The Sunflower’s Missouri Valley Conference mid-season awards

Evan Pflugradt

It’s early February and the conference season in the Missouri Valley has climbed over it’s peak to see the other side. In a conference stifled by growing competition, league play has led to success from talented outliers stepping ahead of the rest.

With half the conference season now in the rear-view mirror, let’s take a look at naming conference awards.  

Player of the year

Player: Fred VanVleet (Wichita State, guard)

In stiff competition, the senior All-American guard has proven time and time again his value. Leading the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio and rallying his team to 11-straight victories and a 14-1 record since his return in early December, he is poised for his best season in history. His quick hands on defense have pressured an average of more than two steals per game and on the offensive end he’s shooting 45 percent from three-point range. VanVleet brings out the best in his teammates, and while he doesn’t need the numbers to show it every game, he’s the added “X factor” driving Wichita State to the top of the conference.

Runner-up: D.J. Balentine (Evansville, guard)

Coach of the year

Coach: Marty Simmons (Evansville)

Simmons has struck gold in senior D.J Balentine. Balentine will likely leave the Purple Aces as the program’s all-time leading scorer. Standing in the top-tier in the conference standings the Purple Aces have certainly gone the distance, an overtime victory against Southern Illinois and pressing WSU to their tightest competition of the season. While Balentine has been a gracious gift for the program, things can’t go unnoticed of Simmons’s development of Egidijus Mockevicius and Mislav Brojza.

Runner-up: Barry Hinson (Southern Illinois)

Rookie of the year

Player: Markis McDuffie (Wichita State, forward)

McDuffie has the luxury of playing in good company. With veteran All-Americans leading the charge, he hasn’t been taxed to the same degree that freshman Ronnie Suggs has faced trying to carry the load for Bradley. McDuffie has certainly held his own in every facet. The freshman has been challenged with defending the conference’s best scorers and his numbers have proven better. McDuffie averages nine points and three rebounds per game.

Runner-up: Ronnie Suggs (Bradley, guard)

Sixth-man of the year

Player: Markis McDuffie (Wichita State, forward)

McDuffie hasn’t done much wrong. The freshman has capitalized on the offensive end, standing as the team’s third leading scorer, something not easily done when pressuring the top competitors in the league on defense. A lock-down defender and a prolific scorer, McDuffie was made for the big moment. McDuffie averages nine points in 18 minutes per game off the bench. The freshman holds a shooting percentage nearing 50 percent; his career-high of 16 points came against Missouri State on 8-9 shooting.  

Runner-up: Mislav Brzoja (Evansville, guard)

Most improved player

Player: Shaq Morris (Wichita State, forward)

Morris started the season a foul-prone and unconditioned defender. Sitting behind senior transfer Anton Grady in the rotation, Morris’s progress looked to be another slow and steady journey. In the time since, Morris challenged critics and transformed into Wichita State’s starting center. Posting double-digit numbers on offense the sophomore is on a mission to prove his worth. Morris has broken down the post-play on offense and challenged the league’s best scorers with active hands on the block and tenacity off the glass.

Runner-up: Brenton Scott (Indiana State, guard)

Defensive player of the year

Player: Egidijus Mockevicius (Evansville, forward)

Mockevicius leads the conference in blocks, averaging more than one block more than the next challenger. Mockevicius leads not only the Valley but also the entire NCAA in rebounds (14.2.) His numbers on the glass nearly double the next best competition, in rebounds and blocks he’s unmatched.

Runner-up: Fred VanVleet (Wichita State, guard)

— Contributing: Jessica Green, Nick Beach and Joshua Duncan of The Sunflower