Valley Player of the Year: Which Shocker will it be?

03/20/2014 6:22 PM

08/06/2014 10:04 AM

Most coaches vote to give the Missouri Valley Conference’s Player of the Year honor to an athlete from the best team.

That usually makes the selection easy. Not this season. The best team is clearly No. 2 Wichita State. Picking the best player from the Shockers (30-0, 17-0 MVC) is a task that makes Valley coaches hesitate and look for help.

“I think that Gregg (Marshall) should hand that award out,” Bradley coach Geno Ford said.

“I’m trying to decide what dart to throw between (Cleanthony) Early, (Fred) VanVleet and (Ron) Baker,” Loyola coach Porter Moser said. “If Tekele Cotton was on another team, his numbers would skyrocket. He could get a lot of votes for all-league, as well.”

Indiana State coach Greg Lansing, if allowed, would vote for the Shockers. All of them.

“They’ve all been outstanding,” he said. “The strength has been them as a team.”

All-MVC ballots are due Sunday and the 40 voters (coach, sports information director and two media representatives from each school) will be forced to make a choice for Player of the Year by ranking their top three.

For the first time since Paul Miller in 2006, a Shocker will win the MVC’s top honor. There are no serious candidates from other schools. Only twice has an MVC team placed three athletes on a five-man All-MVC team. WSU has a chance to join that group, although it won’t match the 1945-46 Oklahoma A&M Aggies, which earned all five spots on the way to the NCAA championship.

Marshall, as well as the other voters representing WSU, can’t vote for Shockers. He is happy to leave that decision to others. Some will vote for Early, a senior forward, and some will vote for VanVleet, a sophomore point guard, in what appears to be a two-man race for Player of the Year. Baker, a sophomore guard, will get votes. Cotton, a junior guard, won’t be neglected this season when All-MVC and All-Defensive Team honors are handed out.

“I'm going to leave that up to the people that vote,” Marshall said. “They're all worthy, that's for sure.”

Early averages a team-leading 15.7 points and 5.9 rebounds and is the only player to rank in the top six in the MVC in both categories. VanVleet averages 12.3 points and leads the MVC in assists (5.2) and assist-to-turnover ratio (3.9). Baker averages 13.1 points and is fourth in the MVC in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.0. Cotton averages 10.5 points and 4.4 rebounds and usually guards the opposition’s top scorer.

Coaches polled on Tuesday’s conference call held off on naming the name for Player of the Year, except for Southern Illinois’ Barry Hinson.

“I voted for VanVleet,” he said. “He’s the head of the snake. I love the kid. I love how he leads the team. I’m always going to vote for the short guys.”

Hinson isn’t the only coach who expressed a preference for point guards.

“I’m probably biased to guards,” Lansing said. “They do so much. They have the ball in their hands so much. The tough one would be if they were without VanVleet, because Baker’s got to be their backup point guard.”

WSU has placed two players on the All-MVC first team seven times, most recently Joe Ragland and Garrett Stutz in 2012. In 1965, Dave Stallworth, Kelly Pete and Dave Leach earned first-team honors during a stretch of 14 seasons (1962-75) in which the MVC selected 10 players and designated all on the first team.

A similar haul is expected on Tuesday when All-MVC honors are announced. Early and VanVleet are locks and Baker appears to stand a good chance of making the first team. Cotton is not short on admirers, either, for his defense and willingness to accept a secondary offensive role — until the Shockers need him to score.

“I don’t know which one of those guys you pick as their MVP, but it’s certainly going to be one of those guys,” Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. “(Cotton) plays his role as good or better as anybody in the country that’s in that same role. I just think Cotton has been terrific. To be the guy who is under-the-radar … sometimes guys don’t settle into that role as well as what Cotton has.”

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