutwig graduated and went to play professional ball in Belgium, and their coach, Porter Moser, accepted a job at the University of Oklahoma. However, the team returns the rest of its key contributors, and their new coach, Drew Valentine, was an assistant for Loyola before being promoted to become the youngest coach in the country at only 30 years old. The team will contend for a second consecutive title this year and attempt to reach the NCAA tournament again.

The Drake Bulldogs may have the best chance to win the conference this season. They struggled with injuries but still finished last year with a record of 26-5, including an at-large bid and a win in the NCAA tournament. They return most of their key contributors from last year, including Roman Penn and ShanQuan Hemphill, but did lose one key player in Joseph Yesufu, who carried the team down the stretch last year when Penn and Hemphill were injured. They added a heralded freshman prospect in Tucker DeVries and will also be a contender for the Valley title. 

Two dark horse candidates for the title are Missouri State and Southern Illinois. Missouri State finished third in MVC standings last year and returns arguably the best duo in the conference in Isiaih Mosely and Gaige Prim. Mosely is the leading returning scorer in the conference, averaging 19.8 points per game last year, and Prim is the leading returning rebounder, averaging 9.1 rebounds in 2020-21. Southern Illinois finished ninth in the MVC last year but faced a similar predicament to UNI when its star player, Marcus Domask, went down with an injury 10 games into the season. They also return all of their major contributors from last year.

The 2021 conference play will begin on Dec. 1 and will finish in St. Louis with Arch Madness, running from March 3-6 at the Enterprise Center.