Most Valuable Panther
The crowd at the McLeod Center chanted “MVP” at Northern Iowa center Seth Tuttle on Saturday afternoon. An eager TV reporter asked Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall if Tuttle earned his vote. Marshall, minutes after losing 70-54, had not stopped to compile his All-Missouri Valley Conference ballot due in March and declined to speculate.
He passed that responsibility to us, so here goes with the MVC’s awards at the halfway point.
Player of the Year: Tuttle came up big in the MVC’s biggest game with a career-high 29 points on 9-of-13 shooting. He averages 15.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and makes 61.5 percent of his shots. As a bonus, he ranks seventh in the Valley with an average of 3 assists. The award is his to lose, although it would be silly to forget about Wichita State’s Ron Baker or Fred VanVleet, both of whom could make a push in the second half.
All-MVC: Tuttle, Baker, VanVleet, Egidijus Mockevicius (Evansville), Daishon Knight (Illinois State).
Freshman of the Year: Indiana State guard Brenton Scott averages 11.8 points and makes 42.9 percent of his threes. Turnovers are a problem, but he edges out Bradley’s Josh Cunningham, Drake’s Reed Timmer and Jordan Caroline of Southern Illinois in a thin season for rookies. Recent MVC Freshmen of the Year include Doug McDermott, Tuttle and Milton Doyle and this group doesn’t appear to possess such a talent.
Newcomer of the Year: Illinois State forward DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell is the only newcomer in the top 10 of scorers (12.3) and rebounders (5.6). He needs to stay healthy to hold off players such as Loyola’s Montel James. A broken hand will hurt the candidacy of Evansville’s Mislav Brzoja, who averaged 9.2 points and 4.9 rebounds in 18 games.
Sixth-Man: Northern Iowa guard Wes Washpun averages 9.1 points and 3.5 rebounds. Ask the Shockers how he can change a game with his quickness.
Coach of the Year: Losing to UMKC at home should disqualify a coach, but Indiana State’s Greg Lansing rallied, coaxed production from his big men and the Sycamores are fighting for third place with a sweep of Illinois State in hand. Lansing didn’t back off on his schedule (playing Memphis, Illinois and Butler) despite losing Jake Odum, Manny Arop and Dawon Cummings.
▪ MVC coaches watch Wichita State closely and measure their team’s effort against that of the Shockers. Drake coach Ray Giacoletti voiced his displeasure when he saw Shockers out-hustling his players earlier this season. Since then, he is seeing better effort.
“The first two loose balls … there was white Wichita State jerseys diving on the floor and that really concerned me,” he said. “Those are the just minimum-effort plays you’ve got to make to even give yourself a chance. We’ve been the first ones on the floor in the last couple nights and hopefully we can sustain that.”
Drake won two straight games for the first time this season, defeating Bradley and Evansville.
▪ Illinois State freshman forward Deontae Hawkins is healthy after missing most off 11 games with a stress reaction in his left foot. In his second game back, he scored 11 points and made 3 of 4 threes in a 48-45 win over Loyola.
“People sag off a lot of our players … because we drive it so much,” Redbirds coach Dan Muller said. “His ability to stretch the defense and open up some driving lanes would be critical for us, if he can continue to shoot the ball and get in better shape.”
▪ Missouri State’s depleted roster needed help and Wichitan Gavin Thurman is taking advantage. Thurman, a junior forward, scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds in Saturday’s win over Southern Illinois. He scored 19 points in two games last week after scoring six in eight previous.
Illinois State — The Redbirds are healthy and tied for third place. They won three in a row and 7 of 9 after Tuesday’s 77-51 win over Evansville. The losses are 71-70 at Indiana State in overtime and 54-53 against Northern Iowa. Ken Pomeroy projects them finishing third in the MVC with a defense ranked in the top 40 nationally.
Loyola — The feel-good story of November and December is fading. Five straight losses and an ankle injury sidelining guard Milton Doyle dumped the Ramblers into the bottom of the MVC. In those five games, Loyola has 29 assists and 47 turnovers.
Get to know an MVC neighbor
Q: Who coached Northern Iowa to a 23-4 record in 1964, the program’s first 20-win season?
A: Norm Stewart coached six seasons at Northern Iowa before going to Missouri. He coached the Panthers to two North Central Conference titles and two NCAA College Division tournaments.
One to watch
Indiana State (11-12, 7-4) at Loyola (13-9, 3-7), 3 p.m. Saturday — The Sycamores are tied in third place and trying to keep an edge over Evansville and Illinois State. Losses at Drake and Evansville show Indiana State is vulnerable on the road. Winning at slumping Loyola is a must to stay close to the leaders.