O26 Mid-Season Awards: Gregg Marshall, Chaz Williams, Jon Severe and Others…Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 9th, 2014
With non-conference action all but wrapped up and league play already going in earnest, it‘s time now to pass out some mid-season superlatives to deserving players and coaches across the O26 world. A few of these guys will probably do enough to earn some national honors by season’s end, but all of them are worth keeping an eye on over the next two months.
O26 Midseason Coach of the Year
Gregg Marshall – Wichita State. Could the Shockers actually outdo themselves from a year ago? Even with expectations high coming into 2013-14, very few could have predicted the kind of start Wichita State has had to this season, fresh off its Final Four run last March. Monumental success of that type often breeds sluggish beginnings or even major letdowns the year after, which is what makes Marshall’s coaching job so impressive — his team has not missed a beat. The Shockers have jumped out to a 16-0 record that includes wins over BYU, Tennessee, Saint Louis and Alabama, the latter two coming on the road and all of them despite losing key seniors Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead to graduation. Together with preseason MVC Player of the Year Cleanthony Early and NCAA Tournament hero Ron Baker, Marshall has inserted Fred Van Vleet and Tekele Cotton into the lineup — complementary pieces a season ago — along with JuCo transfer forward Darius Carter to create a starting five arguably more efficient and consistent than last year’s group. They are balanced (four players average in double figures), deep, and rarely lack focus from night to night. And while the early winning has generated a lot of buzz about Wichita State possibly going undefeated in the regular season, its coach won’t let the commotion deter his team’s one-step-at-a-time approach. Marshall recently said, “I’ve always said you eat an elephant one bite at a time. Right now, we’re not thinking about eating the entire elephant. We’re thinking about our next meal.” That mentality has earned Marshall our award for mid-season O26 Coach of the Year.
Honorable Mentions: Steve Fisher – San Diego State, Derek Kellogg – Massachusetts, Tod Kowalczyk – Toledo, Mitch Henderson – Princeton
O26 Midseason Player of the Year
Chaz Williams – Massachusetts. While his numbers are almost identical to last year’s in most key areas — which is to say, excellent — Williams’s emergence as the Minutemen’s fiery, consistent and unequivocal leader has been the difference in Amherst this season. The diminutive point guard is averaging nearly 16 points and over seven assists per game along with much-improved shooting from behind the arc (43.9% compared to 33.3% in 2012-13), but it is performances like the one against BYU that truly exemplify his exceptional level of play: Williams notched 32 points, 15 assists, and at one point engaged in a scuffle with Cougars’ big man Eric Mika, exchanging shoves, barking words and galvanizing his teammates in the process. UMass went on to win the game, 105-96, marking one of several big victories that have shaped its surprising 13-1 start. With the speedy, energetic Williams running the show, maybe it shouldn’t be all that surprising. So long as he is on the court—which was not the case in the final minute of regulation against Providence, wherein the team blew a five-point lead — the Minutemen have an great chance to win the A-10 and make a serious run in the NCAA Tournament.
O26 Midseason First-Team All-Americans
- Chaz Williams – G – 5’9’’ – Senior – Massachusetts. See above—the guy is quite simply the best O26 point guard out there.
- Kiefer Sykes – G – 5’11’ – Junior – Green Bay. Four times this season Sykes has been named the Horizon League Player of the Week, and he might just become the conference’s Player of the Year when it’s all said and done. The quick, explosive guard has played his best games against his team’s most difficult competition, scoring 32 points in a close loss to Wisconsin, 26 against Harvard, and 21, along with 10 assists and only just two turnovers, in Green Bay’s upset victory over Virginia. He averages 19.6 points and five assists per game, rarely committing miscues and regularly producing good looks for stud teammate Alec Brown. As a result, the Phoenix has looked like one of the better mid-major squads in college basketball at the midpoint.
- Taylor Braun – G/F – 6’7’’ – Senior – North Dakota State. Braun has been nothing short of superb this season, averaging 18.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists per game, sporting a lofty 122.8 offensive rating and getting to the free throw line more frequently than anyone else in the Summit League. He combined for 74 points in the team’s victories over Notre Dame, Delaware and Towson and is a huge reason why the Bison rank among the most offensively efficient teams in the country. Once able to overcome his current ankle sprain, Braun will likely lead North Dakota State to a conference title.
