Big East Breakdown: Walker a no-brainer for league’s player of year

By Donnie Tasser

With only one game left before the conference tournament, we’re about to see the end of yet… With only one game left before the conference tournament, we’re about to see the end of yet another exciting Big East basketball season. The Big East tournament will be held March 8-12 at Madison Square Garden. Given the ridiculous level of parity this season in the conference, I’m not even going to attempt to predict the outcome of the tournament for you, my dear readers. Instead, I’m going to do something more fun. I’m going to hand out my Player of the Year and Coach of the Year hardware.

Before I do so, I will generously list the exciting games on Saturday that serve to close out the regular season. Villanova travels to Pitt in what — as always — promises to be an exciting game, Notre Dame visits UConn, Louisville faces off at WVU, DePaul is at Syracuse, and South Florida flies north to take on St. John’s.

Player of the Year: Kemba Walker, Connecticut

This was really a no-brainer. No player has carried his team this season the way Walker has. He has been head and shoulders above everyone else in the conference this year — on the teams that matter, anyway — and that’s saying something, given the quality of Big East players.

Honorable Mention: Ben Hansbrough, Notre Dame; Marshon Brooks, Providence

Coach of the Year: Mike Brey, Notre Dame

Brey lost his best player from last year, former conference Player of the Year Luke Harangody, and found a way to make the Irish better. Notre Dame began the season unranked and currently sits at No. 2 in the Big East, only a half-game behind Pitt, and is ranked No. 7 in the country.

Honorable Mention: Rick Pitino, Louisville; Steve Lavin, St. John’s

Power Rankings

Notre Dame — The Irish take over the top spot not because they did anything that wasn’t expected of them, but partly because Pitt lost. With one game left against Connecticut, they seem ready to go for the Big East tournament — in which they are clearly a favorite.

Pittsburgh — The Panthers went into shutdown mode in overtime against Louisville — something they cannot afford to do come tournament time. They played South Florida Wednesday night and closed out the season Saturday against a slumping Villanova team. Pitt — like Notre Dame — is a favorite in the conference tournament.

Louisville — Rick Pitino’s club has shown time and time again that it is dangerous on the court, but also inconsistent. Well, the win over Pitt gave the Cardinals big momentum for the conference tournament and they have already shown they can beat anybody.

St. John’s — Like the Cardinals above them, the Red Storm have shown over and over that they can hang with the best, but also that they are anything but a lock-in. However, the Red Storm are currently riding a six-game winning streak in which they have beaten three top-15 teams. Classify them as “Highly Dangerous.”

Syracuse — After a disastrous January and early-February, the Orange are approaching the high level of play they had at the beginning of the year. They have two straight wins over ranked teams — Villanova and Georgetown — and look poised for a nice run. They close out the year with lowly DePaul and a lot of momentum at the right time.

Georgetown — The Hoyas are a team of highs and lows. They started the year hot, then cooled off at the beginning of the new year only to heat up again — until about last week. Star guard Chris Wright has a broken hand and Georgetown has lost three of four. They need a good conference tournament to jumpstart themselves for the Big Dance.

Connecticut — Once again, we have a team whose attendance is debatable. Coach Jim Calhoun has done a great job with this team, which was picked to finish 10th in the preseason Big East rankings and is now ranked 16th in the country. We have seen Kemba Walker carry this team through a tournament before, but can he do it again? And — more importantly — can he do it during the NCAA Tournament?

Villanova — Poor Wildcats. They have lost their last three games and five of their past seven. They are only a game above .500 in conference play and have to face the Panthers at the Petersen Events Center for their final regular-season game. They are a very good team, but lately have not been playing like it. Classify them as “Fragile.”