KATY, Tex. -- Quick programming note: we've run into some technical difficulties here in Texas, so that marathon chat we promised has to be postponed. Next week seems a better fit anyway, since there will be an actual 65-team bracket to talk about. We'll do a regular chat tomorrow from Cleveland at 3 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, and go for the world wide web record (which now appears to be held by somebody named "Mr. Roboto"... did someone hack the leaderboard?) at a later date.
In a universe without a middle, we humans are always try to carve out centers and capitals where we can be supreme rulers and arbiters. One of the oddest methods of doing this is the awarding of invisible prizes to others. Every American does this to some extent: filling out a fake ballot for the OscarsÂ®, voting on "American Idol," deciding who is and isn't in our own personal Halls of Fame (which are always so much better than the real ones), and creating All-Fill-In-The-Blank teams. Everybody holds little awards shows in their minds, and some are narcissistic enough to think that the actual recipients would be grateful if they knew they were receiving such honors.
Here at The Mid-Majority, we're not immune to this intoxicating, powerful compulsion. And for the second straight season, we're using the second-to-last daily post before Selection Sunday to "hand out" "awards" to those we think were the best in their respective leagues. Here, then, are the TMM Coach and Player of the Year for each of the 23 sub-Red Line conferences and independents -- as well as the "coveted" Mid-Majority National Coach of the Year and Baller of the Year.
Player of the Year:Marqus Blakely, Vermont Coach of the Year:Kevin Broadus, Binghamton TMM Player of the Year:D.J. Rivera, Binghamton TMM Coach of the Year:Steve Pikiell, Stony Brook
It's not citizen of the year, it's player of the year. The league's coaches made a statement by snubbing Binghamton players for all first-team positions, and we don't like the way BU is doing business either. But D.J. Rivera was the best player in the league, hands down. Whether or not he should have been there at all in regards to his transfer situation, that's irrelevant in this discussion... he was there, and he was good at basketball. Picking COY requires more of an Olympic figure skating type of subjectivity. SB's Pikiell won nine more games than he did last season, and the New York Times had zip on him.
Player of the Year:Ahmad Nivins, Saint Joseph's Coach of the Year:TBA TMM Player of the Year:Ahmad Nivins, Saint Joseph's TMM Coach of the Year:Brian Gregory, Dayton
Hard to argue with the voters on this one; the Hawks had a rough time down the stretch and had to play on first-round Wednesday, but Mr. Nivins kept producing in good times and bad. At the end of the regular season, he was averaging 19.1 ppg, shooting 61 percent and grabbing 11.7 rpg. Fifteen of his last 18 performances have been double-doubles. Give Mr. Gregory props for instituting a ego-free system in which 10 players saw double-figure minutes and no player averaged more than 27.5 clock-cycles of PT per game. It's crazy, but it worked -- the Flyers look safe for an NCAA bid going into the A-14 tourney.
Player of the Year:Alex Renfroe, Belmont Coach of the Year:Cliff Warren, Jacksonville TMM Player of the Year:Kevin Tiggs, East Tennessee State TMM Coach of the Year:Murry Bartow, East Tennessee State
The conference's leading scorer at 21.5 ppg, the Buc senior also tied for the league lead in steals. After the votes had been cast by the coaches, Mr. Tiggs had a sensational tourney, submitting 21 points in successive nights in the eliminators over Belmont and Jacksonville. He only dipped into single-digits once all season, in the first game of the year against Temple (nine points). His coach had spent the previous four seasons with angry fans at his heels wondering why he always "choked" in March and couldn't "win with his own players," but maybe they'll shut up now. Mr. Bartow led a talent-laden ETSU squad to 23 wins, and yes, he finished the job.