- Alan Williams – F – 6’7’’ – Junior – UC Santa Barbara. His statistical dominance has been well-documented by Ken Pomeroy (the advanced stats guru has a weekly ‘Alan Williams Watch’), but it can’t hurt to reiterate just how good Williams is: The versatile big man takes a higher percentage of his team’s shots than any other player in the country and puts up big scoring numbers as a result, yet still manages to do just about everything else on the court as well, ranking within the top 60 in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, block rate and fouls-drawn per 40 minutes. He averages 23.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 1.3 steals per contest, the type of all-around dominance that has translated into wins — the Gauchos are off to a 9-4 start that includes victories over UNLV and California. Williams might be the best player in the country that the majority of the country has never heard of.
- Cameron Bairstow – F – 6’9’’ – Senior – New Mexico. The Aussie power forward has blossomed into one of the best low-block players in college hoops this season, utilizing both refined post skills and raw strength to tally nine 20+ point games so far in 2013-2014. Bairstow helped his Australian team take silver in the World University Games over the summer and has not stopped improving since, averaging roughly 11 more points, two more rebounds, one more block and shooting a higher percentage than he did a year ago. The Lobos also work the ball through Bairstow a lot more, using him on over 30 percent of possessions when he’s on the floor. He might end up the Mountain West’s best player and his team will be in competition with San Diego State for the league title.
O26 Second-Team All-Americans
- Billy Baron – G – 6’2’’ – Senior – Canisius… 21.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 4.7 APG, 120.4 ORtg
- Wesley Saunders – G/F – 6’5’’ – Junior – Harvard… 15.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.8 APG, 2.4 SPG
- Jerrelle Benimon – F – 6’8’’ – Senior – Towson… 17.7 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.8 BPG
- Shawn Long – F – 6’9’’ – Sophomore – Louisiana-Lafayette… 21.5 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 2.9 BPG, 59.5% eFG
- Aaric Murray – F – 6’10’’ – Senior – Texas Southern… 24.1 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.4 blk
O26 Honorable Mentions
- Xavier Thames – G – San Diego State
- Elfrid Payton – G – Louisiana-Lafayette
- Antoine Mason – G – Niagara
- Glenn Cosey – G – Eastern Kentucky
- George Beamon – G/F – Manhattan
- Javon McCrea – F – Buffalo
- Jameel Warney – F – Stony Brook
- Cleanthony Early – F – Wichita State
- Alec Brown – C – Green Bay
O26 Freshman of the Year
Jon Severe – Fordham. The Brooklyn native was a coveted recruit coming out of high school, receiving offers from high-major programs like Florida, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati before ultimately choosing to stay close to home and play for Tom Pecora at Fordham. Severe is scoring over 21 points per game for the Rams and their up-tempo attack, among his best games being a 35-point game against Duquesne, a 30-point outing in a win over Manhattan, and a 29-point performance against Harvard. In fact, he is currently the nation’s leading scorer among freshmen, an impressive feat considering the other big names out there (Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, anyone?). Severe hasn’t been without his bumps in the road, however — in early December, he had an awful 1-of-21 shooting night in a blowout loss to St. John’s — but the 6’3’’ guard is versatile enough to attack the rim when his outside shots are not falling, often leading to made free throws. He will only continue improving as the season progresses, and by the time his career in the Bronx is over, Severe will likely be considered one of (if not the) best players in the A-10 and across the entire O26 landscape.
- QJ Peterson –G – 6’0’’ – VMI… 19.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.5 SPG
- Omar Prewitt –G/ F – 6’6’’ – William & Mary… 14.1 PPG, 5.0 RPG
- Eric Mika – F – 6’10’’ – BYU… 13.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG
- Alec Peters – F – 6’8’’ – Valparaiso… 13.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG
- Mamadou Ndiaye –C – 7’6’’ – UC Irvine… 9.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.4 BPG, 76.5% FG