College Hoops at the ESPYs: Handicapping Each NomineePosted by EJacoby on July 3rd, 2012
The 20th annual ESPY Awards take place on Wednesday, July 11, and college basketball is well represented at this year’s show. Eight different men’s college hoops players, coaches, teams, or moments are nominated in major awards categories, such as “Best NCAA Male” or “Best Record-Breaking Performance.” Winners are selected through fan voting, which is accessible by clicking here. Besides encouraging all our readers to ‘get out’ and vote for the college basketball nominees, we’d also like to break down why each selection was significant in the world of sports over the past year.
- Best Breakthrough Athlete: Anthony Davis - It’s hard to argue against Davis in this category, as the Kentucky forward became the first basketball player since Lew Alcindor (later-to-be-named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) in 1969 to win a National Championship as the National Player of the Year and become the #1 overall NBA Draft selection in the same season. And Davis is the first to ever do it as a freshman. AD is also a true breakthrough performer since he wasn’t even on the radar as a major prospect until as recently as two years ago. Nonetheless, he faces stiff competition, mainly in the form of New York Knicks guard and worldwide phenomenon Jeremy Lin.
- Best Record-Breaking Performance: Coach K’s Wins Milestone – Back in November, one of the great images of the sports year took place when Mike Krzyzewski passed his mentor and former coach, Bob Knight, for first on the all-time wins list. Even better, he did so at Madison Square Garden with Coach Knight in attendance and awaiting Coach K with a congratulatory hug. Krzyzewski is widely regarded as one of the greatest coaches of all time in any sport, and the wins record confirms his spot in history. However, he’s up against Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in baseball history, who also broke a milestone mark this past year with the saves record.
- Best Upset: Lehigh over Duke and Norfolk State over Missouri – Of the four nominees in this category, two are from college basketball and we should definitely get a winner here. The NCAA Tournament is perhaps best known for its Cinderella stories and producing massive upsets that could have never been predicted. This year was the classic example, with two #15-seeds winning over heavyweight #2-seeds in the Big Dance’s first round. The only question is: Which upset was better? Norfolk State’s victory over Mizzou came earlier in the day and seemed more shocking at the time, but the fact that one of our sport’s ‘bluebloods’ (Duke) fell to a Patriot League team in a thorough loss is just as worthy of the award. Both upsets should easily trump Iowa State football’s win over Oklahoma State and the L.A. Kings’ ride to the Stanley Cup – impressive for sure, but can’t be encapsulated in one single game.
- Best Game: Missouri at Kansas – Oddly enough, this category has just three nominees, but our college hoops selection is rightfully part of the trio. The Border War between Missouri and Kansas came to an unofficial end on February 25, as the 105-year rivals will no longer play each other after Mizzou switched conferences to the SEC. But that final game in February was a classic in which the Jayhawks stormed back from a 19-point second half deficit to tie the game before winning it overtime on a couple of Tyshawn Taylor free throws. It was a fitting end to one of college sports’ greatest rivalries, and also a symbol of conference realignment’s misfortunes. It won’t be easy to defeat Game 6 of the World Series, in which the eventual champion St. Louis Cardinals were down to their final strike before coming back to win, but KU-Mizzou deserves a long look in this category.
- Best Coach/Manager: John Calipari – It’s not easy to emerge victorious from a field of six, but Calipari might be the favorite from among these candidates. Calipari led Kentucky to a dominant National Championship run featuring nearly all underclassmen, which capped off three straight years of bringing in the #1 recruiting class to Lexington. His long-time detractors have very little to say now that he has the championship hardware that escaped him in three previous trips to the Final Four. Cal’s main challengers include a replacement coach who joined the L.A. Kings at midseason (Daryl Sutter), a college softball coach (Patrick Murphy), and two others who coached the most dominant players in his or her sport – Kim Mulkey had Brittney Griner and Erik Spoelstra had LeBron James. Also, Tom Coughlin won his second Super Bowl in five years this past season. It feels like Calipari’s time to win in this category.
- Best Male College Athlete: Anthony Davis – As if he didn’t win enough awards last season, Davis can add another with the ESPY for Best Male College Athlete. He’s up against two tough competitors in Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and runner-up and #1 NFL Draft pick Andrew Luck, but Davis had a more complete year. Most importantly, he won something the other two did not – a National Championship. Davis was also the National Player of the Year as a freshman for the second time in NCAA history, was named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, and became the #1 NBA Draft pick. He’s the favorite here.
- Best Team: Kentucky – The big category of the night, the ‘Best Team’ winner isn’t selected until the very end of the show, as fans can continue voting on Twitter during the live broadcast. Seven championship teams are nominated here, but Kentucky has a solid argument on its side. The Wildcats were an unprecedented champion, compiling a 38-2 record and dominant NCAA Tournament run with a starting lineup consisting of all underclassmen. Debunking the myth that ‘one-and-done’ players can’t become champions, Calipari led his youngsters (and senior leader Darius Miller) through a journey that focused squarely on his star players’ shoulders. Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and company came through all year long with consistent production on both ends, especially when it counted in the National Title game against Kansas. Don’t be surprised to see the Wildcats with their legion of fans cut down another round of nets here.
ESPY voting ends July 9, so get in your votes before then. The ESPYs aren’t always the most exciting award show on television, but they’re a great reminder of the best moments from the past year in sports. College basketball plays a large role during this year’s show with several significant events and individuals that made this a memorable hoops year.