With college basketball season approaching and preseason games wrapping up, college basketball fans will finally be able to cheer on their favorite teams throughout the cold winter months and the thick and thin that it brings.
In the Missouri Valley Conference, which consists of 12 mid-major schools from Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, and Tennessee, there’s one sleeper team that is poised to make a run in the conference, which is the Bradley Braves.
The Braves this year come in ranked #3 in the conference's preseason polls, coming in behind #2 Northern Iowa and #1 Drake. However, this same team just one year ago went 25-10 overall while being 16-4 in conference play, securing their first regular season championship since 1995 and their highest win total since 1987.
On paper, however, this year's team isn’t as strong as last year's team as the team lost three of their five starters, with Rienk Mast transferring over to Nebraska, Zek Montgomery transferring to Rhode Island, and Jashon Henry graduating and going to play overseas.
This hasn’t stopped coach Brian Wardle as role players from last year's team have stepped up into the starting lineup, most notably Point guard Duke Deen and forward Darius Hannah replacing Montgomery and Henry with 7’1 sophomore center Ahmet Jonovic being the new big man joining the two returning starters in guard Connor Hickman and MVC defensive player of the year Malevy Leons.
The team's success will be centered around what Deen, Hickman, and Leons can do. However, coach Wardle once again put together a deep team with combo guard/forward Christian Davis, a veteran who will come off the bench along with newcomers Almar Atlason from Iceland and Demarion Burch, who’s out of Wisconsin. They, along with transfer guards Emarion Ellis out of Marquette and Trey Pettigrew out of Nevada, give the Braves a deep bench that they can mix and match lineups with against different teams and can provide the big three of Leons, Hickman, and Deen much needed rest when they go up big on teams.
This team is centered around heart and hard work; if they bring the energy all season, don’t be surprised if the boys from Peoria go dancing this year.
(Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)