Missouri State was picked to win the Missouri Valley men’s basketball title and Bears senior forward Alize Johnson was chosen preseason player of the year in a poll of coaches and media released Tuesday.
This Valley season is the first without Wichita State, which now plays in the American Athletic Conference. The Shockers and Illinois State tied for last season’s Valley title at 17-1.
The Bears, who finished 17-16 last season and tied for sixth in the 10-team Valley at 7-11, were chosen to win the conference for the first time since they joined in 1990-91. They received 30 of 40 first-place votes.
Northern Iowa was picked second, receiving eight first-place votes, followed by Loyola, which got one first-place vote. Illinois State also received a first-place vote and was picked fourth. Southern Illinois was fifth, followed by Valparaiso, which joins the Valley from the Horizon League, where the Crusaders tied for the league title last season.
Johnson declared for the NBA Draft but returned for his senior season and is projected as a first-round pick in the 2018 draft. He averaged 14.8 points per game last season, led the Valley with 10.6 rebounds per game and was chosen to the all-conference first team. He’s one of 20 nominees for the 2018 Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year award.
The Bears are coached by Paul Lusk, who’s 88-106 entering his seventh season and has yet to reach the NCAA Tournament. Missouri State returns four starters, however, and finished above .500 for the second time in Lusk’s tenure.