Predicting the 2014 Player of the Year in Every NCAA Basketball Conference
Every facet of NCAA basketball is changing in the wake of massive conference realignment, and the races for Player of the Year honors are no exception.
Plenty of high-powered stars who might have earned their league’s POY recognition will have to settle for runner-up status as new conference rivals steal the spotlight.
For example, ACC player James Michael McAdoo of North Carolina would have been the front-runner against the original conference competition. Instead, C.J. Fair of Syracuse—who just arrived from the Big East—becomes the preseason pick for the top spot.
Read on for more on Fair’s prospects with his new team, along with projections for the rest of the conference Player of the Year winners next season.
America East: Jameel Warney, Stony Brook
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The America East is usually a senior-dominated league, but next year’s version will see a couple of elite sophomores taking starring roles.
Binghamton’s Jordan Reed will fill up stat sheets for a sub-.500 team, but Jameel Warney will do the same for the likely conference champs.
At 6’8”, 255 lbs, Warney is a big body by any league’s standards, who knows how to use that size to the tune of 12.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. He’s also a precocious defender who averaged 1.5 blocks per game.
AAC: Russ Smith, Louisville
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Louisville has a healthy supply of talent returning from last year’s national champs, none of it better than Russ Smith.
The senior guard carried the Cardinals’ offense single-handedly for much of 2012-13, averaging 18.7 points per game.
Smith also keyed Rick Pitino’s high-pressure D with his 2.1 steals a night. Even if he isn’t much of a three-point shooter, Smith’s vital role on a national title favorite will help him fend off UConn’s Shabazz Napier and Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick.
Atlantic 10: Chaz Williams, UMass
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There’s no shortage of star-caliber seniors in this year’s Atlantic 10, meaning that the race for POY honors will be just as competitive as the one for the conference crown.
Saint Louis’ Dwayne Evans will probably be on the winning end of the conference title, but he and La Salle’s Tyreek Duren will both come up short against Chaz Williams for Player of the Year.
Williams, of course, comes up short against almost everyone as a 5’9” point guard, but he’s put up spectacular numbers in two seasons since transferring to UMass.
The leader of the Minutemen averaged 15.5 points, 7.3 assists (fifth nationally) and 2.0 steals per game as a junior, so he’ll need quite an encore to top that showing next year.
ACC: C.J. Fair, Syracuse
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The ACC features some of the nation’s most impressive point guards, from Duke’s Quinn Cook to Jerian Grant of newly-arrived Notre Dame.
C.J. Fair, however, has had his year of being upstaged by PGs (namely, NBA-bound teammate Michael Carter-Williams), but now the senior is poised to outshine the lot of them.
Fair led Syracuse’s Final Four squad with 14.5 points and 7.0 rebounds a game.
He also helped anchor Jim Boeheim’s stifling 2-3 zone with 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals a night, and it’s his defense that gives him his biggest advantage over offense-first James Michael McAdoo of North Carolina.
Atlantic Sun: Bernard Thompson, Florida Gulf Coast
Florida Gulf Coast rocketed to NCAA tournament fame on the strength of its high-flying offense, and Bernard Thompson—the team’s leading returnee at 14.3 points per game—provides plenty of that.
However, Thompson’s defense is an even bigger factor in the success of the prohibitive favorites for the Atlantic Sun crown.
The 6’3” Thompson placed fourth in the country last year with 2.8 steals per game, providing a handy springboard for many of Dunk City’s fast break chances.
With emotional leader Sherwood Brown gone, Thompson (now a junior) is a good bet to step in as the face of a still-loaded roster.
Big 12: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
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There isn’t a player in college basketball who’s more ready for the NBA than Marcus Smart.
The Oklahoma State sophomore would have been a top-five draft pick in June, and now he has another year to demonstrate just how far he’s climbed above the country’s other point guards.
As a freshman, Smart filled up scoresheets to an unparalleled extent, averaging 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.0 steals per game.
Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins may be able to top Smart on next summer’s draft boards, but he won’t beat the sophomore stud when it comes to dominating the 2013-14 Big 12 season.
Big East: Doug McDermott, Creighton
Doug McDermott is a decisive favorite to join the select company of players named first-team All-America in three different seasons.
The third-leading scorer in the nation in 2011-12 moved up to the No. 2 spot last year (23.2 points per game), with the title well within reach for his senior season.
At 6’8”, McDermott is also a productive rebounder (7.7 boards a night) as well as an impossibly accurate shooter who nailed 49 percent of his treys in 2012-13.
He won’t be enough for the defense-challenged Blue Jays to win the Big East in their league debut, but he’ll be able to outpace Marquette’s Davante Gardner and Xavier’s Semaj Christon for POY honors.
