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Top 30 MVC Newcomers of 2020-21 (So Far)

As the season began, I did a list of the “Top 30 Returning Players in the MVC”. While that was a good starting point for what to watch for in the MVC this year, it left out the bevy of newcomers that are making an impact in the league. Now that we are well into the season, I believe it is time to dive into the list of impactful newcomers in the MVC. This list will consist of the league’s top freshmen and transfers in 20-21. If you are active on an MVC roster and have not been in the past, you are eligible for this list. Let’s get to it. Stats are current as of the time each blurb was written so they do not include this weekend’s numbers.

30.) Jacob Ognacevic, FR, Valpo (7 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 0.1 APG, 13 MPG): Valpo has a number of big bodies on their roster (including arguably their best player Ben Krikke) which limits the 6’ 8’’ freshman Ognacevic to 13 minutes a game. He is a consistent contributor when he gets his chance, and averages 7 points per game despite his limited role. Ognacevic will likely see his role expand as he gets more experience, as he is a player with a lot of promise. He is shooting 56% from the floor and can even shoot the three-ball a bit. The Wisconsin native garnered interest from the likes of DePaul and Indiana State out of high school before choosing Valpo.

29.) Iyen Enaruna, JR, Evansville (4.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 0.2 APG, 12.9 MPG): Though Enaruna is a role player off Evansville’s bench, the JUCO transfer has seen his minutes increase in his last few games, culminating in 21 last weekend in the Aces’ final game against Illinois State. Added to UE from Cloud County Community College, Enaruna scored points in every game in UE’s recent four-game win streak. His play has allowed Todd Lickliter to expand Evansville’s rotation from essentially six to essentially seven.

28.) Tobias Howard, SR, Indiana State (5.4 PPG, 0.6 RPG, 1.6 APG, 20.5 MPG): Howard plays more minutes than most guys at this end of the list, but statistically those minutes seem a little empty. The Towson transfer come to ISU after averaging double-figures (10.2 PPG) in his junior year at Towson while leading the team in assists. Those numbers are probably harder to come by at ISU with the likes of Tyreke Key, Jake LaRavia and Cooper Neese in the lineup, but it does feel like Howard could be an x-factor for ISU’s success moving forward. He scored 10 points on 4-6 shooting (2-2 from deep) in Indy State’s only MVC win as of this writing.

27.) Goanar Mar, SR, Northern Iowa (3.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.5 APG, 13.6 MPG, 2 Starts): Around the beginning of the MVC season, the NCAA granted a waiver that gave all transfers immediate eligibility to play right away. This allowed George Mason transfer Goanar Mar to play for UNI immediately, and he is probably the most impactful player in the MVC to be affected by this ruling. Mar played in 85 games for George Mason over the last three years, making 50 starts. He averaged 10.9 points per game his freshman year, but his numbers decreased significantly his sophomore and junior years. His stats are still underwhelming in his first six games as a Panther, but UNI needs bodies for its depleted roster and Mar has been put into action right away. He started UNI’s two most recent games as of this writing, and if the Panthers are going to get their season back on track, Mar will likely need to be an x-factor.

26.) Julian Larry, FR, Indiana State (2.6 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 19.8 MPG, 11 Starts): I haven’t been able to watch a lot of Indiana State’s games, so I don’t know why this freshman from Frisco, Texas, has started every one of the Sycamores’ games despite mediocre stats. He has been on the floor for nearly half of Indiana State’s minutes and has shot the ball at a 22% clip. I have to assume he is a glue guy type of player, as the guard has been held scoreless in four if the Trees’ last seven games and went five straight games without making a basket. The kid is still a true freshman and I am sure he will develop into a fine player, but the Trees’ commitment to him for this season right now with more experienced guards on their bench is puzzling.

25.) Steven Verplancken Jr, SO, Southern Illinois (3.5 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 1.1 APG, 15.5 MPG): SIU is building something that could be very special the next few years, especially if guys use their extra COVID year of eligibility. Verplancken Jr is a transfer from D2 Glenville State where he shot 45% from deep as a freshman while averaging 16.5 PPG. He is a sophomore guard coming off the bench on a team that plays six sophomores and two freshmen in its nine-man rotation (with just one senior). Verplancken’s numbers are obviously down from his D2 days, although he still shoots the 3-ball at a 37.5% clip despite limited opportunities. If SIU can keep the band together and this group can develop, the sky is the limit. Verplancken will be a big part of that.

