Every Team's Best Player (So Far) & Power Rankings
With Valley football winding down and my attention shifting to hoops, it seemed like a good time to take stock of how all the rosters around the league are performing. Below you’ll see my updated power rankings along with who I think every team’s best player has been so far. Spoiler alert, it is mostly the people you’d expect. Have a look below.
10.) Northern Iowa (2-5, LW: 6): The Panthers are probably not the worst team in the league, but its hard to argue for anyone else in this slot right now as UNI has just one DI win. Northern Iowa has played fewer games than anyone else in the league and still have several opportunities to improve their nonconference performance. But they are 0-3 at home against DI competition, and 1-5 overall. They do have arguably the league’s best win at St. Bonaventure. But home losses to Nicholls, Vermont and Richmond, coupled with away losses to Bradley and Arkansas are adding up. The Panthers still have their MTE, which they will do in Hawaii on the eve of Christmas.
-Best Player: AJ Green is averaging 16.4 PPG, almost six points better than the Panthers’ second leading scorer Noah Carter. He is also third on the team in rebounds and assists. So, it would be a lie to say anyone else has been UNI’s best player. But while he has shown flashes of his old self (particularly in UNI’s lone DI win against St. Bonaventure) he hasn’t been as consistent as in the past. Remember, he is coming off major surgery. There is ample reason to believe the old AJ will make his triumphant return….possibly just in time for league play.
9.) Evansville (4-8, LW:9): The Aces took SIU to the brink at home, but ultimately fell to the Salukis in their league opener. They have 3 DI wins, but all three are against very bad teams and the quantity of losses are starting to add up. Shamar Givance was very good against SIU and he and Jawaun Newton have paired up to be a solid combo for the Aces as we move toward conference play.
-Best Player: You could give this title to Shamar Givance or Jawaun Newton. Givance leads the team with a 15 PPG average, just one point ahead of Newton’s 14. Newton leads the team in rebounds (Givance is third), and Givance leads the team in assists (Newton is third). Overall, I have to give it to Givance if for no other reason than he lit up Southern Illinois last week and has been extremely good in the Aces’ last four games.
8.) Bradley (4-6, LW: 10): The Braves put together a three-game winning streak including a dramatic W over UNI to open the Missouri Valley season. However, the fact remains that their three DI wins have come over squads that have a combined four DI wins themselves. Bradley has been competitive in most of their losses, though, and there is a good chance that will translate into a middle-tier finish in league play.
-Best Player: A wise man once said, “PUT IT IN REVERSE TERRY”. But Terry Roberts has not had a need to put it in reverse. He leads the team in scoring (at 15.4 PPG) by 5 PPG over Ja’Shon Henry. He also leads the squad in assists and steals and is fourth in rebounding. He has scored at least 17 points in four of Bradley’s last five games and scored 20 against UNI. The JUCO transfer is making an early play for MVC Newcomer of the Year.
7.) Illinois State (4-5, LW: 8): The Redbirds’ stock has certainly risen from the initial doom and gloom predictions most folks (including me) had for them this year. Opening league play with a win over Missouri state helped. But a loss to Jackson State a few days later brought them back to Earth. The MSU win is one of only three DI wins and their only DI win since they beat Bucknell to get to 2-2 on December 20th. Like most of the squads on this part of the list they are hard to pin down.
-Best Player: Antonio Reeves has been the conference’s leading scorer at 20.6 PPG so it would be difficult to name someone else in this spot. However, Sy Chatman has stepped up to be the ‘Birds second leading scorer with 15.2 PPG and is third in the league (and first on the team) with 7.4 RPG. This one isn’t as obvious as a casual fan might think at first glance, but I am going to give it to the league’s leading scorer Reeves. But kudos to Chatman for stepping up. I honestly don’t know if we have a “most improved player” award in this league, but he has to be the leader if there is one.
