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March 2, 2009

Monday tip: Handing out conference honors

We're in the home stretch of the regular season, and while everyone is focused on looking ahead to conference tournaments and "March Madness" we're going to spend today looking back, in a way.

We asked basketball writers Mike Huguenin and Jason King for their picks for coach and player of the year in each of the "Big Six" leagues. Here are their answers.

MIKE HUGUENIN'S ANSWERS

ACC
Player: G Toney Douglas, Florida State. The Seminoles are headed to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. Take away Douglas who is the only Seminole averaging double figures in scoring and FSU would be hard-pressed to get into the NIT. Every opponent knows stopping Douglas is the key to beating the Seminoles. Alas, they can't stop him.
Coach: Dino Gaudio, Wake Forest. Gaudio took over last season in a less-than-ideal situation and the team foundered. Not so this season. This young group has a chance to get to the Final Four. The Demon Deacons also could flame out early, but Gaudio has done an admirable job melding a team with so many youngsters into a dangerous squad.

Big East
Player: F DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh. Befitting a league with numerous top-level players, this was the hardest choice. For now, at least, we'll go with Blair, who ate up UConn's Hasheem Thabeet in their head-to-head meeting last month. Blair is a low-post force on both ends of the court, scoring on putbacks, sweeping the boards and leading the Panthers in steals.
Coach: Rick Pitino, Louisville. The Cardinals have a better-than-even chance of winning the Big East regular-season title, which is an accomplishment for a couple of reasons. First, Louisville didn't play all that well in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Second, Louisville's guards simply don't provide offense on a consistent basis. That the Cardinals could win the Big East a league filled with great guards despite not having a productive backcourt is rather unbelievable.

Big Ten
Player: F Robbie Hummel, Purdue. The Boilermakers are a different team when Hummel is on the court. He doesn't put up gaudy numbers, but every time you look, it seems he has 13 or 14 points, six or seven rebounds, three or four assists and a key defensive play or two. Had he been healthy all season, the Boilermakers would be in the driver's seat in the league race.
Coach: Bruce Weber, Illinois. This was supposed to be another long season for the Illini as they awaited reinforcements from a good recruiting class for next season. Instead, they've locked up an NCAA bid, thanks to their defense and fundamentally sound ways. Weber has coaxed all he can from this group.

Big 12
Player: F Blake Griffin, Oklahoma. This is about as big a no-brainer as there is. Griffin has been a dominant force and should be the national player of the year, too.
Coach: Bill Self, Kansas. Self guided the Jayhawks to the national title last season, then saw almost every important component of that team leave. It hasn't mattered. KU goes into the final week of the regular season with a great shot to win the league title outright.

Pac-10
Player: G/F James Harden, Arizona State. Harden is, by far, the most-talented player on a team that lacks a lot of high-caliber talent. That the Sun Devils have locked up an NCAA bid can be traced to Harden and his offensive talent.
Coach: Lorenzo Romar, Washington. The Huskies were a disappointment last season and a mystery entering this season. But they are in excellent shape to win the regular-season title. Romar's up-tempo offense causes problems for the rest of the league teams, and his trust in freshman point guard Isaiah Thomas has been a huge boost.

SEC
Player: G Marcus Thornton, LSU. Thornton is the most important player on the league's best team, which gives him the nod over Kentucky's Jodie Meeks, who despite the presence of the league's most talented big man in Patrick Patterson hasn't been able to get UK over the hump this season. Thornton is an explosive scorer who has hit numerous big shots for the Tigers this season.
Coach: Trent Johnson, LSU. Johnson and South Carolina's Darrin Horn are the only two candidates, and Johnson gets the nod because his Tigers have run away with the league's regular-season title. LSU underachieved last season, but Johnson's arrival has changed things on and off the court for the Tigers, who look to have a clue this season.

