On Tuesday afternoon, the Missouri Valley Conference recognized Wichita State Shockers’ guard and three-time MVC first teamer Fred VanVleet with the 2016 Larry Bird Player of the Year trophy. The evening before, I wrote that Evansville Purple Aces’ superstar D.J. Balentine deserved the award based on his consistancy, great value to his team, as well as what he has done for the now mid-major power.
Today, just hours before the start of the 2016 Missouri Valley Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament, also known as “Arch Madness,” I would like to make one more prediction: The Evansville Purple Aces will march through the bottom half of the bracket and upset the notorious Wichita State Shockers on Sunday afternoon, ultimately securing a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Perhaps, but the nation is seriously underestimating Marty Simmons’ squad and seems to have already handed the conference championship to Wichita State.
Therefore, someone must make a case for the best college basketball team from Southern Indiana.
1. History On Their Side
Considering the mid-major power they are, one would assume the Wichita State Shockers dominate the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament every year, right?
Since the Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker era began, the Shockers have only won one MVC Tournament (2014 when they were undefeated heading into the NCAA Tournament) while holding either the first or second seed. In fact, they haven’t even been a “lock” for the championship since they fell to the Illinois State Redbirds in the semi-finals last March.
Granted, the Purple Aces have not been any better on the other side of the Mississippi River as they enter 1-3 since Balentine, Egidijus Mockevicius, and Adam Wing walked onto campus, BUT it takes only one good year to make a run. For instance, prior to Seth Tuttle and the Northern Iowa Panthers‘ conference champion in 2015, he and his senior class had never won a game inside the Scottrade Center. Then, they rolled off three straight while hoisting the hardware on Sunday. Why wouldn’t Evansville be in line for the same sequence?
2. Best Dynamic Duo in MVC
While the Wichita State Shockers “star senior” backcourt duo have been MVC first teamers for the last three seasons, D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius have been honored WITH them for the last two years.
Mockevicius, the NCAA Division I leader for rebounds per game this season (14.0), is a huge reason for the Purple Aces’ success as he has been an anchor in the paint on both the offense and defense end of the floor. “Iggy” is also averaging 16.6 points per game entering the tourney in addition to 2.8 blocks. Culminated with Balentine’s stat-sheet stuffer line of 20.7 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 4.4 assists, and the guard-center duo is responsible for more than 37 points and 19 rebounds per contest! Contrasting to VanVleet and Baker, arguably the best tandem in the history of the University of Evansville is scoring 10 more points and grabbing 11 more rebounds per contest.
“But who will join Balentine in the backcourt? He can’t handle the two stars be himself!”
Luckily he doesn’t have to! “Jazzy junior” Jalen Brown has continued to be a God-send for the group considering his averages have continued to soar higher with the season-ending injury to Duane “Boo” Gibson this past November. The Fishers, Indiana, product is the third leading scorer on the team with 10.5 points per game and chips in more than 2 rebounds and assists per. Moreover, Brown was nearly unstoppable in the two’s meeting at Charles Koch Arena. JB finished with a game-high 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting. In other words, don’t worry about DJ and JB because they can hold their own.
3. The Real “Player of the Year” Will Shine
“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
Although the forcast is calling for a spring-like Sunday in St. Louis, Missouri, D.J. Balentine will be supplying a cold draft on Sunday.
Very deserving for MVC POTY, Balentine has failed to defeat the Wichita State Shockers since his freshman year when him and Colt Ryan swept the season series. In 2016, Evansville was the one swept. However, the Purple Aces actually kept the notorious within a single-possession for the majority of the contest in Wichita. They will not be denied this time.
Frustrated by a heavy dose of Zach Brown and Markis McDuffie in the first two meetings, Balentine will figure out Gregg Marshall’s defensive scheme by simply never stopping and cutting hard. Furthermore, Mockevicius will have his way down low against the undersized Shaq Morris and Anton Grady in route to what will be his 29th double-double (enters with 26).
Yes, Fred VanVleet will have his fingerprint on the game in the form of at least 13 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists, and Ron Baker should be expected for 14. Though, where else will the scoring come from? In Evansville, VanVleet had a career-high 31. That won’t happen again!
Although the Shockers have the most depth in “The Valley,” they shall not have the most points at the end of the 2016 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Championship game.
Peyton Wesner will supply full game coverage of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament live from the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Wesner will finish the 2015-16 college basketball season at College Court Report.