Hey everyone from sunny St. Louis. We’re a couple of hours away from the tip Wichita State’s game against Southern Illinois in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament and I wanted to weigh in on Tekele Cotton.
I was surprised earlier in the week when Cotton wasn’t selected as a first-team all-MVC player. Yes, he was named defensive player of the year and was a second-team All-Valley pick. Meanwhile, two Evansville players – D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius – were chosen to the first team despite the Purple Aces’ 9-9 conference record.
Balentine is the Valley’s leading scorer; Mockevicius its leading rebounder. Both are good players. But 9-9.
Shockers Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker were rightly chosen to the first team along with Northern Iowa’s Seth Tuttle, who was named player of the year. No argument there.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Wichita Eagle
But Cotton should have supplanted one of the Evansville players on the first team. He’s had a fantastic WSU career and been a part of a Final Four team and a club that won 35 straight games before a loss to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament. This season, the Shockers are 27-3. Cotton has won, won and won some more while being one of the best lock-down defenders in the country.
In . . . the . . . country.
And from his performances in head-to-head matchups against the gifted Balentine this season, it appears Cotton has upped his defensive game. Consider that he was also the Valley’s defensive player of the year in 2013-14. But in three games against Balentine last season, the Evansville guard averaged just more than 25 points per game. He had a 26 points against WSU at Koch Arena, 19 in Evansville and 31 in the Valley tournament.
Wichita State won all three games and Balentine shot 44 percent. But he was 13 of 26 from the three-point line and Cotton has called Balentine one of the best offensive players he’s tried to guard.
This season, the results have been much better for the Shocker senior.
In two games against Evansville so far, Balentine has managed only 24 points on 8-of-27 shooting (29.6 percent) and has made just one of six three-point attempts. The Shockers have held the Purple Aces to 84 points in the two meetings and Cotton’s stifling defense against Balentine has been one of the reasons.
Last season it was a no-brainer that Balentine belonged on the first team. This year, Cotton should have gotten the nod.
Defense matters. It’s preached from the mountain top by Wichita State Gregg Marshall, who lays awake at night wondering who is going to take up the defensive slack next season after Cotton departs.
Cotton’s offense has steadily improved, too. He’s a threat.
Defensively, though, he’s a promise.