February 20, 2010
In the wake of John Wall's game-saving blocked shot in the final minute of Kentucky's victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday night, twitter erupted with ferocious player of the year banter.
Some insisted Wall is the runaway leader because he's so clutch down the stretch in close games. Others asserted that Ohio State's Evan Turner is the clear choice because of his all-around statistical brilliance.
Frankly, I'm only certain of two things: 1. This race is too close to call right now. 2. The buzz it's creating is the best thing to happen to college basketball in a while.
If the NBA has Kobe-LeBron and the NFL has Manning-Brady, then the Turner-Wall debate will be college basketball's answer to that for the next month.
The first six weeks of the season were about Wall's speed, charisma and showmanship. The next six weeks were about Turner's understated all-around brilliance. Now both are trading punches game-by-game in a player of the year battle as compelling as any since J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison, perhaps even further back than that.
Wall certainly made a strong case this week, scoring 18 points and coming two assists shy of a triple-double in Kentucky's overtime victory at Mississippi State on Tuesday and then making maybe the two biggest plays in the Wildcats' 58-56 win at Vanderbilt on Saturday. He shook off an uncharacteristically poor 3-for-11 shooting night to drive for the tie-breaking layup with 40 seconds left and then blocked the potential go-ahead 3-pointer from Vanderbilt's John Jenkins with four seconds to go.
But as spectacular as Wall has been in leading Kentucky to a 26-1 record, he is not more indispensable to his team than Turner to Ohio State. The Buckeyes, a .500 team when Turner was out with a back injury in the preseason, have ridden their star to a 10-4 Big Ten record good enough for third in a tight conference race.
Perhaps because he has less talent around him, Turner's stats are slightly more impressive than Wall's. He's averaging 19.5 points, 5.8 assists and 9.2 boards, good enough to rank in the top three in the Big Ten in each category.
Earlier this week, AnnArbor.com released the results of its latest player of the year poll with a panel of college basketball writers. Wall had led the first two polls released Jan. 20 and Feb. 4, but Turner received 30 of the 49 first-place votes in the third installment compared to 13 for Wall.
Maybe Wall won a couple votes back with his clutch showings this week, but Turner supporters shouldn't worry. Ohio State plays Michigan State on Sunday, and it's their man's turn to answer back.