MVC Non Conference All-Stars
(St. Louis, MO) – Who are the Missouri Valley Conference’s best players of the non conference season? Which players would receive the end-of-season awards if we pulled the plug right now? Well, Merry Christmas, here is the gift you didn’t ask for, ‘Father Harry’s MVC Non Conference All-Stars!‘
Picking a ‘Larry‘ award winner (one half of the Larry Bird Award given at the end of the season) was easy. While there were good contenders for the ‘Newcomer of the Non Con‘, one player seemed to stand out, but the ‘All-Non Conference‘ team and the ‘Most Improved Player‘ were virtually impossible.
But here goes.
‘Larry – Player of the Non Conference’
No doubt here for me. The preseason ‘Player of the Year‘, Alize Johnson has not disappointed. As the Bears (10-3) prepare for Valley play, the 6’9 senior leads the Valley in rebounding (10.5 per game) and continues to be a significant offensive threat (14.0 points per game).
Johnson began the season nursing a knee injury and yet he leads the Bears in minutes played. While his field goal shooting percentages are down, his free throw percentage is up significantly.
Newcomer of the Non Conference
Two players stand out as the most impressive newcomers. Kavion Pippen and Milik Yarbrough have been headline grabbers this entire non conference season.
Southern Illinois’ Pippen has been better than advertised. The Three Rivers transfer ranks in the top 20 in Valley scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and blocked shots. Pippen was forced into the starting position with the injury to Thik Bol and has truly excelled.
Illinois State’s Milik Yarbrough is all that Dan Muller expected. The 6’6 Saint Louis U transfer has become a true ‘stat stuffer’. Like the Salukis, the Redbirds have missed team members all season, and Yarbrough has impressed. He’s fifth in scoring (16.2 ppg), 13th in rebounding (5.7) and third in assists (4.5) that triple whammy is why we have named Yarbrough the ‘Newcomer of the Non Conference‘.
Freshman of the Non Conference
This is extremely difficult. There are no freshmen in the top 20 in scoring, none in the top ten in assists or steals. Some of the most off season celebrated incoming freshmen, Elijah Childs (Bradley), Jalen Gibbs (Drake), Tyreke Key (Indiana State), Cameron Krutwig (Loyola), Austin Phyfe and Tywhon Pickford (UNI) and several Valparaiso players have all had their moments. One of the projected top rookies, Elijah Clarance (Illinois State) has missed all but two games due to injury.
Northern Iowa’s Pickford has recorded some spectacular games and is averaging nearly a double-double (9.0 ppg & 9.6 rpg). His 18 point, 18 rebound performance in the Panthers’ unlikely victory over North Carolina State is one for the ages. Our ‘Freshman of the Non Conference‘ (FONC) is a 6’4 guard who picked up extra playing time while Wyatt Lohaus was nursing his foot injury.
Most Improved Non Conference
Two players have blown away the competition for this award. Keyshawn Evans (Illinois State) and Jordan Barnes (Indiana State) are dramatically different players from 2016-17. Last season, Evans played behind Paris Lee and Tony Wills at ILS and did an admirable job averaging just under six points per game, making a lot of threes and not allowing the Birds to fall off when one of those starters took a break, but he has exploded on to the scene averaging 18.7 seven points and 4.6 assists, both marks second in the Valley.
Indiana State coach Greg Lansing told me his biggest mistake from last season was not playing Barnes more minutes during his freshman season. The St. Louis native has rewarded his coach for giving him more playing time this year. The 5’11 point guard is third in scoring (17.0), fifth in assists (4.1), third in free throw percentage (.842) and leads Evans (46 to 41) in long distance connections.
Jordan Barnes and Keyshawn Evans are our ‘Co-Most Improved Non Conference‘ players.
All Non Conference
Obviously Johnson leads that team, but here they are.
Bennett Koch – Northern Iowa – 14.1 ppg – 7.7 rpg – .582% field – .803 FT%
Donte Ingram – Loyola – 12.5 ppg – 7.2 rpg – 25 three pointers
Reed Timmer – Drake – 19.3 ppg – 3.9 rpg – 36 three pointers – .882 FT%
Keyshawn Evans – Illinois State – 18.7 ppg – 4.6 apg – 41 three pointers
All M.A.S.H. Unit
Dru Smith and Ryan Taylor at Evansville.
Tevonn Walker – Valparaiso
Ben Richardson and Clayton Custer – Loyola
Marcus Bartley, Thik Bol and Eric McGill – SIU
Clarance and Daouda N’diaye – Illinois State
When and if these injured or ill players return to action, these teams could look dramatically better. The conference season will be extremely interesting.