The Top Player of the Year Candidate from Each NCAA Basketball Major Conference
With realignment changing the face of NCAA basketball’s major conferences, the Player of the Year races will look very different in 2013-14. The newly formed AAC will bestow its first-ever POY award, while several other leagues will have serious new contenders.
One of the most striking examples will be the new-look Big East, where Butler, Creighton and Xavier join the Catholic schools from the previous version of the conference. As much talent as the original Big East programs bring to the table, it’ll be new arrival Creighton—with two-time All-American Doug McDermott—that claims the Player of the Year trophy in the Bluejays’ league debut.
Read on for more on McDermott and the rest of the front-runners to be named the best player in the six BCS football conferences, plus the new AAC.
AAC: Russ Smith, Louisville
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A quirk of realignment leaves defending national champ Louisville in the newly formed AAC for just one season, but that’s all Russ Smith will need.
The one-man fast break is the early favorite for the national Player of the Year crown, and his chances of topping a depleted conference are even better.
Smith’s M.O. will likely be much the same as it was in leading the Cards' national title run last year: turn steals (2.1 of them per contest) into points (18.7 a night).
His defensive instincts will keep him ahead of Cincinnati super-scorer Sean Kilpatrick. Meanwhile, Louisville’s near-certain place at the top of the rankings should ensure that Smith beats UConn’s Shabazz Napier.
ACC: C.J. Fair, Syracuse
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ACC newcomer Syracuse doesn’t have the backcourt to topple Duke or North Carolina in the conference standings, but it does have the single best player in the league.
Rising senior C.J. Fair will go from Michael Carter-Williams’ sidekick to a bona fide star in his own right.
Fair is a 6’8” combo forward whose length and great leaping ability helped him rack up 7.0 rebounds to go with his 14.5 points per game last year.
He’s also Syracuse’s best all-around defender, a trait that will go a long way toward helping him stay ahead of North Carolina’s James Michael McAdoo and Duke’s Jabari Parker in the POY voting.
Big 12: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
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Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins is the front-runner for national Freshman of the Year, but even he won’t outdo the best recruit in last year’s Big 12 class.
Marcus Smart would have been a top-five NBA draft pick had he left Oklahoma State, and the athletic 6’4” PG is only going to get better next season.
Smart filled up stat sheets like no other player in the country last year, averaging 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.0 steals per game (finishing No. 2 nationally in that last category).
No other point guard in the conference has a prayer of matching up with him physically, and he even has two fine scorers to set up in returning teammates Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown.
Big East: Doug McDermott, Creighton
The new Big East, like its predecessor, is going to be a league defined by grinding, physical defenses. Even that wealth of toughness, though, won’t be enough to keep Doug McDermott from earning yet another round of All-America honors.
McDermott went from third in the nation in scoring as a sophomore to second last season (23.2 points per game).
He might be the best pure shooter the college game has seen since J.J. Redick—the 6’8” McDermott hits .490 from beyond the arc—and he’ll have little trouble holding off Marquette’s Davante Gardner and Providence’s Bryce Cotton for the top spot.
Big Ten: Adreian Payne, Michigan State
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There probably won’t be a closer race—in the standings or the Player of the Year voting—than the Big Ten in 2013-14.
The winner by a nose in both categories is looking likely to be Michigan State, where hyper-athletic big man Adreian Payne postponed the NBA for a very real shot at a national title.
Payne, who played PF with Derrick Nix at center last season, may well shift into the middle to get the most out of his enormous mobility advantage and rapidly developing jump shot.
His combination of scoring (inside and out), rebounding and shot blocking will help him edge out Ohio State defensive dynamo Aaron Craft and rising Michigan star Glenn Robinson III.
Pac-12: Jahii Carson, Arizona State
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The Sun Devils narrowly missed last year’s NCAA tournament despite a magnificent freshman campaign from Jahii Carson.
They won’t be able to outpace rival Arizona in the Pac-12 standings, but their greased-lightning point guard will leave no doubt as to who’s the best individual talent in the conference.
Carson had a pretty good case for that distinction last year, when he averaged 18.5 points and 5.1 assists a night on a team that finished at .500 in league play.
With 7’2” Jordan Bachynski returning in the frontcourt as a sidekick, Carson will easily top Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski and Cal’s Justin Cobbs for top honors here.
SEC: Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
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The SEC has a virtual monopoly on the country’s top freshmen, and the likeliest one to separate himself from the pack is Andrew Harrison.
The 6’5” Kentucky point guard will benefit from an insanely deep frontcourt, not to mention a first-rate shooting guard in twin brother Aaron.
Andrew Harrison is a total-package type whose half-court game will distinguish him from Florida’s Kasey Hill and Scottie Wilbekin.
He’s a better offensive weapon than Gator Patric Young and a better defender than teammate (and likely Wildcat scoring leader) Julius Randle.