Player of the Year:Kellen McCoy, Weber State Coach of the Year:not awarded TMM Player of the Year:Anthony Johnson, Montana TMM Coach of the Year:Randy Rahe, Weber State
Because they left the Big Sky tourney in the first round as an upset-stricken No. 3 seed, the Grizzlies' season was quickly forgotten, but people in the league saw how much Montana had improved. The top reason for that was Mr. Johnson, who came in from Yakima Valley Community College and won newcomer of the year, becoming the first Montana player to lead the Big Sky in scoring since 1991. The coaches are too bashful (or something) to name a best bench boss, so we'll do it for them. Mr. Rahe had a down year with Weber in 2007-08, but rebounded improbably with a two-senior team and stellar D. The Wildcats won the last 12 regular-season games to clinch the No. 1 seed and national postseason bid early.
Player of the Year:Artsiom Parakhouski, Radford Coach of the Year:Brad Greenberg, Radford Co-TMM Players of the Year:Travis and Chavis Holmes, Virginia Military Institute TMM Coach of the Year:Brad Greenberg, Radford
Sure, the Minsk Monster was, well, monstrous... but was he two-headed? Not in the least. Chavis and Travis Holmes combined for 41.1 points as seniors, and the 6-4 twins helped VMI to 24 wins and its first winning season since 1997-98. They also helped the Keydets to the best forced turnover percentage in the country (26 percent) with their joint 6.6 steals per contest. It took only two years for Mr. Greenberg to turn Radford from the Big South punching bag it had been for a decade into runaway champions. The Highlanders more than doubled their overall win total from 10 to 21, and tripled their league victory haul from five to 15.
Player of the Year:Josh Akognon, Cal State Fullerton Coach of the Year:Bobby Braswell, Cal State Northridge TMM Player of the Year:Mark Payne, California-Davis TMM Coach of the Year:none awarded
The league's down, the top teams in the conference didn't produce many players with giant numbers, so why not Mark Payne? After a stellar freshman season in 2007-08 that earned him FOY honors, the sophomore Aggie got in where he fit in, scoring 10.8 ppg (fourth on the team) but was ridiculously efficient, shooting 67.8 percent. Point total still too low for you? No other player in the league, 6-7 or otherwise, could boast more than five assists (5.0) and rebounds (5.7) per game. Even Northridge took a dip (20 to 15 overall wins), and the only right thing to do is to leave the COY award in the closet. Nobody deserved it.
Player of the Year:Eric Maynor, Virginia Commonwealth Coach of the Year:Bruiser Flint, Drexel TMM Player of the Year:Eric Maynor, Virginia Commonwealth TMM Coach of the Year:Matt Brady, James Madison
He didn't leave early last summer because he had to work on some things -- and his physicality and basket-nose have improved, definitely -- but it remains to be seen what kind of little box the pros will try to build for him. In our context, he's the best player the CAA has seen in a while, and it's up to fans to decide how far you want to go back with that (we'll bypass Brett Blizzard and go straight to the Admiral). While I love Bruiser and like to see the school that made me smart win things, come on. He's got three of those things now. Matt Brady swooped in from Marist and cleaned up a purple mess that's been festering for a long decade.
Player of the Year:Matt Howard, Butler Coach of the Year:Brad Stevens, Butler TMM Player of the Year:Matt Howard, Butler TMM Coach of the Year (and TMM National Coach of the Year):Brad Stevens, Butler
No sense in being contrarian. Matt Howard was The Monsterizer, crushing small things that had the misfortune of thinking about getting in his path. The sophomore, who has two more freaking years of this, averaged 14.6 ppg and 6.7 rpg, which have to be adjusted for awesomeness because the Bulldogs played so slowly and deliberately. As for Mr. Stevens, this site's preferred method of approach is to trust your system and players in equal measure. He started three freshmen nearly all year, scored big RPI-boosting wins in nonconference, and is currently a shoo-in for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. Any questions?
TMM Player of the Year:David Holston, Chicago State TMM Coach of the Year:Benjy Taylor, Chicago State
As the struggles of NJIT, Houston Baptist, Bryant and Cal State Bakersfield have shown, life is rough if you don't have a conference home. Two years ago, Mr. Taylor came into a program full of players who didn't like to go to class, and had them hitting the books and hardwood in equal measure. The 19-13 record (up from 11-17 in the regime's first campaign) was the best in indy ball, CSU won 11 games at home, and the team won six on the road... double last season's total. The 5-8 dynamo Mr. Holston (whom Mr. Taylor once sat for academic indifference) with his national No. 4 25.9 ppg will be gone next season, but the Cougars will still be a force to be reckoned with in the Great What conference.
