Jimmer Gets Nod as Player of the Year

Sullinger top freshman; Brey top coach.

Sullinger top freshman; Brey top coach.

By Ken Davis

We thought about a nationally televised awards show to pass out our trophies for the 2010-11 college basketball. But the idea ran into several problems.

We believe in second chances, so we asked James Franco to be our host. Figured he could redeem himself for such a lousy outing at the Oscars. Franco just grunted and squinted when we asked. No one could tell if he was awake or not. Ann Hathaway seemed interested until we told her there would be no musical numbers. Billy Crystal had a conflict with spring training with the Yankees.

All the great arenas, like Madison Square Garden and the Staples Center, were booked. Seems most of them are hosting conference tournaments. We wanted Jimmer Fredette to pose for the statue trophy all winners would receive. But the BYU code of honor prevented that.

BYU wouldn’t even let us use the term “Jimmers,” and you’ve got to have a catch name for your awards. So we gave up and decided to keep it simple. With that in mind, ladies and gentlemen, we present the 2011 Athlon Awards for excellence in college basketball.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Not sure we will ever see another battle quite like this one. Connecticut’s Kemba Walker had a field day in Maui, then remained hot until he ran into the zones and other frustration of the Big East Conference. Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger garnered quite a bit of support until JuJuan Johnson of Purdue became the Big Ten’s hottest player. Duke’s Nolan Smith rescued the Blue Devils with his play and became a very worthy candidate. Marcus Morris of Kansas deserved more consideration than he received, just based on his consistency.

But in the end, it was BYU’s Jimmer Fredette emerging as the top player and the overwhelming favorite to win. Fredette is a senior with a sweet shooting touch, playing for a top-10 team that finally got some national exposure. His numbers are as impressive as his shooting stroke. He averages 27.9 points, 4.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and shoots over 40 percent from 3-point land.

Fredette really picked up momentum with 39 points at UNLV and 47 at Utah. Then it was 42 at Colorado State and 43 against San Diego State. By the time he played 40 minutes and scored 25 in the second win over San Diego State, he was a lock for POY honors. Everyone would like to see him play a little more defense. And there are a lot of questions surrounding BYU without suspended big man Brandon Davies for the NCAA Tournament.

But 2010-11 will likely be remembered as the Year of the Jimmer.

COACH OF THE YEAR
Last week’s notebook broke down the race for Coach of the Year. In the end, strong cases could be built for Dave Rose of BYU, Matt Painter of Purdue, Bill Self of Kansas, Pitt’s Jamie Dixon, or Thad Matta at Ohio State. But we are going with Mike Brey of Notre Dame.

The Irish are playing some of the best ball in the nation. Notre Dame goes into the Big East tournament with wins in 11 of the last 12 games. That’s a remarkable stretch in a conference that can chew you up and spit you out. Notre Dame closed the regular season with a home win over Villanova and a road victory at UConn. The Irish are 25-5 overall and 14-4 in the Big East — with a win at first-place Pittsburgh.

The Irish could go deep in the NCAA Tournament.

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger didn’t need an adjustment period. He started his college career with two straight double-doubles and ended his freshman regular season with 22 points in a 93-65 victory over Wisconsin Sunday. When the Buckeyes lost at Wisconsin earlier in the season, Sullinger accused a Badgers fan of spitting in his face as he left the floor. So he told many people he wanted to beat Wisconsin by 50 in the regular-season finale. He almost made it. “That first loss in college, I didn’t take that too lightly,” Sullinger told the Associated Press Sunday. “I wanted to win, and I wanted to win big, too.”

Sullinger’s first year was made easier by all the experience around him at Ohio State. He averaged 17.3 points, 9.7 rebounds. He had 14 double-doubles. And the best may still be ahead.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
As a team, Syracuse ranks second in the nation in blocked shots with 208. Leading the Syracuse block party is senior Rick Jackson, who has 77 on his own stat line. Add in 38 steals and 224 defensive rebounds (out of 332 total) and the 6-9 senior from Philadelphia gets our nod as Defensive Player of the Year.

Orange fans simply know him as the anchor to Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense. The zone may not be as good as it was last season, but it’s still a big weapon, especially when Syracuse reaches the NCAA Tournament. Jackson made steady progress at Syracuse and got off to a tremendous start this season. He will say goodbye as just the fifth player in Syracuse history to reach 1,000 points, 800 rebounds and 200 blocks. The others? Roosevelt Bouie, Rony Seikaly, Derrick Coleman and John Wallace.

Boeheim says Jackson is the best “two-way player in the league when you look at defense and offense.”

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Rick Jackson was an early candidate for this award too. But we are going with Jordan Hamilton of Texas. After last season’s disastrous finish, the Longhorns needed someone to create a new mentality and a new energy within the program. Hamilton, along with freshman Tristan Thompson, set the example and set the tone. And that’s a big deal for someone like Hamilton, who actually had a selfish streak as a freshman. He often found himself sitting on the bench, searching everywhere for some confidence.

That has really changed.

