Dark-Horse Player-of-the-Year Candidates in Each Major CBB Conference in 2014-15
Dark horses and Cinderella stories are the lifeblood of college basketball, especially when it comes to preseason conference Player of the Year awards.
We're always looking for the next great player to make a run at the Naismith Player of the Year Award, and these are seven quality candidates.
Last month, we nominated the favorite and biggest challenger for every conference Player of the Year honor, but the major conferences deserve a little extra attention in the way of a dark horse.
These aren't completely outlandish suggestions. We're not including random bench players as a means of really driving home the dark horse idea.
Rather, these are legitimate candidates who simply haven't yet received enough national love to truly be considered one of the favorites.
If you think about it in terms of the NCAA tournament field, we covered the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds last month—now we're talking about the No. 4 seeds with a chance to win it all.
American: Shaq Goodwin, Memphis
2013-14 stats: 28.9 MPG, 11.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 1.8 APG, 1.3 SPG
Shaq Goodwin gets our dark horse vote for the American POY because of what T.J. Warren was able to accomplish this past season in winning the ACC's award.
Goodwin and Warren are drastically different players, but let's look at the similarities in their situations.
In 2012-13, North Carolina State was expected to be a great team led by a plethora of seniors. The Wolfpack struggled throughout the course of the season, earning a No. 8 seed in the tournament and failing to advance to the second weekend. Warren started, but he wasn't one of the top scoring options, finishing the season averaging 27.0 MPG and 12.1 PPG.
Sure sounds a lot like what Goodwin and Memphis just did this past season, no? And with Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Michael Dixon Jr. and Geron Johnson all graduating this summer, Goodwin becomes the de facto head honcho on the team.
Now, not even the most optimistic person would expect Goodwin to more than double his scoring total from last season the way that Warren did.
However, if he goes out and averages 18.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG and 2.0 BPG for a Memphis team that sneaks into the tournament field, he would have to be considered one of the top candidates for this award.
Favorite: Markus Kennedy, SMU
Biggest challenger: Will Cummings, Temple
Others considered: Jherrod Stiggers, Houston; Shaquille Thomas, Cincinnati
ACC: Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
2013-14 stats: 31.4 MPG, 12.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.2 SPG
For some bizarre reason, the nation never quite bought into Virginia last season. The Cavaliers won the ACC regular-season title by two games. They won the conference tournament, as well.
But they were the most controversial No. 1 seed that the committee chose, and virtually no one gave them a chance of advancing beyond the Sweet 16. The whole thing made less than zero sense.
Because of Virginia's inability to really step into the national spotlight, Malcolm Brogdon—and London Perrantes, for that matter—is a dark horse to win the ACC POY, despite statistics that made him the fourth-most valuable player in the conference last season by Ken Pomeroy's calculations (KenPom.com subscription required).
Perhaps the biggest thing working against Brogdon is Virginia's deliberately slow tempo. His per-game numbers will never quite compare with those of players at an up-tempo program like North Carolina, but he has to be considered one of the best in the conference on a per-possession basis.
And with Virginia widely regarded as a team that will finish in the top four in the conference standings once again this season, someone on the roster is inevitably going to be considered for the ACC POY.
Might as well be the player who led the team in scoring last year.
Favorite: Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Biggest challenger: Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Others considered: Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke; Trevor Cooney, Syracuse
Big 12: Dustin Hogue, Iowa State
2013-14 stats: 29.9 MPG, 11.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG
Dustin Hogue was a considerably above-average player last season, but he didn't get used as much as he arguably should have, due to the other three stars on the team. The average number of field-goal attempts between Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane and Georges Niang was 445. Hogue only took 262.
With Ejim and Kane out of the picture, Hogue should have much more opportunity to shine the way he did against Connecticut in the Sweet 16—when he scored 34 points.
Then again, with incoming transfers Bryce Dejean-Jones, Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader likely to play big roles and Monte Morris' role in the offensive gameplan potentially increasing exponentially, Hogue may very well remain a peripheral player who gets decent points and rebounds without being a real focus of the offense.
But we have faith that the 2014 tournament was just the beginning of his coming-out party.
Favorite: Juwan Staten, West Virginia
Biggest challenger: Marcus Foster, Kansas State
Others considered: Perry Ellis, Kansas; Isaiah Taylor, Texas
Big East: D'Angelo Harrison, St. John's
2013-14 stats: 32.9 MPG, 17.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.0 SPG
It's not easy to slip through the cracks while putting up numbers like those and playing home games at Madison Square Garden, but D'Angelo Harrison found a way.