Player of the Year:Alex Barnett, Dartmouth Coach of the Year:none awarded TMM Player of the Year:Matt Mullery, Brown TMM Coach of the Year:Steve Donahue, Cornell
If the actual voters can jump in the second division for a POY, we can do that too. Mr. Mullery was Mr. Bench for his first two seasons in Providence, but he became the undisputed star of a depleted squad in 2008-09. Three wins? So what! The 6-8 junior nearly quadrupled his sophomore output with 16.1 ppg, led the league with a 60.6 field-goal conversion percentage, and went 24-for-27 in his last three games. Meanwhile, Mr. Donahue won the Big Red's second consecutive Ivy championship, and he has to win something. Plus, I have to throw my vociferous Ivy readers a bone, since they're going to give me crap about Mullery all summer.
Player of the Year:Tywain McKee, Coppin State Coach of the Year:Todd Bozeman, Morgan State TMM Player of the Year:Michael Deloach, Norfolk State TMM Coach of the Year:Tim Carter, South Carolina State
The voters wisely chose Mr. McKee, and it's a career-long achievement award for him -- he's a Proposition 48 success story, a student-athlete who lost a year of eligibility at the start but earned back what turned out to be 2008-09 with good grades. Since this doesn't mean anything, we're going with Mr. Deloach. The senior Spartan guard was the conference's leading scorer at 21.6 ppg (16th nationally), grabbed 5.1 rpg (not bad for a 6-footer), and had one bad game all year. That consistency helped NSU to a second straight No. 3 seed and status as a real spoiler candidate in the MEAC tourney. S.C. State was the site of an odd Title IX-related firing two summers ago, but Mr. Carter has quickly restored order and calm. His physical Bulldogs made a six-seed jump to No. 2 this year with an 11-7 league record.
Player of the Year:Kenny Hasbrouck, Siena Coach of the Year:Fran McCaffery, Siena TMM Player of the Year:Ryan Thompson, Rider TMM Coach of the Year:Fran McCaffery, Siena
Siena deserves plenty of plaudits for running the league for a second straight year, and one gets the feeling that any future COY awards that Mr. McCaffery receives will be in a conference north of the Red Line. He deserves everything he wants, and all the good that's coming to him. That said, the best player in the league was the little brother of last year's national MMBOY, who was very much overshadowed by a group of Saints who teamed up to become, well, the All-MAAC first team. Mr. Thompson averaged a conference-best 18.4 ppg, averaged 1.25 points per shot, nailed 42.3 percent of his 3-point attempts, and played nearly every minute of every game.
Player of the Year:Michael Bramos, Miami (Oh.) Coach of the Year:Louis Orr, Bowling Green TMM Player of the Year:Jerome Tillman, Ohio TMM Coach of the Year:Reggie Witherspoon, Buffalo
With as confusing and convoluted a league race as it was, there wasn't really room for a dominating player. Despite a weak finish in the East, Mr. Tillman was as close as the MAC came to one, a man who struck fear and commanded respect every night. The 6-6 senior finished second in the league in points (17.8 ppg) and rebounds (7.9 rpg), and has been a constant joy to watch in his four seasons in green. Mr. Witherspoon had won seven MAC games in two years, and was a candidate to be fired mid-season if there was one, considering the new reality in college hoops. He took great risks, rolled the dice on player assignments, and came up aces every time. Due respect to the Bulls' players, but this 11-5 regular season performance and gigantic turnaround was all him.
Player of the Year:Booker Woodfox, Creighton Coach of the Year:Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa TMM Player of the Year:Osiris Eldridge, Illinois State TMM Coach of the Year:Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa
There was only one player we saw all season who had that switch -- you know, the ability to turn it on and float a couple of feet above the rest of the game. He had a mohawk and wore number zero. Mr. O, who made everybody on press row collapse in "whoas" on Sunday in the title game with his 3-point barrage, scored 13.9 ppg and has a ceiling that he could find as a senior in 2009-10. And what an admirable job Mr. Jacobson did in the face of a truly Bizarro Valley. He instilled a duty to practice harder in mid-season, and it paid off with a run to the MVC double-championship that defied any and all statistical analysis. The team is a reflection of his calm confidence, and it's still quite young -- for the Panthers, there are more titles and banners to be won later.
