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Midseason Larry Bird Trophy Watch (Top 15)

If you are reading this, you probably know that the Larry Bird Trophy is awarded to the MVP of each Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball season. With about a month of the ’20-’21 season left, I thought I would take a look at the top candidates for this year’s trophy. While the field is more open than it typically is at this stage, there are only a handful of candidates. I’ve listed fifteen, many of whom have no realistic shot. But these would be my first, second and third team picks as of right now, and I had a chance to include someone from every team. At the end, I’ll put my picks for the All-Newcomer and All-Freshmen teams as well. All of these stats were current at the time of writing. I worked on this a lot last week and I have a day job so I am not going to update all these stats.

15.) DJ Horne, SO, IlSU (14.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.5 APG): I was having trouble picking from a crowded field for my final few picks and so I decided to use the MLB All-Star “Everybody Gets At Least One” rule. Horne would certainly be the Redbirds’ rep in an MVC All-Star game. The sophomore leads the team in scoring, is second in assists and is first in steals. Overall he is the 8th leading scorer in the MVC and is 16th in assists and 4th in steals. The best player on a bad team, Horne won’t sniff the Bird Trophy but will be a candidate for 2nd or 3rd team honors. He would also have a shot at the “Most Improved Player” award in many leagues….but probably not this one with the way this season has played out.

14.) Donovan Clay, SO, Valpo (11.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.3 APG): There is not an obvious choice for Valpo’s best player, but for my money I’d go with Donovan Clay. He is second on the team in scoring (behind Ben Krikke), leads them in rebounds (ahead of Krikke), is second in assists (behind league #2 Daniel Sackey), is and is third in steals. The fact that he does a little bit of everything puts him ahead of Krikke and Sackey in my book. He is 21st in league in scoring, the lowest on this list, and the only major category he is in the top ten in is blocks (where he leads the league). It will be interesting to see whether a Valpo player will be able to rise up and claim all-league honors. They are a team that tries to be bigger than the sum of their parts. That does not lend itself to individual accolades (see: Drake).

13.) Lance Jones, SO, SIU (12.8 PPG, 3 RPG, 3.3 APG): Jones has been a crucial member of a very young team in Southern Illinois, and has become even more crucial since his injury. The sophomore is the Salukis’ second leading scorer and is tops on the squad in steals and assists. He has been better in league play where he has averaged 15 points a game, scoring 25 in Marcus Domask’s absence against Indiana State. Jones is 12th in scoring and 7th in assists in the MVC. He isn’t a candidate for the Larry Bird Trophy (he isn’t even the best on his team) but he is a strong candidate for all-league honors.

12.) Jake LaRavia, SO, InSU (12.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 2.1 APG): After a solid freshman campaign, the Indiana State sophomore has improved his game in pretty much every way this season. While his shooting percentage has gone down a bit, his free throw percentage has improved tremendously from 62.5% to 78.1%. His 12.2 PPG is 13th in the league and his 5.9 rebounds are 8th in the league and tops among guards. He is also 23rd in the league in assists. He is second on the team in all three categories (as well as steals) and has become an outstanding Robin to Tyreke Key’s Batman. When Key graduates, Laravia, Cooper Neese and Tre Williams could evolve into a very solid MVC three headed monster. LaRavia is also not a serious Larry Bird candidate but could likely win all-league honors at some level.

11.) Austin Phyfe, JR, UNI (11.9 PPG, 7 RPG, 2.6 APG): An MVC first-teamer last season, Phyfe was supposed to team up with AJ Green as the league’s best duo this year. Instead, Green has missed most of the season with injury and Phyfe’s stats have suffered for it. While his scoring average has gone up slightly from 11.2 to 11.9, Phyfe’s rebounding has gone down by more than a board a game. He led the league in the statistic last year and despite five of the six people immediately behind him either graduating or transferring he has fallen to fifth this year. He is 18th in the league in scoring, 5th in rebounding and 13th in assists. Those are numbers that are probably good enough for 3rd or 2nd team honors. That is fine, but it isn’t where Phyfe wanted to be this year.

