IT'S AWARDS SEASON
Ballots for Missouri Valley Conference honors are due Sunday. Here's my rough draft.
* Player of the Year — Missouri State's Kyle Weems gets my vote in a wire-to-wire campaign. Northern Iowa's Kwadzo Ahelegbe made a strong run since late January, and no team leans on a player more heavily than the Panthers do their senior guard. Weems is the Valley's best go-to player and I can't imagine him not going No. 1 if coaches held a draft. He is second in the MVC in scoring at 16.8 points and third in rebounding at seven a game. He is an excellent shooter _ 51.5 percent from the field, 41.5 percent from three-point range and 83.1 percent from the foul line. Coach Cuonzo Martin wants him to play better defense, but the total package is the MVC's best.
* Coach of the Year — I've covered the MVC since the 2005-06 season, and this is the toughest call for this award. The champion usually wins it. If WSU's Gregg Marshall becomes the first MVC coach to go 9-0 in conference road games since 1925-26, he gets my vote. If that doesn't happen, I choose between Evansville's Marty Simmons and Indiana State's Greg Lansing. Simmons' team was picked last after finishing last in 2010 by three games. Lansing guided Indiana State to third place after taking over the team in June. Injuries forced him to make over his team and hand the reins to a freshman point guard. The Sycamores will finish with a winning MVC record for the first time since 2001.
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* Freshman and Newcomer of the Year _ Creighton forward Doug McDermott. He is the easy call by leading the MVC in rebounds (eight a game entering Wednesday) and scoring 14.4 a game. Drake guard Rayvonte Rice and Indiana State guard Jake Odum are freshmen whose contributions are good enough to win other seasons. Southern Illinois forward Mamadou Seck is the top transfer. Evansville's Kenneth Harris and WSU's Ben Smith deserve a mention.
* All-MVC — Weems, Ahelegbe, McDermott, Wichita State center J.T. Durley, Bradley guard Andrew Warren. Second team _ Odum, MSU forward Jermaine Mallett, Wichita State guard Toure Murry, Creighton guard Antoine Young, MSU center Will Creekmore.
* Sixth-Man Award — Smith is WSU's microwave off the Valley's bench. Entering Wednesday's game, he averaged 8.8 points and made 53.3 percent of his three-pointers. Missouri State center Caleb Patterson, Illinois State forward Tony Lewis, Evansville guard Ned Cox and SIU guard Jack Crowder, a product of Southeast, provide competition. The maximum for starts is 25 percent of the schedule, which eliminates WSU's Gabe Blair.
* Bradley is doomed to last place in the MVC for the first time since 1992 after Tuesday's 51-50 loss at ninth-place Illinois State. The Braves lost both games to Illinois State this season, and they can blame their inability to defend Redbirds forward Jackie Carmichael. He had 19 points and 13 rebounds on Tuesday, backing a 24-17 effort in a 79-78 overtime win last month in Peoria.
* If you're breaking ties to figure out seedings for the MVC Tournament, remember the first tiebreaker is head to head. The second is non-conference schedule strength.
* Thumbs up to Northern Iowa students for their Interlude dance that is a highlight of home games. The only way to bring that act to St. Louis for the MVC Tournament is if the band can learn that song. Here's hoping it happens. Thumbs down to Illinois State students for storming the court after beating Bradley. Wrapping up the No. 9 seed is no reason to celebrate.
* Indiana State forward Carl Richard could be slowed by a knee injury in the MVC Tournament, according to the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. Richard injured his right knee late in Tuesday's win at Northern Iowa. Lansing told the newspaper Richard endured soft tissue to the knee. He is not expected to play on Saturday against Southern Illinois.
* The loss of forward Lucas O'Rear to a broken ankle changed Northern Iowa's personality in a major way. His loss hurts on defense, where the Panthers are now vulnerable inside and on the boards. It also forces them to play faster on offense with a small lineup. UNI is 1-5 without O'Rear, allowing 70-plus points in all six games. UNI scored 69 or more points in four of those games. Before that stretch, UNI allowed 70-plus three times and scored 69 or more in six games.
What to watch
Wichita State at Missouri State , noon, Saturday (ESPN2) _ The Bears are the only MVC school without a regular-season title. What's more, every other team owns a title since MSU joined the Valley in 1990-91. The Bears finished second in 1991, 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2006.
Keep an eye on
Indiana State guard Dwayne Lathan struggled to find his role with the Sycamores after an injury cost him three games in January. He returned to the starting lineup in early February. He scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Morehead State on Saturday. Lathan is Indiana State's most gifted player and can give the Sycamores a boost if he is willing to play within the offense.
In their words
"I wish we played Bradley every night." _ Illinois State forward Jackie Carmichael, in the Peoria Journal Star.