Awards from the Forde Academy
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (Big South Conference tournament tickets sold separately):
Chris Rock? We'll take Chris Paul. The Aviator? Hakim Warrick handles the high flying around here. Million Dollar Baby? No match in the paint for Big Baby. Sideways? Vertical!
Red carpet? We prefer Illinois orange. Black tie? Bob Knight's black sweater is better. Gold statuette? We'll take a fistful of net instead.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences isn't the only group dishing out awards this week. The Minutes is ready to bestow a few trinkets to the worthy regular-season achievers -- and underachievers -- in college hoops, before we charge into March. (And no, Joan Rivers isn't invited to our show. But Ashley Judd (1) sure is.)
The envelopes, please:
Player of the Year -- Utah's Andrew Bogut (2) takes it, averaging 20.6 points and 11.9 rebounds per game for the 24-4 Utes. And if you think the Aussie seven-footer simply piled up those numbers against soft Mountain West competition, think again. In Utah's three biggest non-conference games, against Arizona, Washington and LSU, Bogut averaged 22.3 points and 13 rebounds. But really, the more appropriate award this season would be ...
Ensemble of the Year -- The Illinois backcourt of Deron Williams (3), Luther Head (4) and Dee Brown (5). They've been the leading men of 2004-05, on the leading team of 2004-05.
Coach of the Year -- Boston College's Al Skinner (6) edges out Illinois' Bruce Weber. Nobody had the Eagles in the Top 25 before the season, and now they've taken up permanent residence in the top 10 -- with a bunch of players that dazzled nobody coming out of high school.
Freshman of the Year -- Where would Texas be without Daniel Gibson (7)? The Longhorns have slipped since P.J. Tucker became academically ineligible and big man LaMarcus Aldridge was lost to injury, but point guard Gibson has prevented an outright free fall. In Texas' rally to win four of its last five games, Gibson has averaged 17 points, five rebounds and four assists while shooting 64 percent from 3-point range.
Conference of the Year -- This might be a call, but the Big East (8) gets a slight nod over the ACC (Almighty Coast Conference). The top echelon of the ACC is the best in the land, but with Georgia Tech and Maryland playing erratically, the Big East has greater depth of quality. The Big East has eight teams still very much in the NCAA Tournament picture, while the ACC might max out at five.
Breakout Player of the Year -- Breakout player of the past month has been Connecticut point guard Marcus Williams, suddenly averaging 12.1 points and 9.4 assists over his last nine games. But for the season, it's BC sophomore Jared Dudley (9), who burst out of relative obscurity to become a leading contender for Big East Player of the Year. Dudley is merely averaging 16.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, three assists and 1.6 steals per game for the nation's surprise team.
Buzzer-Beater of the Year -- Carl Elliott of George Washington quick-flipped a loose ball into the net on the dead run from 30 feet Saturday to beat Dayton -- incredible. Brendan Plavich of Charlotte dropped one from midcourt to beat Indiana in December -- impressive. Kevin Jones of Chicago State grabbed an errant pass and swished it from 55 feet to beat UMKC, less than two seconds after teammate Dave Inabnit made a three to tie the game -- insane. But no buzzer-beater beats the one by Jordan Snipes (10) of Guilford College, whose 90-foot Brett Favre bomb to beat Randolph Macon is now part of myth and lore.
Freakish Talent of the Year -- LSU's Glen "Big Baby" Davis (11) is listed at 6-8, 310 pounds. From the look of him, the weight was a few dozen buffet trips ago -- but watch the elephantine freshman spin-move, drop-step and dribble-drive and you won't believe your eyes. Davis also provided one of the TV moments of the year, when none other than Rick Majerus counseled him to lose weight.
Fashion Trend of the Year -- Shockingly, none. Braids are not new. Headbands are not new. High socks, long shorts, tattoos ... not new. When we've seen it all before, we've clearly reached a crisis in our fashion development. The Minutes wants to know: who out there in Hoopsworld dares to be a trend-setter?
Non-Impact of the Year, High-Major Division -- Memphis (12) began the season in most Top 25s but figures to finish it in the NIT, unless the Tigers win the Conference USA Tournament on their home court. (That's not out of the question, but it will be tough if they get bounced out of a first-round bye and have to win four games to do it.)
Non-Impact of the Year, Mid-Major Division -- Just when the nation went to the trouble of finding out where and what East Tennessee State (13) was, the Buccaneers fell apart. Mighty mite point guard Tim Smith has delivered great stats (21.3 points, 4.3 assists, two steals per game), but preseason Southern Conference favorite ETSU is 9-18, 4-12 in league play.
