Sunday, March 9, 2014

Here's How I'd Pick the AAC Award-Winners

The inaugural American Athletic Conference postseason awards will be released this week. On Tuesday, the all-conference teams and all-rookie team will be released, and on Wednesday at a luncheon in Memphis, the individual award-winners will be announced.

There will be two, five-man all-conference teams this season, with no honorable mention selections. In the past in the Big East, players who appeared on at least 50 percent of the coach’s ballots earned honorable mention status. No players earned such recognition this season, however.

With all that in mind, here would be my all-AAC picks:

Russ Smith, Louisville
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
Justin Jackson, Cincinnati
Shabazz Napier, UConn

Nic Moore, SMU
Markus Kennedy, SMU
Joe Jackson, Memphis
Shaq Goodwin, Memphis
Ta’Shawn Thomas, Houston

John Egbunu, USF
Chris Perry, USF
Austin Nichols, Memphis
Terry Rozier, Louisville
Amida Brimah, UConn

Sorry, I don’t see either Ryan Boatright or DeAndre Daniels getting the nod. Not the way they’ve played the last couple of weeks. Isaiah Sykes of UCF might be more deserving than Thomas, but Houston did better in the league standing, so I gave the edge to Thomas.

As for the individual awards, here’s how my ballot would look (and remember, the media doesn't vote for any of this, it's the league's SID's ... er, coaches who vote):

Player of the Year: Shabazz Napier, UConn: This isn’t homerism, it’s simply having a front-row seat to a terrific season. Other than Sean Kilpatrick, there’s not a single player more valuable to his team than Napier. Russ Smith is great, but without him, Louisville probably still finishes at least in the top three of the conference. Without Napier? Shudder to think. Napier’s overall stats are better than Kilpatrick’s (except for scoring), but if Kilpatrick wins it, it’s no crime. Even if Smith wins it, I wouldn’t be outraged. He was the preseason player of the year, which the coaches also vote for, so that may give him an edge. But to me, it’s Shabazz.

Coach of the Year: Larry Brown, SMU. Really a two-man race between Brown and Cincy’s Mick Cronin. Cincinnati was picked to finish fourth in the league and wound up co-champs. SMU was picked to finish sixth and finished tied for third. So that’s kind of a wash. Cronin also had Kilpatrick, while Brown didn’t have a true star (though you’ve got to love the way Nic Moore plays – unless you’re a UConn fan). Personally, I think Brown did the better job, resurrecting a program that was 15-17 overall a year ago and 5-11 in Conference USA and getting them, almost certainly, into the Big Dance. But it could go either way.

Rookie of the Year: Austin Nichols, Memphis. Tough one. In the Year of the Freshman nationally, no frosh really stood out this year in the American. Nichols was  the top rookie scorer (9.5 per game) and led the entire league in field goal percentage (63.9), so he’s my pick. Brimah deserves some consideration, and listening toRick Pitino talk, he may have his vote.

Defensive Player of the Year: Justin Jackson, Cincinnati. When you lead the league in blocked shots, you’ve got the inside track on the award. When you’re also third in steals, that’s a rare combo, and you’ve pretty much sealed the deal. Amida Brimah may win this someday, but this year, it’s Jackson.

Sixth Man Award: Michael Dixon, Jr., Memphis: Missouri transfer with a controversial past wound up the Tigers’ second-leading scorer in league play (13.3 ppg). Niels Giffey deserves a glance, but Dixon is the clear-cut winner.

Most Improved Player: Dalton Pepper, Temple. Averaged 2.9 points per game off the bench in the A-10 a year ago. This year, finished third in the AAC in scoring at 18.3 ppg. 

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