Sunday, February 03, 2008

A.J. for POY? Maybe

Shortly after watching A.J. Price’s latest terrific all-around game on Saturday (21 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, a hand in every big play down the stretch), a fellow “Horde” member made the statement for all within earshot: “A.J. Price has got to be the Big East Player of the Year right now.”

There was little response, including from myself. It just didn’t sound right. Yes, Price is having a great season, living up to the expectations heaped on him coming out of Amityville High four years ago. But there’s simply too many other good players in the conference to consider him for POY, right?

Upon further reflection, maybe not.

Really, who’s been better this season than Price, who entered Saturday’s action leading the Big East in assists (6.1 per game), second in assist-to-turnover ration (2.65) and 16th in scoring (14.3)? (And that’s in overall games played. In conference play, Price was still tops in assists [6.0] but tied for 9th in scoring at 16.6 – a number that increased to 17.0 following Saturday’s effort.)

Roy Hibbert? He’s the best player on the conference’s best team, he was tabbed the Preseason Player of the Year, and (as UConn fans well know) he’s hit some big shots this year. But entering Saturday’s action, Hibbert was averaging just 13 ppg, 24th in the conference. And the 7-foot-2 center was barely among the league’s top 20 in rebounding – sharing the 20th spot with St. John’s D.J. Kennedy at 6.8 per game.

Let’s look at the other players voted onto the Preseason All-Big East Team. Georgetown’s Jonathan Wallace isn’t among the league leaders in any key category, Louisville’s David Padgett and Marquette’s Dominic James have been hampered by injuries and Syracuse’s Eric Devendorf is out for the season with a torn ACL.

Kentrell Gransberry (South Florida) and Geoff McDermott (Providence) play for lousy teams, and Scottie Reynolds’ Villanova Wildcats are in a nose-dive. Price’s teammate, Jeff Adrien, has been solid but hardly spectacular. Honorable Mention selections? Pitt’s Levance Fields has been out for a month with an injury, and Louisville’s Edgar Sosa doesn’t even start.

Louisville’s Terrence Williams and Marquette’s Jerel McNeal are both having good seasons. But Williams doesn’t score enough, and McNeal (who leads the conference in steals and is 23rd in scoring) isn’t even the best player on his own team (that’s still James).

Who are some other candidates? Cincinnati’s Deonta Vaughn was averaging 20.2 ppg, and UConn saw first-hand how dangerous he can be (34 points, eight 3-pointers). Pitt’s Sam Young and DeJuan Blair have both been strong, as has Syracuse fab freshman Donte Greene.

Right now, the top candidate for Player of the Year is probably Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody. Entering Saturday’s action, the sophomore forward led the league in scoring (19.9) and was second in rebounding (9.8). He’s clearly the top player on the Irish, who are second in the league standings at 6-2, including a win over UConn a few weeks ago.

Still, I just can’t get out of my mind the way Harangody was utterly intimidated by UConn’s Hasheem Thabeet in that Jan. 5 game at South Bend. Thabeet tied a Joyce Center record with 10 blocked shots that night, and nearly all of them were on shots taken by Harangody.

And even when his shots weren’t being swatted away by Thabeet, Harangody’s head was on a swivel. He was held scoreless in the second half on 0-for-8 shooting as he constantly rushed shots, fearing Thabeet’s impending presence.

(Incidentally, Harangody had a similarly rough go of it against Hibbert and the Hoyas on Jan. 19.)

Of course, Harangody is only 6-foot-7. In conference play, he leads the Big East in both scoring and rebounding. Right now, he’s probably the frontrunner for Player of the Year honors.

But A.J. Price certainly isn’t far behind.

With the Big East season at the halfway point (for most teams), here’s one man’s picks for All-Conference: Roy Hibbert, Georgetown; Luke Harangody, Notre Dame; Kentrell Gransberry, South Florida; Deonta Vaughn, Cincinnati; A.J. Price, Connecticut; Sam Young, Pittsburgh; Scottie Reynolds, Villanova; Donte Greene, Syracuse; Terrence Williams, Louisville; Kyle McAlarney, Notre Dame; Brian Laing, Seton Hall.

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