Who Will Be Big East Player Of Year?

It might be hard for some to believe, but the Pitt men's basketball team -- that's the No. 2-ranked Panthers with a 28-3 overall record and 15-3 Big East mark -- might not secure any individual Conference awards when they're announced between first-round games Tuesday around 6 p.m.

The player of the year, coach of the year, rookie of the year and scholar athlete award still need to be announced, while the defensive player of the year was Hasheem Thabeet from Connecticut. The most-improved player was Dante Cunningham from Villanova. The sixth man award went to Corey Fisher from Villanova, and the sportsmanship award went to Alex Ruoff from West Virginia.

Pittsburgh sophomore center DeJuan Blair and senior forward Sam Young are among the favorites for player of the year honors with Thabeet, Jerel McNeal from Marquette, Terrence Williams from Louisville and last year's winner, Luke Harangody from Notre Dame. Who would Blair select if he had a vote.

"Thabeet,'' Blair said with a smile after a long pause. "Hasheem Thabeet should be (Big East) Player of the Year.''

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon does get a vote, and he made his selection known.

"We can't vote for our own guys,'' Dixon said, "(but) I wanted to pick it from a team that won it. We had to vote last week, before it was over, so that's my one complaint if I had one. ... You could go with Thabeet, McNeal, Williams. I had him. Not counting our team, I would pick Williams.

"At some point, I figured our top three guys would take votes away from each other. (But) that's a nice problem to have. I knew we'd have one guy fall a little bit, but in my mind I think (Levance Fields) has been under-appreciated, but ... I put a little more emphasis on assists than everybody else, I guess.''

Dixon's theory, it's believed, is why Fields was selected to the All-Big East's third team despite leading the nation in assists-to-turnover ratio and topping the Conference in assists per game (third nationally). Young and Blair, of course, made the first team.

"Just to be honored, it was great,'' Blair said. "In the beginning of the season, I wasn't even thought of, so just coming off that is an honor for me. Me and Sam, that's great, but I don't even now how Levance only got third team.

So, I won't even get into that. But for me to get on the first team, along with Sam, that's an excellent accomplishment. I don't think anybody else but me thought I could do it, but I did it. Surprise.''

Fields has been struggling with a hip and groin problem since landing hard on his lower back midway through the second half against Marquette last Wednesday night. He didn't practice and was on crutches leading up to the Connecticut game Saturday, to alleviate pressure on his lower body, but still came through with 12 assists and two turnovers. Fields shot poorly, but had 10 points.

"It was strictly a pain thing that he had to figure out,'' Dixon said. "There was no chance that he could injure himself any worse. ... He was good, and he's been very good. I've been singing his praises all year long, and sometimes that might fall on deaf ears sometimes.

"(But) he's developed as a leader as a senior and has taken it to another level this year. He's taken our freshmen, Ashton (Gibbs) and Travon (Woodall), under his wing. And that's what we talked about at the beginning of the year. Teaching and showing younger guys can make him a better player as well.

"I always put more emphasis on assists or the pass that leads to an assist, and that's what we emphasize,'' Dixon added. "Somebody has to get our big guys the ball, and that's usually Levance, (Bradley Wanamaker) or (Jermaine Dixon). And that's why we have such high assists and low turnovers.''

And the best record among Big East teams the past eight seasons.

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