ST. LOUIS -- The 2014 MVC Larry Bird Player of the Year is sophomore Fred VanVleet of Wichita State. VanVleet (Rockford, Ill.) has helped lead his team to an unprecedented 31 regular-season wins without a loss as the Shockers enter Arch Madness ranked No. 2 nationally as the lone unbeaten team in the nation (31-0, 18-0 MVC). He's the fourth different Shocker to earn the league's Player of the Year award, joining Antoine Carr (1983), Xavier McDaniel (1984, 1985) and Paul Miller (2006).
He received 22 of a possible 36 first-place votes and outdistanced teammates Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker in voting conducted by coaches, sports information directors and a media panel (voters could not vote for their own student-athlete.) Including this year, 0 freshmen, 2 sophomores, 16 juniors (seven of whom repeated) and 28 seniors have won the award (spanning 1969-2014). VanVleet joins Creighton's Doug McDermott (2012) as the only players in league history to win the honor as a sophomore. Notably, three Shockers were 1-2-3 in the voting -- the first time in the history of the award that the top three point-getters were all from the same team.
In addition, VanVleet, Early and Baker -- all named to the league's first-team unit -- become the first trio from the same team to earn first-team all-MVC honors since 1973 (and in that season, the league selected a 10-person First Team.)
VanVleet has been named of of 10 national semifinalists for the 2014 Men’s Naismith Trophy presented by AT&T, The Atlanta Tipoff Club announced last week. He enters this week tied for third nationally with a 4.0 assist-to-turnover ratio, and he also has a team-best 49 steals while averaging 11.9 points and 4.0 rebounds per game.
The league's Freshman of the Year and Newcomer of the Year is Milton Doyle of Loyola. It marks the seventh time in MVC history that one player has swept both awards. Doyle, a native of Chicago, Ill., has scored 454 points this year in his first year with the Ramblers, and that scoring total ranks eighth-best in league history for a freshman. He leads his team in scoring (15.1 points per game), assists (105), steals (38) and blocks (20) and is second for Loyola with his 4.3 rebounding average. He's the only league freshman to rank in the Top 10 in the league in both scoring and assists per game. He joins Eddie Bird, Indiana State (1988); Shea Seals, Tulsa (1994); Rodney Buford, Creighton (1996); Kent Williams, Southern Illinois (2000); P’Allen Stinnett, Creighton (2008); and Doug McDermott, Creighton (2011) as league freshmen to have also earned MVC Newcomer of the Year honors the same year.
This year's Defensive Player of the Year honor goes to Wichita State's Tekele Cotton. The junior from Marietta, Ga., is one of three Wichita State players among the league leaders in steals per game. Notably, as a team Wichita State has held conference foes below their scoring average in 17 of 18 league games this year, giving up fewer than 60 points in a league 10 times. In terms of defensive categories, Wichita State leads the league in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense, three-point field goal percentage defense, blocks, rebounding margin, and turnover margin. Cotton, the team's "shut-down" defender, is typically assigned the opponents' top scorer and becomes just the third Wichita State player to earn the league's top defensive honor, joining Dwayne Praylow (1989) and Jamar Howard (2003). The league began selecting a Defensive Player of the Year in 1989.
The MVC also selects a “Sixth Man Award” recipient, and this season’s honor goes to Indiana State's Khristian Smith. The honor is presented to the league's top reserve player (one who has started fewer than 25 percent of his team's games). Smith, a sophomore from Indianapolis, Ind., has played in all 30 of Indiana State's games, starting just five times. Nonetheless, he ranks second in scoring for the team with his 11.1 points-per-game average. He also ranks second for ISU in rebounding (4.3 per game). Smith is the first Indiana State player to earn the Sixth Man Award, which was first selected in 1997.
In addition to the specialty awards, the conference announced its all-conference units (first-team, second-team and honorable mention), all-newcomer team, all-freshman team, and all-defense team. The all-bench and most-improved units have been selected by the league’s beat writers and will be announced Wednesday (March 5).