Time right to get fix on who to cheer, jeer

Few players stand out among crowd, but crop of top freshmen bountiful

National notebook

February 14, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The Atlantic Coast Conference men's tournament begins next month in Greensboro, N.C. A week after that, the NCAA tournament gets under way. So before the 2002-03 college basketball season gets away from us, here are some votes for the swishes and bricks over the first three months.

Player of the Year

There's not a long list of legitimate candidates this season, and some who might have gotten consideration last month, such as Pittsburgh point guard Brandin Knight, have been letting their teams down of late.

At the top of the list are Oklahoma's Hollis Price and T.J. Ford of Texas. In their first head-to-head matchup of the season, Price won the individual battle, scoring 23 points, but Ford's team won the game Monday night in Austin. They will likely be the favorites, but a couple of others have emerged.

Two players who won't get as many votes as they deserve are Xavier's David West and Georgetown's Mike Sweetney. West, who had a 47-point, 18-rebound game Saturday against Dayton, doesn't get enough air time. Sweetney, the only player in the top 20 nationally in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots, can't bring the Hoyas out of their current abyss.

Most disappointing player

Hands down, it's Chris Marcus. Actually, it should be feet down, because it was Marcus' big dogs that wound up short-circuiting what had been a promising career. The 7-foot-1 center missed the final 17 games last season and recently called it a career at Western Kentucky after his ankles didn't respond to surgery and prolonged rest.

Of those who have actually played the whole season, the biggest bust could be UCLA's Jason Kapono. A finalist for the Naismith Award last year and a three-time All-Pac-10 first-team player, Kapono has proved that he is a complementary piece rather than a go-to guy. He seems to be going through the motions more often than not during his team's disastrous 5-15 season.

Another candidate might be Duke's Chris Duhon. Considering how much attention he received going into the season - several nods as the ACC Player of the Year - Duhon has been his team's third-best guard at times behind freshman J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing. His supporters might point to his 7.5 assists a game, but Duhon, a junior, is shooting under 35 percent.

Coach of the Year

Rick Pitino seemingly has the upper hand for this award, given his high profile and that he has revived second-ranked Louisville in his second season there. But the vote here goes to Kentucky's Tubby Smith, whose Wildcats are ranked third.

The reason is simple: expectations. Smith coaches in the most pressure-filled job in the country, as his still wildly popular predecessor (Pitino) can attest. Kentucky plays in the much tougher Southeastern Conference. That the Cards (of Conference USA) beat the 'Cats earlier in the season should be no factor.

Most disappointing coach

The easy vote would be for UCLA's Steve Lavin, considering how far and fast the Bruins have fallen. But there are a few other candidates for this dubious award.

Indiana's Mike Davis, celebrated last season for taking the Hoosiers to the NCAA final, is on the hot seat in Bloomington as the Hoosiers (15-8) recently lost five straight, including to Northwestern. Fans of Bob Knight, not to mention Knight himself, couldn't be happier.

Then there's Mike Jarvis at St. John's. The Red Storm went to the Elite Eight in 1999, but has done little since. The fans were calling for Jarvis to be fired after their team (now 12-8) lost at home Saturday to Virginia Tech.

Freshman of the Year

It's been a terrific season for freshmen around the country. Few have made bigger shots than Florida's Anthony Roberson or have been as big a surprise as Boston College's Craig Smith, Notre Dame's Torin Francis or Louisville's Francisco Garcia.

But this memorable class is headed by Syracuse's Carmelo Anthony, who on several occasions (including a career-high-tying 29 points Monday against Connecticut) has shown why he nearly went straight from Oak Hill (and before that Towson Catholic) to the NBA. Anthony could break Allen Iverson's freshman Big East scoring record.

Most disappointing freshman

Villanova's Jason Fraser was the key recruit in a class many considered only second to Duke, but after some solid early-season performances (13 points and 13 rebounds against Marquette), the former McDonald's All-American has not put up big numbers.

While Roberson and fellow freshman Matt Walsh have stepped right in to make the Gators one of the top teams in the country, Christian Drejer has not. Drejer was slowed by an early-season injury, and finally had a good game (11 points, five assists) Wednesday against Mississippi.

Planting seeds

The Sun's projected top four seeds in each of the four regionals of the NCAA tournament. The predictions are based on team's records and their Rating Percentage Index, or RPI, the power rating given Division I teams each week:

East South

1. Kentucky 1. Florida

2. Oklahoma 2. Notre Dame

3. Marquette 3. Kansas

4. Wake Forest 4. Xavier

Midwest West

1. Louisville 1. Arizona

2 Okla. State 2. Texas

3. Georgia 3. Pittsburgh

4. Stanford 4. Duke

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