Non-Impact of the Year, Freshman Division -- Kentucky's Randolph Morris (14) was considered the star of the best recruiting class in the country, and was given a starting spot from the beginning. He's far from a bust, but he's had more fouls than rebounds in nine of 14 SEC games. At the very least, the conjecture about a quick entry into the NBA draft has been silenced.
Non-Impact of the Year, Veteran Division -- Duke hoped Shavlik Randolph (15) would step up his game, and it hasn't happened. The junior was laid low by mononucleosis earlier in the season, and he hasn't produced much lately on a frightfully thin team. He's averaging 4.7 points per game, down from 7.0 last year and 7.4 as a much-hyped freshman. He's scored just eight points in Duke's last five games and hasn't made a field goal in the last three.
Storyline: A great season was expected on Tobacco Road, and a great season has been delivered. And the Big East imports have more than held their own.
Player of the Year: The Minutes doesn't care whether Chris Paul is the third-leading scorer on his team. He's the best player not only in Wake Forest black, but in the entire league. In conference play he leads the ACC in assists, steals and assist-to-turnover ratio. And he is the reason why the Demon Deacons are in the national title chase.
Coach of the Year: Seth Greenberg left South Florida with less than a warm sendoff, but he's resurrected his career at Virginia Tech. The Hokies were a competitive 15-14 last year in the Big East and have been the surprise of the ACC this season, with upsets of Duke and at Georgia Tech. Greenberg edges out fellow first-year ACC coach Frank Haith of Miami.
Freshman of the Year: In a refreshingly veteran-laden league, North Carolina's Marvin Williams has been the stellar rookie. He's averaging 13.3 points and 6.9 rebounds in league play to help give the Tar Heels the nation's best frontline.
Disappointment of the Year: Georgia Tech lost its momentum when B.J. Elder got hurt, and has never gotten it back. The Yellow Jackets turn the ball over too much, and they're last by a long way in league play in 3-pointers made (4.5 per game) and percentage (less than 30 percent). Whatever harmonic convergence Tech had last year is missing this time around.
Big 12 (17)
Storyline: What started as a Kansas cakewalk has become a midwest slugfest. But in the end, the Jayhawks and Oklahoma State are again the league's power couple.
Player of the Year: The Minutes was withholding judgment between Kansas' Wayne Simien and Oklahoma State's Joey Graham pending the outcome of their tussle Sunday afternoon, but Simien put any question there to rest with his huge 32 and 12.
Coach of the Year: Guns up, Bobby. Credit Bob Knight for doing at Texas Tech, on a smaller scale, what he did at Indiana -- building a program and then making it recession-proof. This looked like a year when the Red Raiders might take a step back, but Knight has them on track for a third NCAA berth in his four seasons. (Billy Gillispie of Texas A&M is a strong runner-up.)
Freshman of the Year: If Daniel Gibson is good enough to win it on a national level, then he's good enough to win it in the conference, too.
Disappointment of the Year: Missouri continues to underwhelm, ranking last in the league in scoring, field-goal percentage and assists. Folks who somehow thought this team would be better without Rickey Paulding and Arthur Johnson were sadly mistaken.
Big East (18)
Storyline: Syracuse and Connecticut remain the constants, but while Notre Dame and more recently Pittsburgh have fallen back, Boston College and Villanova have come on. Bottom line -- the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament should be the best in the country.
Player of the Year: The Minutes will take BC's Dudley -- even if his own coach favors teammate Craig Smith, and even if Orange Nation is stumping for Hakim Warrick. If you're looking for the biggest reason why BC is in first place in the Big East, look no further than the excitable sophomore from California.
Coach of the Year: Skinner.
Freshman of the Year: Georgetown's Jeff Green ranks among the league leaders in scoring, rebounding, assists and blocked shots. He and new coach John Thompson III have brought the Hoyas back from obsolescence to the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Disappointment of the Year: At 12-16 overall, 2-12 in league play, Providence has found an amazing number of ways to lose games. Twelve of the 16 losses have been by single digits, including one stretch of six straight in January.
Big Ten (19)
Storyline: All Illinois, all the time, all the way. Beyond that, this league has become America's coaching coffin corner, with Mike Davis, Dan Monson, Steve Alford and Tommy Amaker all taking turns feeling the heat and Gene Keady on the way out.
