My All-Conference ballot and Saluki Basketball notebook

    Will Anthony Beane make the All-Conference team?

    Will Anthony Beane make the All-Conference team?

    March 2, 2014

    CARBONDALE, Ill. - As is my custom this time of year, here is my MVC All-Conference ballot, along with a little commentary. Picking the 10 players for All-Conference was pretty easy, but putting them in rank order was not.

    1. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
    2. Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
    3. D.J. Balentine, Evansville
    4. Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa
    5. Ron Baker, Wichita State
    6. Jake Odum, Indiana State
    7. Jarmar Gulley, Missouri State
    8. Walt Lemon Jr., Bradley
    9. Richard Carter, Drake
    10. Milton Doyle, Loyola

    Player of Year
    1. Cleanthony Early
    2. Fred VanVleet
    3. D.J. Balentine

    I struggled a bit with whether to put Early or VanVleet at the top spot, but decided on Early because he's a senior and he's just so tough to match up with at 6-foot-8 and with his guard-like skills. Clearly, VanVleet is the engine of the Shockers' offense and a dynamic point guard, and as a sophomore, he still has a few more chances to get Player of the Year.

    It's not often that I put a player on the eighth-place team so high on my ballot, but Balentine emerged from the shadow of Colt Ryan to become a fantastic scorer at Evansville. He was a marked man by opponents, and rarely left the floor during conference games, averaging a whopping 38.9 minutes per game.

    Seth Tuttle is the best big man in the league and just a smart, crafty player, who gets the most out of his ability. What really impressed me was his court vision and passing the last time Southern played UNI. He had seven assists in the game.

    Ron Baker rounds out the first team on my ballot, because when a team runs the table the way the Shockers did, how can you not include a player of Baker's caliber? Forget the fact he averaged only 12.3 points. He's a great player.

    I hate not putting Jake Odum on the first team. Indiana State finished second in the league, and he's their best player, but Odum's numbers were just a bit off this year, probably due to his lingering health issues.

    After missing last year with an injury, Jarmar Gulley came back better than ever this season for Missouri State. He does so many things well -- scoring, rebounding, shooting, defending. After Marcus Marshall was lost for the season, the Bears could have fallen apart, but Gulley didn't let them.

    Walt Lemon Jr. put up excellent scoring numbers again this year, but the only reason the senior isn't higher on my ballot is the disappointing seventh-place finish for Bradley and the fact his shooting numbers were just ok.

    Drake got off to a great start, but after losing Gary Ricks for the season, the scoring burden fell to Richard Carter. He had a solid year, and although Drake tied for eighth, he warrants a spot on my ballot.

    Milton Doyle is the most exciting freshman to come along since Doug McDermott. Unfortunately, he played on a last-place team, and as such, it's hard for me to put him any higher than 10th on my ballot.

    Wichita State's Tekele Cotton would have been my next choice if I could pick 11 players. I also considered putting Illinois State's Daishon Knight on the team and consider it a shame not to have someone represented from the fourth-place team, but the Redbirds won their games by committee.

    Voters cannot select their own players, but if I were allowed to include the Salukis, I would have put Desmar Jackson behind VanVleet on the first team and Anthony Beane behind Baker on the second.

    1. Milton Doyle, Loyola
    2. Reggie Lynch, Illinois State
    3. Blake Simmons, Evansville
    4. Austin Ruder, Missouri State
    5. Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa

    The All-Freshman team was pretty cut-and-dried. Doyle is a lock for Freshman of the Year. However, if I was starting a team tomorrow, I'd love to build around ISU's Reggie Lynch. The 6-foot-10 center has a chance to be a dominating player in a league that has a paucity of talented big men. Blake Simmons has basketball savvy and will be a nice player in the Valley. Austin Ruder is a guy you simply can't leave open or he's going to knock it down. I was impressed with Jeremy Morgan last week at UNI and feel he has a bright career ahead. If I could include a Saluki, I would have put Sean O'Brien fifth behind Ruder.

