MVC's Top Ten Sophomores/Second-Year Players
Are second year players with four years of eligibility (due to COVID) considered freshmen or sophomores? Most of the schools in the Valley call them sophomores, but two (UNI and Indiana State) call them freshmen. That led to some confusion in part one of this series when I included Indiana State’s Micah Thomas, who is listed as a freshman, on the list of true freshmen when he actually played a year of JUCO ball last year. That makes him eligible for this list instead, so you’ll get to read about him again if he earns it (spoiler: he does).
Whether you think of them as freshmen or sophomores, they all started their college basketball careers in the COVID environment of 2020-21, and all presumably will benefit from getting an extra year of experience in their careers. Here is a look at the top ten second year players in the MVC so far this year.
Also, if you missed the list of first year players and want to check it out first, click here.
Honorable Mentions: These guys were considered but did not make the list.
-Kyler Filewich- SIU (4.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 0.3 APG, 13.7 MPG, 4 Starts): A member of the all-freshman team last season after emerging as a starter and averaging 23 minutes per game last year, Filewich has seen his role lessen this year. He is still a contributor for Bryan Mullins, but DJ Muila has taken some of his minutes and that has kept him from finding a spot on this list.
-Jacobi Wood- Belmont (5.8 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 1.7 APG, 17.7 MPG): One of my goals with this piece is to educate myself and the rest of you all on the Belmont Bruins since they will soon be one of us. I included a Bruin true freshman on the last list. He was technically unranked but placed between #2 and #1, clearly showing better stats than any MVC freshman except Tucker DeVries. In this class, though, the Bruins come up a bit short. There was no sophomore who would have made the top ten, but the closest is Jacobi Wood. Wood was a part time starter last year for Belmont who averaged double figures as a freshman. His output has been nearly cut in half this year and his stats are down across the board. Still, based on his freshman stats Wood is a good player and one we might see a lot of over the next few years in the MVC.
-Bowen Born- UNI (3.8 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.9 APG, 19 MPG): After starting all 25 of UNI’s games and winning the MVC Freshman of the Year award last season, Bowen Born has been forced to come off the bench this year. The return of AJ Green has a lot to do with that, but Born has also battled injuries for most of the year. His 11.2 PPG last year has dwindled to 3.8 this year, but he is starting to get healthy. He could still have a major impact on the MVC season and is certainly a big part of UNI’s future.
-Jayson Kent- Bradley (6.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG, .4 APG, 16.5 MPG, 1 Start): This was by far the toughest decision on this list. I had it down to Kent and Dalton Banks for the #10 spot. Kent has played fewer minutes but has made more of an impact with his scoring. However, Banks has played a larger role on his team and has become a big distributor. You can’t go wrong either way, and if you want to pretend Kent was #10 and Banks was an honorable mention I won’t be offended. After starting the season off well, then going cold for a stretch, Kent is back making major contributions for the Braves including double figure scoring in recent wins over SIUE, Saint Joe’s and UTEP. The Braves have won the last five games in which Kent has scored at least eight points.
10.) Dalton Banks- SIU (3.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.7 APG, 23.7 MPG, 6 Starts): Dalton Banks is not tearing up the stat sheet this season. In fact, his scoring rate is almost half of what it was last year as a freshman, his rebounding is down and he has played slightly fewer minutes. Banks is only shooting 31% from the field and 23% from deep, numbers that are also down significantly from his 48% and 38% clips last year. However, Banks has spent half this season as a starter after only starting one game last season. Bryan Mullins has faith in this sophomore guard. One of the reasons? Banks is averaging 2.7 assists per game which is second on the team by a wide margin. Banks continues to do the little things well and make contributions for the Salukis despite his struggles. Some would call him a “glue guy”. His shooting, one would assume, will return eventually, and in fact he has been shooting better lately. Banks has shot 9-14 from the floor over his last three games after starting the season 5-31.
9.) Blaise Beauchamp- Evansville (7.1 PPG, 1.9 RPG, .6 APG, 17 MPG, 1 Start): Beauchamp comes to Evansville after a year playing JUCO ball. Interestingly, Beauchamp committed to UE before he played a single minute for his JUCO team (they did not start their season until January because of COVID). The arrangement was a bit of a risk for both sides, but seems to have worked out. Beauchamp is still easing into his role, playing just 17 minutes per game for the Aces, but has played big time ball in their last two contests hitting seven three pointers between the two games and earning his first start. Against UNI over the weekend, Beauchamp hit four three-pointers and scored 14 points. I expect this guy’s role to continue to expand, especially as Evansville’s large crop of seniors rotates out of the program. He may be a big player on the MVC scene before it is all said and done.
