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MVC “Larry Award” Winner

(St. Louis, MO) – At the end of the season the Missouri Valley Conference will award the “Larry Bird Trophy” to the Valley’s player of the year. Here at Valley Hoops Insider, we thought it only appropriate to announce the mid-season “Larry Award” winner. To be honest there is no trophy, but we invited beat writers from around the league to campaign for a player on their team for this prestigious honor.

Fred VanVleet – Wichita State

Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet is the key player on the MVC’s best team.

When VanVleet was slowed by a strained left hamstring at Tulsa, WSU lost. When he missed three games in late November, WSU went 0-3 against strong competition.

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Fred VanVleet

Then VanVleet returned, slowly gaining confidence in his leg and quickly making the Shockers strong again. His return restored his teammates’ confidence and put all of them back in their most comfortable spots. With VanVleet running the offense, players such as Zach Brown and Ron Baker got the ball in situations where they thrive. His defense organized the Shockers.

At the halfway point, WSU appears to be rolling toward another MVC title. If so, VanVleet gets the credit for operating the team at peak efficiency.

Paul Suellentrop – Wichita Eagle

Editor – After Sunday’s win and VanVleet’s career high 32 points, the Shockers are 14-1 since those three November games. The senior from Rockford, Illinois is averaging over 13 points and five assists per game, and his assist to turnover margin is among the nation’s best.

Egidijus Mockevicius – Evansville

In leading Evansville to a 17-4 mark entering a Jan. 28 game at Southern Illinois, Mockevicius is first in the conference in field-goal percentage (.675) and blocks (2.7 per game) and is fourth in scoring (17.0).

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Egidijus Mockevicius

His value goes beyond the stat sheet as well, since he is a reliable defensive anchor who alters opponents’ shots in the lane, or deters them from shooting in the first place.

Mockevicius has been named the MVC Player of the Week a league-high five times this season, and was named to the all-tournament team at the Wooden Legacy over Thanksgiving weekend. The big Lithuanian also was named the midseason Lou Henson Award winner, given to the top mid-major player in college basketball.

Daniel Allar – Evansville Courier & Press

Editor – Mockevicius leads the nation in rebounding and is third in recording double-doubles.

Anthony Beane – Southern Illinois Carbondale

Southern Illinois guard Anthony Beane’s case for the Larry Award comes from his team’s place in the standings and his career-best numbers.

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Anthony Beane

With a true point guard for the first time in his career, the 6-foot-2 senior has soared for the resurgent Salukis (18-4, 7-2 Missouri Valley Conference), who enter the second half of the league season tied for second place with Evansville. Beane is averaging a career-best 19.8 points per game, shooting 44.9 percent from the field and a career-best 39.5 percent from the 3-point line. His 3.5 rebounds per game in 22 starts are also a career-high, which has helped one of the smallest teams in the league outrebound four of its last five opponents.

Beane’s 30-point outing against Evansville on Jan. 28 was his fourth 30-point game of the season and fifth of his career. His 32-point game against Northern Iowa almost single-handedly won the game for SIU and matched his career-high.

SIU, picked ninth in the preseason poll, entered Sunday’s game at Northern Iowa with the best road record in America (8-0) and its first winning record since 2008. Those two things, and the Salukis’ tie for second place, may get coach Barry Hinson the league’s coach of the year award and Beane the player of the year award. Beane is not the sole offensive threat on this season’s club, as two others (Leo Vincent and Sean O’Brien) are averaging double figures in conference play, but he’s been a good leader and continues be one of SIU’s best defensive players.

If nothing else, Beane has played his way from the honorable mention pool onto the all-conference first team thus far. One of the most consistent players in the league, he’s likely to stay in that tier in the second half.

Todd Hefferman – The Southern Illinoisan

Editor – Beane will likely finish the season with his career best averages in scoring, rebounding and assists. The Salukis obliterating last year’s win totals.

DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell – Illinois State

DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell was an all-Missouri Valley Conference preseason first-team selection. While there have been plenty of ups and downs for Illinois State during its first 22 games, coach Dan Muller could always count as his 6-foot-5 senior guard.

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DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell

Akoon-Purcell scored in double figures in the Redbirds’ first 20 games despite being the name at the top of every opponent’s scouting report. While his outside shot has been inconsistent, Akoon-Purcell can usually use his length and quickness to explode to the rim. Muller also has isolated Akoon-Purcell in the post against teams that play man-to-man defense and have a smaller player guarding him.

