Saturday, March 5, 2011

Winning! My Picks for Big East Awards

And so, UConn winds up the No. 9 seed in the Big East tournament. Just a snooch better than where the conference coaches had it in the preseason poll (10th), but a lot worse than where I had him in my preseason prognostications (fourth, at 12-6).

Oh well. UConn fans shouldn't abandon all hope yet. I refuse to believe Kemba Walker will go off into the sunset quietly, so while I won't predict a Big East tournament title (five games in five days? Nah), I think the Huskies could make some noise once they start facing non-league foes (against whom they're 12-0) in the Big Dance.

But we'll talk about that later.

The all-Big East teams will be announced Sunday at around 11 a.m., via both e-mail and Twitter. On Monday at about the same time, the league's defensive player of the year, most improved player, sixth man award and sportsmanship awards will be announced.

The league's player of the year, coach of the year, rookie of the year and scholar-athlete of the year will be announced between sessions of the conference tournament on Tuesday, probably around 5:30 p.m.

Let's beat 'em all to the punch and figure out who's deserving of what awards, as well as who will comprise the all-conference teams. First, a look at my preseason prognostications (made back on Dec. 23, well into the non-conference season but prior to the Big East regular slate.

But let's not talk about the past. Here's how I see this year's Big East awards shaping up:

First Team
Kemba Walker, UConn
Marshon Brooks, Providence
Ben Hansbrough, Notre Dame
Dwight Hardy, St. John's
Brad Wanamaker, Pittsburgh
Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh

Second Team
Austin Freeman, Georgetown
Kris Joseph, Syracuse
Rick Jackson, Syracuse
Corey Fisher, Villanova
Preston Knowles, Louisville

Third Team
Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall
Jonathan Mitchell, Rutgers
Jimmy Butler, Marquette
Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame
Peyton Siva, Louisville

Honorable Mention
Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette
Cleveland Melvin, DePaul
Corey Stokes, Villanova
Gary McGhee, Pittsburgh


PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Kemba Walker, UConn; Ben Hansbrough, Notre Dame: I like the idea of Saturday's combatants, who each performed brilliantly (until Hansbrough fouled out and Walker passed to Donnell Beverly instead of trying to hit a game-tying 3-pointer). Kemba has obviously slipped a bit off the pace he set back in November and December, but he's still as integral as any one player is to his particular team in the country.

COACH OF THE YEAR: Rick Pitino, Louisville: Jim Calhoun was the front-runner for a while, but I'll go with Pitino (who, amazingly, has never won the award). Mike Brey could win (again), but after watching some of his head-scratching moves from the sidelines on Saturday, I wouldn't vote for him.

ROOKIES OF THE YEAR: Cleveland Melvin, DePaul: Think Andre Dawson (1987) or A-Rod (2003) winning MVP on a last-place team. The league frowns upon rewarding players from awful teams, but Melvin's output (17.5 ppg, 6.3 rebounds) is head and shoulders above any other frosh.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Rick Jackson, Syracuse: Unless there's a John Linehan-like gnat running around pestering everybody, this almost always goes to the league's leading shot-blocker. That's Jackson, who also led the league in rebounding (including 115 defensive boards, far and away the most in the league).

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: Dwight Hardy, St. John's. Hardy averaged 9.3 points per game last season. He nearly doubled that (18.3) this year, finishing fourth in the league. PC's Marshon Brooks came out of nowhere to lead the league in scoring, but the Friars stink and the Red Storm are a Top 25 team.

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