8.) Howard Fleming- Illinois State (5.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 2.2 APG, 23 MPG, 9 Starts): Illinois State was picked to finish either 9th or 10th by just about everyone in the MVC media scene. Instead they’ve been a pleasant surprise, and the consistency of Howard Fleming is one of the reasons why. The Redbirds are led by the three headed monster of Antonio (don’t call me Austin) Reeves, Josiah Strong and Sy Chatman, but Fleming is one of a trio of role players that give the Redbirds the depth they need to allow those guys to be successful. Fleming doesn’t score a ton but is second on the team in assists and leads the team in steals. He contributes in bits and pieces, like a solid role player should do. For example, he scored eight points, grabbed eight rebounds, had 4 assists and added two steals in a recent Redbird win over UTSA. He had an 11-game stretch where he scored between 5 and 10 points in every game except one. If Illinois State has a good season this year, Fleming will be a big reason why. He is one of their “glue guys”.
7.) Julian Larry- Indiana State (5.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.8 APG, 28 MPG, 10 Starts): Our tribute to “glue guys” continues as we have perhaps the ultimate MVC glue guy, Julian Larry. Larry is another guy that doesn’t blow up the stat sheet but does the little things very well. That is why he started 21 games as a true freshman on one of the better teams in the Valley last year despite only averaging 4 points a game. This year he has started 10 games and has played an average of 27.5 minutes per contest, despite scoring just 5.4 points a game and averaging 1.8 assists. ISU has plenty of guys who score at a high volume including four that average more than 12 points per game. Larry can do the things those guys aren’t as good at. He seems to be a good defender (leads the team in steals) and is adept at creating shots for others. He is also capable of scoring and rebounding when called upon, averaging almost ten points, six rebounds and three assists per game during the Trees’ recent run of COVID related shorthandedness. I think that Larry is capable of expanding his game when he needs to, and may well do so in the coming years becoming an MVC stud.
6.) Lu’cye Patterson- Missouri State (6.1 PPG, 2 RPG, 2.3 APG, 23 MPG, 7 Starts): Despite an increase in depth on the Bears’ roster compared to last year, Lu’Cye Patterson has seen his role increase for MSU this season. Patterson has started almost half of Missouri State’s games and has seen his minutes increase from 15 per game to 23. He has also more than doubled his scoring output, while nearly doubling his assists. One might say he has made the standard jump in production one would expect of a second-year player. With Demarcus Sharp out for much of the early part of the year, Patterson served as the Bears’ main distributor in his absence, and he is second on the team behind Sharp in assists per game. Patterson will continue to be a key player for MSU this year and is in line to be the guy if he is still on the team a couple years from now. If he continues to make the same level of year-over-year improvements, the Bears will be in good hands for several years.
5.) Jacob Hutson- Loyola (8.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG, .5 APG, 17 MPG, 11 Starts): It isn’t easy to step into the role vacated by one of the greatest players in the history of your program. Loyola hasn’t asked any one person to try to replace Cameron Krutwig. Instead, they are moneyballing it, and mixing and matching with a combination of Tom Welch, Ryan Schweiger and Jacob Hutson. Hutson is the guy getting the starts, but grad transfer Schweiger is the one with the best numbers. If you combine the three, they average 44.6 minutes per game, 23.1 PPG and 7.5 RPG. That is pretty good production out of the post. Hutson’s coming out party was a November 26th game against Arizona State in which the Minnesota native scored 26 points (including three three-pointers) and grabbed five rebounds in a Rambler win. His minutes have been up since then. Hutson is probably the long-term answer in the post for Loyola. While he will never be Cam Krutwig, he is a different kind of player that brings a different, possibly more versatile, skillset.
So, I just want to say that from here on out it was very difficult to order everyone. You could make a compelling argument for these four guys in any order. So just know that when I ranked them, I was basically trying to find reasons to separate the guys and put them in some sort of order but they all have an argument for the top spot.
