Naismith Update: Down to the Final Four Coaches and Players

It’s been one of the more interesting years in college basketball history. From Bruce Pearl’s frantic Volunteer career of ups and downs in just one season, to Brandon Davies being kicked off BYU’s team despite their chances to win a national championship with his ability on the court. Even the prayers of his teammates couldn’t keep him a virgin.

Ohio State remained undefeated all the way into the month of February. Michigan State began the season as the second highest rated team in the nation, return all of it’s starters from two straight national title runs. They ended it losing to games to rival Michigan, battling to get into the NCAA tournament, and losing to UCLA in the first round.

In the west, once again basketball was ignored from afar. At one point, only one team in the PAC 10 was rated in the top 25. San Diego State put together a season that only saw losses to BYU. While nobody saw the season turning out the way it was, despite the mediocrity, it was definitely a season to remember.

Recently, the Atlanta Tip Off Club (Brandon Davies not allowed) named it’s 2011 finalists for coach and player of the year. Four new players and four new coaches who have never won the award were named as finalists that helped define what was the 2011 season. After the jump we break down the awards and finalists for them.

Coaches:

Mike Brey, University of Notre Dame - When the season started, there were not many people that put faith in the fact that Notre Dame was going to compete at the top of the Big East in 2011. After losing top players Luke Harangody and Tory Jackson from last year’s team, it didn’t seem like the talent was there to play at an elite level. After a 14-4 record in the Big East on solid play from Ben Ben Hansbrough, and a number two seed in the NCAA Tournament, many doubters were proved wrong. The US Basketball Writers Association’s pick as coach of the year has built something special at Notre Dame, a school known for inventing the sport of college basketball. Something has to be said for the consistency and teaching ability Brey brought to his 11th year as the Fighting Irish Head Coach.

Thad Matta, Ohio State Univeristy - One year after losing star guard Evan Turner to the NBA, Thad Matta wasn’t supposed to be the dominant force of the Big Ten heading into the 2011 season. His team of consistent basketball players weren’t supposed to be talented enough to play team basketball. Freshman Jared Sullinger was not supposed to be a candidate for almost every player award possible. Thirty two wins and two losses later, the Buckeye head coach found himself undefeated into the month of February and highly regarded as one of the best coaches in college basketball. His only losses this season came to top 10 programs on the road in arenas that not one opposing team came into and won. Every night a different player led his team in scoring and his balanced attack and solid defensive style is the reason the Buckeyes are in championship contention yet again this season.

Steve Fisher, San Diego State University - If there is one coach that has done more with the talent then Fisher has this season, then somehow I’ve been hiding under a rock all year. Fisher doesn’t have the best team in the country, but only boasts two losses to BYU all-season long. His team, led by point guard D.J. Gay plays to Fisher’s style as does the whole roster. Their competition might not of been the best in America, but the fact that San Diego State can compete with any competition in the country is a good enough reason for Fisher to be nominated this season.

Dave Rose, Brigham Young University – Fisher’s counterpart in the Mountain West, Rose has created the destination to play basketball in the state of Utah. This season, despite losing his best rebounder in Brandon Davies, was able to finish second in the Mountain West and lock down a third seed in the NCAA Tournament. There hasn’t been a season the last five years that BYU hasn’t dominated conference play, but this year has been something special. Rose has led his team to play their best basketball of the year late in the season, and has his squad in the sweet sixteen alongside San Diego State.

Players:

Nolan Smith, Senior Guard, Duke - Many would argue that Smith isn’t even the most talented team on Duke’s roster, but there is no doubt that the four year Blue Devil is the heart and soul of this basketball team. Averaging 21 points per game, Smith has become known just as much for his scoring as he has his floor vision and leadership. If there is one player in the nation that makes his team better, there is nobody better at doing it than Smith. The ACC player of the year was one of only three players this season to average 20 points and five assists. The player many in Raleigh compare to Grant Hill, Smith is came into his own as arguably the best point guard in the country his senior year.

Jared Sullinger, Freshman Guard, Ohio State – When Sullinger hit the stage at the beginning of the season, the sky seemed to be the limit for the forward. With a 40 point performance over IUPUI, the country got to know the freshman known as Sully. Averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds per game and totaling 17 double doubles all season, there isn’t a doubt that his play was crucial to securing Ohio State the number one overall seed in the NCAA tournament. The Big Ten Tournament player of the year was also named the freshman of the year in the Big Ten, and has burst onto the scene as a big man that households will remember for quite some time.

Kemba Walker, Junior Guard, Connecticut – The Huskies undoubted leader scored 23 points per game and led Connecticut to an unprecedented run to the Big East championship with heart and a true gift for getting to the hoop and dishing the basketball. The Big East Tournament MVP scored 130 points in five games to lead his squad to a number three seed in the NCAA tournament. If there is one player that answers to any challenge in front of him, it’s Walker. If the player of the year should be defined by a player that puts his team on his back, there is nobody in the country more strong willed than Kemba Walker.

The Naismith Awards are named after Dr. James Naismith, the inovater and creator of the sport of basketball. The award winners will be named on Sunday April 3rd and fans can vote for the player of the year by texting VOTE to 345345 on your mobile phone.

Joe Dexter also covers Ohio State and the Big Ten Conference for the FanSided. Read his Buckeyes coverage at Scarlet and Game and follow him on Twitter.

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