MVC's Top Ten Freshmen/First-Year Players
Updated: Jan 4
UPDATE: It has come to my attention that Micah Thomas, the person I originally had at #2 on this list (and called a FOY contender, and used as fricken cover photo) is not actually a true freshman as he played at Northwest Florida State College last year. I went ahead and moved everyone up a notch and added a new person at #10 to correct this issue. I left my write-up for Thomas in italics at the bottom for posterity. I also changed the cover photo to the new #2 on the list, Connor Hickman (I used Tucker DeVries as the cover photo on my last article, that is why I avoided him for this). My bad ya'll.
I was looking back at my content from last year and discovered I have already basically done everything one can do from an historical perspective. For new readers to the blog, there is some good stuff from last year I encourage you to check out. So for this article I decided to stick with this season and break down the players in the MVC based on their class, (i.e. freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors). In COVID times, that can be a confusing task as everyone basically has an extra year. So, I’m going to define each player thusly: a freshman is a rookie, a sophomore is in his second year, a junior his third, a senior his fourth. I will also have a special section for 5th/6th year seniors. I will not count redshirt years in these classifications.
With that out of the way, I’ll start with my first list. This will likely be the most difficult list, as there aren’t many contributing “true” freshmen this year, likely due to an unusually large group of available upperclassmen due to the COVID rules. That said, here is my list of the top ten freshmen in the Valley this year.
Honorable Mentions: The two guys who were considered for this list but were ultimately left off were Keyondre Young (9.8 MPG, 4.6 PPG, 1.5 RPG, .1 APG, but out indefinitely with a thumb injury), and Trey Woodyard (8.2 MPG, 2.4 PPG, 1.3 RPG, .4 APG). Both play for Valpo.
10.) Zek Montgomery- Bradley (9 MPG, 2.6 PPG, .9 RPG, .1 APG): Leading off the list is a guard who has failed to see the floor in three games this year, but whose contribution level has grown since the start of the season. Zek Montgomery only saw 46 total minutes in Bradley's first 11 games, but he has earned an average of 15 minutes per game in their last three. He hasn't made a tremendous impact on the stat sheet but he did score eight points in the Braves' 7-point win over UTEP. Montgomery is seeing his opportunity increase and if he can take advantage of the chance, the Louisville native should have a shot to be a key role player by the time Arch Madness rolls around.
9.) Saint Thomas- Loyola (9.7 MPG, 3.7 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.1 APG): The player with the most unique name on this list, and presumably the only player in the nation whose name is also the name of a different DI school, Valley fans likely won’t see the best of Saint Thomas. Buried on the depth chart of a team with a ton of experienced and talented players, Thomas will likely get a shot to become one of the Ramblers’ key guys as soon as next season when the team moves to the A-10. As for now, the fact Thomas has been able to make an impact at all on a team as loaded as Loyola is proof that this guy has a bright future.
8.) Troy D’Amico- SIU (12.6 MPG, 1.2 PPG, 0.9 RPG, 1 APG): D’Amico has not been filling up the stat sheet for SIU (as seen by his numbers above), but coach Mullins seems to have confidence in the kid because he has been giving the guy plenty of opportunity. Until a recent bout with COVID, D’Amico had played in all but one of SIU’s games and had a run where he played at least 18 minutes in five out of six games (including 29 in the 54-52 win over Evansville). While he has never scored more than 5 points in a game, he seems to have a mind for distribution (3 assists in three different games) and can hold his own defensively. That is the kind of player who has a future on any Bryan Mullins coached team.
7.) Darius Deaveiro- Valpo (15 MPG, 2.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 2.1 APG): Deaveiro has seen his opportunities shrink since the return of Ben Krikke and the debut of Kobe King. However he was a key cog in keeping the Beacons upright in the early part of the season when they were playing without their two stars. Deveiro played 26 and 28 minutes in his first two games, and has seen 15 or more minutes six times. However, in Valpo’s last three games against DI teams the Canadian has played no more than 7 minutes. If he sticks with it Deveiro could be a key part of Valpo’s future, as he has shown the ability to score, rebound and distribute in flashes.
6.) Preston Phillips- Evansville (16.6 MPG, 2/10 Starts, 1.5 PPG, 3.6 RPG, .8 APG): Another guy who hasn’t exactly filled up the stat sheet but has gotten ample opportunity to play is the Aces’ Preston Phillips. The forward has averaged over 16 minutes a game and has started two contests for Todd Lickliter’s team. Phillips doesn’t score a ton (he has made more than one basket in a game only once this year) but has shown himself to be a competent rebounder. He has averaged 3.6 rebounds a game, which would translate to a near league leading pace over 40 minutes.