10.) Shamar Givance, JR, UE (11.9 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 4.1 APG): The Purple Aces’ resurgence form complete dormat to middle-of-the-pack has been a team effort. Unlike UE teams of the past, which relied heavily on the talents of one or two guys, these Aces have spread the wealth. If you had to pick a star, though, I would have to go with Givance who is second on the team in scoring and rebounding (to two different people) and leads the team in assists. Leading scorer Jawaun Newton (who is third in rebounding and second in assists) would also be a strong candidate. Givance is 16th in scoring, 29th in rebounding and 4th in assists in the league. It remains to be seen whether those stats will be enough to garner league honors (for him, the similarly bestatted Newton, or any other Purple Aces player).

9.) Trae Berhow, SR, UNI (12.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.4 APG): I was actually a bit surprised to see Berhow this high on the list. I figured with as much as UNI was struggling, Berhow (and Phyfe) must be struggling too. Although he hasn’t been able to lead the team to the level he was hoping to, Berhow is having a good individual season statistically. He is scoring and rebounding at a similar rate to last year, but his assist numbers have gone up dramatically. This is likely at least partially the result of AJ Green’s injury, but still, it is a dramatic jump. Berhow has never averaged even a full assist a game before this year, and now he is averaging 3.4 per game. He is also a stellar rebounder who is second on the team behind Austin Phyfe. Overall he is 11th in the league in scoring, 10th in rebounds (2nd among guards), and 6th in assists. Those aren’t good enough numbers to be considered for the Larry Bird Trophy, but Berhow is a lock for all-league honors (a distinction he just missed last season) if he keeps this up.

8.) Tyreke Key, SR, InSU (14.8 PPG, 5 RPG, 2.3 APG): Tyreke Key, Indiana State’s senior leader and one of three healthy returning first-team all-conference guys has had a very good season. He is the league’s fifth leading scorer, 14th leading rebounder, and is 17th in assists. Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it feels like a bit of a disappointment. Key’s PPG totals have decreased from 17.4 as a sophomore, 15.6 as a junior and 14.8 this season. To be fair his rebounding, steals and assist numbers have increased each year. He seems to have completely been a non-factor in several games as ISU got off to a rough start. He has also had a number of outstanding efforts including dropping 31 on Loyola as the Sycamores got the upset. I’m not trying to say Key isn’t a stud. I would just imagine he and Indiana State fans were hoping he might be a little bit higher on this list his senior year.

7.) Marcus Domask, SO, SIU (16.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.2 APG): I believe I predicted that Marcus Domask could suffer from a sophomore slump. And technically I wasn’t wrong, he could have. He hasn’t…..but he could have. Domask has evolved into the leader SIU needed for its young group. He leads the team in scoring and is second in rebounds and assists (and also, weirdly, blocks). While his rebounding and 3-point percentage are down, his stats have otherwise improved in practically every way. Domask and his Salukis probably haven’t done enough to warrant serious Larry Bird consideration. But he is 3rd in the league in scoring (almost a full point ahead of Elijah Childs in 4th), 23rd in rebounding and 9th in assists. Those are numbers that warrant a good long look at a spot on the first-team for the reigning Freshman of the Year, although a recent nagging injury could derail that if it lingers much longer.

6.) Roman Penn, JR, Drake (13 PPG, 3 RPG, 5.2 APG): Now we have reached the point in the list where we are talking about serious Larry Bird Trophy candidates. One of the tenants of the trophy is that it typically goes to the best player on the best team. Drake is one of the MVC’s best teams, and Penn is one of Drake’s best players. Penn is second on the team in scoring, 5th in rebounds and (by far) first in assists. If you were going to give the trophy to a distributor, you likely wont find one better than Penn. He runs one of the league’s most balanced offenses as seven Bulldogs average at least seven points a game. Penn is 9th in the league in scoring and first in assists (by .7 over Valpo’s Daniel Sackey and over a full assist over 3rd place Sean East II). He won’t likely win the award but has a very good chance at first-team honors and is possibly the most important guy on possibly the league’s best team. Possibly.

