When it comes to Player of the Year, it looks like it'll come down to Tyler Hansbrough vs. the fab freshmen. I just can't decide just how many freshmen he's contending against…
North Carolina's star junior forward, who leads ACC team in points (22.0) and rebounds (10.1), is a lock for All-America honors and a Player of the Year finalist. It's a little remarkable that a guy who's been an All-American his first two seasons has been ever better as a junior as there's usually some kind of letdown.
Yet Hansbrough, one of the nation's most relentless players, hasn't disappointed. And when a player can fulfill or exceed expectations on a team as good as the Heels (19-1), well, it wins you a lot of awards.
Then again, most upperclassmen don't have to deal with a freshmen class like this.
The obvious and biggest contender is Kansas State's Michael Beasley. The do-it-all forward is just as impressive as Texas' Kevin Durant was last season when Durant swept every major postseason award. He's fourth in the nation in points (24.8), leads in rebounds (12.6), which is a point less than Durant and 1.5 boards better.
Beasley's even better when it comes to efficiency, leading the nation in overall efficiency on bbstate.com and is 11th on offense according to kenpom.com. Boosting Beasley even more has been K-State's recent play. The Wildcats (13-4) are 8-1 since Dec. 4, including wins against Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Cal. Beasley has been consistent (a double-double in all but two games) and pretty much unstoppable even though teams have keyed on him all season.
If K-State makes the NCAA Tournament, Beasley's numbers may be too impressive to ignore. But he'll need a few marquee games to really implant himself on the national scene, something Durant did midway through last season. (Wednesday against Kansas would be a good start.)
Still, Beasley's far from the only freshman to consider.
UCLA's Kevin Love and Indiana's Eric Gordon are the two most likely to steal Beasley's freshmen spotlight (Gordon and Beasley both made Seth Davis' midseason All-America team, though.) Both play crucial roles on Final Four contenders, but in different ways.
Love occupies the middle, rebounds anything and everything and is an underrated offensive player (he's just behind Hansbrough in average efficiency), yet his greatest asset may be allowing UCLA (17-2) to match up against any team inside, something the Bruins lacked the last few seasons.
Gordon scores more, but is just as valuable to his team, which started the season watching Gordon with the ball, but has developed into one of the nation's best offensive forces. The Hoosiers (17-1) also have another All-America candidate in senior forward D.J. White, but Gordon's scoring tends to swing the attention his way.
After those two, Kentucky's Patrick Patterson and Vandy's A.J. Ogilvy are SEC player of the year candidates (Florida Nick Calathes right behind), while Pitt's DeJuan Blair and Syracuse's Donte Green are just as notable in the Big East. And Love has Pac-10 competition from ASU's James Harden and Arizona's Jerryd Bayless. All six have been fabulous, as has Memphis' Derrick Rose. (To say nothing of High Point's AZ Reid, who goes for 23.7 and 11.6 a game. He and Davidson's Stephen Curry have been both been great, but are unlikely to garner any of the big awards.)
That's nine freshmen to mull over, which means pretty much every major conference (except the ACC) could have a freshman as its player of the year. (Texas' D.J. Augustin would be a worthy Big 12 PoY, though.)
But, if everything continues as is, it'll probably come down to Hansbrough and Beasley. They've been the two most impressive overall players this season, filling up box scores and helping their teams to big seasons. Without any individual standouts on Memphis, Kansas or Duke, it could be a two-horse race.
If that happens, it probably favors Hansbrough. He'll garner more votes than Beasley because he plays for UNC, one of the sport's marquee teams and one of its elite for 2007-08. Unless the Heels start losing, expect sentiment to swing Hansbrough's way. Is that fair? Probably not. But I'm guessing that's what'll happen.