With the Missouri Valley season wrapped and Arch Madness beginning Thursday, beat writers around the league are submitting their ballots for all-conference awards.
The voting system works by ranking players, so the No. 1 player on the All-MVC First Team is my Player of the Year vote, the No. 2 player is my runner-up, etc.
The MVC will announce the all-conference teams Tuesday.
If you have any questions about my ballot, tweet @Catch_N_Shoot and I will do my best to respond.
All-MVC First Team
1. Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
Wichita State lost all three games against Division I teams when VanVleet was hurt. It also lost to Tulsa in the game when VanVleet played through injury. With a healthy VanVleet, Wichita State is 22-3, and the three losses are all by five points or less.
The numbers back up VanVleet’s importance. He leads the MVC in assist rate and steal rate, also ranking No. 5 and No. 56 in those categories, respectively. He is one of the Valley’s most accurate and free-throw and 3-point shooters. VanVleet finished the season averaging 12.3 points and 5.8 assists, boasting a 120.4 offensive rating in conference games that ranked No. 4 in the league. He is also an invaluable defender.
2. Ron Baker, Wichita State
Baker is as skilled as VanVleet, but early season losses when VanVleet was hurt proved Baker cannot make Wichita State an elite team on his own. (To be fair, we do not know if VanVleet could carry this team on his own because Baker was healthy all season.)
Baker finished the year averaging a team-best 13.9 points and, like VanVleet, he is a dominant defensive player thanks to a combination of athleticism, brains and toughness.
3. D.J. Balentine, Evansville
Balentine is one of the best scorers in MVC history, and the best in Evansville history. He averaged 20.7 points this season. He also dished out 4.4 assists per contest, proving he doesn’t have to be the one putting the ball through the net in order to create offense. While the senior guard is known for scoring, he actually ranked No. 3 in the Valley in assists per game and No. 4 in assist rate.
Balentine gets all the attention in every defense’s game plan, yet he has put up dominant numbers for three seasons now.
4. Egidijus Mockevicius, Evansville
Mockevicius is far and away the best big man in the MVC. Among true post players (which excludes 2015 Player of the Year Seth Tuttle), Mockevicius is the best the conference has had to offer in several years.
The 6-foot-10 Lithuanian leads the nation with 14 rebounds per game. He also leads the Valley with 2.8 blocks per contest. His 16.6 points per game, which ranks No. 4 in the Valley, just adds to the fun.
5. Montel James, Loyola
This fifth spot got a lot of thought from me with four players in the mix: James, Wes Washpun, Jeremy Morgan and Anthony Beane. Washpun is a skilled two-way player, but he is not always an efficient offensive player, even though he has a lower usage than James. Morgan is another great two-way player, but, at least as of now, does not have the skill set to create his own shots. Beane is a lethal scorer and above-average defender, but that’s about it.
So I went with James and left the others on the second team, although I have no problem with any of those three players beating out James for a first team spot.
James had the second-highest usage rate in the Valley at 28.7 percent, trailing only Balentine and making James’ rate the highest among front court players. He was one of the conference’s best rebounders, ranking No. 3 in defensive rebounding rate and No. 11 in offensive rebounding rate. The tenacity on the glass carried over to his offensive game, as he drew seven fouls per 40 minutes, good for No. 2 in the league, and shot 80 percent at the foul line in MVC games.
He finished the season with averages of 12.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
Note: On the actual ballot, beat writers cannot vote for a player for the school they cover, so I could not actually vote for Montel James. Northern Iowa guard Wes Washpun receive my final vote for the first team.
All-MVC Second Team
Wes Washpun, Northern Iowa
Washpun did not always score efficiently, but he made the Northern Iowa offense run with a high assist rate and low turnover rate. He is also one of the Valley’s top perimeter defenders.
Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa
Morgan is Northern Iowa’s best defender, and his offensive game made a huge leap during his junior season. The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 10.2 points and shot 47.4 percent from the field.
Anthony Beane, Southern Illinois
Beane is another dominant scorer, although he had a couple of duds near the end of the season. His increase in efficiency this season is a huge reason why the Salukis had such a big turnaround and finished in the top half of the conference.
Paris Lee, Illinois State
Lee is a pesky defender, strong distributor and respectable scorer. He is the engine that makes Illinois State run.
Deontae Hawkins, Illinois State
Hawkins is one of the MVC’s more versatile players as a 6-foot-8 forward who can also play on the perimeter. His offensive game is his strength, but he holds his own on defense as well.
Note: Because Washpun got moved up to my first team on the actual ballot, Northern Iowa guard Matt Bohannon took the extra spot on my second team there.
1. Obediah Church, Missouri State
A lot was asked of Church this season as a freshman forward playing 26.9 minutes per game. He delivered with 6.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.
He is now one of the Valley’s most feared interior defenders and rebounders. He did not score a ton but ranked No. 4 in the Valley with a 56.2 effective field goal percentage in conference games.
2. Markis McDuffie, Wichita State
McDuffie scored 7.4 points per game off the bench for the Shockers and was a lockdown defender as well. Between him and length guard Zach Brown, Wichita State has a pair of future stars.
3. Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye, Bradley
Lautier-Ogunleye made significant improvements over the course of the season and finished the season with double-digit scoring in eight of the last nine games.
4. Dominik Olejniczak, Drake
The 7-footer took only a few shots per game and converted them at a 75.5 percent clip. He proved he can remain efficient in greater quantities as well, shooting a combined 13-of-18 (72.2 percent) in the final two games of the season.
5. Jarred Dixon, Missouri State
Dixon made huge impacts this year for Missouri State as a perimeter scorer and defender. He averaged eight points per game but really came on strong late in the season, averaging 11.2 points in the final 12 games.
1. Dequon Miller, Missouri State
2. Anton Grady, Wichita State
3. Everett Clemons, Indiana State
4. Graham Woodward, Drake
5. Obediah Church, Missouri State
Note: Church was not available for unknown reasons on the actual ballot, so Southern Illinois guard Mike Rodriguez filled in my final spot.
1. Ron Baker, Wichita State
2. Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
3. Egidijus Mockevicius, Evansville
4. Zach Brown, Wichita State
5. Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa
1. Anton Grady, Wichita State
2. Mislav Brzoja, Evansville
3. Markis McDuffie, Wichita State
4. Leo Vincent, Southern Illinois
5. Nick Banyard, Illinois State
Most Improved Team
1. Bola Olaniyan, Southern Illinois
2. Jaylon Brown, Evansville
3. MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State
4. Zach Brown, Wichita State
5. Bennett Koch, Northern Iowa
Coach of the Year
1. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
The dude has won three straight conference titles, and the numbers say it’s not out of the question this is his best group yet. The conference title race was supposed to be a bit closer this year, although Wichita State was the undisputed favorite all along. The Shockers won the conference easily by four games.
2. Barry Hinson, Southern Illinois
Southern Illinois went 12-21 with a 4-14 MVC record last season and then suffered a mass exodus of transfers. Hinson quickly rebuilt with some junior college pickups and got his new group gelling early for a remarkable turnaround as the Salukis won 22 regular season games and went 11-7 in the conference.
3. Dan Muller, Illinois State
Illinois State lost arguably its two best players from last season, guard Daishon Knight and forward Reggie Lynch, but still finished tied for second place. The Redbirds struggled early and were 9-10 with a 3-3 Valley record entering the second half of January. Then went on a team winning eight of nine games and enter the MVC Tournament as a dangerous team once again.