Early Prediction for Player of the Year in Each Major CBB Conference
One of the least surprising developments of college basketball’s offseason is that all seven major conferences are losing their incumbent Players of the Year. Also predictably, preseason hype isn’t wasting any time in anointing new contenders for those vacant titles.
One of the highest-profile stars returning to the college ranks is North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige. The speedy floor-leader showed off his scoring chops last season, but he’ll need more than that to take top honors in the star-studded ACC.
Read on for the reason the Tar Heels junior is the best bet to win his league’s PoY hardware, along with picks for the award winner in all the rest of the major conferences.
AAC: Ryan Boatright, UConn
For the second time in as many years of existence, the AAC will be a point guard’s league. This time around, the best of the lot are incoming SMU freshman Emmanuel Mudiay and rising UConn senior Ryan Boatright.
Boatright isn’t Shabazz Napier, but he’s a gifted scorer and passer who will prove a worthy successor to the NCAA tournament hero on offense.
Even so, it’s his airtight defense and outstanding supporting cast—including N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis, his likely backcourt mate—that will help him beat out the bigger, stronger, Mudiay in the voting.
ACC: Marcus Paige, North Carolina
As a sophomore, Marcus Paige showed that he could be the primary scorer on a very good team. Next year, he’ll get a chance to show that he can be a leader for a potential Final Four team.
The departures of Leslie McDonald and NBA-bound James Michael McAdoo will open plenty of opportunities for two more promising offensive weapons, freshmen Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson.
With those additional scorers to feed, Paige will put up enough assists (and points) to win out over Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant and Jahlil Okafor of archrival Duke.
Big 12: Myles Turner, Texas
Two of the three best freshmen in the nation are heading to the Big 12, with Cliff Alexander of Kansas joining Myles Turner in the conference.
However, with Alexander having just lost prospective point guard Naadir Tharpe, Turner’s loaded supporting cast will give him the edge over the KU youngster (and over Georges Niang of Iowa State).
Turner, a 7-footer with a soft shooting touch and outstanding defensive skills, becomes the best weapon in a deep Texas attack.
He’s got a proven point guard in rising sophomore Isaiah Taylor, a veteran sidekick in rising senior PF Jonathan Holmes and enough versatility and talent to hit the ground running.
Big East: JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova
With their nemesis from Creighton declawed, the Wildcats should run away with next year’s Big East. JayVaughn Pinkston is the best of many reasons for ‘Nova’s high hopes, a prolific inside scorer who also holds down the middle for a guard-heavy lineup.
Pinkston, who averaged 14.1 points to go with his team-leading 6.1 rebounds per game, will also be a senior, always a plus in Player of the Year voting. He’ll need every edge he can get in his race with Georgetown’s high-scoring D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera.
Big Ten: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Wisconsin is rarely the team to showcase individual stars, and there’s plenty of competition elsewhere—Caris LeVert at Michigan, Nebraska’s Terran Petteway, et al.
Still, Frank Kaminsky’s breakout performance in March makes the rising senior the leader of a crowded pack.
The 7-footer is a potent shot-blocker who notched 1.7 rejections per game last season. He’s also the top scorer on an offense that carried the Badgers to the Final Four, including both a productive post game and a three-point touch that helped him shoot .378 from deep.
Pac-12: Brandon Ashley, Arizona
Now that Nick Johnson is gone to the NBA, Brandon Ashley becomes the leader of a Final Four favorite in Tucson.
With a pair of defensive stoppers sharing the frontcourt with him—Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and either 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski or incoming freshman Stanley Johnson—the junior-to-be gets the go-to scorer’s mantle.
Even in last year’s more balanced attack, Ashley showed the potential to handle the No. 1 role with aplomb, including a terrific jump-shooting touch.
With Joseph Young’s Oregon team in chaos, Ashley will get better opportunities (not to mention a far better won-lost record) than the league's likely scoring champ.
SEC: Chris Walker, Florida
Make no mistake, Kentucky will be the prohibitive favorite to win the SEC as a team. However, no single Wildcat has the potential that Chris Walker has to explode in 2014-15.
Walker, a 6’10” jackrabbit of a power forward, played all of 87 minutes in last year’s stacked Florida frontcourt.
The Gators have just enough around him (including classmate Kasey Hill, a star point guard in the making) to let his skills as a scorer, shot-blocker and rebounder outshine those of LSU’s Jordan Mickey and Wildcats freshman Trey Lyles.