KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Wichita State was just about as dominant in the Missouri Valley’s postseason awards Thursday as the unbeaten Shockers were in running roughshod through the league schedule.
Fred VanVleet beat out teammates Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker for the conference player of the year award, the first time that a school swept the top three spots. VanVleet received 22 of a possible 36 votes cast by coaches, athletic department officials and the media.
All three of them were voted first-team all-conference, while the Shockers’ Tekele Cotton made the second team and was voted the league’s defensive player of the year.
”We’re happy for these accolades and these awards, and it’s a great accomplishment,” VanVleet said, ”but with this week coming up, we know we have a lot of work to do, and these awards won’t mean anything if we don’t take care of business and finish the way we want to finish out.”
The Shockers (31-0, 18-0) are the top seed and have a first-round bye in the Missouri Valley tournament, which starts Thursday. Wichita State hasn’t won the tournament since 1987.
VanVleet joins Doug McDermott of Creighton as the only sophomores to win the player of the year award, named for former Indiana State star Larry Bird. VanVleet’s also the fourth player from Wichita State to win the award, joining Antoine Carr, Xavier McDaniel and Paul Miller.
”It’s really amazing, and I can’t really put it into words right now,” said VanVleet, who was ”90 percent sure” that one of the Shockers would win it. ”That’s pretty good company to be in, and if that’s any indication for the future, I’m pretty excited about what lies ahead.”
VanVleet, Early and Baker were joined on the all-conference first team by Evansville’s D.J. Balentine, Jake Odum of Indiana State and Seth Tuttle of Northern Iowa. There was a tie for the fifth vote-getter, which is why there were six members.
Cotton was joined on the second team by Jarmar Gulley of Missouri State, Walt Lemon Jr. of Bradley and Anthony Beane and Desmar Jackson of Southern Illinois.
Milton Doyle of league newcomer Loyola of Chicago was voted the top freshman and top newcomer, the seventh time a player has swept both awards. The last to do it was McDermott in 2011.
”It means a lot,” Doyle said on a conference call. ”It means I’ve had a good year so far, played well, but it would mean a lot more to go to the Valley tournament and do well.”
The Shockers, at 31-0 the first team to enter their league tournament unbeaten since Saint Joseph’s in 2004, have plenty to play for in Saint Louis this week. If they run the table, they’re virtually assured of having a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Wichita State will play the winner of a first-round game between Drake and Evansville.
”They know it’s possible to lose to these teams,” Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said. ”We played these teams twice and the way you go 31-0 is you have a healthy respect for your opponent, and you know if you don’t play well against them, you can lose.”