By Cory Mccartney
March 10, 2008
Tyler Hansbrough
Greg Nelson/SI
Gimme A Break
With the regular season complete, it's time to hand out the second-annual Fast Break (or the Breaks for short) Awards. Envelopes please ...
• BMOC of the Year: Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina. No disrespect to Michael Beasley, who followed Kevin Durant's record rookie season with one of his own, but Psycho T is the pick here. He averaged 23.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per game but strengthened his case during Ty Lawson's six-game absence last month as he led the Tar Heels back to the No. 1 raking with a 5-1 mark, averaging 29 points and 10.7 rebounds per game over that stretch.
• Small Wonder (best mid-major player): Jason Thompson, Rider. The nation's best-kept secret averaged 20.2 points and 11.8 rebounds (second in the nation) and beat out the country's top scorer Charron Fisher for MAAC Player of the Year honors. He's also the first Division-I player to have three 20-point/20-rebound games in 12 years.
• Norman Dale Award (best coach): Rick Barnes, Texas. Somehow Barnes' Longhorns are actually better without Durant, the 2007 National Player of the Year and No. 2 pick in the draft. He's led the 'Horns to three wins over top 10 teams (Kansas, Tennessee and UCLA), a share of the Big 12 title and a likely No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
• Cinderfelllas (or the They Did What? Award to the biggest surprise): Drake. It's gotta be rookie coach Keno Davis' crew. What's not to love? The Bulldogs were picked to finish ninth in the MVC after winning six league games in '06-07 and went out and won their first conference title since 1971 and their first tourney crown. Unbelievable.
• Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda Award (biggest flop): Arizona. Ranked as high as 17th, the Wildcats are in danger of ending a 23-year streak of appearing in the NCAA tournament with their 8-10 record in the Pac-10. Granted injuries and the Lute Olson circus haven't helped, but a group led by Jerryd Bayless and Chase Budinger is too talented to struggle like this.
• Bob Knight Award (best use of a prop): Mike Deane, Wagner. Rick Pitino's Saturday Night Fever suit is a close second but Deane's car seat belt he used to strap him into his padded seat on the bench was not only laughable, it is also one man's protest to the NCAA's new emphasis on bench decorum.
Making The Conference Calls
With conference-tournament time upon us, who are the teams to beat and which teams could make some noise? Here's a rundown of the six major-conference tourney favorites and dark-horse contenders:
• ACC: North Carolina (FAVORITE). Lawson's back and Hansbrough is the better for his absence. The way UNC opened and closed at Duke, how could you pick anyone else? Miami (DARK HORSE). Aside from the Tar Heels, no team is hotter than the Hurricanes, who have won six of eight, including a victory over Duke. Plus, Jack McClinton is heating up.
• Big Ten: Purdue, Wisconsin (FAVORITES). Wisconsin won the regular-season title, but behind freshmen Robbie Hummel and E'Twaun Moore, the Baby Boilers remain dangerous despite recent setbacks at Ohio State and Indiana. Ohio State (DARK HORSE). The Buckeyes have slowly progressed and are proving feisty with their backs against the wall, beating both the Boilermakers and Michigan State and playing the Badgers and Indiana tight.
• Big 12: Kansas (FAVORITE). A healthy Sherron Collins is making a big difference for the Jayhawks. After battling a bruised knee, he came back to average 14.6 points in the last three wins. That's trouble for the rest of the Big 12, Texas included. Kansas State (DARK HORSE). Basically, the Wildcats have Beasley and the rest of the Big 12 doesn't. That said, he's going to need some consistency from his supporting cast if this team is to make a deep run.
• Big East: Georgetown, Louisville (FAVORITES). I could go either way here. The Hoyas gutted out a physical win over Louisville on Saturday, but I'm not letting that one game overshadow what the Cardinals have done. So flip a coin. Marquette (DARK HORSE). The erratic Eagles seem to have hit their groove, winning six of eight. The key is Lazar Hayward. If he can put together consistent games, the junior guards can do the rest.
• Pac-10: UCLA (FAVORITE). As we saw against Stanford and Cal, this team is too talented to fall flat on its face when the stakes are high. Darren Collison's hot hand (17.4 ppg in the last four games) doesn't hurt, either. Oregon (DARK HORSE). Yes, the Ducks have been a disappointment considering the talent of Malik Hairston, Bryce Taylor and Maarty Leunen. However, the Ducks are capable of pulling off an upset or two.
