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Jeff Eisenberg

Ranking the player of the year candidates in the top conferences

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Jordan Hamilton or Marcus Morris? Derrick Williams or Isaiah Thomas? And can Jared Sullinger be a national player of the year candidate without being the best player in his own conference?

Those are three of the questions addressed below in this look at 12 league player of the year races as we reach the midway point of conference play.

If you're a Texas, Arizona or Ohio State fan, you'll probably agree with my choices. If you're a Kansas, Washington or Purdue fan, I look forward to your, uh, constructive criticism.

ACC

1. Nolan Smith, G, Duke

2. Jordan Williams, C, Maryland

3. Reggie Jackson, G, Boston College

Comment: The conference player of the year race in the ACC mirrors the race for first place in the league. Duke's Nolan Smith is a clear front runner at this point since he's averaging a conference-best 21 points and 5.6 assists per game, but selecting his toughest challenger is difficult to say the least. As a result of four straight subpar shooting nights, Boston College's Reggie Jackson slips to third behind Maryland's Jordan Williams, who is averaging 17.1 points and 11.9 rebounds. Their hold on those two spots is tenuous over Virginia Tech's Malcolm Delaney and standout defenders Iman Shumpert of Georgia Tech and Chris Singleton of Florida State.

Big East

1. Kemba Walker, G, UConn

2. Austin Freeman, G, Georgetown

3. Rick Jackson, F, Syracuse

Comment: Whether or not Kemba Walker wins national player of the year, there's no doubt he's been the best in the Big East thus far. He's still averaging 24.2 points per game in the nation's toughest conference, though his shooting percentage has dipped to 43.5 percent as a result of the league's stingy defenses geared to stop him. Behind Walker is high-scoring Georgetown guard Austin Freeman and Syracuse big man Rick Jackson. Freeman averages 18.0 points on 53.5 percent shooting 46.8 3-point shooting, while Jackson has emerged as a low-post scorer and leads the league in rebounds.

Big Ten

1. Jared Sullinger, F, Ohio State

2. JaJuan Johnson, C, Purdue

3. Jon Leuer, F, Wisconsin.

Comment: The argument for JaJuan Johnson winning Big Ten player of the year over Jared Sullinger took a hit when Ohio State shredded Purdue on national TV last week. Johnson is averaging two more points per game and his rebounding and field goal percentage numbers aren't too far behind Sullinger, but this feels like an award that will go to the best player on the best team. That's Sullinger. The argument for third comes down to Penn State's Talor Battle or Wisconsin's Jon Leuer. It's Leuer by a hair here because of his greater efficiency and versatility, though Penn State would certainly be a doormat without Battle.

Big 12

1. Jordan Hamilton, G, Texas

2. Marcus Morris, F, Kansas

3. Alec Burks, G, Colorado

Comment: Credit Jordan Hamilton for accomplishing something few others have: He's nearly doubled his scoring average (19 ppg) while raising his field goal percentage from 41 to 47 percent. That's enough for him to remain comfortably in front of Kansas' Marcus Morris in the conference player of the year race. Preseason all-Americans Jacob Pullen and LaceDarius have a case for the third spot, but check out how consistently excellent Colorado's Alec Burks has been in conference play. He's had at least 19 points in six of eight Big 12 games.

Pac-10

1. Derrick Williams, F, Arizona

2. Klay Thompson, G, Washington State

3. Isaiah Thomas, G, Washington

Comment: There's not another conference that has three more clear-cut player of the year contenders. The only question is what order to rank them. While Thompson is averaging the most points per game (22.3) and Thomas has elevated his performance in Pac-10 play, the nod goes to Williams for his efficiency. He's carried Arizona into contention by averaging 19.8 points and 7.6 boards while shooting a ridiculous 63.8 percent from the field.

SEC

1. Terrence Jones, F, Kentucky

2. John Jenkins, G, Vanderbilt

3. Trey Thompkins, C, Georgia

Comment: No SEC player appears in the top 10 of more statistical categories than Jones, who is fourth in the league in scoring (17.9 ppg), first in rebounding (9.0) and sixth in blocked shots (1.9). His shot selection needs to improve, but he's been the most dynamic of Kentucky's freshmen thus far. Chasing Jones is a bevy of upperclassmen having strong seasons, the most consistent of which has been Vanderbilt sharpshooter John Jenkins. Georgia's Trey Thompkins, Tennessee's Scotty Hopson, Ole Miss' Chris Warren and Mississippi State's Dee Bost also have emerged as contenders.

Atlantic 10: Tu Holloway, G, Xavier

Comment: Sorry, folks, but this one's not close. Holloway has raised his game as a junior, keeping an injury-ravaged Xavier team undefeated in Atlantic 10 play.

Conference USA: Gary Flowers, F, Southern Miss

Comment: He's second in the conference in scoring, seventh in rebounds and fifth in blocked shots, though UTEP's Randy Culpepper is also a contender here.

Colonial Athletic Association: Charles Jenkins, G, Hofstra

Comment: Anytime you're averaging five more points per game than anyone else in the league and leading the league in assists, it's probably a safe bet you're the front runner for player of the year.

Horizon League: Norris Cole, G, Cleveland State

Comment: You can quibble with Gary Waters' assertion that Cole is the best guard in the Midwest, but there's little doubt he's the top player in the Horizon League.

Mountain West: Jimmer Fredette, G, BYU

Comment: Kawhi Leonard from San Diego State is more versatile than Fredette, but the BYU star is unmatched as a scorer.

West Coast Conference: Mickey McConnell, G, Saint Mary's

Comment: If the Gaels win the league, this will go to McConnell. He's averaging 15.9 points and 6.2 assists while shooting over 50 percent from the field.

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