There are few things harder right now for college basketball fans than trying to keep track of the various conference changes that will take place before the next couple of seasons tip off.
But even if the matchups are unfamiliar, there will be the same awards handed out at the end of the season. Each conference will have players who step up and take control of the respective MVP races and will be rewarded with the appropriate hardware come March.
Read on to see who the player of the year will be in each major conference. Andrew Wiggins’ eventual commitment may change these predictions whenever it does happen, but for now, let’s limit the pool to players who are actually on a roster for 2013-14.
Before Andrew Wiggins was drawing all the headlines for the 2013 class, Jabari Parker was the one gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated as the best high school prospect since the days of LeBron James.
He committed to Duke quite some time ago and has been out of the news cycle, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be ready to carry a Blue Devils team that loses a number of key pieces from last year. While Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon will provide critical points and leadership, it will be Parker that serves as the star.
He is a prototypical stretch forward who can play various positions thanks to his length and athleticism. He can score by attacking the lane off the dribble, posting up smaller defenders and hitting a gradually improving jump shot.
Parker will also give Coach K solid defense because of that same length and athleticism. Duke will contend for an ACC crown and Final Four, and Parker will be a primary reason why.
Doug McDermott may be the easiest pick on here, and that isn’t a knock on the rest of the new-look Big East. McDermott is a legitimate superstar who will be on the national radar more this season now that Creighton isn’t in the Missouri Valley Conference.
He was second in the nation in points per game last year and has reserved a spot on the AP All-America team the last couple of years. If McDermott is once again on the All-America first team, he will join a very limited and elite group that did so three years in a row.
While McDermott will always be known for his scoring, he is improving in other areas of the game as well. He pulled down nearly eight rebounds a night last year and is gradually becoming a better defender (although he will likely never be a defensive force).
As long as McDermott is pouring in points the way he has in his first three years on campus, he will take home the Big East player of the year award.
Prepare yourself for an entire summer of Marcus Smart hype after he surprised nearly everyone and decided to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore year.
The thing that makes Smart stand out in comparison to many other legitimate collegiate superstars is his willingness to do the gritty work and shine on defense. He averaged an incredible three steals per contest and nearly a block a night, and that doesn’t even begin to account for the deflected passes and bothered shots that his athleticism led to.
Throw in the fact that he led the Cowboys in points and assists while ranking second in rebounding, and we may have the most important individual player in the game. Considering Kansas will be replacing five starters this season, the Big 12 player of the year award (and the conference title) is Smart’s to lose.
If he can improve his suspect jump shot, Smart will contend for the national player of the year award. He already has the name recognition, and if he can lead Oklahoma State to a Big 12 crown, he could get the nod.
The Big Ten was arguably the best conference in the country throughout the regular season in 2012-13, but many of the superstars from a year ago are no longer on campus.
This offseason saw Trey Burke, Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, Deshaun Thomas and Tim Hardaway Jr. elect to go pro, but Michigan State’s key combination of Gary Harris and Adreian Payne decided to come back. That is a primary reason why Tom Izzo’s squad is a slight favorite to take home the conference crown.
This award could go to Harris or Payne, but let’s give the nod to the big man who just started to tap into his vast potential during the second half of last season. He can bang around down low, block shots with the best of them, control the glass and even stretch his offensive game behind the three-point arc.
With no Derrick Nix in the middle, Payne will be the primary piece for the physical Spartans down low on both sides of the ball. He will have the breakout year Michigan State fans are looking for, and he may even capture a conference crown along the way.
Patric Young has quietly done the dirty work for Florida over the past three seasons while names like Mike Rosario and Kenny Boynton garnered most of the headlines. The 2013-14 season is Young’s chance to serve as the leader.
He scored better than 10 points a night last year and should control the lane for the Gators on defense and in the rebounding department. He could also average better than two blocks a night next season as the main man in the middle for Billy Donovan.
Young will combine with incoming freshman Chris Walker to form one of the strongest front lines in the country next year. If Young can find a way to improve his free-throw shooting, a spot on the AP All-America team is a possibility.
He is a defensive leader with a developing offensive game. Look for a big senior season.
Arizona is an interesting case study heading into next season. The Wildcats lose three of their top four scorers but are expected by many to be a top-10 team regardless thanks to their talented incoming freshmen class and the development of last year’s recruiting group.
With so many young players and no more Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom on campus, it will be up to Nick Johnson to serve as the on-court leader for Arizona. He began to emerge during the second half of last year and finished with nightly averages of better than 11 points, three assists and three blocks a night.
Johnson will be a great leader and score even more this year with the addition of a point guard who actually looks to pass (T.J. McConnell), but his defense will ultimately win him the Pac-12 player of the year. He averaged nearly two steals a night in 2012-13 and could improve on that with another year of experience under his belt.
Arizona is going to win the Pac-12, which will also help Johnson’s case for the player of the year award.
Russ Smith may be the J.R. Smith of the college game in terms of streakiness and a bit of a crazy spell here and there, but he is still one of the most talented players in the country.
He led the defending national champion Louisville Cardinals in scoring last year (18.7 a night) and was a critical cog in perhaps the best defense in the country. With no Peyton Siva in the backcourt, it will fall on Smith to anchor that full-court press that helped Rick Pitino’s squad frustrate opponents all throughout March.
Now that Smith is a senior, it is logical to assume that his shortcomings will be improved upon. He is still a suspect three-point shooter primarily due to shot selection, and turnovers are a real issue (nearly three a game last year). With so much experience at the college level, Smith should be better in each of these categories.
The Cardinals are poised to enter the loaded ACC in the near future, but they will make a pit stop in the American Athletic Conference in 2013-14. Look for Smith to dominate the competition there.