24.) Lu’Cye Patterson, FR, Missouri State (3.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.7 APG, 20 MPG): Lu’Cye Patterson has been quietly chugging along as a role player on a team with two guys (Isiaih Mosely and Gaige Prim) getting all the headlines. The Minneapolis native has quietly averaged 20 minutes a game, and has become a solid rebounding guard, for a team that has not-so-quietly taken the MVC by storm. The Bears utilize, for the most part, a seven-man rotation and Patterson is the only freshman. His development will play a huge role in whether Missouri State can win the MVC, and you can expect his role to take a big leap forward next year and the years beyond.

23.) Kyler Filewich, FR, Southern Illinois (4.4 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1 APG, 16.6 MPG): A product of Canada, Filewich is another piece of SIU’s bright future (and present). The Salukis’ primary big off the bench, Filewich is third on the team in rebounds and has played double-digit minutes in every game this season. One of several promising young bigs in the Valley, Filewich appears to have been very lightly recruited out of Winnipeg. SIU may have found another diamond in the rough as Bryan Mullins has already proven he is one of the best recruiters and evaluators of talent in the MVC.

22.) Howard Fleming Jr, FR, Illinois State (4.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 2.4 APG, 19.2 MPG, 2 Starts): Fleming, a freshman from Louisville, has become one of the Redbirds’ primary weapons off the bench. He is a natural distributor and is third on the team in assists per game. Fleming has played no less than 18 minutes in each of the Redbirds’ last six contests and even made two starts for the ‘Birds against Loyola. His ability to find his teammates and rack up assists may be key for his continued development and playing time moving forward, as ISU has several young guards looking to make themselves stand out from the pack. The Redbirds are still finding their way so look for a lot of opportunities for Fleming as Muller continues to mix and match.

21.) Demarcus Sharp, JR, Missouri State (5.3 PPG, 3 RPG, 2.7 APG, 23.3 MPG): Demarcus Sharp is a Junior College transfer from Colby Community College where he was an NJCAA DI All-America first-team honoree after averaging 16.5 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.6 APG and 2.5 steals per game his sophomore season. A highly sought-after recruit who got interest from several teams around the nation, Sharp missed the first few games of MSU’s season, and has had to ease his way into MSU’s rotation off the bench. As the Bears’ sixth-man, Smart’s biggest impact has come from distributing the rock as he is third on the team in assists. He will likely remain on the bench as MSU’s starting five is killing it, but expect him to make a major contribution nonetheless.

20.) Rienk Mast, FR, Bradley (5.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.1 APG, 16.3 MPG, 2 Starts): Bradley’s freshman big from the Netherlands has seen his role increase over the course of the season culminating in an MVC Newcomer of the Week award last week for his performance against UNI. He got his first two starts of the season in Ari Boya’s absence and scored 27 points and nabbed 10 boards in 58 minutes over two games. It was a breakout performance for the freshman who also held Austin Phyfe to one made basket in game two of the series. Mast has the potential to be a monster in the post for Bradley over the next four years.

19.) Sheldon Edwards, FR, Valparaiso (7.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1 APG, 16.2 MPG, 2 Starts): Edwards was the freshman that Valpo was seemingly most excited about at the start of the season, although he is now coming off the bench while Connor Barrett starts. Edwards is still getting plenty of minutes, though, and did score 19 points over 43 minutes combined in Valpo’s opening MVC series with MSU. Edwards has scored as many as 20 (against SIUE) and as few as 0 (against Purdue).It may be possible that they were expecting too much of the West Palm Beach native at the start of the season in his true freshman campaign. He may only be a role player this year, but he will become a solid MVC player in time.

18.) Harouna Sissoko, FR, Illinois State (5.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 0.5 APG, 19.2MPG, 7 Starts): Sissoko, originally from Kayes, Mali, is a redshirt freshman that is making an impact with the Redbirds. He has been a starter for Illinois State for the last half of the season, although his minutes are inconsistent. He had 33 in ISU’s most recent win over UE, but just 8 the day before against the Aces. Sissoko still needs to develop a strong scoring instinct, but he seems to have a nose for rebounds. As Dan Muller continues to mix and match to find the right formula for the ‘Birds, this is a guy to keep an eye on.