Big Sky: Troy Huff, North Dakota
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Even in the basketball boondocks of the Big Sky, you’ll find plenty of physical specimens more impressive than 6’5”, 174-lb Troy Huff.
You won’t, however, find anyone who can challenge the dazzling performance he displayed as a junior.
Huff led the conference in scoring and steals (19.2 and 2.4 respectively), while also grabbing 6.9 rebounds per contest.
With classmates Jamal Webb and Aaron Anderson also back, he might even lead the nickname-less ex-Fighting Sioux to their first ever NCAA tournament berth.
Big South: D.J. Covington, VMI
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Just being the most dominant shot blocker in the Big South would earn D.J. Covington consideration for this spot. After all, the 6’9” PF tied for 10th in the nation with his 3.0 blocks per game as a junior.
On top of that accomplishment, Covington was also a serious all-around weapon, averaging 15 points and 7.2 rebounds a night for the Keydets.
With team leader Stan Okoye graduated, Covington will get even more touches (and even bigger numbers) to close out his college career.
Big Ten: Adreian Payne, Michigan State
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At 6’10”, 240 lbs, Adreian Payne can pull off dunks normally reserved for small forwards. The hyper-athletic center is the best of a terrific quartet of returning starters for a Spartans squad with its eyes on the Final Four.
As Derrick Nix’s sidekick, Payne averaged 10.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game last season.
Expect all three numbers to rise for the senior standout, helping him edge out Mitch McGary of arch-rival Michigan and Aaron Craft of Ohio State for the top spot here.
Big West: Alan Williams, UC Santa Barbara
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Expect an unusually intense POY race in this year’s Big West, thanks to juniors Corey Hawkins (UC Davis) and Alan Williams.
Both of them put up monster 2012-13 seasons, with Hawkins ranking as the fifth-best returning scorer in the nation with 21.2 points per game, and Williams averaging a double-double with 17.1 points and 10.7 boards a night.
The 6’3” Hawkins posted plenty of impressive peripheral numbers of his own, averaging 5.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals per contest.
However, Williams gets the pick here for his defensive showing after putting up 1.0 steals along with his 2.3 blocks a game last year.
CAA: Jerrelle Benimon, Towson
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Two years after transferring from Georgetown to Towson, Jerrelle Benimon is set to be a more impressive frontcourt player than anyone on next season's Hoyas. The 6’8”, 245-pound senior lit up the CAA last year, averaging 17.1 points and 11.2 rebounds per game.
Benimon made his presence felt on defense, too, blocking 1.9 shots a night in an always physical conference. He’s got a chance to turn the Tigers into lethal NCAA tournament sleepers this year after a narrow second-place finish in conference in 2012-13.
Conference USA: Kenneth Smith, Louisiana Tech
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With Isaac Hamilton looking less and less likely to enroll at UTEP, there’s no one player who’s obviously going to outshine the rest of C-USA statistically.
That situation often creates a Player of the Year frontrunner based on which team wins the league, and newcomer Louisiana Tech should be in the driver’s seat there.
If the Bulldogs do win the conference’s first post-Memphis title, point guard Kenneth Smith will be the biggest reason for it.
The 6’3” junior is very much in sync with classmates Raheem Appleby and Michale Kyser—he dished out 5.0 assists per game last season—while also making an impact on D with his 1.7 steals a night.
Horizon League: Travis Bader, Oakland
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Oakland brings the scariest backcourt in the Horizon League to its conference debut, with quick-handed point guard Duke Mondy complementing high-scoring Travis Bader.
The Grizzlies’ offense lives by the three-pointer, and Bader hit 139 of them (tops in the country) while placing fifth nationally with 21.9 points per game.
Bader doesn’t just live at the arc, as he also did enough penetrating to earn 202 foul shots and hit 88.6 percent of those.
Youngstown State’s Kendrick Perry is a more versatile weapon, but he won’t be able to match the appeal of Bader’s staggering point production when it comes time for POY voting.
Ivy League: Wesley Saunders, Harvard
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Harvard’s reign atop the Ivy League shows no signs of ending soon, thanks mostly to the conference’s top backcourt. The most dangerous (and most valuable) member of that perimeter trio is junior Wesley Saunders.
The 6’5” Saunders not only led the Crimson with 16.2 points per game, but he also grabbed 4.2 rebounds a night, a key to survival for this undersized lineup.
In addition, Saunders supplements the efforts of point guard Siyani Chambers, dishing out 3.5 assists and snatching a team-high 1.8 steals per contest.