5.) Shanquan Hemphill, SR, Drake (14.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.4 APG): If Drake ends up going undefeated and winning the league by three or four games, and a couple of guys in Springfield cool off a little bit, Shanquan Hemphill could win the Larry Bird Trophy. His stats don’t quite measure up to a few of the people above him on this list so he is certainly not the favorite right now. But there is a path to making it happen. The senior transfer from Green Bay has exceeded the Bulldogs expectations this year, leading the team in scoring and coming in second in rebounding. The thing holding him (and Roman Penn) back is Drake’s depth. They don’t need one guy to take control and score all of the points (or even get all of the minutes). That even distribution has come at the cost of some individual statistics, but I think Drake will take the undefeated record over individual awards. Hemphill is seventh in the league in scoring and 13th in rebounding.

4.) Elijah Childs, SR, Bradley (15.4 PPG, 8 RPG, 1.1 APG): After an injury plagued 19-20 season, Bradley needed their senior leader to step up and be one of the best players in the MVC this year. He has obliged. Childs is the team leader in points and rebounds by a wide margin, and he comes in 4th and 2nd in the league in those categories overall. He has been even a little better in MVC play averaging 16.4 points and 8.4 rebounds. Statistically, Childs is at least the third best player in the league and is right there with the duo from MSU. If team performance wasn’t a factor, Childs would be right in the race. The problem for Childs is that the Braves have not met expectations so far. With the Braves floundering, Childs will not get the “best player on the best team” treatment. If BU rallies to get into the top three or so (especially if they pass Missouri State), then Childs will have a shot. Either way, you can probably book him for a first-team all-league spot.

3.) Cameron Krutwig, SR, Loyola (14.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.3 APG): Sticking with the “best player on the best team” motif, the possibility that Loyola will be the best team is what gives Cameron Krutwig a legitimate shot at the trophy this year. While the Rambler senior has been one of the best players in the league this year, it is hard to argue he has been the best to this point. Awarding the Rambler the Larry Bird Trophy would be a sort of “Lifetime Achievement Award” at this point, as he has been one of the best players in the MVC for the entirety of his four-year career. Krutwig is certainly more important to his team than any member of Drake would be to theirs. He leads the team in scoring and rebounding by a wide margin and is third in assists. That said he has been, statistically, worse than he was last year. His rebounding numbers are the worst of his career, and his assist numbers are way down as well. His scoring is even slightly below his sophomore and junior year numbers. Despite all of this, Krutwig is still 6th in the league in scoring, 11th in rebounding, 17th in assists and the single most accomplished basketball player in the current MVC by a wiiiiiide margin. He’ll have a shot at the award if the Ramblers win the league. It doesn’t hurt that he outperformed both Bears in their first matchup and Loyola won handily.

2.) Gaige Prim, SO, Missouri State (17.1 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 3.7 APG): Going into the season the buzz was high for Gaige Prim. He was coming off a season where he had gone from anonymous random MVC transfer to one of the best bigs in the league, emerging among a number of talented MSU players as a team leader. In most seasons, stats like his would make you the runaway Larry Bird favorite, and certainly a strong candidate for most improved player. But he might not even be the best or most improved player on his own team. Still, it is hard to deny the talents of this half of the Bears’ dynamic duo. Prim is the league’s second leading scorer, its top rebounder (by almost two full rebounds per game) and is 5th in assists. Those are monstrous numbers and although the Bears fell four losses behind Drake this week and a conference title seems unlikely at this point, it is looking like one of this MSU duo is going to buck the “best player on the best team” trend. The numbers are simply undeniable. I have Prim behind his teammate for now, but I do still think it is anyone’s game.

