Here’s a rundown of some of the compelling non-Big Six player and coach of the year races:
Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year: Rick Majerus has led Saint Louis, a team that won 12 games last season, to a probable at-large berth in the NCAA tournament and near the top of the Atlantic 10 standings. Temple has been the league’s best team under Fran Dunphy. The Owls will win the A-10 title outright if they win their final two games (vs. UMass, at Fordham). Saint Joseph’s finished with a 4-12 record in conference play last season, but Phil Martelli has propelled the Hawks back into the bubble conversation. They were listed among the “first four out” in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology report. Mark Schmidt has led St. Bonaventure to a top-5 mark in the standings, too. A lot of good candidates in this field. But I pick Majerus in this race.
Conference USA Player of the Year: This conversation starts with Memphis star Will Barton who’s averaged 18.3 ppg and 8.0 rpg for the first-place Tigers. The Golden Hurricane have a chance to win a slice of the Conference USA title with Jordan Clarkson (16.4 ppg) leading the way. Alabama-Birmingham’s Cameron Moore is third in Conference USA (conference games only) in scoring (17.8 ppg) and rebounding (10.0 rpg). Tulane’s Ricky Tarrant is averaging 19.6 ppg in conference play. But this seems like Barton’s award. He’s been crucial for the Tigers all season, even before Conference USA action. He scored 22 points against Georgetown, 27 points against Murray State, 28 points against Louisville. Barton is a legitimate college basketball star.
Colonial Player of the Year: George Mason senior Ryan Pearson (17.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg) could lead the Patriots to the CAA tournament title. Hofstra’s Mike Moore is leading the CAA in scoring (20.0 ppg), while Delaware’s Jamelle Hagins leads the CAA in rebounding (10.0 rpg). He’s also second in blocks (2.9 bpg) and averaging 12.7 ppg. Kent Bazemore does a little bit of everything for ODU, Bradford Burgess has been his usual solid self for VCU, Keith Rendleman is averaging a double-double at UNC-Wilmington (15.6 ppg, 10.5 rpg) and Drexel has any number of worthy candidates. My pick is Pearson, although you could make an argument for all of these candidates. He’s shooting 50 percent from the field and in crucial matchups against VCU in recent weeks, he recorded a combined 48 points.
Horizon Player of the Year: Ryan Broekhoff (14.8 ppg) led Valpo to a Horizon League regular-season title and 1-seed in the conference tournament. He’s also leading the league in rebounding (8.4 rpg). His teammate Kevin Van Wijk (14.4 ppg) is shooting 62 percent from the field. Youngstown State’s Kendrick Perry is on top of the Horizon League with 16.8 ppg. He’s scored 20 or more nine times this season. Detroit’s Ray McCallum has had his share of struggles this season, but averages of 15.1 ppg and 3.9 apg make him a contender. Green Bay’s Alec Brown (13.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.1 bpg) is the dark horse in the race. I pick Broekhoff, who helped his team win the Horizon League and could lead it to the Horizon League tournament title and an automatic NCAA tournament bid, too.
Mountain West Coach of the Year: Steve Fisher lost the bulk of his squad from last season, including current San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard. And yet, the Aztecs ended up in the Top 25 behind some talented youngsters and Fisher, who’s also a national coach of the year candidate. The Runnin’ Rebels could do damage in March Madness with Dave Rice leading the way. Can’t forget Steve Alford. Based on the way UNLV and San Diego State started the season, New Mexico looked like the third-best team in the league. But as the Mountain West race comes to its conclusion, the Lobos have a shot at the conference title. Tim Miles is in the mix, too, especially with Colorado State fighting for an at-large berth. I’ve wavered between Fisher, Rice and Alford in recent weeks. But I have to go with Alford in this race. He found a way to build momentum after his squad took back-to-back losses in its first matchups with San Diego State and UNLV.
Missouri Valley Coach of the Year: Last season, the Bluejays finished the year in the CBI. This season, they’re safely in the field of 68 for the NCAA tournament. And it’s not just Doug McDermott. Coach Greg McDermott has proven to be a strong leader who’s taken Creighton through some tough stretches. The Bluejays beat Iowa, Northwestern and San Diego State (on the road) during the nonconference slate. After being dropped from the national rankings following a three-game slide, however, the Bluejays won four games in a row and returned to the Top 25. Gregg Marshall led Wichita State to an NIT title last year, and now, the Shockers are a Top-25 team that’s put the whole country on alert as March approaches. Garrett Stutz and Joe Ragland have developed into premier players in the MVC under Marshall’s tutelage. And the Shockers have lost one game in 2012. I think Marshall deserves the honor here in a tight race.
West Coast Player of the Year: BYU’s Noah Hartsock is averaging 16.8 ppg and 1.6 bpg. Saint Mary’s forward Rob Jones is responsible for 14.8 ppg and 10.7 rpg (No. 1 in the West Coast Conference). His teammate Matthew Dellavedova is third in the conference at 15.4 ppg. Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos averaged 13.4 ppg and he’s shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc. Loyola Marymount’s Anthony Ireland (15.5 ppg, 4.8 apg) has been a star, too. All worthy candidates. But I’ll go with Jones. He’s recorded four double-doubles in his last five games. Jones has been vital for the Gaels this season.