17.) Connor Barrett, FR, Valparaiso (7.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 0.6 APG, 18.4 MPG, 5 Starts): Barrett is another freshman who has seen his role increase as the season has progressed. He played all but 12 minutes of Valpo’s first two league contests against Missouri State last weekend and is looking like he will be a huge part of Valpo’s plan moving forward. Barrett is a solid guard who is an OK shooter and limits turnovers. Expect him to bloom into a solid MVC player before its all said and done. It will be interesting to see how he develops if he continues to get 30+ minutes a night for the remainder of the year.

16.) Anthony D’Avanzo, SR, Southern Illinois (6.8 PPG, 4 RPG, 0.5 APG, 18.3 MPG, 10 Starts): This senior transfer from Division II Lewis University averaged 15.8 PPG and 8.4 RPG in his final year for the Flyers. D’Avanzo is from Harwood Heights, Illinois, which is actually an enclave that is completely surrounded by the city of Chicago….just a random fun fact for you. The 6’ 8’’ forward has started every game for SIU but has seen his role diminish a bit in league play. He is the only non-freshman or sophomore in the Salukis’ rotation, and although he hasn’t come close to replicating his D2 numbers he hasn’t had to with the likes of Marcus Domask, Lance Jones and Ben Harvey on the roster.

15.) Dalton Banks, FR, Southern Illinois (7.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, 25.2 MPG): A relatively big get for SIU out of Eau Claire, WI, this true freshman isn’t starting for the Salukis but is getting starter’s minutes. He can reasonably be called SIU’s sixth-man and has stolen a lot of minutes from the Salukis’ lone senior Anthony D’Avanzo. He has put up solid numbers for a true freshman with 7.5 PPG on 54% shooting, and 50% from deep although he hasn’t taken a terribly high volume of shots from long range. A consistent performer for a freshman and seemingly a good defender, Banks’ future is as bright as anyone on the Salukis’ roster this side of Marcus Domask.

14.) Randy Miller Jr, SR, Indiana State (7.5 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 0.5 APG, 20.5 MPG): SIU has a freshman on the bench who is getting more minutes than a senior transfer starter. Indiana State has a senior transfer on the bench that is getting more minutes than a freshman starter. Miller came to Indiana State as a grad transfer from North Carolina Central where he averaged 14.3 PPG in an injury shortened season last year. He has gotten consistent minutes off the bench for Indy State, and his contributions have been spotty. He has gone for double-figures three times but has been held to one or fewer three times as well. As a senior he is obviously not part of Indiana State’s long term plans, but could be an x-factor in their success this season.

13.) Nate Heise, FR, Northern Iowa (7.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.3 APG, 28.6 MPG, 7 Starts): It was not in UNI’s plan for the lightly recruited Minnesota native to be a regular starter and play over 28 minutes a game this season. But when you lose three guards (including the Larry Bird Trophy winner and his backup) to injury and other unforeseen circumstances as the Panthers did you have to adjust your plans. Heise would likely have been a 10-or-so minute per game player this year if the Panthers were fully stocked at the guard position. But after being forced into a larger role, the kid has stepped up and has been arguably the second-best freshman in the MVC. He is only shooting 40% and 30% from deep. But he has averaged nearly 9 points a game in six MVC contests, and has shot nearly 50% in his last five games. He also leads the team in steals. Even if UNI’s stars return next year, the experience he garnered this season will be invaluable moving forward.

12.) Jax Levitch, SR, Evansville (5.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.8 APG, 32.3 MPG, 12 Starts): This Aces grad transfer is playing on his third DI team in his collegiate career. He began with two years at Purdue-Fort Wayne, where he started every game as a sophomore. He transferred to UNC Asheville last year and got little playing time. He then grad transferred to UE where has once again become a regular starter. Levitch can shoot the rock. He hits at a 47.8% clip and an even better 51.3% from deep. However, despite playing 32 minutes per game in UE’s short rotation he has not been able to hoist up as many shots as he would like. His nine points against Illinois State last Sunday were his most since December 9th. Levitch is not just a shooter, though, he is also a great rebounding guard who is by far the team’s leading rebounder and is 10th in the league overall. He has been a huge part of UE’s resurgence.