    1. Milton Doyle, Loyola
    2. Daishon Knight, Illinois State
    3. Darius Carter, Wichita State
    4. Bobby Hunter, Illinois State
    5. Wes Washpun, Northern Iowa

    Doyle gets my vote for Newcomer of the Year, edging out Daishon Knight, just as he did on the All-Conference team. Wichita's Darius Carter is a fine player who would start for most Valley teams. Bobby Hunter is an impressive JUCO talent who will be one of the league's better players next year. Wes Washpun was a great addition to UNI, where he adds athleticism and defensive ability.

    Coach of Year
    1. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
    2. Dan Muller, Illinois State
    3. Paul Lusk, Missouri State

    Hmm. Here's a tough one. Your team is the first in NCAA history to go 31-0. Anyone who didn't vote for Gregg Marshall should consider counseling. Marshall should be the National Coach of the Year as well.

    Nevertheless, what Dan Muller did at Illinois State was remarkable. He essentially took a brand-new team, went 16-14, and finished tied for fourth in the league. I picked them last in my preseason poll. Clearly, he can spot talent, as they have rounded up a lot of good, young players.

    Paul Lusk deserves credit for winning 19 games this season when his best player, Marcus Marshall, played in only 12 games total. They could have fallen apart, but he managed to coax his club into a tie for fourth place and that gets him third place on my ballot.

    Sixth-Man of the Year
    1. Darius Carter, Wichita State
    2. Kristian Smith, Indiana State

    Carter gets my vote for Sixth-Man of the Year. Indiana State's Kristian Smith barely edged out UNI sharpshooter Nate Buss on my ballot for second place.

    1. Tekele Cotton
    2. Fred VanVleet
    3. Walt Lemon Jr.
    4. Egidijus Mockevicius
    5. Reggie Lynch

    Tekele Cotton reminds me so much of Tony Young -- a lock-down defensive player who will also surprise you with his offense. As much as I love what Desmar Jackson did this year defensively, it would be hard for me to put Dez ahead of Cotton. VanVleet is a good defender in his own right, which is why the Shockers are so tough. Walt Lemon has long been considered one of the league's best defensive players, and Mockevicius and Lynch are the league's two best shot blockers.


    1. If you weren't at yesterday's thrilling 66-65 win over Illinois State, you missed something special. I hope those folks who sampled the product for $5 will come back and buy season tickets next year. If you are a sports fan and live within an hour of Carbondale, there really is no better entertainment value for your money than Missouri Valley Conference basketball. If you didn't get a season ticket this year, you missed seeing Wichita State set NCAA history, you missed amazing comeback wins by the Salukis against Northern Iowa, Loyola and Illinois State, and you simply missed an overall good time at the arena.

    2. Looking back at my preseason All-Conference ballot, I correctly picked the seed of five of the teams (No. 1 Wichita State, No. 2 Indiana State, No. 4 Missouri State, No. 6 Southern Illinois, No. 8 Drake). I was slightly off on Northern Iowa, Evansville and Loyola. I flat-out blew it when I picked Bradley No. 3 and Illinois State No. 10.

    3. After the Salukis finished 4-9 in the non-conference, including a number of bad losses, I must admit that I didn't think a 9-9 MVC season was possible. In fact, I recall telling Mike Reis in the car after one game that we'd finish 6-12. At the time, the Salukis didn't look like a team that would be able to win a Valley game on the road.

    4. It doesn't take a genius to figure out Southern's improvement in the second half of the conference season. He wears No. 25. Before he played his first game at SIU as a freshman last year, I wrote that he reminded me of Illinois State's Osiris Eldridge, and that Beane would become an All-Conference player at Southern before his career ended. I didn't think it would happen so soon.

    5. Beane's numbers in the last 10 games are off the charts. He's averaging 22.5 points and shooting 53.4 from the field, 43.6 from 3-point and 88.2 from the line. Those figures are stunning. It's to the point where you simply assume he's going to get you 20 points in a game. This is a kid who really loves basketball and pushes himself to get better. I heard reports that he put himself through a late-night workout at the arena last night.

    6. My only prediction for the conference tournament is that Wichita State will win it. That's pretty bold, I know. The Salukis are in the position of having nothing to lose. They will be the underdog against Northern Iowa on Friday, and if they win that one, next in line is Indiana State, presumably followed by Wichita State. Nothing like running the gauntlet, is there? See you in St. Louis.