1.) Isiaih Mosley, SO, Missouri State (22.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.3 APG): You want to talk about a guy that came out of nowhere? After averaging 8.3 points per game last year, I had Isiaih Mosley at #24 on my list of the “Top 30 Returning Players in the MVC” (right behind Danya Kingsby). In my write up I said he was “not quite equipped to carry a team……but he will have to play a much larger role this year”, finishing with “Mosley and Gaige Prim are the two constants that need to be able to keep things stable”. I was technically not wrong (except the part about not being ready to carry a team). All Mosley has done is average 22.9 PPG which is second in the ENTIRE COUNTRY to only Iowa’s Luke Garza. That is almost 6 points per game better than the Valley’s second leading scorer, teammate Gaige Prim. He is also 3rd in the league in rebounds and 7th in assists. At this point, he is a no-brainer for the Larry Bird Trophy. The biggest question for him is whether he can keep up this pace. He “struggled” a bit against Drake (if you can call averaging 20 points per game and getting two double-doubles struggling), and was finally held in check for the first time this year in his first matchup with Loyola. As teams start to key in on him, can he keep it up? That will be the big question.

MVC Beat All-MVC First Team (As of Now) -Isiaih Mosley, Missouri State -Gaige Prim, Missouri State -Elijah Childs, Bradley -Cameron Krutwig, Loyola -Roman Penn, Drake

MVC Beat All-MVC Second Team (As of Now) -ShanQuan Hemphill, Drake -Marcus Domask, Southern Illinois -Tyreke Key, Indiana State -Trae Berhow, Northern Iowa -Austin Phyfe, Northern Iowa

MVC Beat All-MVC Third Team (As of Now) -Shamar Givance, Evansville -Jake LaRavia, Indiana State -Lance Jones, Southern Illinois -Donovan Clay, Valpo -DJ Horne, Illinois State

MVC Beat All-Newcomer Team (As Of Now) -ShanQuan Hemphill, Drake: The #5 player on the Larry Bird list is the obvious choice for Newcomer of the Year right now. He is one of the two best players on one of the league’s two best teams.

-Terry Nolan Jr, Bradley: The transfer is 15th in the league in scoring and 12th in assists helping Bradley recover from the loss of Darrell Brown.

-Josiah Strong, Illinois State: The JUCO transfer is 22nd in the league in scoring and 10th in assists teaming up with DJ Horne and Dusan Mahorcic to lead Illinois State.

-Ben Harvey, Southern Illinois: The EIU transfer has been SIU’s third best player behind Domask and Jones. He is 23rd in the league in scoring and 20th in rebounding (7th among guards).

-Sean East II, Bradley: The transfer from UMass hasn’t been a massive scorer or rebounder, but is third in the league in assists and has helped replaced Darrell Brown for BU. Was down to Bowen Born or East for this spot and chose East mostly because Born will be on the next list.

MVC Beat All-Freshman Team (As of Now)

-Bowen Born, Northern Iowa: Has been easily the best freshman in the league. One of few regular freshmen starters and the only freshman to average double-figures. Has been forced to run UNI’s offense with AJ Green and Antwan Kimmons unavailable.

-Nate Heise, Northern Iowa: Also one of few regular freshmen starters in the league, forced into a bigger role than planned due to multiple Panther injuries. He’s the second leading scorer among MVC freshmen and leading rebounder among freshmen guards.

-Connor Barrett, Valpo: Has worked his way into Valpo’s starting lineup and become a 30 minute per game player in league play. He averages 7 points and 2.5 boards per game.

-Reink Mast, Bradley: Mast has been forced into action as a starter since the start of Valley play due to an injury to Ari Boya. It is always difficult to be a starting big as a freshman, but Mast has played decently well and looks to have a bright future.

-Sheldon Edwards, Valpo: Both Edwards and the other person I considered for the final spot, Dalton Banks of SIU, have seen their roles reduced somewhat recently. But Edwards came up big in Valpo’s double-OT win over Bradley this week after Ben Krikke and Donovan Clay fouled out and that is fresh in my mind, so I gave the last spot to Edwards (for now).

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