The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Our selections for AP Big East award winners

- By David Borges david.borges@ hearstmedi­; @DaveBorges

For the first time, the Associated Press will be releasing All-Big East men’s basketball teams, as well as individual honors this season, and we’re happy to be one of the voters.

A group of 11 media members, one from each Big East outpost, will select five-man first and second teams, along with Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Newcomer of the Year. The results will be released on Tuesday.

This is separate from the Big East’s own allleague and individual honors selections, which are chosen by the league’s coaches and announced on different days next week. We’re guessing there will be some difference­s between the AP writers’ and coaches’ decisions, especially since the latter often don’t involve perhaps as much introspect­ion. Coaches do have bigger things going on at this time of the season.

It’s always a fun process choosing such awards, but it was particular­ly difficult this season. For one, the league is bristling with talented players, several of whom will someday be playing in the NBA, some as early as next season. Determinin­g Player of the Year was extremely tough, as was limiting just five players to each team.

Then there was the Newcomer of the Year conundrum. The definition for the award specifical­ly states the following: Doesn’t necessaril­y have to be a freshman. It can be any player, regardless of class, in his first season playing for a Big East team.

A Freshman of the Year category may be added next year. But for this year, the winner from the Big East (and, in fact, the five other “power” conference­s) does not have to be a freshman.

We decided to limit the scope to freshmen. Otherwise, the runaway winner would be either Providence’s Bryce Hopkins or Xavier’s Souley Boum, who transferre­d to the league this season from Kentucky and UTEP, respective­ly. Both are strong candidates for Player of the Year and easy picks for first team All-Big East. We like the idea of the freshmen having their own award.

Two other conundrums: Which statistics to consider for these awards, and what to do with Xavier’s Zach Freemantle. We decided to go with stats put up in conference play only. Non-conference competitio­n vary too much among the league’s teams. Everyone’s on an even playing field with league-only stats.

As for Freemantle, he would have almost certainly been first team AllBig East before suffering a left foot injury that’s kept him out of action for over a month and limited him to just 11 league games. That’s not quite enough to merit inclusion (see: James Bouknight, 2021).

Here’s the best we could do with our selections:

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Kolek, Marquette

We really struggled with this one. Up until Wednesday night, we were leaning towards Providence’s Hopkins, who delivered one of the most dominant performanc­es we witnessed first-hand this season, a 27-piece in a win over UConn on Jan. 4. He leads the Big East in scoring and is second and rebounding. He’s real good.

But on Wednesday night, Hopkins went 4for-11 from the field and couldn’t prevent a home loss to Xavier. Obviously, one game doesn’t make a difference, but we also can’t get out of our mind the fact that he didn’t grab a single rebound (zero, zip, nada) in a blowout loss at UConn last week. In fact, he’s struggled a bit down the stretch, scoring just six points in 17 foulplague­d minutes in a win over Gerogetown over the weekend.

Kolek has come up biggest when Marquette has needed him the most. He scored 18 points and had two go-ahead baskets in the final minute to lead the Golden Eagles to a huge road win at Creighton last week. He doled out 24 assists over the past two games that clinched a tie for the regular-season title, then the outright title.

Stats? Kolek is second in the nation (and first among Power Six players) with 7.9 assists per game. He leads the Big East in assist/turnover ratio (3.3) and is tied atop the steals category (2.1). He’s also averaging a team-best 14.9 ppg in league play while shooting 51.5-percent from the floor and 38.3-percent from 3, marked improvemen­ts over last season.

Xavier’s Boum was given strong considerat­ion, especially after dropping 33 on Providence Wednesday night. And UConn’s Jordan Hawkins and Adama Sanogo merited considerat­ion, as well.

But Tyler Kolek has been the best player on the league’s best team. Dan Hurley called him the “best quarterbac­k in the country.” He’s our Big East Player of the Year. (And it has nothing to do with the fact that he’s a fellow native Rhode Islander!)

COACH OF THE YEAR: Shaka Smart, Marquette

With so many tough choices, this was an incredibly easy one. Marquette was picked to finish ninth in the league after losing a host of players (including leading scorer Justin Lewis). The Golden Eagles wind up winning their first outright Big East regular-season title. Smart is not only an easy choice for league Coach of the Year, he’s a strong candidate for National Coach of the Year. In fact, we voted for him for that honor in another recent poll.


It was tough enough determinin­g this should solely go to a freshman. But which freshman? Villanova’s Cam Whitmore was named preseason Freshman of the Year. He’s a potential NBA lottery pick in June, and he’s probably got the best numbers among the league’s frosh — 12.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg.

But we felt Karaban has a little more of an impact on his team: scoring (9.3), rebounding (4.6), 3-point shooting (39.1 percent) and reliabilit­y (29.7 minutes per game, second on the team in league play).

And considerat­ion was given to his teammate, Donovan Clingan, who might have been the frontrunne­r had he played more than 12.3 minutes per game in league play. Despite that, he’s fourth in the league in blocks (1.6) and tops among the league’s freshmen in rebounding (5.4).


Our final conundrum: Do we put two UConn players on first team? The Huskies are likely to finish fifth in the league, though they still could finish fourth and even third. Either way, does that merit two first-team selections?

Under normal circumstan­ces, no. But which of Hawkins and Sanogo, currently the league’s third and fourth leading scorers, respective­ly, do we leave off ? Hawkins, a likely first-round NBA draft pick in June who leads the Big East in free throw shooting (90.2 percent) is second in 3-pointers per game (2.7) and among the leaders in dynamic athleticis­m? Sanogo, the preseason Player of the Year pick by the coaches who’s also fifth in the league in rebounding?

And who takes their place? Freemantle didn’t play enough league games. Ryan Kalkbrenne­r is a choice, but he got housed by Sanogo in their two meetings this season. Joel Soriano is a doubledoub­le machine, but St. John’s is in seventh place and going nowhere.

And so, we put Hawkins and Sanogo on first team. Call it rampant homerism if you must. We call it common sense.


Tyler Kolek, Marquette Bryce Hopkins, Providence

Souley Boum, Xavier Jordan Hawkins, UConn

Adama Sanogo, UConn


Joel Soriano, St. John’s Ryan Kalkbrenne­r, Creighton

Kam Jones, Marquette Eric Dixon, Villanova Colby Jones, Xavier

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States