Happy March, my fellow Hoop Thinkers. It's awards season in college basketball, so to tip things off, I figured I would give out my awards for player of the year, coach of the year and rookie of the year in the Big Six conferences. I realize I'm no Seth MacFarlane. (I'm not even Seth Greenberg, for that matter.) But I do have a laptop and some time to kill. The envelopes please ...
(Note: All statistics are for conference games only. Cause those are the ones that count, right?)
POY: Shane Larkin, 5-foot-11 sophomore guard, Miami. From an individual standpoint, you could make a case for several guys -- Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, Joe Harris and Erick Green, to name a few. I went with Larkin partly to recognize Miami's first-place finish, but also because while those other candidates excelled on the offensive end, Larkin has been a terrific defender as well. Besides leading his team in points (13.8 ppg) and assists (4.3), Larkin also ranked first in the ACC in steals per game (1.8). His anticipation and poise set the table for the Hurricanes at both ends of the floor.
COY: Jim Larranaga, Miami. Easy call. Larranaga is not only my choice for coach of the year in the ACC, but nationally as well. When he left George Mason for Coral Gables, a lot of us assumed he was just trying to stuff his 401(k), but he has been just as passionate as ever, and knowledgeable, too. It isn't easy to coach a bunch of players that you didn't recruit, but Larranaga has done a masterful job getting his guys to buy in.
ROY:Rasheed Sulaimon, 6-4 guard, Duke. North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige made a strong closing case, but Sulaimon has been terrific from Day 1. Aside from a mini-slump in January when he was benched for one game, Sulaimon started every game for the Blue Devils this season. He was the team's fourth-leading scorer (12.0 ppg), but he did a little of everything. All in all, Sulaimon had a remarkably productive and consistent freshman season.
POY: Marcus Smart, 6-4 freshman guard, Oklahoma State. This was the toughest call on the board. Smart's numbers are almost identical to those of Kansas' Ben McLemore. McLemore has a slight edge in scoring (17.1 ppg to Smart's 15.5), rebounding (5.4 to 5.3), field goal percentage (51.6 to 42.3) and free throw percentage (86.1 to 77.1). McLemore is a much better three-point shooter, but Smart also has a significant edge in two key areas: assists (3.69 to McLemore's 2.1) and steals (3.29 to 1.2). Moreover, while McLemore was certainly the biggest reason why the Jayhawks appear poised to claim their ninth consecutive conference title, he also had a more talented supporting cast. And Smart is a stronger leader. Like I said, this was a close call, so I have no problem with those who would choose McLemore, but I honestly don't believe there's a player in all of college basketball who has had a greater impact on more areas of the game (including those off the court) as Smart has.
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COY: Bruce Weber, Kansas State. Weber's task of coaching someone else's recruits was even more challenging than Larranaga's because this was Weber's first season in Manhattan. Yet, the Wildcats were impressive from Day 1, including during a nonconference schedule that saw Kansas State score a big win over Florida in Kansas City. Weber did a particularly good job molding 5-11 sophomore point guard Angel Rodriguez, who had a very up-and-down freshman year but settled this season into a stabilizing presence.
ROY: Smart. Obviously, I need to give Smart the nod as well, but unlike the ACC, there were a lot of good candidates. They included Oklahoma State guard Phil Forte, Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield, Baylor forward Isaiah Austin, Iowa State forward Georges Niang, and Texas point guard Javan Felix.
POY:Trey Burke, 6-foot sophomore point guard, Michigan. This was another close decision, and the season is still not over. Indiana is traveling to Ann Arbor on Sunday, which will give the Hoosiers' two candidates, sophomore center Cody Zeller and junior guard Victor Oladipo, a chance to make their final arguments. I went with Burke because out of all the major candidates, he has been the most consistent as well as the most valuable to his team (which is attributable to his playing the most important position). In conference play, Burke is tied with Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas for the Big Ten scoring lead with a 19.8 points per game. Burke also leads the league in assists (a full 2.2 per game ahead of No. 2 Ronnie Johnson of Purdue), and he's also third in steals (1.9), fifth in free throw percentage (81.3) and ninth in three-point percentage (38.6).
