Newcomer of the Year: Trent Frazier
The freshman point guard from Florida has brought excitement and energy to the Illini backcourt. Frazier has averaged 8.2 points per game, 2.5 assists per game and 1.6 steals per game, which leads the team. Frazier’s energy on the defensive end has been extremely impressive. He’s been a major factor in Illinois’ ability to force turnovers and get out in transition. The young point guard’s speed and skill allows him to recover from common freshman mistakes.
Defensive Player of the Year: Mark Alstork
Although Frazier and Lucas have done a tremendous job as the front porch of the defense, Mark Alstork is the early favorite for DPOY. Alstork has been able to be aggressive without fouling. He has also been asked to hound the other team’s best player down the stretch in the second half of games. Alstork transferred to Illinois with the reputation as a polished offensive weapon, but so far, it’s been his effort on the defensive end that has been most valuable to the Illini.
MATTO/Hustle Award: Da’Monte Williams
Every time I see Da’Monte Williams, he is taking a charge. Williams is always in the right place at the right time, has a knack for collecting offensive rebounds and is never afraid to mix it up and dive for loose balls. He has enough talent to be a dynamic offensive player for the Illini, but for now he is focused on learning his role and making winning plays. That’s a freshman every coach wants to have.
Most Improved Player: Aaron Jordan
This was the easiest award to determine so far. Jordan has clearly been the most improved player in Champaign, he may even be the most improved player in the Big Ten. Jordan is the team’s second leading scorer at 12 points per game off of the bench. He’s shooting 53 percent from the field and 60 percent from three on 3.8 attempts per game. Jordan’s three-point percentage will have to come back to Earth as the season wears on, but Jordan should still finish the year above 40 percent from three, turning himself into one of the best marksmen in the Big Ten.
However, the best stat to illustrate Jordan’s deservedness for Most Improved Player is his raw scoring over his first three years. In his freshman and sophomore seasons, Aaron Jordan scored a combined total of 126 points. So far, 13 games into his junior season, he has scored 157 points.
Most Valuable Player: Leron Black
Black has been Illinois’ leading scorer at 14 points per game and is second on the team in rebounding at 5.5 per game. Black is Illinois’ most consistent and polished scorer in the low post and has done a fantastic job defending 4’s and 5’s with his lack of size for a true post player. This award feels completely up for grabs at the moment. I feel like arguments could be made for multiple different players, including Lucas and Finke.
With 20 games to go, I wouldn’t be surprised if any of Illinois’ rotation players end up being the MVP. That statement in itself has been one of Illinois’ biggest problems this season. The Illini’s inability to close games is partly due to their lack of a true leader and “go-to” guy. Hopefully, Brad Underwood will see someone emerge as the team’s clear MVP as the season continues.