MVC Awards picks for the 2017-18 season

Clayton Custer

I gave up my MVC vote when I moved back to New York, but that won’t stop me from debating all-conference picks anyway!

I picked my teams in order of consideration. For example, the first player on my First Team picks is my Player of the Year, followed by second place, then third place, etc. I didn’t have the energy to pick an All-Defense, All-Bench Team or a Most Improved Team (I couldn’t even remember if that’s something the MVC does), so I just picked Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player for those three categories.

Tweet @Catch_N_Shoot with your questions and inevitable disagreements.

Player of the Year

Clayton Custer, Loyola

Even when The Pantagraph’s Jim Benson wrote that Custer was entering the Player of the Year conversation weeks ago, I was skeptical. But Custer has been the most dominant, consistent offensive player in the MVC (while still being a plus defender as well), and if anything he’s gotten better as the season has gone on.

Custer shot a 67.4 effective field goal percentage in league play, which leads the Valley by miles. He’s also No. 3 in offensive rating and No. 5 in assist rate. His raw numbers aren’t stunning, but they’re good enough: 15.4 points, 4.3 assists, and 1.9 steals per game in MVC games, and 14.2 points, 4.2 assists, and 1.7 steals overall.

It’s of course worth noting Loyola was 23-2 with Custer and 2-3 when he was out with an ankle injury.

 

First Team

Clayton Custer, Loyola

See above.

Alize Johnson, Missouri State

Johnson dominated the glass every night, but he never found an offensive groove despite averaging 15.2 points per game.

Amidst Missouri State’s brutal last five weeks and general dumpster fire of a season, Johnson’s mostly awesome play was easy to glaze over. His offensive rating in league play was slightly higher this year despite worse shooting percentages because he improved his playmaking abilities greatly. With a 20% assist rate, Johnson ranked No. 13 in the MVC and No. 1 among the league’s big men. Next best among bigs was Drake’s Nick McGlynn, ranked No. 26 at 13.8%.

Milik Yarbrough, Illinois State

Yarbrough has been a do-it-all monster. He led the Valley in usage rate and assist rate while averaging 16.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 4.8 assists. He never quite got a triple-double but came close in wins over Ole Miss (25 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists) and Valparaiso (17 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists).

Ryan Taylor, Evansville

This is the fifth year in a row where an Evansville player has won the MVC scoring title. (It would be seven years in a row if not for a certain someone named Doug McDermott.) Taylor averaged 22.1 points, and coming from a, let’s just say, offensively challenged roster makes this accomplishment more impressive to me. Yes, he took over 18 shots per game, but opponents planned their defensive strategy around him.

Marty Simmons’ motion offense frees up Taylor for lots of high-percentage looks, but he also makes a ton of high-difficult shots. With his ability to light it up and Evansville’s rock solid defense, the Aces are a dangerous matchup for anyone in the MVC Tournament.

Cameron Krutwig, Loyola

I’m extremely confident my four picks above will be voted to the All-Conference First Team. Krutwig is a bigger question mark. He has the numbers (12.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg in MVC play) and passes the eye test, but he’s a freshman and there hasn’t been a freshman on the First Team since Doug McDermott in 2010-11. But Krutwig deserves the final spot over Drake guard Reed Timmer (who I assume will be his main competition).

Krutwig led the MVC with a 126.8 offensive rating in league games while ranking 10th in usage. Among others in the top 10, Timmer was a distant second with a 115.5 ORtg. Krutwig also led the conference in offensive rebounding rate and was second in turnover rate.

 

Second Team

Reed Timmer, Drake

Timmer has had some of the top individual performances of the MVC season. He dropped 32 at Bradley when Drake ended the Braves’ undefeated home record. Then he went for 39 points on 19 shots against Indiana State. He also hit this insane game-winner at Missouri State.

He finished the regular season averaging

If you want to make an argument for Timmer over Krutwig, here it is: Timmer played more minutes and succeeded in spite of being defenses’ top priority whereas Krutwig was one of many weapons on Loyola.

Jordan Barnes, Indiana State

Barnes was the breakout star, and it’s between him, Custer and Taylor for Most Improved Player. Barnes averaged 17.2 points with a 55.2 eFG%. He’ll need to improve his efficiency at the rim moving into his junior year, but right now his outside shooting (41.8%), ballhandling skills, and passing ability (3.7 apg) make him one of the biggest individual threats in the conference.

Armon Fletcher, Southern Illinois

Fletcher has improved ever year. He more or less doubled his production without sacrificing any efficiency as his minutes doubled from his freshman to sophomore season. This year, his efficiency took a big step forward. He averaged 15 points in MVC play while ranking second in offensive rating, fourth in eFG%, fourth in free throw rate, and first in turnover rate.

Phil Fayne, Illinois State

Fayne missed three games in February, and it was clear how much the Redbirds missed him. He’s right up there with Alize Johnson as the MVC’s most athletic post player, and although he’s not as versatile as Johnson, Fayne is just as good if not better scoring down low. Fayne averaged 15.5 points and 7.2 rebounds, and his efficiency numbers didn’t dip much when playing against top 100 competition.

Donte Thomas, Bradley

Thomas was the engine behind Bradley’s big improvement this year. He finished fifth in offensive rating while also ranking top 10 in eFG%, offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, turnover rate, block rate, and free throw rate. He stepped up his game in conference play averaging 13.8 points and 8.1 boards.

 

Third Team

Donte Ingram, Loyola

Ingram regressed a bit coming off a breakout junior year, but still scored his 11.5 points per game efficiently and cleaned up the defensive glass with a 21% rebounding rate.

Kavion Pippen, Southern Illinois

Pippen, a junior college transfer, instantly became one of the Valley’s top post threats, averaging 12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks.

