THE MVC'S TOP 30 RETURNING PLAYERS
Updated: Dec 8, 2020
After ranking the MVC teams last week, I’m now going to take a look at the best individual players. I’d love to do a write up about the top 30 overall players, but I know very little about the incoming transfers and next to nothing about the incoming freshmen. Instead of wildly guessing, I’m going to look at the top thirty MVC basketball players returning to the Valley this season. That doesn’t mean I don’t think there will be a ton of freshmen and transfers contributing this year, it just means I am just going to stick to what I know.
My process for this was pretty simple. I took a look at each team’s roster and jotted down players I thought might be good for this list. I ended up with 36 names. I originally wanted to trim that down to 25, but as I whittled away it became clear that a more natural cutoff would be 30. I then ranked the guys, and the results are below.
For what its worth, the six guys I wrote down that didn’t end up on the list were Cooper Kaifes, Ari Boya, Ben Krikke, Nick Robinson, Dedric Boyd and Evan Kuhlman.
30. Noah Frederking, Sr, Evansville (5.8 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.3 SPG, 0.1 BPG): I had it down to Krikke, Kaifes, Boya and Frederking for the final spot and ultimately decided to use the MLB All-Star rules to decide (everyone gets at least one). There wasn’t anything particularly special about Frederking’s season last year, but he is going to be very important for the Aces as a senior leader in 20-21. He will need to transform from a role player to a key guy, and his success or lack thereof will have a lot to do with how good UE will be this year.
29. Aher Uguak, Sr, Loyola (5.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.1 BPG): Uguak is a senior returning starter on one of the best teams in the league, but his impact isn’t seen as much on the stat sheet as the others. Uguak is a “glue-guy” and a good defender and rebounder. Don’t be surprised, though, if his minutes get cut a bit with the return of Cooper Kaifes and emergence of transfer Braden Norris. That said, Loyola won’t struggle to score even if Uguak isn’t a huge contributor offensively so he will be given an opportunity to contribute in other ways.
28. Cooper Neese, Jr, Indiana State (7.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.1 BPG): Neese established himself as a key cog in the Sycamores’ rotation last year and will likely see his role increase with the graduation of Jordan Barnes. He’ll have to hold off a bevy of transfers and young guns to hold onto that role though, as competition for minutes should be strong among a deep Indiana State bench.
27. Daniel Sackey, Jr, Valparaiso (6.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG): With the transfer of Javon Freeman-Liberty, Daniel Sackey’s role as the primary point guard and ball handler becomes crucial for Valpo’s success this year. This will likely be a team that succeeds by committee, so Sackey will need to be able to score and distribute effectively for the Crusaders. The latter shouldn’t be too difficult as he was fifth in the league in assists last year and third among returnees.
26. Garrett Sturtz, Jr, Drake (7.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.2 BPG): The Drake walk-on is a 6’ 3’’ guard who was 10th in the league in rebounding last year (third among guards). He can also serve as a complimentary scoring piece for Drake as he averaged 7.4 points per game last year. He is a unique player for his size, and one that was the leader for Drake in both scoring and rebounding on their opening weekend.
25. Antonio Reeves, So, Illinois State (7.2 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.1 BPG): The Redbirds are hoping this sophomore makes a big leap in his second season after a big role on the team last year as a freshman. With the losses of Zach Copeland, Jaycee Hillsman and Keith Fisher, Reeves will need to step up from being a role player to being one of the top two or three guys for Illinois State to have success this year.
24. Isiaih Mosley, So, Missouri State (8.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.3 BPG): Mosley will return for his sophomore season after a solid freshman campaign that saw him become a key cog on a team with many big-name veteran players. That team disappointed but Mosley did not. He is not yet quite equipped to carry a team, and he likely won’t have to, but he will have to play a much larger role this year as MSU loses a ton of talent and brings in a number of JUCO transfers and freshmen. Mosley and Gaige Prim are the two constants that need to be able to keep things stable.
23. Danya Kingsby, Sr, Bradley (7.2 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.2 BPG): Although he was a starter for most of last season, Kingsby was a role player behind Darrell Brown and Nate Kennell. With both of those guys gone and a year of DI basketball under his belt, can Kingsby become a bigger piece for the Braves this year? He’ll have plenty of competition for the role from a couple of transfers (Terry Nolan Jr. and Sean East) and rising sophomore Ville Tahvanainen.