• SEC: Tennessee (FAVORITE). The short-lived No. 1 has shown it can win in the rowdiest of venues (i.e. Memphis' FedExForum) and nobody's deeper with the likes of Chris Lofton, Tyler Smith and JaJuan Smith. Ole Miss (DARK HORSE). Once winners of 13 straight, the Rebels went cold but may be heating up again. They have recent wins over West champ Mississippi State and second-place Arkansas.
Winthrop Eagles
The Eagles are going dancing again, winning their fourth-straight league title as they beat UNC Asheville 66-48 in the Big South title game. Michael Jenkins stole the spotlight from 7-foot-7 sideshow Kenny George, scoring a championship-game record 33 points.
Stanford Cardinal
Was it a foul or wasn't it? Either way, it seems the Collison call had a lasting effect on the Cardinal as they followed up that heart-breaking OT loss against the Bruins by losing to USC 77-64 on Saturday.
Syracuse Orange
In drastic need of another marquee win to go with its victory over Georgetown, Syracuse got it on Saturday. The Orange beat Marquette 87-72 to win for just the second time in their last five games and keep their NCAA hopes alive.
Duke Blue Devils
Despite a late surge, the Blue Devils missed out on regular-season ACC title and a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney as they lost to UNC 76-68. DeMarcus Nelson also became the latest Duke senior to have the rival Tar Heels spoil senior night as UNC won its third straight at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Kentucky Wildcats
The Wildcats moved closer to punching a ticket to the NCAA tourney as they beat Florida 75-70 Saturday in Lexington. It was the sixth win in seven games for Kentucky, which also improved to 7-0 at Rupp Arena against conference foes and 12-4 in the SEC.
Southern Illinois Salukis
Last week, the Salukis were on the brink of an NCAA at-large bid with an RPI of 50 and quality wins over Creighton, Drake, Mississippi State and St. Mary's. But that was all but squashed with Southern Illinois' loss to Northern Iowa in the MVC tourney quarterfinals.
"I pulled a Shaq."
--Ohio State forward Othello Hunter who grabbed a rebound of a Kosta Koufos miss with his left hand and then dunked it in the Buckeyes' 63-54 win over Michigan State in Columbus.
"Asleep? Yes. Awake, no."
--Tennessee senior guard JaJuan Smith when asked after Saturday's SEC title celebration if he thought he'd be part of a conference championship in Knoxville. His first Volunteers team went 14-17.
"They had to scrap and fight for everything, that's the way it's been for Cougar basketball. It's fitting."
--Washington State coach Tony Bennett on seniors Robbie Cowgill, Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver, who helped turn Wazzu into a Top 25 team and also came up big in Saturday's 76-73 double-overtime win over Washington.
Joe AlexanderF - West Virginia
It's a little late to get into the Big East Player of the Year race, so Alexander will simply enter the conference tourney as the hottest player in the league. After dropping 32 on UConn and Pitt, he had 29 points and 10 rebounds as West Virginia beat St. John's, 83-74.
LaceDarius DunnG - Baylor
The Bears moved into position for their first NCAA tournament bid since 1988 behind an eruption from this freshman. King Dunn, as he calls himself in his MySpace page, scored a career-high 38 points, hitting 6-of-9 three-pointers, as the Bears won at Texas Tech 86-73.
Charles RhodesF - Mississippi State
A teary, emotional senior day ceremony took its toll on Rhodes, who missed his first two shots Saturday. But he rebounded, scoring 27 points (his sixth 20-plus outing in the last eight games) and pulled down 10 boards as the Bulldogs dumped LSU 84-75 to clinch the SEC West.
William & Mary is making a historic splash as the CAA tourney. With dramatic wins over Georgia State, Old Dominion and VCU on Sunday, the Tribe won three straight postseason games on a neutral site for the first time since the 1965 Southern Conference tournament.
Drake beat Illinois State 79-49 Sunday to win the Missouri Valley Conference title. The 30-point margin of victory is the largest in the tournament title game's history, besting the 24-point win margins of Creighton in '03 and Bradley in 1988.
35, 39
Davidson won its 35th straight Southern Conference game with Sunday's 82-52 victory over UNC Greensboro, while Memphis ran its Conference USA streak to 39 in a row by ripping UAB 94-56 on Saturday.

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