Keyshawn Evans, Illinois State

Evans did quite a respectable job taking over point guard duties from 2016-17 MVC Player of the Year Paris Lee. He was an efficient scorer, averaging 15.5 points with a 55.0 eFG%, and dished out 3.5 assists per game.

Nick McGlynn, Drake

McGlynn anchored the middle and was instrumental in Drake’s defensive improvement this season. He finished the regular season averaging 11.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks.

Sean Lloyd, Southern Illinois

Lloyd is a two-way player who did tons of little things that don’t show up in box scores. Deflections, drawing charges, hockey assists, etc. Still, his box score numbers were solid: 11.9 points, 5 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game.

Honorable mentions to Loyola’s Aundre Jackson, UNI’s Bennett Koch, and Valpo’s Tevonn Walker.

 

All-Newcomer Team

Milik Yarbrough, Illinois State (Newcomer of the Year)

See First Team notes.

Cameron Krutwig, Loyola

See First Team notes.

Kavion Pippen, Southern Illinois

See Third Team notes.

Marques Townes, Loyola

I’m still a bit surprised every time I look at Townes’ stats. Watching him, he looks like a skilled but reckless player. However, he ranked fifth in the MVC with a 57.0 eFG% and averaged a manageable two turnovers in 27.7 minutes per game. His 11.3 points per game were crucial to replacing Milton Doyle’s production this season.

Tywhon Pickford, Northern Iowa

What sets Pickford apart from Valpo’s Bakari Evelyn and Bradley’s Elijah Childs is how he performed against top 100 and top 50 competition. While Evelyn and Childs struggled, particularly against the latter, Pickford performed pretty much just as well as he did against everyone else.

Pickford finished the MVC season with a 99.7 offensive rating and ranked third in the league in defensive rebounding percentage.

 

All-Freshman Team

Cameron Krutwig, Loyola (Freshman of the Year)

See First Team notes.

Tywhon Pickford, Northern Iowa

See All-Newcomer Team notes.

Elijah Childs, Bradley

Childs had an impressive six-game stretch in late January/early February where he looked like a potential challenger for Freshman of the Year

Tyreke Key, Indiana State

Key’s 27.8 minutes per game ranked second among MVC freshmen, trailing only Pickford. He put up 8.4 points in those minutes, and while his 40.9 eFG% leaves something to be desired, remember — he’s just a freshman.

Key was also pretty effective on the offensive glass for a 6’2″ guard, reeling in 4.8% of Indiana State’s misses while he was on the court during league games.

Lucas Williamson, Loyola

Williamson emerged as a great defender early in the season. He ultimately finished eighth in the league in steal rate and 15th in block rate while playing just under 20 minutes per game. He also had this terrific game-saving block in a January win at UNI.

Williamson wasn’t much of an offensive force, but he ranked 7th in MVC play with a 112.9 offensive rating thanks to 45.2% three-point shooting. He attempted 31 threes to only 12 twos in conference games.

 

Defensive Player of the Year

Elijah Childs, Bradley

This one was tough. I’m not sure how others define “Defensive Player of the Year,” but I heavily value defensive rebounding in addition to blocks, steals, and the eye test. Even though he’s not a big rebounder, Evansville guard Dru Smith was the obvious leader, except he missed seven MVC games. So that left me with Donte Thomas and Elijah Childs from Bradley, Cameron Krutwig from Loyola, and Qiydar Davis from Indiana State.

You can make a strong argument for any of those four, but enough preamble. I went with Childs. He was a dominant shot blocker who also ranked No. 11 in the MVC in defensive rebounding rate. He also led Bradley in defensive rating and defensive plus-minus.

 

Sixth Man of the Year

Aundre Jackson, Loyola

Jackson was among my first snubs from the All-Conference teams, and part of that was because he played only 18.1 minutes per game in MVC play. Yet he always provided quality minutes. Jackson averaged 11.2 points with a 62.7 eFG% (9.9 points and 57.4% in conf. play).

 

Most Improved Player of the Year

Jordan Barnes, Indiana State

At first I thought this would be a shoe-in for Barnes, for well-deserved honorable mentions go to Ryan Taylor, Clayton Custer, and Armon Fletcher. But ultimately, I was impressed with how difficult guarding Barnes has become, even if he’s still not as efficient as he needs to be if he’ll be a Player of the Year candidate in this conference one day.

You can see the difference in how he performed against KenPom top 100 teams (adjusted for location) compared to last year. He posted a 100.9 ORtg in 11 such games this year compared to 84.9 in 11 such games last year.

 

Coach of the Year

Porter Moser, Loyola

There are three good candidates this year. Barry Hinson brought Southern Illinois to its best finish in the Valley since the Salukis won the conference under Chris Lowery in 2006-07 despite being ransacked by injuries. Then there’s Niko Medved, who not only has Drake avoiding the Arch Madness play-in round for the first time since 2007-08, but brought the Bulldogs to a tie for third place with a non-conference win over Wake Forest.

But even compared to those two, Porter Moser stands out as a clear winner. The Ramblers won the conference by four games and finished top 50 in KenPom with a +16 efficiency margin in league play. (By comparison, the second best EM was Indiana State at an even 0.) The Ramblers almost certainly won’t get an NCAA Tournament at-large bid should they lose in the MVC tourney, but the MVC even has a team with buzz in that conversation in the first year post-Wichita State is more than anybody around the league expected.

I prefer thinking of Coach of the Year as a season award, but those who enjoy adding more historical context to their voting will have another reason to pick Moser. Loyola came to the Valley 2013-14 and finished dead last in its first year. It’s been a five-year climb of (more or less) consistent improvement culminating in this year’s championship.

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