6.) Indiana State (4-5, LW: 7): The Trees ended a four-game losing streak with a nice 69-68 last second win over Miami of Ohio. The four previous losses were all to good teams, though, and they played tough in their league opener at Loyola. This is a squad that plays a different style than the rest of the league. It is also largely a patchwork roster of transfers and former role players. It will be interesting to see how they fare in league play.
-Best Player: D2 transfer Cameron Henry as emerged as the Sycamores’ go-to guy in the absence of Tyreke Key. He trails Cooper Neese in scoring by just .1 points but leads the team in rebounding and assists by a wide margin. His overall numbers of 15 PPG, 6.4 RPG and 3.9 APG (good for fourth in the league) has him in the running for Newcomer of the Year as well. Cooper Neese might still be the team’s spiritual leader, but Henry is the one most filling up the stat sheet.
5.) Valparaiso (5-5, LW: 5): The Beacons have gone 2-1 since my last power rankings including a hard fought loss at Drake and a win over Western Michigan. They also beat the hilariously generically named East-West University. If someone applied for a job with me and submitted that as their university name on their resume, I would suspect they made it up. Kobe King recently returned, and we will see what he can do in the Valley.
-Best Player: Kobe King may ultimately emerge as the Beacons’ best player when it is all said and done, but for now that title belongs to Ben Krikke. Valpo is 5-5 overall, but 5-2 with him on the floor. He leads the team in scoring with 16.6 PPG while adding 3.6 RPG and 1.1 steals. Sheldon Edwards has been stellar as well, averaging 12.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.6 blocks per game. Throw in Trevor Anderson and Thomas Kithier along with Kobe King, and Valpo might end up being the surprise of the league this year. Those transfers seem to be panning out.
4.) Missouri State (5-4, LW: 3): Opening league play with a loss to Illinois State is not ideal. They had a chance for a huge win for themselves and the league in hosting BYU but couldn’t get over the hump. They did go on the road for a dominant win over Little Rock. Missouri State has been up and down and has not been able to play at their best consistently. But when they are at their best they are as good as anyone in the league.
-Best Player: Gaige Prim is the early leader in the clubhouse for the Larry Bird Trophy. The big man is third in the league in scoring with 17.4 PPG. He leads the league in rebounds with 9.4 RPG. He is also second in the league in field goal percentage and fourth in blocks with 1.4 per game. Throw in a couple assists per game and he is simply an all-around stud.
3.) Southern Illinois (5-3, LW: 4): Southern Illinois managed to avoid the upset but (but only just) in wins over both Alcorn State and Evansville. They then went out and dominated Southern Miss. They have an opportunity for a good win at Tulsa on Saturday. They haven’t been as good as we had hoped, maybe, but the Salukis have put up one of the better nonconference performances amongst MVC schools this season. They are primed to be in the top part of the league standings this year.
-Best Player: One would expect Marcus Domask to be the obvious choice here, but he trails Lance Jones in points, rebounds, steals and field goal percentage. One might be able to chalk that up to the fact that Domask likely gets the other team’s full attention every night and often has to deal with an opponent’s best defender. With that in mind I am going to stick with Domask as the Salukis’ best player (15.6 PPG, 4 RPG, 3.5 APG) due to his superior assist totals and fewer turnovers. Both are studs though. For what its worth Jones’ stat line looks like this (17.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.1 APG, 2 SPG).
2.) Drake (6-3, LW: 2): The Bulldogs were able to shake off the disappointment of their 0-3 MTE performance to get wins over Valpo and St. Thomas at home and Omaha on the road. None of the wins were as easy as we might have liked them to be. Especially the games against St. Thomas (10 point home win over a team that was D3 last year) and Omaha (won by 8 over a team with no DI wins), but they got the job done which is more than a lot of MVC teams can say. They have a great opportunity against Clemson on Saturday.
