We’re hitting the halfway point of the WCC schedule, so it’s time to hand out a little hardware to the best players so far. Check out our preseason predictions first as we will be comparing to see who is still a frontrunner and who has moved in and out of the award discussion.
Player of the Year
Preseason: Tyler Haws, BYU
Current: Brad Waldow, Saint Mary’s
Haws is playing out of his mind again this year, but he’s been a victim of the struggles of his team. He’s 2nd in the nation in scoring and leading the 1st ranked offense in points per game, but the Cougars are struggling to keep their heads above water. This could end up falling into the age-old debate of what’s more important when choosing this type of award: the statistics of a player or his team’s overall success?
Waldow also falls into this category. He’s among the national leaders in both points and rebounds as he’s currently averaging a double-double, and his team has been excellent. But they’re still a class below Gonzaga. So what do you do? Do you go with a Bulldog even though none of them have the stats of Waldow or Haws? Do you go with Haws or someone like Kyle Collinsworth because statistically they’re great players even though their team is clearly a level below the other two? Or do you take the best of both worlds with Waldow who has numbers and a decent team?
I’m going with the best of both worlds and choosing Waldow for a number of reasons. While Haws has flashy scoring numbers and Collinsworth is doing everything well, Waldow is an absolute force. A good big man is really hard to find, and the fact that he’s averaging a double-double is ridiculous. He’s one of the best big men in the nation, and his numbers prove that. If you had to start a team from scratch with one player from the conference, I might take Waldow over guys like Haws, Kevin Pangos, and so on because of how valuable a good center is and how well Waldow plays the position.
The Gaels are very good. Maybe not on Gonzaga’s level, but good enough to where you can’t really make the same argument as you can with Haws where you say that Waldow’s team isn’t good enough for him to win this award. If anything, Waldow’s presence is what has the Gaels in the middle of such a good season that might take them from a disappointing 4th place finish last year to the NCAA Tournament this year. He’s an elite player and extremely valuable to his team, so he deserves this award right now by a slim margin over Haws, Collinsworth, and the Gonzaga group.
Defensive Player of the Year
Preseason: Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga
Current: Kyle Collinsworth, BYU
It’s tempting to go with Jito Kok of San Diego because he’s on another level from everyone else in the WCC with his blocking ability, but he’s too one dimensional to be a great all-around defender and win this award. And while Karnowski is still a great presence inside, you could argue he’s not even the best defender on his own team right now. Waldow has made great strides in his defensive rebounding leading the conference, but he’s not much of a shot blocker.
Dec 6, 2014; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Brigham Young Cougars guard Kyle Collinsworth (5) shoots the ball during the second half against the Hawaii Warriors at EnergySolutions Arena. Brigham Young Cougars won the game 90-70. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
The top candidates right now are the guards. A big reason why Kyle Collinsworth of BYU and Kerry Carter of Saint Mary’s have been so valuable to their teams is their versatility. Not only are they great scorers, they have been very impressive hitting the boards and playing defense. They rank 1st and 3rd in steals and 2nd and 6th in defensive rebounds. The latter is really impressive considering their focus on guard play and offense. Heck, Collinsworth in 2nd in assists while doing all this in the meantime. No wonder he’s a candidate for Player of the Year.
Collinsworth gets the nod because his numbers are a level above Carter’s. It’s especially noticeable in defensive rebounds where he’s just 0.5 rebounds per game behind Waldow for first place. That’s crazy considering he’s also leading the conference in steals AND doing everything he’s doing on the offensive end. Might have to a look at WCC Player of the Year again when the season is over if he keeps producing at this level regardless of where the Cougars finish in the standings.
Newcomer of the Year
Preseason: Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
Current: Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
You knew it was gonna be a Bulldog after their high-profile offseason, and that hasn’t changed. It was just a matter of picking the right one, and so far we like our pick. Domantas Sabonis and Byron Wesley have been excellent and would be worthy recipients of this award, but Wiltjer has reached another level. He’s leading the team in scoring, and he has gone from unknown Kentucky washout to the arguably the best player on the best team in the WCC.