COY: Tom Crean, Indiana. Crean is my choice, not just for what he has done with his team this season (though you could make a strong case based on that alone) but for how he has brought this program back from the depths of despair. When Crean put his first Indiana team on the floor five years ago, the program had one scholarship player. Instead of looking for a quick fix, Crean went about rebuilding this program the right way, with top-flight high school players who had good character. The Hoosiers entered the season as everybody's preseason number one, but they handled expectations well and have basically been the best team in college hoops this season.
ROY:Gary Harris, 6-4 guard, Michigan State. The last words we usually apply to freshmen are consistent and efficient, but Harris was both those things. While Michigan's Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas had their ups and downs, and while Indiana point guard Yogi Ferrell did not provide much scoring, Harris was a stabilizing presence in the Spartans' backcourt. Even though he dealt with injuries to both shoulders as well as back spasms, Harris is currently ranked 11th in the league in scoring (13.9 ppg) while shooting 47 percent from the floor, 48 percent from three-point range (the second-best rate in the conference) and 76 percent from the foul line. Best of all, Harris was fifth in the league in steals at 1.5 per game. Tom Izzo has said that Harris could be one of the best perimeter defenders he has ever coached. That is saying a lot, and it is only the beginning.
POY:Otto Porter, 6-8 sophomore forward, Georgetown. This was an easy one. Porter was the most dominant and versatile player on the best team in the conference. He ranks second in the Big East in scoring (18.9), fourth in steals (1.8), sixth in rebounding (7.3) and seventh in field goal percentage (50.0). He is also -- get this -- second in three-point percentage (44.8). I know Jeff Green was terrific, but I think Porter is the best player John Thompson III has coached at Georgetown.
COY:Buzz Williams, Marquette. It was not easy deciding between Williams and JT3, especially given that the Hoyas lost their second-leading scorer and rebounder, Greg Whittington, to academics last month. But at least Thompson has the league's best player at his disposal. Williams has no such thing. In fact, he may not have an all-conference player on his roster, although 6-8 junior forward Davante Gardner is making a late push. I also like the way Williams has developed 6-4 junior Vander Blue into a mature, dependable point guard. More than any other team in the Top 25, the Golden Eagles win games by embracing an identity centered on toughness and chemistry. That is a direct reflection of that bald, zany (but well-dressed) guy on the sidelines.
ROY: Ryan Arcidiacono, 6-3 freshman point guard, Villanova. This was not a banner year for Big East freshmen. Arcidiacono got the nod over the two candidates from St. John's (Jakarr Sampson and Chris Obekpa), as well as over Pitt center Steven Adams and UConn guard Omar Calhoun. That's because Arcidiacono had far more responsibilities than any of those players -- and for the most part, he handled them well. He has been especially effective down the stretch, failing to reach double figures just twice in the last nine games and eclipsing the 20-point mark three times.
POY: Jordan McRae, 6-5 junior guard, Tennessee. I almost left this one vacant. Florida is in first place by two games, but there is no single player on that team who would warrant this award. Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson has been spectacular at times and he leads the league in scoring, but his volume shooting (not to mention his erratic behavior) has been the primary reason the Rebels went south in the last month. I gave a long, hard look at Missouri point guard Phil Pressey, but his decision making has been too undependable, and he has had a terrible season shooting the ball. McRae, on the other hand, has been steady throughout. He is second in the SEC in scoring (20.8), fifth in three-point percentage (39.6), seventh in field goal percentage (45.0), and he leads the league in minutes played (37.7). If Tennessee makes the NCAA tournament, McRae will be by far the biggest reason.
COY: Billy Donovan, Florida. Again, no obvious answer here, so the award should go to the guy with the best team. The Gators don't have much by way of individual talent, but they have been tough and tenacious on defense. Now that they're finally healthy again, I expect them to be a tough out in the NCAA tournament.
ROY: Jabari Brown, 6-5 sophomore guard, Missouri. Even though Brown is technically a sophomore, he only played 51 minutes during his freshman season at Oregon before transferring out. (Not something to be proud of, by the way.) He joined the Tigers in December to a lot of expectations, and he did a good job fulfilling them. Brown is sixth in the league in scoring at 15.1 points per game, and he is also sixth in three-point percentage (38.3) and 10th in free throw percentage (77.2).