For the second straight year, Akoon-Purcell also has been one of ISU’s best rounders. That has been especially important this season as the Redbirds usually don’t play with a true post player and must rely on everyone on the defensive boards.

As the season turns toward the homestretch, other Redbirds (notably MiKyle McIntosh) have stepped up their offensive games. This should relieve a lot of the pressure and focus from other opponents against Akoon-Purcell and that could make him even more dangerous.

Jim Benson – The Bloomington Pantagraph

Editor – Akoon-Purcell is averaging 14.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game for the 12-11 Redbirds.

Dequon Miller – Missouri State

At the halfway point of the Valley season, it’s tough to overstate the impact that Miller has had on the Bears.

After the midseason dismissal of Marcus Marshall last season, it was crucial to add another guard to add depth, another scoring threat and to give coach Paul Lusk options for different personnel combos on the color.

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Jim Connell

Miller has done that – and become one of the more dramatic players in the Valley. He has gone coast-to-coast in the final seconds in three different games this season, delivering game-winning shots each time. He provided the winning margin in a one-point win at Oklahoma State, a one-point win over Northern Iowa and a two-point victory at Loyola.

He’s averaging a team-high 12.3 points per game, but more importantly, has instilled an attitude where losing is not acceptable – something that this program has needed in recent years. Miller also has a short memory. He followed up a scoreless, 0-for-7 from the field game against Bradley with a 23-point night against Drake, when he was 4-of-6 from 3-point range.

Jim Connell – Springfield News-Leader

Editor – Miller has reached the 20 point mark in three of the Bears’ last four games, including 22 in a Saturday win over Illinois State. MSU has five MVC wins with eight games to play after winning just five conference games last season.

One Sophomore & Multiple Freshmen – Bradley

As a rebuilding team full of freshmen, Bradley doesn’t really have a deserving candidate for the Valley Player of the Year. It’s difficult, frankly, to pick out one as the team’s top player at this point.

So I will discuss the merits of a few Braves who have distinguished themselves in a difficult season. Each has shown flashes of brilliance, but has lacked the consistency in their games to be considered for any all–conference honors. Making the all-Freshmen team or the Most Improved team would be their highest level of achievement this season.

First, I’ll discuss Donte Thomas, a sophomore and the only non-freshman on the active roster as I write this in late January. Thomas has made marked improvement since an injury-plagued freshman year, leading the team in both scoring and rebounding as well as being tied for the lead in blocked shots.

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Ronnie Suggs – bradleybraves.com

Next is freshman guard Ronnie Suggs, who has taken the reins at point guard in recent weeks and helped curb the Braves’ turnover woes while upping his scoring to a double-figure average in recent games.

Freshman guard Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye has benefited from Suggs’ move to the point to play more of a shooting guard role. Bradley’s top assist man is the Braves’ best at getting his own shot and owns the responsibility of creating something at the end of shot clocks.

Freshman forward Luuk van Bree has been up and down because of foul trouble, but has led the team in scoring three times and is an off season in the weight room away from being a big contributor.

Freshman center Callum Barker has also been plagued by foul trouble in his adjustment to Division I. But he’s shown enough — his double-double performance vs. Missouri State, for instance — to serve notice that he will be a big part of the Braves’ future. He’s second on the club in rebounding and has shown a taste for physicality in the post.

It’s been a year of adjustment and growth for this group as well as the rest of the young Braves. The lumps they’ve taken and the experience thus gained should serve them well as they form the nucleus of Bradley’s future.

Dave Reynolds – Peoria Journal Star

Editor – Thomas, Suggs, Lautier-Ogunleye, van Bree and Pittman average between 7.7 and 8.7 points per game.

Others

Devonte Brown and Brenton Scott at Indiana State, Reed Timmer at Drake and Wes Washpun at Northern Iowa will all be in the running for all-conference honors. There have been stellar performances throughout the Valley.

We send huge ‘thank yous’ to these writers. They took valuable time out of their hectic schedules to weigh in on this collaborative effort. The beat writers in the Valley are among the best in the nation. Several have won national awards and some are members of various halls of fame, and still took time to contribute here at VHI.

We’re truly grateful.

The Winner 

“The envelope please…..” If you lead the nation in rebounding and average roughly 17 points per game, you should win a league wide award. The winner of the first ever ‘Larry Award’ is the big Lithuanian, Egidijus Mockevicius!

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