Who is the Player of the Year?

The Big East basketball season will conclude in two weekends. This Saturday's Pittsburgh at Georgetown game will more than likely decide the regular season conference champion. Both teams are 11-2 in the league, a full two games up of third-place Louisville. While some positions and spots still have to be determined in the pecking order, another question is who'll be named Player of the Year?

There have been some productive seasons turned in by multiple players in the Big East. But no one has separated themselves from the pack. The list was a bit longer a few weeks back. But Dominic James's recent shooting woes and Marquette's three-game losing streak, snapped on Monday in a win over Villanova, probably takes him out of the discussion. The same might be said for Notre Dame's Russell Carter. The senior guard is still among the conference's leading scorers at 17 PPG but he hasn't been as explosive the past five games, shooting 19-of-56 from the field, good for 34 percent. Colin Falls has taken over the main scoring duties down the stretch for the Irish and is making a push for first-team honors. Both James and Carter will warrant serious consideration for the first-team All-Big East squad but their recent play has them on the outside looking in for POY.

For a variety of reasons that will be described below, there are three players, in this writer's mind, that are still in contention for the award. They are Aaron Gray of Pittsburgh, Jeff Green of Georgetown and Herbert Hill of Providence. Since this is a discussion on the Big East Player of the Year, CONFERENCE STATS AND NOT OVERALL REGULAR SEASON STATS will be used. Here's a rundown of the four contenders.

***Aaron Gray of Pittsburgh: Quite simply, he's the best player on one of the best teams in the league. This will always get someone into the discussion for the award. Gray's numbers are quite solid. The pre-season pick for Player of the Year, the 7-0 senior center averages 13.9 PPG in Big East games and is fourth in rebounding at 9.1 a contest. Gray's best game was a 22-point, 19-rebound performance in a home win over Connecticut. He has four double-doubles in league play and is a match-up problem not only because of his length but his 270-pound frame. Gray is a major reason why the Panthers are vying for another conference title.

Gray is sixth in blocked shots and seventh in field goal percentage. There's been a lot of pressure for him to live up to this year. Gray has been a steady, not spectacular, presence down low. He's a shoe-in for first-team and could hoist the Player of the Year trophy with a big performance this Saturday against fellow seven-footer Roy Hibbert.

***Herbert Hill of Providence: Statistically speaking, Hill has been the best player during the conference season. The 6-10 fifth-year senior is tops in scoring at 18.1 PPG, third in rebounding at 9.2 boards a contest, second in field goal percentage at 67 percent and fourth in blocked shots. In league play, he has seven double-doubles in 13 Big East contests. That means Hill has a better than 50 percent chance of obtaining a double-double in conference action.

If he was wearing a Georgetown or Pittsburgh jersey, or even a Louisville uniform, the discussion would be a no-brainer. Hill does not and that's why it's not certain he'll win the award. Providence, with a win over West Virginia on Tuesday night, is 7-6 in the Big East and in eighth place. Voters usually trend towards the better players on the best teams. But his impressive numbers are the best in the conference and make him a top candidate for the award.

There are other talented players on mid-level league teams. Villanova's Curtis Sumpter immediately comes to mind. The 6-7 forward is 10th in scoring at 14.8 PPG and 12th in rebounding at seven board a contest. But if voters are going to pick a player on a .500 league squad, Hill will certainly be the one. The numbers don't lie: he's good.

***Jeff Green of Georgetown (this writer's current choice for POY): Pound-for-pound, this is the best player in the Big East. He can do it all. Green can nail shots from three-point range, drive past defenders, play in the paint area and defend with his lanky 6-9 frame. He's got NBA first-round written all over him.

With the Hoyas minus Hibbert last Saturday against Villanova for most of the game because of foul trouble, Green saved his performance of the year at the perfect time. The junior forward scored 19 points, grabbed nine rebounds, dished out four assists and swatted away eight shots. Georgetown was down by a point with less than 20 seconds to go when Green got the ball on the left wing. He calmly pump faked a flying defender past him, took a few dribbles and sank the game-winning jumper to secure the Hoyas road win over the Wildcat. A national audience on ESPN saw Green step up to the challenge when his team needed him the most.

On the year, Green is ninth in Big East contests in scoring at 15.3 PPG and shoots 52 percent from the field. He's scored in double figures the past eight contests and is the driving force behind the Hoyas current ten-game winning streak. Green is the essence of the deliberate Georgetown offense, which maximizes patience for quality shots. Green also doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He's 10th in the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio. Some may question his rebounding numbers. With Georgetown's slow down but highly efficient offense, opponents get fewer chances to shoot the ball and, in turn, less times for Green to grab defensive rebounds. Also, the Hoyas are first in the conference in field goal percentage, which translates into fewer offensive rebound chances.

Voters will take a lot from Saturday's game between Georgetown and Pittsburgh. It's one of the contests of the weekend and CBS will carry the game to a national audience at 2 PM. Whether it's Green or Gray, whoever plays the best or leads their team to victory might have the upper hand for Player of the Year. Don't forget about Hill. He's has games left at home to Syracuse and at South Florida and St. John's to rack up more quality numbers. It's an ongoing discussion and everyone has their own opinions in the open race. But for this writer, these three players have a little more than week to make their final impressions.

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