ST. LOUIS — A year ago, Illinois State basketball coach Dan Muller made news when his first-place vote in the preseason Missouri Valley Conference poll was the only one that didn’t go to Wichita State. Muller voted for the Redbirds instead.
So when the latest poll was released during Tuesday’s MVC Media Day at the Marriott St. Louis Grand Hotel and again only one first-place vote wasn’t for the Shockers, Muller was asked if he was the lone dissenter.
“I did not vote for Loyola,” said Muller, smiling.
Loyola coach Porter Moser claimed he didn’t vote for his Ramblers, either. Whoever did in balloting by league coaches, media and sports information directors kept Wichita State from being the unanimous selection to capture its third straight league championship.
Evansville earned the No. 2 spot, followed by Northern Iowa, ISU and Loyola.
“I look at it that it’s not where you get picked, it’s where you finish,” said ISU senior guard DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell.
Akoon-Purcell, who was MVC Newcomer of the Year last season, earned a spot on the preseason all-conference team, which was all seniors. He was joined by Wichita State guards Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker and the Evansville duo of guard D.J. Balentine and center Egidijus Mockevicius.
“It’s an honor,” said Akoon-Purcell, who was the Redbirds’ first preseason all-conference selection since Jackie Carmichael in 2012. “I’m blessed to be in the situation I’m in. I’m just looking forward to the season.”
VanVleet was the preseason MVC Player of the Year for the second straight year. He earned the Larry Bird Player of the Year honor in 2014.
Southern Illinois senior guard Anthony Beane Jr., a Normal Community High School graduate, was an honorable-mention choice. The Salukis were picked to finish ninth.
ISU upset Wichita State in the MVC Tournament semifinals last March before falling in the title game to UNI. The Redbirds return three starters and three key reserves off that team, which went 22-13 and lost in the National Invitation Tournament’s second round.
“I think we’re motivated enough,” said Muller about his team’s fourth-place ranking. “Two, three and four were very close. Wichita State is the clear favorite. I don’t think it will help us win one game.”
Muller said forward Quintin Brewer, a graduate transfer from Bethune-Cookman, could be out at least another week with a sprained ankle that has been placed in a protective boot.
“Nothing is broken. We found a preexisting injury he almost didn’t know about,” said Muller. “If he gets back after this weekend I’ll feel OK about it. He’s losing some conditioning and execution-wise we’re putting a lot of things in. It’s just a matter how quickly he gets up to speed.”
ISU’s lone exhibition game is Nov. 8 against Division II Southern Indiana at Redbird Arena. The season opener comes Nov. 13 at San Diego State.
Wichita State has gone 35-1 the last two years in Valley play, with the lone defeat coming at UNI last season. VanVleet and Baker have helped the Shockers reach the Final Four as freshmen, become the first team ever to start 35-0 the next season and advance to the Sweet Sixteen last season after an emotional victory over in-state rival Kansas.
The biggest challenge this season, said Coach Gregg Marshall, is “just living up to expectations which are probably a little out of whack. That’s what you’ve got to do.”
“There will be some good teams at the top (of the Valley),” said Marshall. “A few are going to be less than what they would like to be from sheer numbers, experience and things like that.”
Valley coaches are waiting to see what effect numerous rules changes put in place will have that include a 30-second shot clock (from 35 seconds).
“I don’t think it will be that different for offenses,” said UNI coach Ben Jacobson. “Defensively, if you’ve got a strong defense and make it difficult for teams to get what they want in 35 seconds obviously it’s going to be that much harder in 30 seconds.”
There seemed to more concern from coaches about a re-emphasis on hand checking, bumping the ball handler, physical post play and freedom of movement for players without the ball.
Drake coach Ray Giacoletti said officials have come to his team’s workouts for the last couple weeks.
“They’re talking about 60 to 70 fouls a night (early in the season). I think it’s going to be real ugly for a while,” said Giacoletti. “The teams that adjust the quickest will be the smartest and it will benefit them.”
Follow Jim Benson on Twitter: @pg_benson