Title races are coming down to the wire in the MIAA, KCAC and Jayhawk — along with races for league MVPs, where it’s not hard to identify the players who have separated themselves as the best.
Here’s a look at the men’s and women’s title races in each league:
Two games separate first-place Northwest Missouri (16-5, 11-1 MIAA) from a group of three tied for second place – Fort Hays State (18-3, 9-3), Central Missouri (17-4, 9-3) and Missouri Southern (15-4, 9-3). With seven conference games left, Northwest’s two toughest tests are going to be on the road – Feb. 12 at Missouri Southern and March 1 at Central Missouri. Those games being over two weeks apart helps immensely. Fort Hays State has two big games left against in-state rivals – Feb. 8 at Emporia State and Feb. 19 at Washburn – then the Tigers finish out the regular season with three games at home. Central Missouri and Missouri Southern both play each other twice in the last month of the season, which should push one of them out of the race.
Biggest surprise: Emporia State sophomore guard Terrence Moore, a Wichita Heights product, has turned into a star. Leading the Hornets with 15.6 points per game, Moore is leading the MIAA at 2.4 steals per game. And the Hornets are back to being respectable in the MIAA again.
My POY pick: I think Fort Hays State sophomore point guard Craig Nicholson has best chance to win this award with a strong finish. The Wichita Northwest product leads the MIAA and is third in the nation at 8.0 assists per game. He’s fifth in the league at 18.1 point sand third with 2.0 steals. Teammate Dwayne Brunson could make a run.
Who wins it: Fort Hays State.
Emporia State (19-2, 10-2 MIAA) and Central Missouri (16-3, 10-2) are locked in a tie for first, but the Hornets having a considerably tougher path to the title. Four of their final seven games are against Washburn (twice), Fort Hays State and Pittsburg State — all teams within two games of ESU in the standings. Central Missouri’s biggest remaining test is Feb. 8 at Missouri Southern (11-5, 8-4).
Biggest surprise: People knew what they were talking about in the preseason – the league almost stacks up exactly with the coaches and media picks.
My POY pick: Central Missouri’s Keuna Flax leads the MIAA in scoring at 20.9 points and in field-goal percentage at 60.3 percent – she’s also seventh with 7.9 rebounds. If the Mules can finish it out, she’s the one. If it’s anybody else, it’ll likely be Fort Hays State’s Kate Lehman, who leads the MIAA in rebounding (11.0) and blocks (5.1) – amazing numbers. She’s also fifth in scoring at 15.5 points.
Who wins it: Central Missouri – the schedules for the other five teams in the race are brutal.
Friends (18-5, 9-3), the early front-runner, has gone 2-3 over its last five games and is now one game behind Sterling (18-5, 10-2) and Bethany (17-6, 10-2) in the standings. The Falcons control much of their own destiny – getting one more shot at Bethany and Sterling. Tabor and Saint Mary could help Friends out considerably by muddling things up – both schools have games left against Sterling and Bethany.
Biggest surprise: What in the world is going on at Bethel? The Threshers are 0-12 in KCAC play and 0-21 overall.
My POY pick: Friends guard and Wichita Southeast product Joe Mitchell is having maybe the best individual season in KCAC history. He leads the league in most of the major categories – 32.9 points, 4.6 assists and 1.9 steals. Which opens the possibility of City League products taking league MVPs in both the MIAA ad KCAC.
Who wins it: Sterling. The Warriors have won five straight and Dean Jaderston is spinning gold once again. Dude can really coach.
You might be able to call this one – Southwestern (20-3, 12-0) has a three-game lead over Friends (18-6, 9-3) and Tabor (14-8, 9-3) with six games left to play and four of those six games against teams with losing records in conference play. Their only real test remaining is hosting Tabor on Feb. 15. Five of Friends’ final six opponents are .500 or below in conference, with their biggest game left at Tabor on Feb. 22.
Biggest surprise: Sterling (9-13, 5-7) falling flat in Lonnie Kruse’s final season.
My POY pick: Friends guard Kayla Mollere, a junior, is having a great year. She’s got five games over 20 points in KCAC play and is first in the league in steals (3.17 per game), second in rebounds (8.5) and fifth in scoring (13.9).
Who wins it: Southwestern.
Hutchinson (20-3, 6-1) seems to have the upper hand in the West — they’ve got a one-game lead on Seward (15-8, 5-2) and Pratt (15-8, 5-2) and a two-game lead on Barton (16-7, 4-3). The best part for the Blue Dragons? They host Seward (Feb. 8), Pratt (Feb. 15) and Barton (Feb. 22) down the stretch. Barton has the toughest road, with games at Pratt, at Seward and at Hutchinson. In the East, it’ s gonna be a street fight in the last month. Independence (14-10, 5-1) leads Butler (18-6, 4-2) by one game, but the Grizzlies host Coffeyville (17-7, 3-3) on Wednesday and Independence on Feb. 15.
Biggest surprise: Coffeyville being dangerously close to being out of it in the East.
My POY pick: In the West, it’s a no-brainer. Hutchinson guard and Arizona commit Kadeem Allen is making a case for NJCAA player of the year — he leads the Jayhawk in scoring (28.2 points) and is second in assists (5.7), fourth in steals (2.1) and, somehow, 10th in rebounds (7.1). In the East, I’d give the nod to Butler’s Shomari Triggs, who leads Butler with 17.1 points per game, leads the Jayhawk in steals (2.48) and is fourth in assists (4.81).
Who wins it: Hutchinson (West), Butler (East).
Butler (23-1, 6-0), Cowley (18-5, 5-1) and Coffeyville (13-9, 4-2) will battle it out for the East title down the stretch — each school still has the other two remaining, with each playing one home and one away. In the West, it comes down to Hutchinson (21-0, 7-0) hosting Seward (21-2, 6-1) on Feb. 8.
Biggest surprise: The perfect scheduling in the East?
My POY pick: Pratt’s Tatiana Grant could do with a few more wins for her team, but she leads the Jayhawk in scoring (27.2 points) and is second in rebounds (10.7) and steals (3.5) – if it doesn’t go to Hutchinson’s Jamie Patrick, it could be Grant with the upset. In the East, I like Cowley’s Emilie Gronas at 21.1 points per game while hitting 45.8 percent of her three-pointers (60-131).
Who wins it: Cowley (East), Hutchinson (West).