POY: Allen Crabbe, 6-6 junior guard, California. There weren't a ton of great candidates here, so I went with Crabbe because he has been getting the least amount of help from his teammates among the top candidates. Even with opposing defenses geared to stop him, Crabbe ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in scoring (16.7 ppg) while still shooting a respectable 46.7 percent (35.3 percent from three-point range). Crabbe is also a better rebounder than people realize -- he ranks 17th in the Pac-12 at 6.2 boards per game -- and he also has been getting 1.4 steals per game. If you take the other top candidates away, their teams can still find ways to win. If you took Crabbe off Cal, it would drop to the bottom tier.
COY: Dana Altman, Oregon. It's impressive enough that Altman could come to Eugene and bring the Ducks to the brink of a Pac-12 regular season championship. Consider that he did it after losing one of the best recruits the school has ever signed, Jabari Brown, to an unexpected transfer last season. Oregon also had to go through nine games in the heart of conference play without its point guard, freshman Dominic Artis. Yet, the Ducks hung tough, and now that Artis is back, they are ready to make a postseason push.
ROY:Shabazz Muhammad, 6-6 guard, UCLA. This was the most interesting category of all. The Pac-12 has been on a pretty rough down cycle the last few years, so it makes sense that it should finally have a terrific crop of freshmen. Muhammad had plenty of competition -- beginning with his teammate, 6-9 forward Kyle Anderson, who might be the most versatile player in the country. Arizona point guard Jahii Carson was the league's second-leading scorer and ranked fifth in assists. Oregon point guard Dominic Artis, Colorado forward Josh Scott, and Arizona forwards Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski each had their moments. But I gave Muhammad the nod because he has been the most important player on a team that is currently just one game out of first place. He ranks third in the Pac-12 in scoring (17.5) and he's sixth in three-point shooting (42.6) while also averaging five rebounds per game.
Other Hoop Thoughts
? I realize everyone is eager to pounce on Miami, but Georgia Tech has to be encouraged by the performance of 6-3 freshman guard Chris Bolden during the big win in Coral Gables on Wednesday night. Bolden scored a season-high 21 points of 4-of-8 three-point shooting. Could be a sign of things to come for the Yellow Jackets next year.
? I love that Trey Burke took 14 free throws and only three three-pointers in Michigan's win at Purdue. As I've often said, at home you can shoot threes, but on the road you've gotta shoot frees.
? Although I can't help but suspect Michigan would be a lot better off heading into the tournament if John Beilein had done more to develop his team's offensive game in the frontcourt. Of course, Jordan Morgan's ankle injury didn't help.
? Every time ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes calls a Florida game, he goes out of his way to remark on the maturation of Gators' guard Mike Rosario. Rosario transferred in from Rutgers, and in the past he forced a lot of shots and showed a bad attitude. Now he has grown up, and the Gators are a much better team for it.
? I feel bad for all the east coast fans with early bedtimes who haven't had much chance to watch New Mexico. This is a team full of guys who make good decisions, share the ball, and never take bad shots. And it doesn't have a single senior in the starting lineup.
? Speaking of which, you guys do know that the Mountain West Conference is ranked No. 1 in the RPI right now, right? FWIW.
? Lord help the rest of the basketball universe if Marcus Smart ever develops a long-range jump shot.
? VCU has a ton of athletes who are well-suited to run that havoc defense, but I'm not sure how skilled they are.
? How about Syracuse's James Southerland shooting 1-for-10 from behind the three-point line in Wednesday's win over DePaul. Even when the 'Cuse is winning by 21, this team can make you scratch your head.
? You think North Carolina sophomore guard P.J. Hairston likes being a starter? He has averaged 17.6 points since Roy Williams made the move.
? Anthony Marshall is often cited as UNLV's weak link, but let me tell you, there are a lot of teams that would love to have him as their point guard. He's tough, he's a leader, and for the most part he makes good decisions. Marshall was at his best on Tuesday night in helping the Rebels overcome a 10-point second-half deficit to beat Boise State. He had 16 points (on 5-for-6 shooting), seven assists and five rebounds. Some weak link.
? Here's something that doesn't get talked about enough: Gorgui Dieng's basketball IQ.
? The best part about Kelly Olynyk's All-America caliber season at Gonzaga is that it was the result of something we rarely see these days -- delayed gratification. Two years ago, he thought about transferring, but instead of quitting on his school, he decided to redshirt and use that year to get stronger and develop his game. I wish that more young men would show such patience.