5.) Isaac Haney- Missouri State (13.8 MPG, 4.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG, .8 APG): Haney has found his way into a crowded MSU rotation. While his average of 13.8 minutes per game is just ninth on the team, he is still getting regular minutes despite playing on a squad filled with veteran players. Haney’s playing time has risen as of late as he has gotten more than 18 minutes of PT in five of the Bears’ seven games since the start of December. He broke out in a recent blowout win over Evangel in which he hit four three pointers and scored 18 points over 22 minutes. He also hit double figures in a win over Little Rock. As the veteran players on the Bears start to exhaust their eligibility, Haney is poised to become a key guy in Springfield over the next few years.
4.) Simon Wilbar- Indiana State (10.7 MPG, 4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, .1 APG): A player that is seemingly on the opposite trajectory of Darius Deaveiro this season, Wilbar played sparingly early in the year, but his minutes have jumped considerably since becoming a starter in December. Wilbar had a run of four games where he averaged over 18 minutes a game in early December before being forced to sit out the Sycamores’ most recent games with COVID. Wilbar has notched double figures in two contests including an 11-point, 6-rebound performance in 25 minutes against Loyola. Wilbar will likely become a key guy for ISU possibly as soon as this season.
3.) Cameron Crawford- Indiana State (17.8 MPG, 5/12 Starts, 4.6 PPG, 3 RPG, .8 APG): Crawford is just one of many new faces on an Indiana State team full of newcomers. While most of the new faces are transfers from the D2 ranks, including their coach, Crawford is one of a trio of impact freshmen making contributions for the Trees. His 17.8 MPG are 7th on the team and 3rd among true freshman in the Valley. He has been a starter off and on, including a 69-68 win over Miami Ohio in which he played 37 minutes. He has averaged 24.5 minutes per game since the start of December. He broke out for 14 points and 7 rebounds in ISU’s most recent game against Midway.
2.) Connor Hickman- Bradley (22.3 MPG, 6/13 Starts, 6.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.2 APG): A part-time starter, Hickman has been a big part of Bradley’s recent resurgence. He scored 12 points against UNI and netted 10 points and 5 rebounds in a 4-point win over Saint Joseph’s. Hickman has struggled to get consistent results this year. He has scored in double-figures four times, but also failed to score more than three points four times. However, that is the kind of inconsistency one would expect from a true freshman. Still, he has shown flashes of being a great scorer and has contributed as a key role player for the Braves this year. The future is bright for the Indiana native.
NR.) Will Richard- Belmont (26.2 MPG, 10/13 Starts, 11.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.8 APG): Will Richard is not rated because he not in the Missouri Valley Conference……yet. But I included him because, barring transfer, he will be in the Valley for several years. And he is a name that MVC fans are probably going to get to know quite well. An impact player on a very good team, there aren’t many true freshman in the Valley more impressive than Richard. He could become one of the stars of the league before too long.
1.) Tucker DeVries- Drake (28.3 MPG, 7/14 Starts, 13.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.9 APG): If Tucker Devries does not win Valley Freshman of the Year, something went terribly wrong. The coach’s son, Devries leads Drake in scoring by nearly three points per game, and trails only Tremell Murphy in minutes played. That would be impressive on any team, but DeVries plays for one of the best teams in the league. It took only a short amount of time for DeVries to develop into the go-to guy for the Bulldogs. He should win freshman of the year and be a candidate for higher honors as well. There is probably a Larry Bird Trophy somewhere in this guy’s future. DeVries is the only true impact player among the Valley's group of true freshmen and is far-and-away its best.
So, there you have it. You typically see more freshman making bigger contributions to MVC squads, but I think the combination of the extra COVID year with an overactive transfer market has made it more difficult for freshmen to break out. Next, I’ll take a look at the sophomores/2nd year players. Until then, GO VALLEY!
FROM ORIGINAL ARTICLE, REMOVED WHEN THE AUTHOR REALIZED MICAH THOMAS SHOULD NOT BE ELIGIBLE FOR THIS LIST.
Micah Thomas- Indiana State (28.6 MPG, 8/12 Starts, 11.9 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 2.8 APG): While the #1 player on this list is the odds-on favorite to win MVC Freshman of the Year, Micah Thomas will likely be his greatest challenger. He is one of two freshman that is truly making a huge impact for his team this year. A starter in two-thirds of Indiana State’s games, Thomas is fourth on the team in minutes played and one of four double-figures scorers for the Sycamores. Thomas is also third on the team in assists, which is a key facet of ISU’s fast-paced offense. Thomas has scored in double-figures in eight games and played 30+ minutes seven times. His 23-point performance against NMSU is tops on this list so far. With three guys on this top ten, the future is certainly bright for ISU Blue.