Thursday, February 08, 2007

Can a freshman win Player of the Year?

First, congrats to the Duke women for being the most dominant team in recent memory. Tonight's double digit win at UNC is latest of your impressive achievements. 25-0 and counting. I really don't care if you win all of your games, so long as you win the last one.

Second, the titular question. In the past it would have been answered with a resounding "no," kind of like "Would a designated hitter ever win American League MVP?" But in the case of both, I think that recently the naysayers have become a lot less loud.

The big story this season is the arrival of a solid freshman class, the first tangible benefit of the NBA Draft's age restriction. There are at least 20 newcomers that are making a significant impact.

With a one-and-done mentality, some of these freshmen are also playing their senior season. If the POY is meant to measure one's accomplishments over a single season, rather than a collective career, then such underclassmen should be part of the equation.

This season provides us with the perfect test case. Statistically, the most dominant freshman is Kevin Durant, who so far averages over 25 points and 11 rebounds per game -- among the top 5 in both categories, nationally. His play has kept the otherwise rebuilding Longhorns (16-7, 6-3) tied for third place in the Big 12 conference.

Then there's the best of the upperclassmen, Wisconsin's Alando Tucker. (Other top-tier teams like UCLA, Florida, and UNC have no single player nearly as dominant. And Tucker has received more press than Pittsburgh's Aaron Gray, Nevada's Nick Fazekas, Boston College's Jared Dudley, and Oregon's Aaron Brooks.) He averages about 20 points and 5 rebounds a game for the Badgers (23-2, 9-1), tied with Ohio State atop the Big Ten.

By the numbers, this is a no-brainer. Tucker is a solid candidate; your typical senior having a great year, the best player on one of the best teams. But what Durant is doing is historic. People liken him to Carmelo Anthony, who led Syracuse to a title as a freshman, but this comparison is too limiting. Anthony is regarded as great because of his postseason; Durant has been great all year.

Even putting statistics aside, Durant has had an impact on the national scene that carries far more significance than that of any other player. Yes, Wisconsin is headed for a 1 or 2 seed. But Texas is well within striking distance of the Big 12 leaders, and could shoot for a 3 seed if they win out.

If ever there was a year to honor a freshman, this is it.

This week's seeds, shaken up sufficiently. Out: Virginia Tech, Duke, Oregon, Vanderbilt. In: Virginia, Georgetown, Southern Illinois, Washington State.

San Jose Regional
1. UCLA: Who planned a nonconference game at West Virginia?
2. Memphis: Continuing to coast through C-USA.
3. Nevada: 33 points, 15 boards... yeah, Nick Fazekas is back.
4. Georgetown: Can lay claim to Big East elite by beating Marquette.

St. Louis Regional
1. Ohio State: Next four games should be smooth sailing.
2. Pittsburgh: Essentially the fifth top seed.
3. Kansas: Should assert Big 12 North dominance in next 5 games.
4. Washington State: Three Pac-10 losses were by 3 points each.

East Rutherford Regional
1. Florida: Weak SEC slate could hurt them long-term.
2. North Carolina: No longer alone atop the ACC.
3. Marquette: Can't afford to slip against the Hoyas.
4. Southern Illinois: Play MVC's best and Butler in next 3 games.

San Antonio Regional
1. Texas A&M: They deserve it more than Pitt and UNC.
2. Wisconsin: Remaining games look tougher than Ohio State's.
3. Butler: Tough game at Wright State Saturday.
4. Virginia: Coming on at the right time. For once.


Jax said...

*Rolls eyes* The Badgers can handle their remaining games just fine. The only tough one left before OSU is the game prior to that one at Michigan State and the Badgers will handle that just fine. It will come down to who wins on February 25th in Columbus.

Quinn said...

This is a weird, weird year. And I love it. I mean, aside from the distinct possibility that Duke might not make the tourney, but I love the shakeup.

Neel Mehta said...

Jax: Welcome. Nothing like a good eye-rolling to endear yourself to a complete stranger.

Still, I agree with you. Your Wisconsin team can handle a double dose of these Spartans in 2 of their last 3 regular season games. By the way, what Big Ten idiot scheduled that?

Quinn: I think a Duke team with a 7-9 conference record would make it in thanks to a deceptive and gaudy RPI. I hope they don't descend to bubble level, because many will then wonder if they deserve to be included.

And if they did lose 4 of their last 6 conference games to go 7-9, I would likely agree with the naysayers.

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