Congratulations to Wes Johnson who earned All Big East First Team honors along with Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds, South Florida’s Dominique Jones, Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody, Georgetown’s Greg Monroe and West Virginia’s Da’Sean Butler. I like the fact that the Big East is now sticking with a 6 man First Team, rather than the bloated 9-10 player team it has used for a few years. It does make it difficult to make the first team in a league with 14 teams; but it also makes it quite a notable achievement to be able to make that team.
I do not have a disagreement with the first team selections with the possible selection of Harangody. Harangody missed five games, and played token minutes in the last game of the season. Harangody has always been an outstanding offensive player, but also was known for suspect defensive play. The Fighting Irish went 4-2 in those last 6 games, with the two losses being one point losses. Harangody miss 28% of the Big East season (and if you count the sixth game, 1/3 of the season). So while he put up impressive offensive numbers, I think the fact that he missed a significant portion of the season, and his team arguably played better without him, would warrant his exclusion from the first team. Would you name an NFL player to the All-Pro team who played in only 11 games, or an MLB Baseball player who played in only 108 games? If the inclusion on Big East Conference teams is supposed to include the player’s entire body of work inside and outside of the conference, then the issue changes. But, based on only his inclusion in the conference, I would be hesitant to vote for him on the first team.
Harangody did become the twelfth player to be named to the First Team 3 times. That list includes four Syracuse players: Derrick Coleman, Sherman Douglas, Lawrence Moten, and Pearl Washington. It also includes legendary college players Chris Mullin and Patrick Ewing, and legendary conference players Danya Abrams, John Pinone, Kerry Kittles, Terry Dehere and Troy Bell.
I have mixed feeling with Andy Rautins being on the second team; I very strong argument can be made that he should be the league’s Player of the Year. It is a big jump to be included in a conversation of the Player of the Year, and then to only be on the League Second Team. However, I think that with only six players on the first team, it is definitely strong recognition for Rautins to be on the second team, and it should be an accomplishment he would be very proud of. Eric Devendorf, the primary man he replaced, never earned more than Honorable Mention, and Jonny Flynn, last year’s star guard, was only Second Team.
I was surprised that Wes Johnson did not receive a unanimous selection to the First Team. His statistics are decent, and while they may not be as dominant as other players on the First Team, the following is true: (1) he is the leading scorer and rebounder on the leagues’ most dominant team, and (2) his selfless play was part of the reason the Orange were a great ‘team’ and that in part reduced his stats.
Players on lesser teams will often have bloated statistics as they are the only guy on the team, and therefore all the offense has to flow through them. Another reason players on lesser teams can have bloated statistics is because of selfish play, which rewards the player but hurts the team. You have to look at these on a case by case basis to really determine what is going on. Derrick Coleman averaged ‘only’ 17.9 points per game his senior year. But he shared the ball with Stephen Thompson, Sherman Douglas and Billy Owens, among others. A team is going to score a limited amount of points in a game, and the more you share the wealth, the more your statistics will be dampened. But sharing the wealth makes the team much harder to defend, and increases your probability of winning. Coleman could have scored 25 points a game if he played on a lesser squad, but he did not; he played on a powerhouse team.
An example of a player who benefited by being on a ‘poor’ team was Syracuse’s Carl Vernick. As a sophomore, Vernick was the leading scorer on Syracuse’s 1961-1962 team, twice scoring 30 or more points in a game, and averaging 16.5 points a game. Vernick was a good player, and the best player on that squad. However, the 1961-1962 team was the worst team in Syracuse basketball history going 2-22, and losing a (then) NCAA record 27 games in a row. As Syracuse got better the next couple of years, Vernick’s scoring dropped dramatically. With the arrival of a talented sophomore class that included Dave Bing and Jim Boeheim, and a junior transfer Chuck Richards, the team would improve to 17-8 and go to the NIT tournament. Vernick would average only 2.7 points a game that year.
Over the course of Big East history, there have been exclusion of Syracuse players from Big East teams that have caused some rumblings on the Hill. Gerry McNamara did not make any of the team selections his freshman year despite his season long heroics. Leo Rautins, who would be an NBA first round pick, only made the Big East Third Team. And there are other examples I could come up with. I still think it is an outrage that Georgetown’s Charles Smith was the league Player of the Year in 1989 over Sherman Douglas.
However, from a historical perspective, Syracuse has been very well represented on the All Conference selections. In fact, they have been better represented than any other team in league history with 72 selections (next on the list is Connecticut with 62). Syracuse has also had 34 first team selections, thirteen more than Georgetown, who is next on the list. Part of that is because Syracuse has had some of the truly great players in Big East history. It is the winningest program in Conference history; winning generates great players and vice versa.
Another part is that Jim Boeheim is a player’s coach, and he lets the star players lead the way. He only goes 7-8 players deep on the bench, and that means the starters are going to carry a larger burden than on the average team. It gives the primary players at Syracuse a greater chance to shine (and also a greater one to fail).
A program like Pittsburgh, which under the Howland/Dixon era has focused on team defense, going ten players deep, and eschewed having star players in the program, is going to have a tough time generating ‘star recognition’, despite the team having an impressive record. Other than last season when Dixon let DeJuan Blair and Sam Young star, there has not been much award recognition for Pitt, which has only 12 first team selections in league history (by far the lowest of the good programs in the league).
Notre Dame, which has a reputation of funneling all the action through big man stars such as Troy Murphy, Pat Garrity, and Luke Haragody, has a disproportionate high number of players on the first team (13 selections), despite having been in the league half as long as Pitt.
It will be interesting who the league Player of the Year will be. I’m guessing the award will go to Scottie Reynolds, though I would have nominated Rautins or Wes Johnson. The sixth man award should be Kris Joseph, hands down. Coach of the Year should be Jim Boeheim, with no disrespect intended towards Jamie Dixon.
Defensive player of the year will likely be Jermaine Dixon of Pitsburgh; I think a good argument could be made for Andy Rautins. Dixon is a better man-to-man player, and that is what his system calls for. Rautins is the master of the zone defense, and I think is the primary reason the Syracuse defense excels. Rautins would not be as effective in Pitts defense; Dixon would not be as effective in Syracuse’s. Given that the zone does not get much respect, Dixon will win it. But I would vote for Rautins.