Georgetown's John Thompson III and Otto Porter have been the best coach and player in the Big East this season.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – It's ballot time in college basketball. It's too soon to pick the national player of the year. The folks who run the Wooden Award are wise. They hold off on requesting national Player of the Year ballots until at least three rounds of the NCAA Tournament have been played.
But regular-season play is wrapping up this week. So it's time to pick the top players, freshmen and coaches in each league.
I'll begin with the Big East on Wednesday, Southeastern Conference on Thursday and Big Ten Friday.
Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse – Is Carter-Williams a little careless with the ball sometimes? You bet. Could he be a better scorer? No doubt. The weight room should be his next stop. But he's first in the league in steals, assists and head-shaking plays from the wing.
Jack Cooley, Notre Dame – In the beginning, Cooley only looked like Luke Harangody. This season he's also played like Harangody, delivering 18 double-doubles.
Russ Smith, Louisville – The computerized formula that Ken Pomeroy uses to rank players continues to put Smith as the top player in the nation. He can score. He can defend. He brings energy. He's a legit candidate, who figures to be a Wooden finalist.
Otto Porter, Georgetown – The best players stand and deliver when it matters most. Porter has been named the Big East player of the week for the last three weeks. He's a winner, even if his player of the year push blew a tire as the Hoyas lost at Villanova Wednesday night as Porter missed nine of 15 shots.
Shabazz Napier, UConn – I considered nearly a dozen guys for this spot. You can probably talk me out of Napier with a good argument. But he's fifth in the league in scoring and seventh in assists. He's also the number one reason the Huskies can finish with a winning record.
Gorgui Dieng, Louisville – Rick Pitino wants Dieng to put his name into the NBA Draft. Pitino is 98 percent certain Dieng will leave, although Dieng talks like he's 100 percent certain he hasn't made up his mind. His ability to block shots and rebounds will likely push him into the first round. If he leaves.
Cashmere Wright, Cincinnati – Do not focus on this kid's numbers, even though he's in the Top 25 in scoring, top 15 in assists and top 10 in steals. Focus on his toughness because Wright has done it all with a bad shoulder and some bad knees. He hasn't been healthy since November but refuses to sit.
Bryce Cotton, Providence – He's the only guy in the league averaging 20 points per game. He's made 87 three-point shots, while shooting better than 38 percent from the line. Look for him in the NBA.
Davante Gardner, Marquette – In Pomeroy, I trust. Gardner ranks second in the league (behind Cotton) in Pomeroy's offensive rating. Why? It's likely because he's shooting better than 57 percent from the field and nearly 86 percent from the line while averaging 11.6 points for a team that has been near the top of the league all winter.
Eric Atkins, Notre Dame – This final spot is also open for debate. I considered Vander Blue (Marquette), Peyton Siva (U of L) Fuquan Edwin (Seton Hall), D'Angelo Harrison (St. John's) and others.
But I went with Atkins. Why? He leads the league in minutes, playing more than 38 per game. He's a 43 percent three-point shooter whose assist-to-turnover ratio is second in the league. He also guards.
JaKarr Sampson, St. John's – Nobody else has won the league's freshman of the week award seven times.
D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown – Tough, determined, physical, sound. The essential Georgetown player.
Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova – He'll bury you from the three-point line if you don't make him uncomfortable.
Steven Adams, Pittsburgh – He hasn't played like he was billed – one of the five best freshmen in the nation. But he's in the top 15 in the league in rebounds and blocks. He's a massive young man.
James Robinson, Pittsburgh – If a rookie is going to lead the league in one statistical category, assist-to-turnover ratio is a good one to pick.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Porter, Georgetown – His 33-point, 8-rebound, 5-steal performance at Syracuse was the defining performance in the league this season. Look for him to finish high the national player of the year voting. As long as Porter and the Hoyas don't falter in their home finale against Georgetown Saturday, he's the guy to beat.
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Sampson, St. John's – Seven Big East freshman of the week awards should easily translate into the top freshman, especially when the kid has scored in double figures in 15 of his last 16 games.
COACH OF THE YEAR
John Thompson III, Georgetown – The Hoyas were picked to finish fifth in the league this season by coaches in the league. They're currently fifth in the nation. Thompson wins -- unless the Hoyas lose again to Syracuse Saturday. Then Buzz Williams (Marquette) is in play.