Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Marshon Brooks figures to present an interesting test case for the Big East coaches when they vote for the conference Player of the Year.
The 6-foot-5 senior wing from Providence leads the league in scoring in Big East games at 27.4 points per game and poured in a Big East-record 52 points in Wednesday’s 94-93 loss to Notre Dame.
Yet because the Friars (14-14) are just 3-12 in the Big East, Brooks may not get enough votes.
“Marshon Brooks probably is having the best year,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Thursday on the conference call. “He’s an outstanding player. He’s had the best year, but they’re not winning.”
Last year’s winner, Wesley Johnson, came from Big East regular season winner Syracuse.
In 2009, Hasheem Thabeet of UConn and DeJuan Blair of Pitt shared the award. Their teams finished tied for second in the league.
Luke Harangody, the 2008 Player of the Year, played for a Notre Dame team that also finished tied for second.
Jeff Green won the award in 2007 after his Georgetown squad finished first.
Asked if a player had to be on a winning team to win the award, Villanova coach Jay Wright said, “A guy like Marshon Brooks is having such a fabulous year that he might overcome that. All the other teams are so balanced and he is so extraordinary individually that he could overcome that issue.”
Pittsburgh is currently in first place in the Big East and there is some support for senior guard Brad Wanamaker (12. 4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.9 apg) and junior guard Ashton Gibbs, the team’s leading scorer at 16.7 points per game.
“I don’t know if there’s a more respected player in this league — and I’ve been in this league a long time — than what that guy [Wanamaker] does for his team and the level of consistency,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “And they’re in position to win it. And my criteria in my mind is a guy who’s really helping a team that’s winning the league at this point.”
Asked if a player had to be on a winning team to get his vote, Brey said, “Yes, I’ve always felt that way.”
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said he prefers Gibbs.
“I know Brad Wanamaker has had a heck of a year, but I believe Ashton Gibbs is the best player on Pittsburgh’s team and that’s no disrespect to any of their other guys,” he said.
Yet because neither Wanamaker nor Gibbs is having a breakout year statistically, that could hurt them.
“Yeah, it probably does,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “I would say it will probably hurt them.”
That leaves Kemba Walker of UConn, Dwight Hardy of St. John’s, Ben Hansbrough of Notre Dame, Austin Freeman of Georgetown and Rick Jackson of Syracuse as the other leading candidates.
Walker was the frontrunner early in the season after he scored 150 points in a five-game, non-conference span that included wins over then-No. 8 Kentucky and then-No. 2 Michigan State.
But UConn has come back to Earth of late, losing four of its last seven entering Thursday’s game with Marquette.
Walker is averaging 20.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists in Big East play.
“If you had asked me two weeks, I would’ve said Kemba Walker,” South Florida coach Stan Heath said. “Then I started looking at Ben Hansbrough and [St. John’s coach] Steve [Lavin] makes a valid point with Dwight Hardy, so I think I’m going to wait and see how this last couple of weeks finishes out and see who finishes strong down the stretch.
“I tend to lean toward the guy who can put his team in a position to win a conference championship or be somewhere around the top of that area, so I’ll just hold on until we get to that stage of the season.”
Hansbrough and Hardy both fit the criteria of guys whose teams are winning.
Hansbrough scored a career-high 32 points in the Providence win. He’s averaging 20.0 points, 4.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds in Big East play for an Irish team that is 11-4 and in second place in the league.
“Hansbrough just continues to will his team and and Kemba’s scoring exploits and what he’s doing,” Rutgers coach Mike Rice said. “And Hardy’s got his team, they’re playing the best basketball in the Big East.”
Hardy is averaging 16.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists for a St. John’s team that is 10-5 in the league and ranked for the first time since November 2000.
He scored 26 points in a win over then-No. 3 Duke, posted a career-high 33 in a victory over then-No. 10 UConn, had 28 at Marquette and hit a game-winning, under-handed, flip-in layup to beat No. 4 Pitt.
“I just feel that Dwight Hardy is a runaway favorite because of the number of performances he’s had against top competition coast to coast,” Lavin told SNY’s Gary Apple.
“We’ve gone out West three times where he performed extremely well in Pauley Pavillion, in particular. He’s been instrumental in this recent run of six out of seven. He has St. John’s in position with a Top 25 ranking as well as a possible NCAA tournament berth. And he’s been a central part of our success. And just been torching the nets, playing with so much confidence, play-making, a lot of heart, fierce determination.
“I just don’t think there’s been a better performer from start to finish in the Big East Conference than Dwight Hardy.”
Freeman, the Preseason Player of the Year, is averaging 16.9 points for a Georgetown team that is 10-6 in the league.
Syracuse’s Jackson is averaging 12.5 points while leading the Big East in rebounds (10.3) and blocks (2.9).
“I think he’s somebody that should be considered,” Wright said of Jackson. “You usually go for guys that are flashy and you see every night.”
The flashiest player so far has been Brooks, whom Pitino, a former NBA coach, says has a bright NBA future.
“Brooks is the outstanding player,” Pitino said. “He’s just a tremendous basketball player, probably someone who I think will be a very good pro. The pros are probably underrating his ability right now. But I think he’ll move up that ladder strongly once they see him work out.”
Whether he is named Big East Player of the Year remains to be seen.
“I’m going to wait for another week and a half to see how it ends up,” Rice said.
“But that’s going to be an interesting decision because I think there are so many deserving individuals.”
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.