Player of the Year: Luther Head has risen a head above teammates Williams and Brown to win this award. He's the leading scorer of the three and has established himself as the Illini's best wing defender.
Coach of the Year: Weber, in a walk. Nobody else need apply, although Indiana's Davis might deserve some sort of commendation as the Coach Performing Best While Walking A High Wire Act Without A Net.
Freshman of the Year: Indiana's D.J. White, whose long arms and nice touch make him difficult to guard around the basket, is your guy. The other top two newcomers are both juco transfers: Carl Landry of Purdue and Vincent Grier of Minnesota.
Disappointment of the Year: Purdue locked up this award a long time ago, though special commendation must be given to the implosions by Iowa and Michigan.
Conference USA (20)
Storyline: The turncoats own the joint. Louisville (headed to the Big East) and Charlotte (Atlantic 10) are tied for first. Cincinnati (Big East) and DePaul (Big East) are next. Commissioner Britton Banowsky would be thankful if just one returning member at least makes the tournament semifinals.
Player of the Year: The Minutes will withhold judgment until Louisville's Francisco Garcia and Charlotte's Eddie Basden face off Thursday night in Freedom Hall with the league championship on the line.
Coach of the Year: The Minutes could make the same argument for this category between Charlotte's Bobby Lutz and Louisville's Rick Pitino, but let's give credit to first-year Houston coach Tom Penders for taking over a 9-18 team and making them 18-10 this year. If Memphis is still in the NCAA at-large conversation, so are the Cougars, who have a better record, better RPI and beat the Tigers head-to-head.
Freshman of the Year: Memphis point guard Darius Washington can get to the rim on anyone, but now he's more than just a penetrator. In the second half of the season he's added a better feel for managing a game and leading a team.
Disappointment of the Year: Memphis.
Pacific 10 (21)
Storyline: North (Washington) vs. South (Arizona). The Huskies have held up under a full year of wearing the bull's-eye, and have joined the perennial power Wildcats in dominating the league. A third high-scoring meeting in the league tournament final would seem like a fitting climax.
Player of the Year: Arizona State's Ike Diogu has been so good (22.4 points, 9.8 rebounds) that he overcomes his team's mid-pack status.
Coach of the Year: Lorenzo Romar, Washington. It's one thing for a traditional also-ran to be picked preseason for a breakthrough season. It's another to deliver on the prediction. Romar's team has done that with a free-wheeling perimeter game that is a pleasure to watch.
Freshman of the Year: Clever UCLA point guard Jordan Farmar (13.3 points, 5.2 assists) looks like the cornerstone of Ben Howland's rebuilding project in Westwood.
Disappointment of the Year: Oregon has gone from a 2003 regional final appearance to an NIT semifinal in 2004 to possibly sitting out the postseason this year. The Ducks, facing a road trip to USC and UCLA to finish the regular season, still have some work to do just to make the Pac-10 tournament.
Storyline: Same as it ever was. When Kentucky beat Alabama on Saturday to clinch the league title, the all-time SEC championship scoreboard read Wildcats 43, Everybody Else 42.
Player of the Year: Alabama's Kennedy Winston has the stats, but stats don't tell you everything. When Winston makes a serious commitment to defense (zero steals in the last month) and decides he wants to move without the ball, he'll be an All-American. Mississippi State's Lawrence Roberts has the stats, but his team has underachieved. The pick here is to throw away the stat sheet and take Kentucky's Chuck Hayes, whose zeal for the game's details and dirty work exemplifies everything that makes the Wildcats the league's dominant team. His Senior Night sendoff in Rupp Arena Wednesday will be one of the most heartfelt in recent years.
Coach of the Year: Tubby Smith is 13-1 in league play despite losing four key players from last year's No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed. Billy Donovan has done a good job toughening up Florida, but Smith remains the boss of the SEC.
Freshman of the Year: The league with America's best freshman has a number of quality nominees, but the pick is Big Baby Davis. The LSU w-i-d-e body is second in the league in rebounding and averaging 13.3 points per game, too.
Disappointment of the Year: Mississippi State has 20 victories, which will be enough to make the NCAA Tournament. But the Bulldogs are a far cry from the top-15 team many envisioned them to be in November.
For a decade, The Minutes has loved the mid-major conference tournaments almost as much as the Tournament. And it all goes back to Mike Frensley.
Frensley was a pony-tail-wearing guard from St. Peter's who hit the buzzer-beating jump shot that won the 1995 Metro Atlantic Tournament and put the Peacocks in the NCAAs for the second and, to date, last time in school history.