JASON KING'S ANSWERS

ACC
Player: G Jeff Teague, Wake Forest. Overshadowed a year ago by freshmen guards such as O.J. Mayo, Eric Gordon and Jerryd Bayless, Teague burst onto the scene this season for a Wake Forest team that has legitimate national title hopes. Teague, a future NBA lottery pick, has scored in double figures in every game this season, is a pest on both ends of the floor and is regarded as one of the fastest guards in the country.
Coach: Roy Williams, North Carolina. Everyone knew the Tar Heels had as much potential as any team in the country, but sometimes managing talent and egos is as difficult as coaching X's and O's. Williams has done both masterfully. The Tar Heels are the best team in the country when playing at their highest level.

Big East
Player: C Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut. No player in college basketball can affect a game quite like Thabeet, a 7-foot-3 center who averages 10.7 rebounds and 4.5 blocks. Those numbers would be higher if so many opponents didn't settle for outside jumpers instead of driving into the lane against Thabeet, whose ability to intimidate and alter shots has kept the Huskies at or near the top of the polls all season.
Coach: Buzz Williams, Marquette. The offseason departure of Tom Crean for Indiana could've had a negative effect on the Golden Eagles, but Williams refused to let that happen. Instead, Crean's former assistant led Marquette to a 9-0 start in the rugged Big East. The Golden Eagles currently are in fourth place at 12-3.

Big Ten
Player: G Evan Turner, Ohio State. In a conference void of marquee players, Turner has stood out the most. Turner ranks third in the Big Ten in scoring (16.6), fourth in rebounding (7.2), fourth in steals (1.78), ninth in field-goal percentage (50.7) and 10th in both assists (3.63) and foul shooting (77 percent). Not many players in the country offer such a complete package.
Coach: Bruce Weber, Illinois. One year after going 16-19 overall and 5-13 in league play, Weber has orchestrated one of the biggest turnarounds in college basketball. At 23-6 and 11-5, Illinois has been a mainstay in the Top 25 all season and it's not like this is a roster full of McDonald's All-Americas and future NBA draft picks. Illinois is winning with effort and execution, which speaks volumes of its coach.

Big 12
Player: F Blake Griffin, Oklahoma. It's tough not to give Griffin, who should be the national player of the year, the same award for his conference. Griffin has dominated the college game in the same way Kevin Durant (Texas) and Michael Beasley (Kansas State) did the past two years, respectively. The difference is that Griffin will go No. 1 and not No. 2 in this summer's NBA draft.
Coach: Bill Self, Kansas. Self has Kansas on pace to win its fifth consecutive Big 12 title despite losing five players to the NBA draft, along with his starting point guard. This may be the best coaching job in the career of a man who won the 2008 national title.

Pac-10
Player: C Jordan Hill, Arizona. Arizona State's James Harden will be the popular choice, and deservedly so. But no Pac-10 player has been as consistent and, at times, dominating as Hill. He is a future NBA lottery pick who averages 18.2 points and 11 rebounds. Hill has 16 double-doubles.
Coach: Lorenzo Romar, Washington. The Huskies have clinched at least a part of the Pac-10 title for the first time since 1985 thanks, in large part, to the coaching of Romar. He has molded Washington into one of the toughest teams in the country.

SEC
Player: G Jodie Meeks, Kentucky. Kentucky's recent struggles shouldn't be enough to cost Meeks this award or, for that matter, first-team All-America honors. He's been the conference's best, most consistent player all season and is one of the more well-conditioned athletes in the country. His 54-point effort against Tennessee not to mention his 45-point outing against Arkansas will be the stuff of legend in Lexington.
Coach: Trent Johnson, LSU. It seemed like a strange move at the time, but these days no one is questioning the Tigers' decision to hire Johnson away from Stanford during the offseason. One season after finishing 13-18, LSU is 25-4 and already has wrapped up the conference title thanks to Johnson - who should be a candidate for national coach of the year, as well.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.
Jason King is a college basketball writer for Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sports. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.



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