The Player of the Year Award in the Big East Conference has yet to be announced, and there are many qualified candidates. This has prompted many to debate which player deserves to be the Player of the Year. In my opinion, there are 8 realistic candidates for the honor. First team All Big East players Scottie Reynolds (the only unanimous first teamer), Da’Sean Butler, Greg Monroe, Dominique Jones, and Wes Johnson highlight the POY candidates. I left 2 time Big East Player of the Year and First Team All Big East player Luke Harangody off the list because of his injury which sidelined him for weeks this season.
From the Second Team All Big East, Lazar Hayward, Andy Rautins, and Jeremy Hazell are quality players that are potentially worthy of the honor. Given this list of 8 players, which deserves the prestigious award? Here is my take:
I will eliminate Dominique Jones and Jeremy Hazell simply because both their teams (USF, Seton Hall), were bubble teams with multiple opportunities to qualify for the NCAA tournament, but most likely will not. However, these players missed multiple big opportunities to enhance their resumes both in the regular season and in the Big East Tournament, as both teams lost handily today with opportunities to pick up a quality win. While I do understand that Harangody won the award last year when Notre Dame made the NIT, the difference this year is that there are so many more quality candidates for the award this year than there were last year. The closest competitors last year to Harangody were maybe Jonny Flynn or Dejuan Blair, and these players, while talented, didn’t put up nearly as good of numbers as Harangody did. This year, there are multiple players that put up the numbers that Jones and Hazell did. For example, Jones and Hazell scored 21.3 and 21.1 points per game, respectively. These players were often reluctant or unable to get their teammates involved, while inflated their numbers as well. That isn’t Player of the Year material. Comparatively, Scottie Reynolds scored 18.8 points per game, which becoming much more of a facilitator than either of the above players. Greg Monroe is a double-double machine, and averaged 16 points per game and 9.6 rebounds per game. This year, the Big East has players of comparable ability and statistics to Jones and Hazell who have led their teams to the NCAA tournament, unlike last year when Harangody was by far the best Player of the Year candidate even though he was on an NIT team. The players from the better teams are simply more likely to win the award because there is more of an accomplishment from these players than those players from NIT teams.
Down to 6. Next, I will eliminate Wes Johnson because he is not even the best Player of the Year candidate on his own team. His Syracuse teammate Andy Rautins is the physical and emotional leader of that team, and although Wes Johnson has slightly better numbers, I do not think one can realistically give the Player of the Year Award to a player who wasn’t even the most important player on his own team. Also, Johnson is lacking in the points scored category, as he has only scored 15 points per game this year. Next, I will eliminate Andy Rautins. Although he is the best player on the best team in the Big East, his numbers do not compare with those of Monroe, Butler, Hayward, and Reynolds. Rautins averages 11.6 points per game, which is well behind the statistics of other Player of the Year candidates. His 4.8 assists are what hold up his resume, but the numbers simply aren’t good enough.
Down to 4. Da’Sean Butler, Lazar Hayward, Greg Monroe, and Scottie Reynolds. Da’Sean Butler averages 17.2 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game. The flaw in his Player of the Year resume is the fact that his 3 point shooting is extremely inconsistent at times, and his affinity to shoot even while in a funk has cost West Virginia games this year. Butler also has had stretches where he can not seem to miss, but one never knows which Da’Sean Butler will show up for a game. His frequent and ineffective shooting, especially from 3 point range, is what eliminates him from the Player of the Year consideration, because a Player of the Year needs to be a consistent player. It may seem to be nitpicking to critique his performance on a game by game basis, and yes, I admit it, it is nitpicking. However, nitpicking is the only way to differentiate among such great players in a great conference, and sometimes inconsistency is a factor that can eliminate a player like Butler from consideration.
Down to 3. At this point it is extremely difficult to differentiate. One can make a case for any one of these three remaining players. All have impressive scoring numbers, all are the featured players on their respective teams, and all have led their teams to impressive seasons. However, I will start by eliminating Georgetown center Greg Monroe. Monroe averaged 16 points and 9.6 rebounds per game for the Hoyas. His presence inside also adds to his value, as he cannot be matched inside by most teams and consistently forces double teams, which allows his teammates opportunities to score. In addition, he is the best big man passer in the Big East, which has allowed him to thrive in the John Thompson III system. The only knock on Monroe is that he is not as much of a force inside as he could be. Although he has improved since last year, he still can be tentative inside at times, which has limited his impact and scoring.
Down to 2. Scottie Reynolds and Lazar Hayward. I will eliminate Scottie Reynolds. Scottie averaged 18.8 points per game and is the unquestioned leader of the Villanova team who graduated 3 team leaders in Dante Cunningham, Dwayne Anderson, and Shane Clark. Scottie has led Villanova to another tournament appearance and has helped the team to retain its top 10 ranking the entire year. Reynolds’ prowess has been most evident in the 2nd half of games when games are on the line, as he has averaged well over 10 points per game in the 2nd half. He has picked up right where he left off after last year’s game winning shot against Pittsburgh in the Elite 8. Scottie’s game has few flaws, if any, but his play this year has only been trumped by Lazar Hayward.
MY BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: LAZAR HAYWARD
Lazar Hayward has led his team impressively this year after Marquette graduated Wesley Matthews, Dominic James, and Jerel McNeal, three of the best guards in school history. The Golden Eagles have overcome countless heartbreaking losses early in the season to rebound and make an impressive run to put themselves easily into the NCAA tournament. Hayward was the most important piece both on the court and off the court in terms of leadership, development of the young players, and team unity, which has allowed Marquette to stay strong and not crumble after a terrible, unlucky start from which most teams would be completely demoralized (losing 3 of its first 4 games by 5 points). His emotional impact on the Marquette team are as important, if not more important, than his numbers themselves. Without Hayward’s presence, experience, and leadership, players like Jimmy Butler, Darius Johnson-Odom, Maurice Acker, and David Cubillan would not have blossomed into important, quality role players. Hayward is a classic example of a player who has used his basketball and leadership skills to uplift the performance of his entire team, and for that he should be rewarded.
Let’s not sell his stats short either. He averages 18 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game while being by far the most keyed on player by the opposition. While players like Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom have been very impressive this year, teams worry about Hayward when they play Marquette. Hayward has done an extremely impressive job of both carrying his team when he is needed and putting his teammates in great opportunities to make plays. This is the sign of a good player; a player who can put up big numbers when he is double covered every night, but also having the ability to involve and improve his teammates due to the increased defensive attention on himself. Hayward has been the best player in the Big East this year because of his numbers, his leadership, his ability to replace 3 of the best players in Marquette history, and his ability to enhance the performance of his teammates. While he most likely will not win, I respect everything he has done this year and throughout his career at Marquette, and truly believe that he is most deserving of this award. It is a shame that Marquette is often overlooked in the Big East, and in this case it may cost Hayward the Big East Player of the Year Award.