22. Tre Williams, So, Indiana State (7.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.4 SPG, 1.2 BPG): As a freshman last season, Tre Williams shared the Sycamore post with veteran Bronson Kessinger (as well as Jake LaRavia who can play both frontcourt and backcourt). With Kessinger graduated, Williams will be asked to shoulder more of the load. I think Williams is a breakout candidate as I would expect a big jump from freshman to sophomore year for a post who got a lot of experience in year one. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw big things from this guy moving forward.
21. Marquise Kennedy, So, Loyola (9.2 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.3 BPG): Kennedy was the only key member of the Loyola rotation last season that wasn’t a junior, and this year he will be on a team that will likely have five senior starters. Despite the tough competition for minutes, Kennedy emerged as a member of the all-freshman team last year and put up solid stats. Next year (or maybe in two years) when Loyola’s entire starting lineup graduates, Kennedy will probably be asked to be “the man” in a retooled Loyola lineup. For now, he is another strong piece on a strong team.
20. Mileek McMillan, Sr, Valparaiso (8.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.5 BPG): McMillan is the eldest of Valpo’s three big guys, all of whom are more Euro style post players than traditional bigs. They all have the ability to shoot the ball and take it to the rim but aren’t dominant shot blockers or rebounders. With John Kiser and Ryan Fazekas gone, McMillan can expect a much larger role this year after being named to the most improved team last season. I expect all three Valpo bigs to get significant time.
19. DJ Wilkins, Jr, Drake (8.9 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG): Wilkins regressed a bit last year after a very strong freshman season that saw him named to the All-Freshman Team in 2018-19. Wilkins has been a starter since day one at Drake and it seems likely that wont change this year after the losses of Noah Thomas and Anthony Murphy. The question is whether he will remain a member of the crowd or emerge as a star for Drake in year three.
18. Lance Jones, So, Southern Illinois (9.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG): Lance Jones is one of the more intriguing players on this list. Pegged as a role player early on, Jones came on strong and emerged first as a starter and then as one of the go-to guys on a team with several veteran players. His onslaught late in the season helped SIU compete for a league title and culminated in a 20 point outburst at Arch Madness. If he continues on that upward trajectory, he and Marcus Domask could be a two-headed monster in the Valley for the next three (or four) years. If not, he will settle back into the solidly above average player he was most of the year. What happens with Jones will go a long way towards determining the Salukis’ fortunes this year.
17. Ja’Shon Henry, Jr, Bradley (9.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.4 BPG): Henry made the proverbial freshman-to-sophomore jump that fans and coaches love to see, more than doubling his scoring and rebounding total while securing a spot on the MVC Most Improved Team. Henry is already a solid player and will be a key member of the Braves rotation, but can he emerge from a crowded frontcourt to continue his rise into the MVC’s upper echelon? BU’s depth in the guard position may be a blessing for the team, but ultimately a curse for individual stats.
16. Tremell Murphy, Sr, Drake (10.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.5 BPG) (18-19 Stats): After a very solid first season at Drake in 18-19 when he averaged double-digit points and 6 rebounds a game in helping Drake to a share of the league title, Murphy was forced to take a redshirt year last season. He dealt with an injury along with some other off-the-court issues and only appeared in five games. He is back healthy now, and is a real wildcard both for the Bulldogs and the MVC. If he can come back as strong or stronger than he was before, he will be a candidate for Most Improved Player and Drake could be off to the races.
15. Donovan Clay, So, Valparaiso (9.4 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.6 SPG, 1.0 BPG): Clay, a member of the MVC All-Freshman Team a year ago, is the most promising of Valpo’s trio of big dudes, although he is listed as a guard/forward at 6’ 7’’. His role increased over the course of his freshman season and by the end of the year he could probably be called Valpo’s best returning player. I don’t know if he is the kind of guy who can carry a team like JFL and Fazekas did last year, but you can bet he will be a huge part of Valpo’s success this year. If he makes a big leap for his sophomore season, watch out.
14. DJ Horne, So, Illinois State (8.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG): Horne was also a member of the MVC All Freshman Team last year. Like Clay, his role increased significantly over the course of the season. Early on he was playing sparingly, but by March he could be counted on for 30+ minutes a night. He, perhaps more than any other freshman (with the possible exception of Marcus Domask), is going to be asked to shoulder the load for his team this year after the defections of Zach Copeland, Jaycee Hillsman, and Keith Fisher. Either Horne or JUCO transfer Josiah Strong will need to be “the man” for Illinois State to have any success this year. We’ll find out soon if he is ready.
