By CHRIS GOFF
It’s been an unusual regular season with 16 teams in the Atlantic 10 for one year, with Butler and VCU joining the conference ahead of schedule and Temple and Charlotte completing their final season as members.
While the rest of the week undoubtedly will center upon an interesting league tournament that begins Thursday, today I thought marked a good time to hand out some year-end awards. I was asked to submit a ballot by my colleague Steve DiMiceli, who runs an outstanding blog on Duquesne sports and conducts an annual awards tally of A-10 bloggers and media from a variety of outlets. I thought I’d share with you my ballot and an explanation of how I voted. Two caveats: five-man teams were chosen with respect to the five positions, and selections were informed by a combination of subjective observation and statistical measurement.
Let’s get to the picks:
Player of the Year: Khalif Wyatt, Temple
Wyatt got the better of fellow contenders Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic on Sunday, giving Temple its seventh straight win to conclude the season, so the momentum is clearly in Wyatt’s favor. But his team’s closing surge is not the reason to vote for him. Wyatt has averaged 20 points per game, easily the most in the conference, and has borne more of a burden than anyone else. That’s why. Dwayne Evans’ team won the league, but he was only the No. 18 scorer. Reddic and Graham of VCU land second and third on my ballot, while the fourth and fifth spots belong to Evans and La Salle’s Ramon Galloway, in an order of your choosing. Wyatt is the best individual player in the league whose numbers have helped give the Owls the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament.
First Team: Dwayne Evans, Saint Louis; Treveon Graham, Virginia Commonwealth; Juvonte Reddic, Virginia Commonwealth; Khalif Wyatt, Temple; Chaz Williams, Massachusetts
Reddic is having a dominant campaign. He is ahead of all of the players on this page in player efficiency rating and has single-handedly carried the smallball Rams’ low-post offense. If he were to win player of the year, I would not consider it a mistake. Graham is an obvious choice. No power forward has his body of work and he should be among the top four in POY voting. On the wings, any argument against Evans or Wyatt on the first team won’t hold much water. Their nearest competitors have all been less productive. The fearless Williams leads the league in assists (7.6 per game) and is tied for sixth in scoring (15.4). He’s provided leadership to an up-tempo attack, can really see the floor and initiates nearly every offensive action for the Minutemen.
Second Team: Roosevelt Jones, Butler; Isaiah Armwood, George Washington; Travis Taylor, Xavier; Ramon Galloway, La Salle; Rotnei Clarke, Butler
The Bulldogs aren’t close to this year’s success without Clarke (16.7 points per game, 41.7 percent 3-point shooting). He and Galloway are readily apparent as the third- and fourth-best guards. Galloway in particular has had a brilliant season. He has a player efficiency rating of nearly 24; only 18 players in the A-10′s past four seasons posted such a rating. You’d be hard-pressed to name a more versatile backcourt player. Jones racked up stats all season, and his coaches consider him Butler’s best defender. On the interior, Armwood and Taylor are both very valuable two-way bigs, if not elite enough to crack the first team.
Third Team: Darien Brothers, Richmond; Demitrius Conger, St. Bonaventure; Andrew Smith, Butler; Semaj Christon, Xavier; Tyreek Duren, La Salle
Duren was easily one of the conference’s top three floor generals. He was one of only three point guards to post a wins added total of at least 3.5 this season – Clarke and Williams, of course, were the other two. The toughest choices were on the inside. Derrick Williams and Chris Gaston might have been the picks but for injuries. They simply missed too many games. Smith thrived as a senior for Butler while arguably being the team’s best player, and the Bulldogs had a great season. Easy selection. The struggle was between Conger and Ronald Roberts Jr. of St. Joe’s. I rewarded Conger for his superior offensive contribution, which was consistently good under a huge minutes load. Conger went the distance in 14 of the Bonnies’ 29 games. Christon was a no-brainer; more on him later. I went with Brothers over Langston Galloway of St. Joe’s at the final small forward spot. Brothers’ true shooting percentage (.594) and leading man role for his team carried him onto the ballot.
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwayne Evans, Saint Louis
Evans is a fixture on that awesome Billikens D – perhaps the most important defender on what might be the conference’s best defense. At his size and strength, you’re not posting him. He’ll stop the bounce in isolation. He’s very good as a team and help defender. His versatility is amazing; he probably can guard any position on the floor. Evans deserves this honor.
Defensive Team: Dwayne Evans, Saint Louis; Isaiah Armwood, George Washington; Juvonte Reddic, Virginia Commonwealth; Briante Weber, Virginia Commonwealth; Pierria Henry, Charlotte
My logic is that the best defensive teams likely have the best defensive players, and based partly on that factor, the top four teams in the conference in defensive efficiency provide all five members of this team. Weber’s jets and reach make him a nightmare for opposing ballhandlers, and his stats blow you away. Henry is one of the league’s better defensive point guards. Reddic is first in the A-10 in defensive win shares at 3.5, while Armwood is a force due to his mobility, post defense and shot-blocking.
Rookie of the Year: Semaj Christon, Xavier
You were expecting Isaiah Miles? Christon is a clear pick as an incredibly athletic future pro who could make an all-conference team as a freshman. The 6-foot-3 Christon was the key cog in Xavier’s season, averaging 15.4 points per game. More impressively, he averaged nearly five assists per game from the shooting guard position.
All-Rookie Team: Patricio Garino, George Washington; Willie Clayton, Charlotte; Kevin Larsen, George Washington; Semaj Christon, Xavier; Derrick Colter, Duquesne
While Christon was the A-10′s only true high-impact freshman, a number of solid contributors filled the rest of the field. Apologies are due to Kellen Dunham; as I know so well, he’s had a pretty good first season. His case is not as strong as the five above because the Bulldogs used him off the bench most of the way, but Dunham’s a clear standout. Garino and Larsen anchored the top-ranked defense in the conference (0.95 points per possession), while Clayton shot a league-best 59 percent from the field and finished second in offensive rebound rate. Colter averaged 13.5 points per game and was amazing as a freshman point guard.
Coach of the Year: Jim Crews, Saint Louis
For the best story of the 2012-13 season, look no further than the Billikens, who finished first in conference play with a 13-3 record, earned the school’s first outright regular season league title since 1957, won 11 straight games in the middle of the season, are ranked in consecutive weeks for the first time since the 1993-94 season and somehow did all of this while overcoming the absence and eventual death of coach Rick Majerus. A sizeable portion of credit has to go to the interim guy, Crews. A head coach for 24 seasons at Evansville and Army, Crews played and coached under Bob Knight and has done an exemplary job on short notice under tragic circumstances with a team that began the year unranked.
Most Improved Player: Travis Taylor, Xavier
Taylor rose from irrelevancy in his fourth year in college – or fifth, if you count the season he sat out after transferring from Monmouth – to post a 21.4 player efficiency rating (up from 13.7 a year earlier) and became the second-best player for a national program. Xavier coach Chris Mack told me Taylor was unplayable at this time a year ago. Now he’s won the league rebounding title while averaging 14.9 points per 40 minutes, including a 19-point, 19-board eruption against Saint Louis.
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