With all due respect to Jared Sullinger and Nolan Smith, the National Player of the Year race is between two guys who've been the most consistent all season. Friday night showed us why Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette have been head and shoulders above their competition.
Kemba Walker's impressed me from his 1st tournament this season - the Maui tournament where he had 30+ points in the first 3 games and willing his unranked UConn team to the tourney title by beating 3 ranked teams. Here was a guy who's 6-1 but has the intangibles: leadership, clutch and a knack for the big shots. 1st half of the season, nobody played better.
UConn struggled in the Big East so he lost a bit of his buzz but he reminded us again that when the lights are on, nobody's better. It's not just that Walker blitzed through the tournament scoring record (111 points with one more game to go), it's how he did it. Thursday, he hit the game-winner over Pitt after breaking the ankles of his defender. You knew it was coming but you couldn't stop it.
Friday, he showed off his full arsenal against Syracuse. The pull-up jumper, the long-range shot, the court vision, the defense and his awareness of what needed to be done to get the victory. At 6-1, he not only had 33 points but 12 rebounds (12!), 6 steals and 5 assists. He made freshman Jeremy Lamb better as Lamb made big plays in overtime to get the victory.
People talk about his scoring but I was impressed with his defense and IQ. He not only has that New York swagger, but he's a complete player. He's already up there with Syracuse's Gerry MacNamara in 06 for the memorable Big East tourney run in recent years.
And then there's Jimmer Fredette, the guy everybody looked forward to after last season's scoring binge in the NCAA Tournament. 6-2, Mormon and a feathery jumper reminding folks of Steph Curry and JJ Redick. By the way, those are the only 2 guys worth comparing him to based on size and shooting so save me all the White baller comparison.
I've yet to see Jimmer for a full game but he's got skills inside the 3-point line too. He's willed his team to a great season just like Kemba has and his signature game might be torching San Diego State for 43 points with an array of shots. He was easily the best player of the season for the 2nd half (with Nolan Smith and Jared Sullinger taking the crown at spots).
Of course, his luster was diminished when his teammate Brandon Davies was kicked off the team for breaking the honor code. Like I've said on Twitter, rules are rules and the 2 things you gotta know when going to a school are 1) What's the vibe of the school, 2) What's the rules with girls. - BYU promptly got that backside waxed by New Mexico soon after.
But just when you think Kemba took his shine back, Jimmer turned out his best game of the season a few hours later. 33 points in the first half against New Mexico en route to a 52 point net-burning for a revenge win. Just fell short of a double nickel but enough of a reminder to say "Yeah, I'm still the man."
So who do you pick as the better POY candidate? I've said Jimmer most of the season but this week, Walker reminded me why I was fascinated with him in the 1st place. My vote is going to #15 because he's made more big plays all season but all respect to the Jimmer for what he's doing.
Either way, nobody's gonna want to see BYU or UConn in the NCAA Tournament. Which reminds me, I gotta get ready for next week when the Dean of Bracketology 101 invades the blog. March Madness started early this year and I love it!