13. Keith Clemons, Sr, Loyola (10.4 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.0 BPG): Clemons would be considered more of a go-to guy on most MVC teams but for Loyola he is just one of many in the crowd. Four Loyola players were named to an “All-Something” team last year and Clemons was not one, despite the fact that he shot nearly 50% from beyond the arc. He did play a key role, however, integrating into the team after missing November with an injury and playing solidly throughout. He averaged double figures while playing over 30 minutes per game. Clemons doesn’t need to be a star for Loyola to be successful this year, but he might end up one anyway. Either way, I suspect he’ll handle his role brilliantly.
12. Lucas Williamson, Sr, Loyola (9.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.3 BPG): Many MVC fans forget that Cameron Krutwig isn’t the only remaining member of Loyola’s 2017-18 Final Four team. Lucas Williamson was a quiet contributor off the bench that season. Since then, Williamson’s role has grown to the point where he averaged about 30 minutes per game each of the last two seasons. A member of the MVC All-Defensive team last year, Williamson is Loyola’s defensive anchor in the frontcourt. He also contributes offensively, averaging 9 points and 3 boards a game last season. For those reasons, he might be Loyola’s most important player other than Krutwig.
11. Jake LaRavia, So, Indiana State (9.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.5 SPG, 1.2 BPG): A member of the MVC’s All-Freshman and All-Newcomer teams last year, Jake LaRavia is primed for a breakout sophomore season. With the graduation of Jordan Barnes, LaRavia emerges as the top candidate to be the Pippen to Tyreke Key’s Jordan, and the heir apparent to Key as the go-to guy in the future for Indiana State. But for now, he’ll play sidekick on a team that many pick to be the Valley’s dark horse.
10. Trae Berhow, Sr, Northern Iowa (12.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.1 BPG): The fact that we got all the way to number ten before we see our first UNI player tells you what the Panthers’ main weakness may be this year: depth. But what they lack in depth they make up for in studs. The first is Berhow, who just missed out on third-team all-league honors last year. He shot the 3-ball at a ridiculous clip in the early part of the season, but cooled off a year’s end. He was also a very good rebounder, finishing 11th in the league overall and third among guards (and sixth among returners). While his strengths are his shooting and rebounding, Berhow can also play solid defense. If UNI is going to be as good as they want to be Berhow is going to have to be a more consistent shooter, serving as a compliment to AJ Green in UNI’s frontcourt.
9. Tate Hall, Sr, Loyola (12.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.1 BPG): Tate Hall was one of the surprises of the MVC last year. A Division II transfer from UIndy, Hall earned himself a spot on the MVC All-Newcomer team, and was Third Team All-MVC. As Loyola’s roster convalesced, Hall emerged as the #2 scoring option for the Ramblers. Hall has an odd quirk to his stats. He hit the 3-ball at a 42.6% clip last season, but his free throw percentage was 57.9%. You don’t usually see free-throw difficulties from elite shooters and if Hall can clean that up he’ll be an even stronger option for Loyola. Nonetheless, Hall enters his senior season as the Ramblers’ designated frontcourt scorer along with Keith Clemons.
8. Gaige Prim, Sr, Missouri State (13.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.7 BPG): Prim came seemingly out of nowhere to emerge as one of the Valley’s best big men and garner Third Team All-MVC honors as well as a spot on the All-Newcomer Team. His biggest weakness last year was an inability to stay on the floor due to foul trouble and mediocre conditioning. If you look at his stats on a per-40-minute basis he might be the best player in the league, but last year he only averaged 22 minutes per game. If he can stay on the floor, Gaige Prim is a candidate to be a first team all-league player this year, and could be right up there with Krutwig and Phyfe in terms of the league’s best post players.
7. Roman Penn, Jr, Drake (12.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.6 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG): There was actually a bit of buzz for Roman Penn when he arrived in Des Moines as a transfer from Siena. That said, I don’t think most thought he would garner Third Team All-MVC honors as well as a spot on the All-Newcomer Team last season. Penn is possibly the best distributor in the league, as he led the Valley by almost a full assist per game last season (over Darrell Brown of Bradley). Penn isn’t a one-trick pony though, as he was 16th in the Valley in both points and rebounds as well. With a solid sophomore campaign under his belt, Penn is poised to become one of the stars of the MVC this season.