Thanks in large part to five consecutive losses to open conference play, St. John's failed to make the NCAA tournament—and was effectively forgotten about until upsetting Creighton in early February and making a spirited push for a bid.
Meanwhile, Doug McDermott had the Big East POY Award won months before it was announced, and Bryce Cotton (Providence) and Semaj Christon (Xavier) garnered all of the "great player on a slightly above average team" attention that would have otherwise gone to Harrison.
It doesn't matter, though, because Harrison is gearing up to do one heck of a Sean Kilpatrick impression in his fourth and final season.
He has been the team's leading scorer in each of the past three seasons and needs just 371 points to reach 2,000 in his collegiate career. He should hit that milestone relatively early in the conference season, and he will keep our attention from that point forward as a strong candidate for the Big East POY Award.
Favorite: D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown
Biggest challenger: JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova
Others considered: Roosevelt Jones, Butler; Josh Hart, Villanova
Big Ten: Caris LeVert, Michigan
2013-14 stats: 34.0 MPG, 12.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.2 SPG
The world has lost its collective mind over Frank Kaminsky, making him the runaway preseason favorite to win the B1G POY Award.
Simultaneously, people once again seem to be foolishly doubting John Beilein's ability to coach by writing off Michigan's title hopes because of the departures of Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary.
Because of those two factors, Caris LeVert has to be considered a dark horse to win this award, even though he is unquestionably one of the most talented players in the conference.
The great thing about LeVert is that he always seemed to find an extra gear in the biggest regular-season games. Prior to the tournament, the Wolverines played eight games against teams that were ranked No. 21 or better by the AP. He averaged 18.9 PPG in those games, scoring at least 20 points in five of them.
Favorite: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Biggest challenger: Terran Petteway, Nebraska
Others considered: Branden Dawson, Michigan State; Aaron White, Iowa
Pac-12: Norman Powell, UCLA
2013-14 stats: 25.7 MPG, 11.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.4 SPG
Much like Shaq Goodwin at Memphis, it feels like Norman Powell is the only returning player from UCLA.
Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Zach LaVine, Travis Wear and David Wear are all gone. Bryce Alford and Tony Parker are back, but Powell has to be considered the most likely player on the team to average better than 15.0 PPG.
The biggest X-factor in the equation is whether UCLA will actually win enough games for it to matter.
We haven't composed the full-blown predicted standings for the Pac-12, but despite everything the Bruins lost this offseason, we still think they'll battle Utah and Colorado for the rights to second place in the conference. And with Arizona likely to win the conference with a very balanced offensive attack, there's a great chance that a dominant player from the second-place team will be named the Pac-12 POY.
One other concern with Powell: Can he play enough minutes?
Despite starting every game last season, he was only on the court for 63.9 percent of UCLA's minutes. He played 54.4 percent as a sophomore and 44.4 percent as a freshman.
He did average 17.7 points per 40 minutes last season—a number that should inevitably rise as he becomes a more focal point of the offense—but if he doesn't log at least 30 minutes per game, it's hard to imagine he'll have good enough numbers to warrant consideration.
Favorite: Delon Wright, Utah
Biggest challenger: Joseph Young, Oregon
Others considered: Askia Booker, Colorado; Chasson Randle, Stanford
SEC: Bobby Portis, Arkansas
2013-14 stats: 27.0 MPG, 12.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 1.5 APG, 1.0 SPG
Arkansas hasn't exactly been the standard of basketball excellence over the past six seasons, but how in the world did Bobby Portis not get more attention during his freshman year?
Even if you weren't paying attention to the McDonald's All-American over the first few months of the season, his 35 points, nine rebounds and six blocks against Alabama on Feb. 5 had to have caught your eye.
Perhaps things would be different if he had been the leading scorer in either of Arkansas' two upset wins over Kentucky, as those were unquestionably the most watched games in which he played.
The Razorbacks are a program on the rise. Six of the seven leading scorers return from a team that almost certainly would have made the 2014 tournament had they not finished out their season with consecutive losses to Alabama and South Carolina.
When they get over the hump this season, we'll look at Portis as one of the primary reasons why.
Favorite: Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss
Biggest challenger: Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
Others considered: Chris Walker, Florida; Jarell Martin, LSU
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.
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