With three precincts in, Rats debate MVP votes: 50–50–50

By Joe Katz

The award-winning Rats are back with their final arguments for the basketball teams’ best individuals. As always, chime in on the blog online.

• With the basketball seasons over, who were your top two men’s and women’s MVPs?

Sean: Both teams showed some depth this year, and when they were at their best, it was because multiple players were stepping up. Picking each squad’s top player is tough, as is making an ordered list four deep.

For the women, I went into the finale seeing convincing arguments for both second-year Nofi Mojidi and third-year Korry Schwanz. The two guards play and lead in very different ways: Mojidi is always in full-out attack mode with her numbers generally only limited by foul trouble and turnovers, while Schwanz’s consistency and on-court intelligence complement her deadly threes.

Omar: Too right about those threes–she led the UAA in three-point accuracy (46.9 percent). There’s a sense of anticipation at every time she’s open for a shot.

Sean: Schwanz deserves immeasurable credit for improving her game, avoiding last year’s 2-for-13 performances to shoot 42.4 percent from the field, decreasing her turnover rate, and playing some of the cleanest defense on the team. She was the equivalent of a veteran baseball catcher. The co-captain knew the Xs and Os better than anyone on the team through her pre- and post-practice meetings, and even though her most visible contribution were treys, the offensive game plan advances this year would have been much more overwhelming without her direction.

But while Schwanz was the team’s steady foundation, Mojidi was the game changer. Since her first game, she’s made opposing point guards scrap entire gameplans and has blown by defenses that try desperately to even locate her. Saturday’s performance showed that, while her game is largely the same, an improved jumper and cleaner play make her nearly unstoppable.

Joe: Mojidi’s speed and basketball sense have been deadly for Chicago all year long. She has the ability to score every time she goes down the court and makes sure that her opponents know it. She’s made a habit of forcing her defenders into foul trouble by refusing to offer them any other means of stopping her from running wild and penetrating in the paint and making them pay for the desperate hacking.

At the same time, she has enough outside shooting ability to keep everyone honest on the perimeter. Wash U shouldn’t have been surprised at her 26-point performance in what early on looked like it would be a scoring duel between Mojidi and Kelly Manning. Over the next two seasons, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that become the norm. While her team featured a notable depth of talent, there’s no question in my mind that she was this squad’s MVP.

At the same time, like everyone else I’ve been extremely gratified by the play of Mojidi’s classmate, super-sub forward Nicaya Rapier. Before her season was ended early by a torn ACL in her first career start February 10, Rapier had substantial impact on every game. Despite riding the pine at tipoff for 20 out of 21 games, the indefatigably cheery Rapier still led the team in rebounds per game with 7.3 (14.7 per 40 minutes). She scrambled hard for every board, hustled on defense, and made opponents pay for every mistake. Any fan of the game couldn’t help but fall in love with her ability to come down with impossible boards and to get involved in plays that she simply should not have been able to get to in time. She was a difference maker and a force to be reckoned with each time she stepped on the floor, and she’s my pick for MVP runner-up.

Sean: Rapier has had us incredulous at Ratner nearly every game, even though we knew what to expect. She offered so much to a team that needed as much toughness as it could get in the post. The only thing keeping her out of my top two are her shooting and her minutes, both of which promise to get better.

Omar: I’m going to have to plump for Mojidi and Rapier. In the case of the former, there’s not really much to be said that hasn’t been said already. I’ll just stress the fact that she is a sophomore and that I can’t wait to see her next year (and the UAA must be dreading her senior year). As for Rapier, I think she gives her teammates so much confidence defensively. I literally cannot picture her jumping for a board and not getting it, and so many fast breaks are initiated off the back of her peerless rebounding. The Maroons are losing a lot this year, but they also have so much to look forward to.

The same can be said of the men’s team. There are no like-for-like replacements for fourth-year forwards Jason Hicks and Clay Carmody, but we can expect a more cerebral and nimble line-up starting from the Midway Classic in November.

Sean: Third-year point guard Woodhead is the clear choice for team MVP in most people’s minds, as he was unquestionably one of the league’s top two floor generals this season. His crossover dribble and quick first step tied up a lot of guards—most obviously breaking the ankles of Emory third-year Adrian Sosa—and his sniper passing caught a lot of people flat-footed, even his teammates sometimes.

He also hit the big shot, though, and that’s what 100 percent separates him from his teammates. Without Woodhead’s overtime three with two seconds left, you simply don’t have the biggest upset of the season over league-champion Carnegie. Oh, and without Woodhead, you don’t have the sideline W-heads.

Joe: The W-heads do add a nice dimension to the home crowd (so do my costumes – Omar), but the man they repeatedly bow to over the course of the game brings a heck of a lot more to the table than some entertaining fans. He manages the game as well as anyone in the league, with the possible exception of NYU fourth-year Jared Kildare, and is remarkably multidimensional. He’s a prototypical slashing point, breaking the ankles of defenseman after defenseman as he blitzes into the paint, and can be absolutely deadly when given the opportunity on the outside. He’s not bad on the other end, either, as Scott Stone was among those to discover to his chagrin in the season finale.

And that shot against Carnegie was pretty cool. You know what the best part was? Everyone watching knew it was coming from him. And he still pulled off the play.

Omar: Woodhead is awesome. That’s about it. My second pick is Tim Reynolds, who improved with every minute and attained a very high standard by the end of the season. He is so smooth and has the mark of every top player –he makes his job look easy. Reynolds’s clean style helped him keep the turnovers down, and he led the team in blocks. Another player whom I can’t wait to see next year.

Sean: Though Hicks and third-year shooting guard Jesse Meyer posted some huge games, we too often allowed them to overshadow the background, dirty work that second-year small forward Nate Hainje did. In fact, it was Hainje who made every player on his team better.

In the Carnegie win that Woodhead gets so much credit for, there was Hainje with only six points but four assists and three steals. Maybe we can’t qualify his performances as “quiet” anymore–I’ve been touting him excessively ever since I figured out his contribution midseason–but they are still underappreciated. If Hainje shot just three or four more times per game, he would have been a definite All-UAA selection. As it was, he still deserved the award because he simply does everything—and I do mean everything—right.

Joe: Don’t be too quick to dismiss Jesse Meyer. Though his shooting touch wasn’t always there this year, he became increasingly better at recognizing it and focusing on the things he could control throughout the UAA season. The reinvention of Meyer as a power forward-style player was critical in a number of the team’s last season wins. He didn’t stop with the bombs from downtown, either, tying the program record for treys in a single season and scoring in double figures for 17 out of 25 games. When he got hot over the course of this year, games got out of hand in a hurry. He brought a very different presence to the court than anyone else on the Maroons this winter, and it was one this team occasionally badly needed.

Omar: I spoke to Jesse yesterday and I can confirm that his failure to get any shots off after his last trey against Wash U was no more than a covert, subconscious attempt to give himself a target for next year. It’s going to be a cracking season for the men and the women——I can feel it.