? I don't understand why anyone would give Tom Crean flak for celebrating Indiana's Big Ten title on Tuesday night. They had planned on doing that along, and the loss to Ohio State did not prevent the Hoosiers from winning the title. What was he supposed to do, call it off because they lost? And people say I'm the captain of the No Fun Police squad.
? All right, coaches, I'll make you a deal. You get one time out per game. That's right, one. In return, I will remove all -- and I do mean all -- restrictions on how much you can work with your own players. Spend as many hours with them in the off-season, and you can start holding practices as early as you want and for as long as you want. Will you sign?
? I still miss the Marquette bat.
? Anyone else noticing the quality job Chris Mack is doing at Xavier? He only lost virtually his entire team from last year, but the Musketeers beat Saint Louis Wednesday night to put themselves squarely on the bubble. I don't know that they'll get into the tournament, but just to be in this position is pretty amazing.
? Arizona and Michigan State have the same problem: a scoring point guard who's not really a point guard, and who will inevitably make the crucial decisions on game-deciding possessions. Sink or swim, baby.
? Is it just me, or is Colorado's Andre Roberson the most underrated player in the country? He's only 6-7, but he's leading the nation in rebounds (11.5 per game) and he's second in the Pac-12 in steals (2.3).
? That sure was an ugly fight at the end of the St. John's-Notre Dame game. It takes two to tango, but it seems to me there's been a lot of turmoil at St. John's the last few years.
? When I asked Duke center Mason Plumlee during a CBS Sports Network interview on Wednesday what he expected from Ryan Kelly against Miami, Plumlee told me he thought Kelly would play about 10 minutes, tops. Just shows you how incredible that performance was.
? Love this quote from Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings during the SEC teleconference this week: "We can only try to control how we play. Heck, we don't even do that very well."
? The Ivy League should just go ahead and hold a conference tournament already.
? Say what you want about Conference USA, but it is really, really, really hard to go undefeated in your league. Tip o' the cap, Memphis.
Syracuse at Georgetown, Saturday, Noon
The Hoyas need to bounce back after that loss at Villanova, and I don't trust Syracuse's guards.
Georgetown 66, Syracuse 60
Florida at Kentucky, Saturday, Noon
Florida has been mediocre away from the O Dome, and it's going up against a desperate home team. I like the combination.
Kentucky 78, Florida 75
Kansas State at Oklahoma State, Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Kansas State has a size advantage inside, and its big men aren't great scorers. I'll take the Smarts at home.
Oklahoma State 71, Kansas State 65
UCLA at Washington, Saturday, 2 p.m.
The Bruins were godawful in losing at Washington State on Wednesday night. They usually play well when they feel like they have something to prove.
UCLA 72, Washington 70
Notre Dame at Louisville, Saturday, 4 p.m.
Louisville won't need overtime, but it will need some better play from Peyton Siva. Where have we heard that before?
Louisville 75, Notre Dame 65
Missouri at Tennessee, Saturday, 4 p.m.
The Vols are playing as well as anyone in the SEC right now. They're at home, playing a team that can't win away from home, with a potential NCAA bid on the line. Layup.
Tennessee 79, Missouri 69
Xavier at Butler, Saturday, 6:30 p.m.
The Musketeers have played themselves into the bubble conversation, and they beat Butler by 15 points waaaaayyy back in November. The Bulldogs have lost two straight, and that streak might extend to three Thursday night at UMass. Either way, they'll be playing at home looking for a bounceback game.
Butler 62, Xavier 52
Duke at North Carolina, Saturday, 9 p.m.
Normally, I would go with the home team because most teams are running on fumes at this time of year, but I think the Blue Devils are benefiting from renewed energy thanks to Ryan Kelly's return. Plus, they need a big road win to fortify their argument for a No. 1 seed.
Duke 78, North Carolina 77
VCU at Temple, Sunday, Noon
The Owls have very quietly been playing some good basketball lately, having won eight of their last nine. VCU had a nice comeback win over Richmond on Wednesday night, which means the Rams' pendulum is ready to swing the other way.
Temple 74, VCU 70
Indiana at Michigan, Sunday, 4 p.m.
I'm tired of trying to figure out the Big Ten, and these guys are tired of playing each other. The Wolverines are at home. That's good enough for me.
Michigan 76, Indiana 70
Last week: 8-2
Season record: 109-51