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The Big East struggles with yearly awards

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The Big East conference had two major yearly awards left to give and it somehow contrived to get them both wrong.

"You lost to us, how great a coach can you really be?"
"You lost to us, how great a coach can you really be?"
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

I know what you're all thinking and no, this isn't actually a take down of Kellen Dunham's win as scholar-athlete of the year. Now that we've got that shocking news out of the way, let's get into the meat of this thing.

Coach of the Year:

How do you define the coach of the year? Is it the guy who does the most with the least? The guys whose team is the best? Maybe it's the guy who has the most surprising team? Generally, conferences award their coach of the year to someone who has taken a decent team and made them great, or to someone who has just kept the machine rolling over. This year, the Big East picked Jay Wright and Kevin Willard as co-coaches of the year. There's nothing glaringly bad about either of those picks, it's not like John Thompson III won, but another award given out today makes them seem just a little bit foolish.

According to Wikipedia, "the Henry Iba Award was established in 1959 to recognize the best college basketball coach of the year by the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA)." The Henry Iba award carries with it a great deal of prestige. John Wooden won it seven times. It is exactly what it says it is, a recognition of the best coach in college basketball. This is pertinent to today's discussion because this year's winner was Coach Chris Mack of the Xavier Musketeers.

The Big East announced their awards at 4:30 yesterday afternoon. Exactly 90 minutes before that, Coach Mack was announced as the national coach of the year award. I'm relatively certain that the coaches weren't voting in that intervening time span, but consider for a moment the fact that Coach Mack, fresh off winning the national award, finished no higher than third in his own conference. That doesn't really lend an air of authority to the minds in the Big East.

Player of the Year:

If that were the only bad decision (and again, both Wright and Willard were excellent this year) that may have been excusable, but the Big East also awarded it's player of the year to someone who isn't the best player in the conference. Earlier this week, I laid out the case for Mo Watson Jr. to replace media favorite Kris Dunn on the all Big East team. This mildly controversial stance brought quite a bit of critique, but none of it was unassailable. Dunn was, even by admission of his supporters, something less than stellar on offense. He certainly had an argument as the best defender in the league, but only on that end did he shine.

Well, the Big East voters, fresh off messing up on coach of the year, felt the need to make it a clean sweep by giving Kris Dunn player of the year. Drop all bias and simply look at Dunn by his raw numbers, both tempo adjusted and not, and Ken Pomeroy doesn't even rank him as the best player on his own team! That honor goes to Ben Bentil, the player who unquestionably carried his team through most of conference play. In the rest of the conference it's not difficult to put Josh Hart and Isaiah Whitehead well ahead of Dunn. Even that most charitable of interpretations lands Dunn fourth, not first. Win shares, PER, BPM, efficiency, you name it, there's not a cumulative statistic in which Dunn leads the Big East. Once again media hype and a collective obsession with even the most greedily of tallied counting stats has led voters in the wrong direction.

Ultimately, neither of these awards will be what is remembered about this season. Even if Xavier is to bow out in the Sweet 16 or earlier again, no one is going to point to the March 9th announcement of the awards as a major point in the season. 26 regular season wins, complete destruction of two in state rivals, and hopefully a long run in March will be the talking points this year. As Caleb pointed out, Xavier fans are thankful for the Big East and conference strength it provides. Still, there were two choices on the table today, and the BE got them both wrong.

But seriously, congrats to Kellen Dunham.