ST. LOUIS (AP) - Finally, some good news for Wichita State.
Coach Gregg Marshall has four starters back from a 25-win team that finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference last year and played in the NIT. This year, the Shockers are picked to win it, and Marshall has been getting them ready for the grind.
"We just beat them down in practice. We really don't let our guys get too far ahead of themselves," Marshall said Tuesday at the Valley media day. "We're coaching every single pass, every foot angle, every movement on the court, and every decision they make."
Entering his fourth season, Marshall has his biggest team with a pair of 7-footers, returning starter Aaron Ellis at 6-9 and three more at 6-8.
"It's a small court when we're out there 5-on-5 in practices," Marshall said. "Not only the size, and they're immense, but the athleticism as well. We look good in an airport and we look like a basketball team for the first time in a while."
Wichita State received 33-of-39 first-place votes from coaches, media and sports information directors, and landed guard Toure' Murry on the preseason all-conference team. Kenny Lawson of Creighton, who averaged 13.6 points and 6.8 rebounds last season, was named preseason player of the year.
Missouri State, which won the conference tournament and also won the CollegeInsider.com postseason tournament, was picked second. Coach Cuonzo Martin has the program on the rise, making a 13-win jump in his second season with the Bears finishing 24-12, and landed forward Kelly Weems on the preseason all-conference team.
"I think you put yourself in a position to be successful," Martin said. "Mentally, you have to be ready to deal with it and I think that's the next phase for our guys. It's a different level of expectation."
Defending champ Northern Iowa, coming off a Sweet 16 appearance that included an upset of Kansas but minus three starters from last season, was picked to finish third. Creighton and Bradley rounded out the top five.
Guards Kwadzo Ahelegbe of Northern Iowa and Sam Maniscalco of Bradley also were named to the preseason all-conference team.
Overall, the Valley has 31-of-50 starters back and commissioner Doug Elgin is optimistic the conference will produce multiple NCAA bids for the first time since 2007.
"Last year, Northern Iowa was dominant. This year we're going to be in position to make some noise," Elgin said.
Missouri State, which returns its top five starters from a third-place team, was favored to win the women's title. The Lady Bears received 27 first-place votes and landed two players on the preseason all-conference team. Guard Casey Garrison was named unanimous preseason player of the year and guard Jaleshia Roberson also was honored.
Defending conference tourney champion Northern Iowa was picked for second and landed two of its three returning starters on the preseason all-conference team, center Lizzie Boeck and guard Jacqui Kalin. Creighton was picked to finish third, just one point behind Northern Iowa, and landed forward Sam Schuett on the all-conference team.
Illinois State was fourth and Wichita State fifth in the poll.
Missouri State won 22 games last season and is among only 17 Division I programs to make a 10-win improvement. Garrison is the conference's active leader in points (1,134), free throws (285), assists (258) and steals (153), and led the Valley in scoring (19.9) and steals (2.7) last season.
Coach Nyla Milleson has the five top scorers from last season returning, and Roberson led the conference with 91 3-pointers last season. The Lady Bears led the Valley with a 76-point average and played three games in the WNIT.
"It's really the year we've been waiting for," Milleson said. "Some days in practice we're teaching something and before we get it out of our mouths one of the returning players is telling the younger players what to do."