4.) Sheldon Edwards- Valpo (12.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.8 APG, 25 MPG, 6 Starts): Sheldon Edwards is going to be a stud in this league by the time his career is done. He started off strong, averaging 8 points, 3 rebounds a game last year as a true freshman to nab a spot on the Valley All-Freshman team. This year has gone even better for Edwards as he has improved his scoring, rebounding, steals, assists and turnover numbers. He averages double-figures and is the third leading scorer on a team that is loaded with power 5 veteran transfers. He is also strong defensively and leads the entire team in steals and blocks. Had it not been for an influx of transfers in the offseason, this would likely be Edwards and Ben Krikke’s team, and I think the Beacons would still be in pretty good hands in that scenario. His role has diminished a bit with the return of Krikke and the debut of Kobe King (which is why I only have him 4th on this list), but Edwards is still one of the top impact players on Valpo. If he sticks with it and continues to improve his game, he will be one of the star players in this league before he graduates.
3.) Reink Mast- Bradley (7.8 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1 APG, 26 MPG, 14 Starts): Any time a sophomore can become one of the league’s best post players, fans should take notice. Rienk Mast retains four years of eligibility, and is second in the league in rebounding with 7.9 per game. On a team with Terry Roberts, Ja’Shon Henry and Malevy Leons, Mast doesn’t really need to score a ton, but he is still fourth on the team with 7.8 points per game. A member of the all-freshman team last year (when his scoring average was actually a touch higher), Mast does all the things you need a solid post to do to keep you in the game. While his scoring and shooting percentage (39.6%) are a little lower than you’d like for a star post player, the Dutch big man still has time to develop that side of his game. For now, his ability to establish himself in the post both offensively and defensively does plenty to help Bradley win. The fact that Mast has established himself as Bradley’s go-to guy in the post when they have a 7’ 1’’ senior (Ari Boya) on the roster as well, make his exploits all-the-more impressive. If he improves his offensive game in the next couple years, watch out. He will be a stud.
2.) Micah Thomas- Indiana State (11.9 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 2.8 APG, 30 MPG, 13 Starts): In my original article about true freshmen, I listed Thomas as the second-best true freshman in the league. This was a dirty lie because Thomas isn’t a true freshman since played a last season at the JUCO level. So instead of being named the #2 freshman in the league, I have him as the #2 sophomore. He is truly making a huge impact for his team. A starter in two-thirds of Indiana State’s games, Thomas is third on the team in minutes played and one of four double-figure scorers for the Sycamores. Thomas is also third on the team in assists, which is a key facet of ISU’s fast-paced offense. The Oklahoman has scored in double-figures in nine games and played 30+ minutes eight times. That includes a 40-minute, 18-point, 8 rebound performance for a shorthanded Indiana State team in a victory over Bradley just last weekend. The Trees have a total of four guys on the first two lists combined, meaning they have four key guys who retain four years of eligibility. They could be a contender in the Valley in short order.
1.) Nate Heise- UNI (10.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.4 APG, 30 MPG, 12 Starts): His teammate, Bowen Born, was the Valley Freshman of the Year last year but Nate Heise has emerged as the Panthers’ top sophomore this season. The guard, who may have redshirted last year if it weren’t for injuries and the free COVID season, has now started 33 of 37 career games for UNI and has been in the starting five every game this year. A member of the All-Freshman team last year, Heise has taken a leap forward this year in scoring, steals, assists, rebounding and shooting percentage. The Minnesota native’s shooting percentage has risen from 40% last year to 58% this year (which is third in the league), and his three-point percentage has risen from 31% to 47%. While injury and illness have hit some of UNI’s key players hard this year, Heise has been a horse. It could be argued that Heise has emerged as UNI’s second-best player so far this season behind AJ Green and ahead of the likes of Trae Berhow, Austin Phyfe, Tywhon Pickford and Bowen Born. The sophomore is third on the team in scoring, second in rebounding and leads the team in steals. He has raised his game both offensively and defensively, and he is tough as nails. Heise has scored in double figures five games in a row, averaging 32 minutes per game and nabbing an average of 6.2 rebounds over that stretch. He has scored no fewer than eight points in each of UNI’s last nine games, averaging 12.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG during that stretch. The sky seems to be the limit for this kid, and he has the potential to be UNI’s go-to guy (and one of the best two-way players in the league overall) by the time he graduates.
And that is it! Part 3 of the series (juniors/3rd years) will be next, but I need to do my FCS National Championship preview article in the meantime. I might also do a basketball power ranking in betwixt. Until then, GO VALLEY!