Player of the Year:Jeremy Chappell, Robert Morris Coach of the Year:Mike Rice, Robert Morris TMM Player of the Year:Jeremy Chappell, Robert Morris TMM Coach of the Year:Mike Rice, Robert Morris
Mr. Rice won a lot of games in his first season after coming off Pittsburgh's bench, but came up short in the 2008 NEC semifinals. He never let his team forget that it had a collective chip on its shoulder, and the Colonials' focus stayed sharp from beginning through minor adversity (a tough 1-2 February road trip) to sweet peak: a first NCAA appearance for the school since 1992. His main weapon is a 6-3 do-it-all senior who led the squad in points (16.9 ppg), rebounds (6.3 rpg), free throw percentage (85 percent), assists (3.2 apg) and steals (2.5 spg).
Player of the Year:Lester Hudson, Tennessee-Martin Coach of the Year:Bret Campbell, Tennessee-Martin TMM Player of the Year (and TMM Baller of the Year):Lester Hudson, Tennessee-Martin TMM Coach of the Year:Bret Campbell, Tennessee-Martin
Lester Hudson didn't need a switch... he lived above the mid-major college game. The 6-2 Memphis miracle, while becoming the nation's No. 2 scorer at 27.3 ppg and the team's leader with 7.8 rpg, earned threeMMBOWnods this season and inspired a nickname contest. Save the name, because you will see him later. The country outside these walls will never know it because Morehead skipped away with the title, but the Skyhawks were more than Done Ruthless. UTM engineered a five-game improvement because it ran good plays, picked good shots, and had a coach that instilled clear roles in his players. All Mr. Campbell needed was a talented roster to show how good he is at this.
Player of the Year:Derrick Mercer, American Coach of the Year:Jeff Jones, American TMM Player of the Year:Derrick Mercer, American TMM Coach of the Year:Ralph Willard, Holy Cross
Hard to find a year anywhere near as strong as Mr. Mercer's, as the 5-9 senior turned in a near-carbon copy of his excellent junior year (11.4 ppg, 4.4 apg)... the result was a carbon copy of the regular-season championship banner. And find me one person who thought that Holy Cross would go 11-3 in the league and stand just a game removed from a fifth NCAA trip in nine seasons. The seniors on the roster had giant statistical steps backwards for a variety of reasons, but the Crusaders are led by a hot freshman in R.J. Evans (13.3 ppg), and feature an offense that's ahead of the defense... for the first time in recent memory. Great coaches not only make do with what they have, they do better.
Player of the Year:Stephen Curry, Davidson Coach of the Year:Ed Conroy, The Citadel TMM Player of the Year:Stephen Curry, Davidson TMM Coach of the Year:Ed Conroy, The Citadel
More than tripling the previous year's win total? With a bunch of sophomores that were freshmen when the team won just six contests in 2007-08? That's not a coaching job, it's a magical Criss Angel mindfreak perpetuated on all of Hoops Nation. As Davidson was eliminated in the SoCon semis by a Charleston team that clearly had its number (and that number was Pain), the nation's top scorer is most likely heading to some other tournament. One last time, with feeling:
Player of the Year:Matt Kingsley, Stephen F. Austin Coach of the Year:J.P. Piper, Nicholls State TMM Player of the Year:Anthony Vereen, Texas-Arlington TMM Coach of the Year:J.P. Piper, Nicholls State
Big Mr. Vereen came of age in March 2008, when he led UTA to a title out of the No. 7 Southland seed, then put up 20 on Final Two-bound Memphis in a losing cause. The 6-7 Maverick rode that momentum to a fantastic senior season, upping his scoring average to 17.7 ppg, shooting 58.2 percent from the floor, and registering a league-leading 1.31 points per shot. And his team comes into the 2009 event with a better seed (a No. 5) and the school's first winning SLC record since 2003-04. While Mr. Piper has won website COY awards in the past out of pure sympathy alone, the Colonels went from 10 wins to 19 and made the eight-team league tourney for the first time since 2001. The six-year Australian experiment (he's got five on the squad) is finally paying off.
