LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- I always hate when awards come rolling in at the end of the regular season on the eve of conference tournaments, because nobody pays attention to them. Everyone is consumed with what's up ahead, not just the conference tournaments but the NCAA Tournament. Awards get lost in the news cycle, and in some cases, that's a real shame.
But in at least one case, I want to stop and take a longer look. Anyone who thought Russ Smith would be a first-team Big East performer when he arrived on campus, I need to report to Churchill Downs with me when the Spring Meet starts.
Smith not only was voted first-team in the Big East, but has been named a third-team All-American by The Sporting News. Sure, he had a lengthy write-up in Sports Illustrated this season, and the "Russdiculous" nickname given to him by Rick Pitino has become almost a brand. But I think back to after his freshman year, when Pitino was advising him to transfer. Pitino said he had a phone conversation with Smith's dad, in which the two talked about the possibilities for Russ. Finally, they determined that he'd just stay one more year, see how it went, and leave after that if he wasn't going to see any playing time.
Then came the Final Four season.
But beyond all those awards, the best way to sum up Russ Smith's value might be in this one: In Ken Pomeroy's Player of the Year statistical ratings, Smith ranks No. 1 -- ahead of Cody Zeller, Trey Burke and everyone else.
The award measures value and efficiency on both ends of the court, and takes out elements like hype and size of school.
Smith, in Pomeroy's calculations, has been used on 31.6 percent of U of L's offensive possessions. That ranks 16th in the country. He has taken 32.7 percent of U of L's shots. That ranks 21st in the country. His steals rate is 42nd nationally. In fouls drawn per 40 minutes he ranks 28th.
His 17.9 point-per-game scoring average is on pace to be U of L's highest since Reece Gaines in the 2002-03 season. Defensively, he's had at least three steals in 12 games this season.
With all the McDonald's All-American floating around here and in Lexington and Bloomington, that a guy like Smith has emerged to earn these kinds of accolades (and Victor Oladipo, as well), is a neat thing.
He's heading home this week to play in the Big East Tournament. Chances are, people there will be looking at him in a whole new light.