MAAC: David Laury, Iona
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There are several high-powered guards in this year’s MAAC, notably Canisius’ Billy Baron and Iona’s own Sean Armand, but David Laury stands alone as an impact big man.
The 6’8”, 240-lb PF has the tools to compete even against power-conference opposition, let alone his unremarkable league foes.
Laury averaged a double-double with 13.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game a season ago. He’s also a major factor on defense, where he piled up 1.6 blocks and 1.1 steals a night.
*The original version of this slide picked Niagara’s Juan’ya Green as the winner, but Green has in fact transferred to Hofstra. Thanks to S. Williams for pointing out the discrepancy. The author regrets the error.
MAC: Shayne Whittington, Western Michigan
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Shayne Whittington was already a very impressive center in 2012-13, but Akron’s Zeke Marshall made sure nobody noticed.
With Marshall gone, Whittington becomes the biggest fish in a small MAC pond, with a great chance to lead his Broncos to the NCAA tournament.
The 6’10” senior averaged 13.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game last season. Even better news for WMU, he’s an outstanding free-throw shooter for his size, draining his foul shots at a .796 clip.
MEAC: Jeremy Ingram, North Carolina Central
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North Carolina Central is loaded with seniors and ready to make a run at its first-ever NCAA tournament berth. The Eagles will have the advantage of one of the MEAC’s most explosive offenses, thanks in large measure to Jeremy Ingram.
The 6’3” Ingram, one of that aforementioned crop of seniors, is a favorite for the conference scoring crown after pouring in 15.7 points per game a season ago.
He does much of his damage from beyond the arc (.394 shooting), but that doesn’t mean he can’t also make a few plays on defense (1.4 steals per contest).
*The original version of this slide picked Adrien Coleman of Bethune-Cookman, but Coleman left school to declare for the NBA draft. The author regrets the error.
Missouri Valley: Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
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Cleanthony Early won’t get to sneak up on anybody this year, but that won’t keep him from scoring in bunches.
The 6’8” combo forward led Wichita State to the 2013 Final Four with his clutch shooting, and now that Creighton’s out of the picture, he’s a virtual lock to lead the Shockers to next year’s MVC crown.
Early beat out Carl Hall for the team lead a year ago by scoring 13.9 points per game, and he finished second to Hall with 5.4 rebounds a night.
He’s not quite the three-point gunner some of his teammates are (.318 last year), but he’s still got more than enough perimeter skills to shred slower power forwards who have to come out of the paint to chase him.
Mountain West: Alex Kirk, New Mexico
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Lobo Kendall Williams is the incumbent winner of this award, but he’ll happily take runner-up status to make New Mexico an even better team. The Lobos are primed for another MWC crown, and hulking Alex Kirk is a major reason why.
The 7’0”, 250-pound junior averaged 12.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game for last year’s conference champs, who flamed out in the NCAAs against lightly regarded Harvard.
Now he, Williams and two more returning starters are out for payback, and a motivated center with Kirk’s size will be impossible to handle for Mountain West foes.
Northeast: Alex Francis, Bryant
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The Northeast POY race is going to be a dead heat between Alex Francis and Central Connecticut State super-scorer Kyle Vinales.
Francis gets the slight edge, partly because he contributes more aside from his scoring and partly because his Bulldogs will likely be in the thick of the league title hunt.
Although he finished second on his own team when it comes to points, the 6’6” Francis did average 17.4 of them per game as a junior. He was also one of the NEC’s most productive rebounders, averaging 8.6 boards a night.
Ohio Valley: Tyler Stone, Southeast Missouri State
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With star-laden Belmont and Murray State finally depleted by graduation, it’s time for another Ohio Valley school to show off its senior leadership.
Redhawks forward Tyler Stone paced the team with 15.5 points per game, a figure that will only rise with the departure of Corey Wilford.
Stone also grabbed 7.8 rebounds and blocked 1.3 shots a night as a junior. It’s his all-around excellence that gives him the nod here over Tennessee-Martin’s Myles Taylor and Tennessee State’s Patrick Miller.
Pac-12: Jahii Carson, Arizona State
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Arizona is likely to run away with the Pac-12 title this year, but none of the Wildcats’ many stars can catch Jahii Carson for individual brilliance.
The 5’10” Carson exploded on the league as a redshirt freshman, averaging 18.5 points per game for undermanned Arizona State.
Carson wasn’t half-bad in his point guard job, either, dishing out 5.1 assists and pulling in 1.2 steals a night last season.
Don’t be surprised if he and Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall combine to put the Sun Devils back in the NCAA tournament for just the third time since 1995.