Player of the Year:Ben Woodside, North Dakota State Coach of the Year: Saul Phillips, North Dakota State TMM Player of the Year:Ben Woodside, North Dakota State TMM Coach of the Year:Saul Phillips, North Dakota State
Player of the Year:Orlando Mendez-Valdez, Western Kentucky Coach of the Year:Don Maestri, Troy TMM Player of the Year:Nate Rohnert, Denver TMM Coach of the Year:Ken McDonald, Western Kentucky
POY is a tough call in the lengthy, spread-out, buckle-less Belt. A choice of Mr. Rohnert is as good as any, a solid 6-5 junior Pioneer contributor who helped bring pride back to a D-I program 11 years young that's been turmoil-addled since its 2005 title game appearance. He scored 15.3 ppg, shot 49 percent, and dished 4.7 assists per contest. Mr. McDonald had a tough assignment: come in after a Sweet 16 year sans an NBA player (Courtney Lee), and try to win enough to satiate a notoriously stingy fanbase. There were high highs and low lows early on (two words: Louisville, Evansville), but as the SBC season progressed, the Tops achieved seamless cohesion and were 100 percent unstoppable in the league tourney. No reason to think they won't win another first-round game at the NCAA's.
Player of the Year:Brandon Brooks, Alabama State Coach of the Year:Lewis Jackson, Alabama State TMM Player of the Year:Andrew Hayles, Alabama State TMM Coach of the Year:Byron Rimm, Prairie View A&M
Mr. Rimm lost his top two scorers to graduation last summer, but still earned PVAM a tourney No. 3 seed after three years of non-qualification. And the only reason why Mr. Hayles didn't win POY? He won it last year, and it was time to share the wealth. But what a wonderful career arc for the 6-5 senior. He came into college with all the talent in the SWAC but carried a punk attitude: an ill-timed outburst in the tourney during his freshman year cost the Hornets a win. After stabilizing as a sophomore, his breakout season was his 14.6 ppg junior campaign. This time around, he learned to defer with dignity, and took a second slot behind Mr. Brooks on the depth chart. That's maturity.
Player of the Year:John Bryant, Santa Clara Coach of the Year:Eric Reveno, Portland Co-TMM Players of the Year:Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan, Saint Mary's TMM Coach of the Year:Eric Reveno, Portland
Mr. Bryant put up the stats on a bad team, but Messrs. Simpson and Samhan the perpetually overlooked top reasons for Saint Mary's success. The Best Frontcourt in Mid-Majordomâ„¢ combined for 27.7 ppg and a whopping 20.2 rpg. The rangy 6-7 former will likely see some Summer League action and end up making big money somewhere, and the giant 6-11 latter is coming back for a big senior season in 2009-10. Mr. Reveno captured the power of the 3 and transformed the Pilots from a single-digit win sad-sack into a telegenic, successful team that finally cracked the national consciousness after over a decade of complete obscurity. I'll admit that there have been entire seasons in which we didn't even mention them.
Player of the Year:Gary Wilkinson, Utah State Coach of the Year:Stew Morrill, Utah State TMM Player of the Year:Gary Wilkinson, Utah State TMM Coach of the Year:Don Verlin, Idaho
No denying the power of a preseason Wooden watchlister and a changed man who lived in painted areas all over the WAC during his senior season, scoring 16.9 ppg and grabbing 7.1 rpg. I recall sitting on a press row at the NCAA Tournament in Birmingham near the Boise State officials; when word came down that Mr. Verlin had signed on at Idaho after a decade and a half as Mr. Morrill's right hand man at Utah State, one exclaimed, "Shit, that's a steal." After a doubling of the Vandals' overall win total from eight to 16: Yup, it was.