OK, it’s time for some midseason awards. Without further ado…
Player of the Year: Steve Logan of Cincinnati. He’s been the sparkplug behind one of the biggest surprises of the season — the Bearcats’ nation-best 19-game winning streak.
I said before the season started that he could be one of the nation’s most underrated players and he still hasn’t gotten many national props despite an incredible year by any standard and being the defending player of the year in Conference USA.
Through 20 games, he’s averaging 22 points and five assists per game, is hitting 38.6 of his 3-pointers and 86.3 percent of his free throws. And if you really want to get into my good graces, hitting more than 80 percent from the charity stripe is a good place to start.
Surprise of the Year: It’s no surprise that Cincinnati has played well, what’s surprising is the way they’re dominating their opponents. They’re well on their way to a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Also receiving consideration is DePaul’s implosion after winning big games against Temple and Missouri. The Blue Demons were 7-4 and seemingly on track to challenge for a tournament bid, but have stumbled to a 1-6 record to open conference play and could end up costing coach Pat Kennedy his job.
Coach of the Year: Bob Huggins makes this a clean sweep for the Bearcats in the three major categories. It’s hard to imagine a coach who has done more within the conference. He’s going to be contender for national coach of the year honors as well. Banning a reporter from the team for two games wasn’t a good way to get in the media’s good graces though.
Freshman of the Year: He got the hype coming into the season, but it’s hard to dispute that DaJuan Wagner isn’t the best freshman in the country, much less the conference. He’s scoring 21.2 points per game and has led Memphis to a 7-0 start in league play.
He’s still untamed – he’s shoots the ball way too much and is a sloppy ballhandler at times – but the potential for greatness is there. Possibly the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft next year.
Upset of the Year: There haven’t really been any terribly big upsets either by C-USA teams or of C-USA teams. Murray State’s upset of DePaul doesn’t seem quite so big in retrospect and Marquette knocked of Indiana and Gonzaga on back-to-back nights, but Marquette is quite good.
So I’ll say East Carolina’s victory over Louisville, 87-77, on Jan. 16. It was a big victory for the Pirates, who are struggling in their first season in the conference, so beating a team with the cache of Rick Pitino’s Cardinals was a big boost, even if Louisville is a middle of the pack team in the league.
East Carolina has lost games this season to Appalachian State, Central Florida, NC-Greensboro and Old Dominion. Louisville should have been able to put them away.
Disappointment of the Year: The twin implosions of DePaul and Southern Miss. Both teams were thought to have a chance at the NCAA Tournament this season and both have stumbled to 1-6 records in the conference.
Story of the Year: The Bearcats’ run for the top of the polls.
Projected NCAA Tournament teams: Cincinnati, Memphis, Charlotte and Marquette.
Cincinnati is a stone cold lock and Memphis is getting there. Marquette has quietly compiled a 17-3 record and an impressive RPI and shouldn’t sweat too much if it can manage to play .500 ball for the rest of the season.
Charlotte (12-6) is a bit of a reach, but I picked the 49ers to make it before the season began and I’m going to stick with them now. They’re playing well now (6-1 in the league) and should be a factor in the conference tournament.
Projected NIT teams: Charlotte is a lock if it doesn’t make the Big Dance. Throw in Louisville and South Florida as well.