Hamilton, a sophomore swingman from Los Angeles, arrived with high expectations as a freshman. His production (10.0 points, 3.7 rebounds) certainly wasn’t bad. But this year he raised those average to 18.5 and 7.6. His minutes increased from 19.9 to 32.0, his assist average went up from 1.5 to 2.2, and his 3-point percentage elevated from 36.5 to 39.8. He helped Texas rediscover the team concept.

The numbers don’t tell the whole story. Hamilton has shown so much improvement in shot selection, and his maturity has been a key to Texas’ success. Hamilton has played so well many people believe he is ready for the NBA.

Dwight Hardy of St. John’s wasn’t far behind Hamilton for this award. What he did for the Red Storm in Big East play was extraordinary.

BEST CONFERENCE
No brainer. Big East. The league likely will send 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament. End of argument.

PROJECTED TOP SEEDS
Ohio State (East), Kansas (Southwest), Pittsburgh (Southeast), Notre Dame (West).

The Buckeyes and Jayhawks are as close to a lock as you can get. Pitt really should be one of the other two. If Notre Dame gets to the championship game of the Big East Tournament, that would be a very strong resume. Duke, Purdue or North Carolina could sneak up onto the No. 1 line, but BYU may be out of the picture without Davies.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES OF THE WEEK

Monday, March 7
Colonial, Metro Atlantic, West Coast, Southern

Tuesday, March 8
Sun Belt, Horizon, Summit

Wednesday, March 9
Northeast, Big Sky

Friday, March 11
Patriot

Saturday, March 12
Conference USA, America East, Mid-Eastern, Southland, Big 12, Mid American, Big West, Mountain West, Southwestern Athletic, Western Athletic, Pac-10

Sunday, March 13
Atlantic Coast, Southeastern, Atlantic 10, Big Ten

THEY SAID IT

“I'm really proud of our guys because three weeks ago we had no chance. Certainly what these guys have done is pretty remarkable. You don't get banners hung for that in Allen Fieldhouse, but it's a pretty cool deal and certainly, hopefully will springboard us into a good postseason.” — Kansas coach Bill Self, after the Jayhawks wrapped up their seventh consecutive Big 12 title.

“I love all my teammates and I was just thrilled for them to go out and get it done. It means a lot for me.” — Notre Dame’s Ben Hansbrough, after he fouled out with eight minutes left but the Irish still defeated Connecticut 70-67.

“It’s been a wonderful year, so far.” — North Carolina coach Roy Williams, after an 81-67 victory over Duke that gave the Tar Heels the ACC regular-season title.

“They played harder than us. It sucks to say that at this point in the year, but they really did. It’s just how we respond to it. It could be a blessing in disguise.” — Purdue’s JuJuan Johnson after the Boilermakers were upset 67-65 at Iowa.

“I can’t imagine it being any better anyplace else.” — Arizona coach Sean Miller after the Wildcats defeated Oregon 90-82 to win the outright Pac-10 title.

“I just left a locker room of a team in tears. That is not a 11-20 locker room. That is a 20-11 locker room.” — Hartford coach John Gallagher, after the Hawks season ended with a 55-49 loss to Boston University in the semifinals of the America East tournament.

NOTES

Major Bids
It’s been obvious for months that this NCAA Tournament would be dominated by the so-called BCS conferences. But consider this: If the Big 12 manages to get six teams in the field, it’s possible that 29 of the teams could represent the Big East, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12.

Buckeyes for 3
Ohio State set Division I records by hitting 14 3-pointers in a row and 14-of-15 overall Sunday against Wisconsin. Jon Diebler, also known as “3-bler” had the only miss. But he went 7-of-8 and scored 27 points. “I apologize for missing that one,” Diebler said. “Fourteen of 15? I don’t think people do that very often,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “Either that, or I’m living in the wrong part of the country.” It certainly gives Ohio State’s future NCAA opponents a lot to think about.

A Bid for the Buffs
Here’s one vote for Colorado making the NCAA field: The Buffaloes have five wins over top-50 RPI teams, including a win at Kansas State. First-year coach Tad Boyle has done a fantastic job energizing this program. Alec Burks, Cory Higgins and Levi Knutson deserve a chance to dance.

Battle in the America East
The America East championship game Saturday will be worth watching. No. 5 seed Stony Brook will play at No. 2 Boston University. BU is on a 10-game winning streak and features conference Player of the Year John Holland. Stony Brook was favored to win the conference but had a slew of injuries. Coach Steve Pikiell, the former UConn standout, lost his best player, Tommy Brenton, before the season even started. But the Seawolves overcame everything and knocked off regular-season champion Vermont 69-47 Sunday. This will be the first championship appearance ever for Stony Brook (15-16).

Nit Bound
These teams have qualified for the NIT: Vermont (America East), Murray State (Ohio Valley), Missouri State (Missouri Valley), Fairfield (MAAC), Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt), and Coastal Carolina (Big South).

Ken Davis is the author of Basketball Vault books covering the history of the University of Kansas and the University of Connecticut. Both are available through the publisher
(http://www.whitmanvaultbooks.com/) and autographed copies are available at Ken's web page (http://kendavis55.wordpress.com/).

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