-Best Player: This is a team that really shares the wealth, so it is very difficult to pick the best player. They have six guys (including the injured Roman Penn) who average between 24 and 29 minutes per game and also average between 9 and 13.3 points per game. The scoring leader is Tucker Devries (13.3 PPG) by a point over Tremell Murphy (12.2 PPG). Garrett Sturtz is your rebounding leader with 6.7 RPG (followed by Tremell Murphy with 5.8 RPG). Penn leads in assists by a wide margin over DJ Wilkins. And Sturtz is your steals leader followed by Tucker Devries and Shaq Hemphill. Perhaps the most consistent guy is Hemphill who is third in scoring and rebounding, second in steals and third in blocks. This is the toughest call on the list, but I am going to go with Tremell Murphy for his scoring and rebounding runner-up combo.
X.) Belmont (8-3, LW:2): The Bruins have continued to outperform most of the league they are joining. They finished second in the same MTE Drake finished last in (losing by two to Dayton) and have gone 3-0 since then including a very good win at Saint Louis. An able replacement for Loyola indeed.
-Best Player: I admittedly don’t know much about the Bruins roster, but they are another squad that is very balanced. Center Nick Muszynski averages 17 points, 6.3 rebounds while two other Bruins average double figures and a high rebound total as well. Grayson Murphy seems to make them go, with 8.6 PPG and 6.1 rebounds per game while leading the team with 5.5 assists and 3.2 steals. I’m gonna go with the little guy Murphy as the key guy. But this is a team that has clearly defined roles.
1.) Loyola (8-2, LW: 1): The Ramblers opened league play with a win over Indiana State and got a decent win at Depaul to move to 8-2. Based on nonconference performance, it is hard to argue that the Ramblers aren’t the team to beat in their swan song Valley season. Their two losses are both to probable NCAA Tournament teams (one by a nose), and they carry two P6 wins.
-Best Player: Another squad that performs as a unit, there are several good players to choose from here. But Lucas Williamson clearly stands out. The senior leads the team with 11.7 PPG and is second with 5 RPG (.1 behind Tate Hall). His 2.9 assists per game are second behind league leader Braden Norris who has 4.1. He also leads the team in steals and blocks. Beyond that, Williamson is the most experienced player in the league by a country mile having played in the Final Four. He’s the easy choice as the Ramblers’ best player.
If you’re wondering, how are the expansion candidate been doing on the floor this season, I have you covered. In short, it isn’t pretty. Here is a look at how the five squads that are rumored to be candidates for MVC expansion have fared so far.
-Murray State (7-1): The Racers have lived up their nickname, racing out to a 7-1 record to start the year. Their loss is to ETSU and there isn’t a lot on the resume that really jumps out at you, but a 7-1 start is better than most MVC teams can claim right now. They will have opportunities against Memphis (today) and Auburn (December 22) still to come.
-UT-Arlington (2-5): The Mavs finally picked up their first DI win over UCSB before their most recent game against Nevada was cancelled due to COVID issues in the Wolfpack program. To their credit, the Mavs have played a very tough schedule but (except for a 6-point loss to San Diego State) the games have been pretty ugly.
-UIC (2-6): Things haven’t gone much better for the squad from the Windy City. They are currently on a five-game losing streak, and their list of opponents is not as impressive at UTA’s. Valpo is UIC’s lone DI win.
-Omaha (1-8): Somehow, Omaha has been worse than UIC or UTA. The Mavs have lost eight in a row and do not have a DI win. They have played a tough schedule to their credit, but results have been poor to say the least thus far.
-Kansas City (4-4): The Roos have actually had the second-best season of this group (after Murray) so far. Their two DI wins came over Missouri (wow) and Idaho State (OK). They too have played a tough schedule but other than the upset over Missouri, it hasn’t looked pretty.
Well that last part was a bummer. I plan to take a closer look at the expansion options in an article next week. As I said, I’ll be doing more basketball stuff as we move out of football season. Until then, GO VALLEY!