Jan 10, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) goes up for a shot against Santa Clara forward Dominic Romeo (42) during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs won 79-57. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
We knew Wiltjer would be good, but he’s done a lot more than you’d expect from a guy transitioning to a much larger role for a really good team. Yes Kentucky is the big time, but he never had a major role there. So to be dropped into the starting lineup of a team with high expectations is a big change. When we picked him for the award, much of it was based on him filling the biggest need and therefore getting the most playing time. Wesley and Sabonis were going to be good, but it was unclear how much room there would be for them to get the same number of minutes.
But both Wesley and Sabonis have also assumed major roles. In fact Pagons and Karnowski are arguably the only returning players who have the same impact as that new trio. So Wiltjer is earning this award with his elite talent more than he is with just his playing time, and that makes it all the more impressive. He’s one of the best forwards in the conference, and one of the best transfers to come into the WCC in a long time.
Coach of the Year
Preseason: Mark Few, Gonzaga
Current: Mark Few, Gonzaga
You could give some consideration here to both Marty Wilson of Pepperdine and Randy Bennett of Saint Mary’s, but it’s hard to look past the elite success that Gonzaga is having once again. In a normal year where Gonzaga was great but not elite, it would be nice to award Wilson for the way he has turned Pepperdine into a legitimate breakout team or Bennett for putting Saint Mary’s in the NCAA Tournament conversation. But not this year with the way Gonzaga is pushing to be among the best in the nation once again.
Jan 10, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs head coach Mark Few looks on against the Santa Clara Broncos during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs won 79-57. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
A lot of credit has to go to Few and his staff for the offseason moves in particular. It’s amazing to think that there were real questions about this team with all the transition from last year. But then they went and brought in one of the best classes of freshman and transfers this conference have ever seen. Even the freshmen not getting much time would be key players on any other team. They took the Bulldogs from a team with questions to one of the best squads Gonzaga has ever had.
This is a matter of team success as well. While what Pepperdine and Saint Mary’s is doing is impressive, Gonzaga has national championship aspirations. And if they run the table in conference play, there’s just no way to justify giving this award to anyone but Few. The Bulldogs will have to absolutely collapse in the second half for Few to lose this award.
For fun, let’s take a look at how secure each of these awards is right now, and review who could steal them away in the second half of conference play:
Player of the Year: Not a Lock
Haws and Collinsworth are playing out of their minds, so they could win it even if BYU continues to struggle. And if the Cougars have a second half surge, they may steal it away even if Waldow is still playing really well. And this is before we even talk about Gonzaga. If team success is the biggest factor, any one of multiple Bulldogs would have to be the top choice over Waldow.
Defensive Player of the Year: Not a Lock
Collinsworth has a good hold on the statistical advantage, but guys like Waldow and Carter are close enough to threaten. There’s also a lot of intangibles that come into play as a great defensive player doesn’t always show up in the raw numbers. If Collinsworth was further ahead statistically he would have a stronger case, but it’s not a wide enough margin to say nobody could take it away either with their similar numbers or by just looking impressive in live action.
Newcomer of the Year: Almost a Lock
The only thing between Wiltjer and this award is himself. Nobody outside of his own team is a real threat at this point, and he has taken on a lead role that should allow his numbers to stay above those of Sabonis and Wesley. Really only an injury or major struggles would cost him. But that would be a double whammy because not only would it limit his numbers, it would increase the role of the other two allowing them to improve their own numbers. So that’s the only reason it’s not a lock. As long as Wiltjer keeps doing his thing, he’s got it locked up.
Coach of the Year: It’s a Lock
There just aren’t enough hurdles left for Gonzaga to really have a major collapse, so they should cruise to a good finish. And that will be plenty to keep the Bulldogs as the best team in the WCC and Few as the best coach. This is the closest thing to a lock as you can get for a midseason award prediction.