6. Marcus Domask, So, Southern Illinois (13.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.5 APG, 0.0 SPG, 0.4 BPG): That brings us to perhaps the biggest emergent star of the MVC last season. All Domask did in his rookie season was earn Freshman of the Year honors, a spot on the the All-Freshman and All-Newcomer Teams, and a spot on the All-MVC Second Team. No big for a guy who wasn’t particularly hotly recruited. The highest rated rising sophomore on this list, Domask played with a team that had several veteran players and emerged as the strongest player. Now he has a new supporting cast and will be looked at as “the man”. If he takes a big jump from his freshman to sophomore years, look out. He has the chance to be the future face of the MVC and can team up with Lance Jones for as many as four more years for what could be a return to the glory days for SIU.
5. Austin Phyfe, Jr, Northern Iowa (11.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.9 BPG): After sitting out the 2018-19 season with a heart issue, Austin Phyfe came back strong last year. The Panther big man led the MVC in rebounding (just a notch ahead of Cameron Krutwig…..both well ahead of 3rd play Liam Robbins), while also averaging double-figures and chipping in two assists (3rd on the team) and a block per game for good measure. That earned Phyfe a spot on the All-MVC First Team. The expectation is for the Panther big man to battle Cameron Krutwig and Gaige Prim for backcourt supremacy in the MVC this season. Ben Jacobson likes to run his offense through the post and if Phyfe can become adept at that, UNI has the shooters to take advantage. Try to clog the lane to stop Phyfe at your own risk.
4. Tyreke Key, Sr, Indiana State (15.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.2 BPG): A First Team All-MVC performer, and the league’s 3rd leading scorer a year ago (after an all-league season two years ago as well), Tyreke Key enters this season as one of the MVC’s most proven stars. Key is a scorer first and foremost, although he was also top 20 in the league in rebounds. The Indiana State offense runs through him and the Sycamores will likely go as far as he can take them. Despite the loss of Jordan Barnes, Key might have the best supporting cast of his career in Terre Haute. However this is his team, and Indiana State is the league’s dark horse. Can Key take them over the top to compete for a league title?
3. Elijah Childs, Sr, Bradley (14.8 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.4 SPG, 1.4 BPG): If Bradley competes for the league title this year, Elijah Childs will probably be the biggest reason why. The big man was awarded Second Team All-MVC honors last year despite missing half the league season. When he was on the court, Childs was a monster. He would have led the league in rebounds and finished 7th in scoring last year if he were eligible. Childs has been a stud since the day he stepped on campus. You know he is motivated to make it happen this year, and he has as much raw physical ability as anyone in the league. His supporting cast has changed, with the graduation of Darrell Brown, but it is still strong. It will be exciting to see what Childs can do this season at Bradley’s unquestioned leader.
2. Cameron Krutwig, Sr, Loyola (15.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.6 BPG): Cameron Krutwig has had one of the most distinguished careers in Loyola basketball history, and perhaps in MVC history. When you’re a starter as a freshman for a Final Four team, it is hard to imagine where you go from there. Krutwig has improved his game from that of just a strong post player, to that of a team leader and distributor. He was second in the MVC in rebounding last season, fifth in scoring and, amazingly, third in assists (which got him First Team All-MVC honors….obviously). He runs one of the Valley’s best teams from his position in the post and is easily the most experienced player in the league. He can really do it all. He will be looking to cap off his outstanding career with another trip to the NCAA Tournament and perhaps a Larry Bird Trophy.
1. AJ Green, Jr, Northern Iowa (19.7 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG): Unlike Cameron Krutwig AJ Green is not an elite rebounder, distributor, or defender. While he is proficient in those things, AJ Green is primarily a scorer. While he is a bit more one dimensional than some of the other guys on this list, no one in the league is as smooth as the reigning Larry Bird Trophy winner. AJ Green is a pure scorer, and that is the reason is he probably the league’s best NBA prospect right now. He can shoot from anywhere on the floor and create his own shot. Coach Jake knows that if the Panthers need a basket, he can give the ball to AJ Green and there is a chance that shot is going in. AJ made the jump from Freshman of the Year to Player of the Year in his second season. If he can continue that trajectory the sky is the limit for him and for UNI.
And that is all for the list. What did I get wrong Valley fans? Who did I leave off? Who is too high or too low? Let me know!