11.) Samari Curtis, SO, Evansville (10.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 0.9 APG, 21.5 MPG): The Nebraska transfer got off to one hell of a start when he was finally able to suit up for the Aces after missing the first part of the season. After an up-and-down first few games that included a solid 19-point performance against Belmont, Curtis exploded for 29 points on 9-13 shooting (6-8 from deep) against SIU to lead the Aces to their first MVC win in almost two calendar years. While he as been inconsistent, he has certainly been a spark for UE who is 5-3 when he is in the lineup. He does come off the bench, but gets plenty of minutes in Todd Lickliter’s short rotation. He will be a key factor in UE’s attempt to avoid Thursday this year (assuming there even is a Thursday). He's also only a sophomore, and may be a go-to guy for the Aces in the future.

10.) Darnell Brodie, JR, Drake (6.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 0.7 APG, 19.2 MPG, 13 Starts): After two unproductive years at Seton Hall where he spent most of his time on the bench, Brodie transferred to Drake and has made an immediate impact with the Bulldogs. A starter in all thirteen games for the undefeated squad, Brodie has averaged 6.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while playing just 19 minutes per game as Drake rotates in several guys. Although he hasn’t been a primary scorer for Drake (he hasn’t had to be), Brodie has shot the ball at a 60% clip and is tops on Drake (and 6th in the league….1st among newcomers) in rebounds. The 6’ 10’’ New Jersey native continues to improve as he has averaged 8 points and nearly 8 boards in four league games.

9.) Keaton Hervey, JR, Missouri State (7.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 0.3 APG, 25.8 MPG, 8 Starts): Keaton Hervey is in his second year as a DI player, although it has been three years in between his DI stints. In 2017-18, Hervey started 18 games as a true freshman for Incarnate Word in San Antonio before one season at New Mexico Junior College. Now, as a junior he is a starter and arguably the fourth best player for Missouri State. He’s the Ron Harper to Missouri States Jordan-Pippen-Rodman trio of Mosley, Prim and Black. If Missouri State is truly going to be a contender, Hervey is going to have to play a huge role.

8.) Braden Norris, SO, Loyola (7.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 3.4 APG, 28.7 MPG, 10 Starts): Norris was a 30-game starter as a true freshman in 2018-19 for Oakland out of the Horizon League where he averaged 8.4 PPG, 5.2 APG and shot the three at a 48.6% clip. He then transferred to Loyola where he sat out a year and then joined a team that returned all five starters who would all be seniors. Despite this, Norris has claimed a starting spot (displacing Keith Clemons) and has played more than 28 minutes a game for a team with significant depth. His three-point shooting percentage is down, but he has still put up solid scoring, assist (first on the team) and rebounding stats. On a team laden with seniors, he will likely be looked upon as the go-to guy of the future for LUC.

7.) Dusan Mahorcic, JR, Illinois State (9.1 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 0.7 APG, 22.7 MPG, 5 Starts): Another former Lewis Flyer playing in the MVC, Dusan Mahorcic got a late start but has since come on very strong for Dan Muller’s Redbirds. The Serbian started his college career at D2 Lewis in Chicago before transferring to Moberly Area Community College where he averaged nearly ten points and six rebounds a game. Now a junior, the 6’ 10’’ big man has been a pleasant surprise for Illinois State as he has more-or-less bettered his JUCO numbers in his seven games as a Redbird. He is shooting 62.8% from the field, and has supplied scoring for ISU Red, although those numbers have gone down after a solid start. With a small sample size, it is hard to tell what to expect moving forward. But he has earned a spot in the starting five for Illinois State for the time being.

6.) Sean East II, SO, Bradley (9.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 4.3 APG, 27.6 MPG, 11 Starts): Bradley entered this season as two-time defending Arch Madness Champions with a strong roster and high hopes that they could content for the MVC title. One of the concerns for the Braves was how they would replace the graduating Darrell Brown who, among other things, was 2nd in the MVC in assists behind Roman Penn. Enter UMass transfer Sean East II who currently is second in the league in assists behind Roman Penn. After starting 20 games at UMass as a freshman last season while averaging 9.3 points, 4.9 assists and 2.5 rebounds, East has managed to nearly duplicate his statistics this year for the Braves. His distribution has allowed three Braves (Elijah Childs, Ja’Shon Henry and Terry Nolan Jr) to average double figures (his 9 PPG makes him 4th on the team in scoring). As a sophomore, the sky is the limit for this guy at BU for his career, but he is one of the guys that has them in contention right now.

