They’re halfway home
Indiana State is the Missouri Valley Conference basketball MVP at the halfway point. Without the Sycamores, the conference looks much less interesting.
The Sycamores lifted the entire conference with two big wins in Hawaii in late December. On Tuesday, they turned a two-team race into a three-team race with a win at No. 15 Wichita State. Plus, they reactivated the importance of those December wins by strengthening their NCAA Tournament resume.
The Valley starts February with two nationally ranked teams, three at-large contenders, national Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott of No. 21 Creighton and Coach of the Year candidate Gregg Marshall of Wichita State.
If things fall right, this could be a landmark season for the MVC.
Honors at the halfway point:
Player of the Year: McDermott. Everybody knows he is going to get the ball and he is shooting 58 percent and 48.5 percent from three in MVC games. His defensive shortcomings don’t matter when weighed against his scoring and rebounding.
Coach of the Year: Marshall. The Shockers ignored roster turnover and injuries to lead the MVC at the halfway point.
All-MVC: McDermott; Jake Odum, Indiana State; Cleanthony Early, Wichita State; Jackie Carmichael, Illinois State; Colt Ryan, Evansville
Next up for All-MVC: Missouri State’s Anthony Downing is carrying a team starting four freshmen to the middle of the MVC. He leads the Bears in scoring (14.7 points), assists (56), steals (25) and is third in rebounds (4.2).
Newcomer of the Year: Early. Fabulous offensive player who averages 17.7 points in MVC games. He didn’t need much of an adjustment period.
Freshman of the Year: Missouri State forward Gavin Thurman, from Heights, averages 10.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in MVC games (before Wednesday’s game at Creighton). He has few upperclassmen to lean on — the Bears start four freshmen. Thurman is shooting 45.9 percent from three-point range in conference games. Keep an eye on Evansville center Egidijus Mockevicius, who had 13 rebounds and blocked six shots in Tuesday’s win over Northern Iowa.
Biggest surprise: Voters picked Wichita State fourth in the MVC preseason poll, figuring the Shockers needed time to rebuild after losing four starters. They did, about a month of practice. WSU is ranked No. 15 nationally and atop the MVC standings. Honorable mention goes to Indiana State, which also is a contender after losing four starters.
Biggest disappointment: Illinois State, picked second, started 0-6 in the MVC. The Redbirds flushed their NCAA at-large chances and are scrambling to avoid Thursday in the MVC Tournament.
Biggest non-conference win: Indiana State defeated Miami 57-55 in Hawaii. Indiana State’s win over Mississippi the same week, WSU’s win at VCU and Creighton’s win over Wisconsin also stand out.
Worst non-conference loss: Missouri State highlighted an miserable non-conference run with a 59-47 loss at Alabama A&M.
Key games in the second half: WSU at Northern Iowa (Saturday); Creighton at Indiana State (Wednesday); Wichita State at Indiana State (Feb. 19); Indiana State at Evansville (March 2); Wichita State at Creighton (March 2).
One to watch
Indiana State at Drake, 6:30 p.m. Saturday (FSKC) — The Sycamores try to follow Tuesday’s win over Wichita State on the road. Drake owns wins over Evansville and Creighton at the Knapp Center.
In their own words
“This might be the most disappointed I’ve been all season. For us to let up like that defensively, to give up 64 percent (shooting in the second half) to a team that kept driving us — it’s not like they were doing different things — it’s very disappointing,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller, in the Bloomington (Ill.) Pantagraph, after Tuesday’s 83-77 loss at Bradley.