We take a break from games for Missouri Valley Conference awards season.
Once again, it should be a bountiful haul for Wichita State.
Wichita State senior guard Fred VanVleet is likely to win Larry Bird Player of the Year voting for the second time in three seasons. If so, he joins Xavier McDaniel (1984, 1985) as the lone Shockers to win it twice. VanVleet won it as a sophomore in the 2013-14 season. Teammate Ron Baker and Evansville center Egidijus Mockevicius, the nation’s top rebounder at 14 a game, will also get votes.
WSU coach Gregg Marshall and television voice Mark Adams are on record advocating for VanVleet and Baker to share the award, something that has never happened since the Valley first named a Player of the Year in 1969. If the 45 voters produce a tie, the Valley would not break the tie.
“You can’t separate them,” Adams said.
“No doubt in my mind they’re both deserving,” Marshall said.
Marshall, whose team won the MVC by four games, is a good bet to win his fourth Coach of the Year honor. The Shockers are 23-7, 16-2 in the MVC, with an average margin of victory of 19.1 points in 18 conference games. The underdog choice may be Southern Illinois’ Barry Hinson. The Salukis, picked ninth in the preseason poll, finished in a tie for fourth. After a 12-21 record in 2014-15, SIU is 22-9.
Marshall presides over the Valley’s best defensive team, one ranked No. 1 nationally by Ken Pomeroy’s statistics. He would back VanVleet or Baker for the Defensive Player of the Year.
“Both those guys have been really good,” Marshall said. “Our defense is the best in the league, again.”
Mockevicius is also a good choice for this honor after leading the MVC in rebounds and blocks (2.8).
Baker’s defensive skills are sometimes overshadowed by his offense. For the past three seasons, teammate Tekele Cotton earned the high-profile assignments and won Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 and 2015. Loyola coach Porter Moser offered a full appreciation of Baker’s defensive skills on Wednesday after he guarded Milton Doyle in a 76-54 Shockers victory.
“He’s an elite defender,” Moser said. “People look at his shots and talk about that. I thought he impacted the game defensively.”
Several other Shockers, most prominently freshman Markis McDuffie and senior transfer Anton Grady, could also land on specialty teams.
All-MVC teams and individual honors are announced Tuesday afternoon. Coach of the Year is announced Thursday morning.
Tournament bracket set — Evansville, Northern Iowa and Indiana State won RPI tiebreakers on Sunday morning to set the bracket for the MVC Tournament.
The biggest loser from the tiebreakers is Missouri State, which tied Indiana State for sixth place with an 8-10 MVC record. Indiana State’s RPI, according to Collegiate Basketball News, ranks No. 183, sending MSU and its No. 232 RPI into Thursday’s play-in round as the No. 7 seed.
Evansville (RPI No. 91) earned the second seed over Illinois State (No. 106). Northern Iowa (No. 93) claimed the fourth seed over Southern Illinois (No. 130). UNI moved from No. 111 to No. 93 after Saturday’s 54-52 win at Evansville. SIU dropped one spot even after defeating Missouri State.
Wichita State earned the top seed for the third straight season and the fourth time in five seasons. The Shockers open tournament play at noon Friday against No. 8 Loyola or No. 9 Bradley.
At Scottrade Center, St. Louis
Thursday’s Play-In Games
No. 9 Bradley (5-26) vs. No. 8 Loyola (14-16), 6 p.m.
No. 10 Drake (7-23) vs. No. 7 Missouri State (12-18), 8:30
BU-LU winner vs. No. 1 Wichita St. (23-7), noon
No. 5 Southern Illinois (22-9) vs. No. 4 Northern Iowa (19-12), 2:30 p.m.
Missouri State-Drake winner vs. No. 2 Evansville (23-8), 6 p.m.
No. 6 Indiana State (14-16) vs. No. 3 Illinois St. (18-13), 8:30
On CBS Sports Network
First two quarterfinal winners, 2:30 p.m.
Second two quarterfinal winners, 5
Semifinal winners, 1 p.m.