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Is Shabazz Napier a Player of the Year Candidate After Game-Winner vs. Florida?

STORRS, CT - DECEMBER 02: Shabazz Napier #13 of the Connecticut Huskies yells to his teammate in the second half against the Florida Gators during the game at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion on December 2, 2013 in Storrs, Connecticut.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2013

The revival of the men's basketball program at the University of Connecticut was on display on the national stage on Monday night, and the best player on the Huskies roster, Shabazz Napier, announced to the nation that he should be mentioned in the Player of the Year discussion. 

Napier, a senior guard, channeled the spirit of Kemba Walker with his game-winning shot against the Florida Gators in a battle of Top 15 teams. 

Napier somehow made his way through a double-team before he launched a shot that failed to go anywhere close to the basket. 

Then, just as quick as you thought the game was over, Napier was sprinting into the stands and down the tunnel in celebration with his teammates. 

Napier did not just show up on the final play, he showed up over and over again during the 65-64 win with big shots that kept the Huskies in it as he scored 26 points and shot 5-of-8 from three-point range. 

On the second-to-last UConn possession of the game, it was Napier who delivered a clutch three to put the Huskies ahead in the back-and-forth battle with the depleted Gators. 

Once Napier's shot swished through the nylon, his early candidacy for National Player of the Year rose. 

The UConn guard will be up against the steepest competition in years for the award, but he has a legitimate claim to the throne if he keeps playing like this in big games for the Huskies. 

Almost every star player in the nation has had their moment in the spotlight just less than a month into the season, but the likes of Marcus Smart, Andrew Wiggins and Julius Randle have fallen back to the pack a bit with no player continuously lighting up the scoreboard against marquee opponents. 

The one issue that will halt any Player of the Year campaign that Napier will have is his schedule. 

UConn got banished to the American Athletic Conference this season, and while it should have some great battles with Louisville and Memphis, the rest of the conference is garbage. 

Smart and Wiggins will square off against each other twice and also face big-time showdowns against Iowa State and Baylor in conference play. Wiggins also has a few marquee nonconference games against Florida, New Mexico and Georgetown ahead.

Kentucky's Randle will be in the national spotlight all year long and should not fade from anyone's memory, especially if he continues to average a double-double each game.

Lest we forget Duke's Jabari Parker and Arizona's Aaron Gordon, who play in two of the best power conferences in the nation. 

In case you forgot about them, Doug McDermott of Creighton and Arizona State's Jahii Carson will also enter their names into the fray.

Facing all of that competition for the prestigious award will be a daunting task, but if Napier can deliver a standout moment like he did on Monday, he could walk away with the award. 

The best comparison to this is having a "Heisman Moment" in college football, and so far just Smart, for his destruction of Memphis at home, and the freshmen that shined at the Champions Classic have had said moment. 

However, the one thing going in Napier's favor is that his moment in the spotlight came at the end of the game, and the highlight of his game-winner will be instilled in our minds for quite a while. 

Thanks to his late-game heroics, Napier definitely put his name into the Player of the Year race, and now it is up to him to keep delivering in the clutch and to stay relevant until March approaches.

 

Follow me on Twitter, @JTansey90.

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