The celebration was frantic, and it signaled the great thing about March: this was the one shining moment for schools that never really dream of winning it all -- they just dream of being part of it all.
Suitably captivated, the next day The Minutes made a few phone calls to St. Peter's. A girl who worked at the student paper said she watched the game on TV, exulted at the finish and then thought, "Hey, that's Mike from English class!" And there's the beauty of it all. The '95 Big Dance was big enough for Big Country Bryant Reeves, Big Nasty Corliss Williamson, and Mike From English Class.
St. Peter's lost by 17 in the NCAA first round to Massachusetts. But at least it got to be on the big stage. That's what the small-conference tournaments, which start this week, are all about.
With that in mind, The Minutes offers a thumbnail sketch of the four bids that will be handed out by next Sunday:
Atlantic Sun (23) -- They're all winners in the A-Sun tournament. That's not feel-good prattle, that's the truth.
The 11-team league takes its top eight teams to the tourney. Given that cellar dweller Campbell went 0-20 in league play, the eight who advanced all are 10-10 or better and within three games of regular-season champs Central Florida and Gardner Webb (13-7). So if you want wide open, this would be your spot.
Best Team -- RPI says Central Florida (24), at 117.
Best Player -- Florida Atlantic forward Mike Bell (25) leads the league in scoring (19.1) and rebounding (9.3).
Defending Champ -- Central Florida.
Big South (26) -- Winthrop was picked to finish in the middle of the pack and then dominated the league, going 15-1 and 24-5 overall. Coach Gregg Marshall is looking for a fifth NCAA tournament trip in just seven years at the school.
Best Team -- The Eagles (27) are No. 81 in the RPI, more than 120 spots better than anyone else. In other words: If Winthrop doesn't win, it's a major shocker.
Best Player -- Chris Oliver (28) of Radford averages 15 points and a league-leading 7.1 rebounds per game.
Defending Champ -- Liberty.
Ohio Valley (29) -- Murray State and Austin Peay have had the last three OVC bids between them, but the top two seeds this year are Tennessee Tech (last NCAA appearance: 1963) and Eastern Kentucky (last NCAA appearance: 1979). So we could be witnessing a changing of the guard.
Best Team -- Then again, RPI still favors Murray State (30) at No. 109.
Best Player-- Tennessee Tech post player Willie Jenkins (31) averages 19.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game.
Defending Champ -- Murray State.
Southern Conference (32) -- Davidson completed a 16-0 sweep of the league, but 10 of those wins were by single digits. So nobody is conceding the trophy yet.
Best Team -- That would be the Wildcats (33), who have a sassy No. 48 RPI.
Best Player -- Hard to go against East Tennessee State's Tim Smith, but Georgia Southern's Elton Nesbitt (34) averaged more than 20 points per game and led his team to a better season.
Defending Champ -- East Tennessee State.
NCAA bracketologists looking for a veteran team that plays tough defense at crunch time? Reacquaint yourselves with Louisville (35), which has regained its form after being routed at home by Memphis earlier in February.
In the Cardinals' last two road games, at Marquette and Memphis, they have closed the games with a combined 39-5 run. They scored the final 14 points at Marquette and held the Golden Eagles without a point in the last 5½ minutes, then outscored Memphis 25-5 and held the Tigers without a field goal for the final 14½ minutes.
Oregon State's Jay John (36), who missed time earlier this season for health reasons, saw his Beavers sweep the Pac-10 Bay Area schools, Stanford and California. The Beavers have won five of their last seven and are 8-8 in league play, bolstering chances for an NIT bid.
That would be Temple's John Chaney (37), who really should be thankful he still has a job to go to.
... Damon Bailey (38), the former Indiana high school icon who went on to become the No. 7 scorer in Indiana University history. Updates on arguably the most popular Hoosier Hysteria hero ever should be passed on to The Minutes.
Last week's APB subject, Walter Berry, was reported by readers to be "living comfortably" in the New York area. However, efforts to reach the former St. John's forward were unsuccessful. We will endeavor to persevere.
The Minutes has an affinity for the flabbergasting in college hoops, from last-second shots to preposterous comebacks. With that in mind, an alert reader informs that last week the women's team from Charleston Southern (39) rallied from 27 down in the final nine minutes to beat Radford (40) by three. The score the final nine minutes was 34-4, in front of what was archly described as "a raucous crowd of 245." You go, Lady Bucs.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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