5.) Ben Harvey, SO, Southern Illinois (11.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 25.2 MPG, 10 Starts): This Jonesboro, Arkansas native is playing his first year with SIU after starting his career at Eastern Illinois and sitting out last year as a transfer. As a true freshman at EIU, Harvey put up 10.2 PPG and 3.9 RPG off the bench, but he has actually been able to improve his numbers across the board this year for the Salukis. Harvey has established himself as the third member of the SIU three-headed sophomore monster with Marcus Domask and Lance Jones, and this group could become world beaters by the time they are seniors….especially if they all take the extra year. Harvey is the third highest scoring newcomer in the MVC and actually leads his team in rebounding. Based on his improvement so far, he is likely to continue to improve at a rapid pace.

4.) Bowen Born, FR, Northern Iowa (11.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.9 APG, 28.5 MPG, 11 Starts): Bowen Born has been the best freshman in the MVC this season, and quite frankly it is not even close. The next closest freshman, teammate Nate Heise, comes in at #13 on this list. A high-volume scorer in high school that got long looks from Iowa and Iowa State, Born likely would have played a major role on this UNI team in any circumstance. As it is, AJ Green and Antwan Kimmons are unavailable and Born has been asked to step into the role of one of UNI’s primary go-to guys and oftentimes ballhandler as well. His 11.2 PPG leads all freshmen in the league by a very wide margin, and he has added 3.3 RPG and 1.9 APG while starting each of UNI’s games. He is third on the team in scoring and assists behind Trae Berhow and Austin Phyfe. If it all comes together for UNI next year, AJ Green, Antwan Kimmons, Bowen Born and Nate Heise could be a letal guard group for the Panthers.

3.) Josiah Strong, JR, Illinois State (13 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 3.6 APG, 30 MPG, 8 Starts): Strong was a highly coveted JUCO transfer from Iowa Western Community College where he averaged 17.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG and 2.1 APG. He also played a season at Navy as a true freshman where he averaged 10.5 minutes per game. Strong has blossomed at ISU where his 13 points per game are 11th in the Valley and 2nd among newcomers. He is also 6th in the league in assists and tied for second (with Terry Nolan of Bradley) among newcomers in that category as well. He is probably the best player on his team (although DJ Horne might disagree) which can only be said about one other player on this list (and that guy is rated #1). ISU isn’t very good, but they would be much worse without Josiah Strong.

2.) Terry Nolan Jr, JR, Bradley (11.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.6 APG, 27.5 MPG, 10 Starts): Nolan Jr is in his fourth year of college basketball after playing two years at George Washington and sitting out a year after transferring to Bradley. The Baltimore native was a good player for GW where he started 51 of the 62 games he played as a true freshman and sophomore and averaged 10.6 points, and 4.6 rebounds his second year. For BU, he has become an immediate impact player. He is fourth among newcomers in scoring and second (behind teammate Sean East) in assists. There isn’t much else to say about this guy. He is a key player on a good team, and without him and fellow newcomer Sean East the Braves would not be MVC contenders. It is a as simple as that. Brian Wardle struck gold on the transfer market this year and found more than capable replacements for his graduating seniors to take advantage of the return of Elijah Childs and avoid a rebuild.

1.) Shanquan Hemphill, SR, Drake (14.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.3 APG, 25 MPG, 13 Starts): When making a list of best players, the leading scorer and #2 rebounder on an undefeated first-place team is a good place to start. Hemphill has not only been the best newcomer in the Valley this year, he has been one of the best players in the league period. His 14.2 PPG leads all newcomers and is seventh overall in the league while his 5.2 rebounds is fourth among newcomers and 12th overall in the league. He also contributes 1.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game and is a first-team all-league candidate. The thing most holding him back is probably Drake’s deep bench as he only plays 25 minutes per game. Drake was expecting a lot of him after he averaged 11.7 PPG at Green Bay, but I doubt they were expecting a guy who would score double figures in all but one game so far (and he snagged double-digit rebounds in that one) and lead his team to a perfect record into late January (at least). Hemphill is the top dog (pun intended) of a great newcomer class (so far).

That is my list. Let me know what you think. If you enjoyed this, likes are appreciated. Feel free to comment on my thread on each team’s message board as well. I actually can’t respond to comments on these posts because that is not a functionality of this blog host for some reason, but they are all appreciated (especially my guy johnu1). Have a great day all!

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