On Sunday afternoon, Jimmer Fredette was announced as the Naismith Award winner, one of the six National Player of the Year awards that get handed out.
As of the end of the regular season, that choice looked correct.
As of now?
Well, frankly, not having Kemba Walker as the Player of the Year just seems silly.
If you couldn’t tell, the difference has been what Kemba Walker has done during the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. He’s been sensational. He’s averaged 26.3 ppg, 5.0 apg, and 5.4 rpg. He’s thrown his team on his back and carried them from ninth place in the Big East to the Big East tournament title and, quite possibly, the national title come Monday night.
There has been no one in the country better than Kemba over the last month. But does that mean he was the best player in the country this season?
No, it doesn’t. What people are forgetting right now is just how average Walker was during the middle of the Big East schedule. Not all of that was his fault, however. The Big East is a grind. While the league as a whole underperformed in the NCAA Tournament, that doesn’t change just how tough it is to go through a Big East regular season. Its been said many times over, but there was a lot of good in the Big East, but not a lot of great.
It may be more difficult to play a schedule that is loaded with a lot of good. Nights off in Big East play were few and far between. Five teams didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. One of them was Seton Hall, who had as much talent on their roster as anyone in the middle of the Big East’s pack. Another was Rutgers, a tough, physical group that played as hard as their head coach Mike Rice is emotional. Providence had an all-american on their team in Marshon Brooks. Hell, even DePaul played a pressing style under Oliver Purnell that put quite a bit of wear and tear on the legs of their opponents.
The Big East schedule wore on UConn’s youngsters. Alex Oriakhi, Jeremy Lamb, and Shabazz Napier were incredibly inconsistent during that stretch. It put all kinds of pressure on Walker to make every play. It forced him to become over aggressive at times, as he was playing selfishly at times.
That hurt his numbers. But it also prepared the youngsters for the bright lights and pressure and physicality of the tournaments.
Kemba is not a different player than he was during February. If you think he is the best player in the country right now, than he was probably still the best player in the country during the regular season. Guys like Nolan Smith and Jimmer Fredette simply had better, and probably more consistent, seasons than him.
Kemba Walker is playing his best basketball right now, but that is a result of his supporting cast playing as well and as consistently as they have all season long.