Patriot League: Dylon Cormier, Loyola (MD)
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Lehigh’s Mackey McKnight could make a run at this spot, but the Mountain Hawks won’t have quite enough talent around him to get him to the top.
Dylon Cormier, on the other hand, creates his own opportunities even more effectively than McKnight, as he spent 2012-13 proving against MAAC defenses.
In his first year in the Patriot League, the 6’2” senior isn’t likely to slow down any. He averaged 16.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game last year, and he’s got point guard R.J. Williams back to set him for one more season.
SEC: Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
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A bumper crop of McDonald’s All-Americans has Kentucky thinking national title once again. If the Wildcats do pull it all together and make another Final Four run, it will be Andrew Harrison—more than any of the other freshmen—who got the job done.
Harrison is the answer to the gaping hole John Calipari has had at point guard since Marquis Teague’s NBA defection, and the 6’5” freshman will immediately become one of the best floor leaders in the country.
With so many great athletes and scorers around him—plus his own considerable scoring punch—Harrison will have no trouble putting up eye-catching stats.
He'll need them to beat out his own vaunted teammates (and Florida standouts Patric Young and Kasey Hill) for the top spot.
Southern: Trey Sumler, Western Carolina
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Elon’s Lucas Troutman will give Trey Sumler a run for his money, but even the Phoenix big man can’t match the versatility of the Catamounts floor leader.
Sumler, a 6’2” senior, has seen his scoring jump from 11.5 to 18.4 points per game in three years as a starter.
All that point production hasn’t hurt his point guard skills, either, as he averaged 3.6 assists and 1.9 steals a night last season. He’s even an impact rebounder, pulling in 4.5 boards a night (second best on the roster).
Southland: Jalan West, Northwestern State
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Northwestern State featured the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense a year ago, so it’s little surprise to find some gaudy numbers for the Demons players on that end of the floor.
What sets Jalan West apart from his teammates—and several other strong Southland point guards—is his productivity on defense.
As a freshman, West snatched 2.3 steals per game to go with his 5.2 assists a night. The 5’10” speedster is also a scoring threat in his own right, having averaged 10.2 points per contest (including .347 three-point shooting) last year.
SWAC: Malcolm Miller, Southern
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The grinding defense that sent Southern to last March’s Big Dance is a good bet to keep the Jaguars on top of the SWAC next season. For offense, they’ll look to their former sixth man, senior Malcolm Miller.
The 6’6” swingman notched 15.5 points and 5.9 rebounds a game while also contributing 1.2 steals per contest to the Southern D. His biggest asset, though, is his astonishing shooting touch, as he hit 45.2 percent of his 199 three-point tries last season.
Summit: Taylor Braun, North Dakota State
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There’s no guarantee that North Dakota State is going to win its second-ever title in a competitive Summit League, but if the Bison come out on top it will be Taylor Braun’s doing.
The senior swingman keys the NDSU offense with 15.7 points per game, and his 3.0 assists a night don’t hurt matters either.
Braun also gets the most out of his 6’7” frame: his 5.2 rebounds per contest as a junior were actually a career low. He’s even an impact defender, having snagged 1.5 steals a game last season.
Sun Belt: Augustine Rubit, South Alabama
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Being the defending Sun Belt POY is the least of the reasons Augustine Rubit gets the nod here.
The rebounding machine is the most dominant small-conference player in the nation, and he’ll make his Jaguars top contenders for the league title this season.
At just 6’7”, 230 lbs, Rubit ranked eighth nationally with his 10.7 rebounds per game. Just as important for South Alabama, he led the conference with 19 points a night, and he even managed 1.2 blocks per contest in the bargain.
WCC: Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
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It will be a miracle if anyone beats BYU’s Tyler Haws for the scoring title in the West Coast Conference, but that’s about all Haws and his Cougars will be winning against Gonzaga.
The Bulldogs have more talent than any conference rival by leaps and bounds, and it all starts with junior PG Kevin Pangos.
The 6’2” floor leader was one of the few Gonzaga players who looked sharp in the postseason, capping a year in which he averaged 11.9 points, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
With scorers Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris gone, look for Pangos—a .417 three-point shooter—to call his own number a lot more often in 2013-14.
WAC: Sim Bhullar, New Mexico State
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Even in the NBA, there would be plenty of centers who would have a hard time handling 7’5”, 355-pound Sim Bhullar.
In the WAC, which saw four of the top five teams from last year’s standings bolt for greener pastures, Bhullar will be many cuts above his competition.
As a freshman, the gargantuan center averaged 10.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. He’s only getting better as he gets more confidence in how to take advantage of his size, and that’s a scary thought for his 2013-14 opponents.