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January 30, 2008

Beasley could take home hardware

Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He'll answer your questions every week in his College Hoops Mailbag.
Jan 22: Full Crew(s)
Jan 16: Possibly perfect
Jan 9: Grading Gonzaga

Unlike in college football, which has the Heisman Trophy, there is no definitive award for the most outstanding player in college basketball. But that doesn't stop fans from debating who deserves such a piece of hardware.

Some say it should be a freshman again, pointing toward Kansas State's Michael Beasley. Others say it should be North Carolina junior Tyler Hansbrough, who has kept the Tar Heels in the top five all season.

We delve into the player of the year debate, pinpoint the best freshmen in the SEC, discuss the best and worst coaches when it comes to last-minute X's and O's and pick out the nation's most underrated freshman in this week's mailbag.

And the winner is

How would you handicap the national player of the year race? Is there a clear-cut favorite?

Ben from Los Angeles

I'm no expert when it comes to making odds, but I would make Michael Beasley a considerable favorite.

Much like Kevin Durant last season, Beasley doesn't play for a great team, but he has gaudy stats and has strung together a number of remarkable games.

Beasley put up 33 points and 15 rebounds on Iowa State last week, and nobody talked about it much on the national level because we have grown to expect those kind of performances.

K-State isn't quite as good as Texas was at this stage of the season, but Beasley has been getting more help from his supporting cast of late and the Wildcats are so young that they probably are going to keep improving.

Tyler Hansbrough would be second on my ballot. His numbers are better than in previous seasons although they don't quite stack up to Beasley's and he plays on a North Carolina team that has only one loss.

UCLA freshman Kevin Love has made himself a legitimate candidate with his recent play. Over the past four games, nobody has been better. Love averaged 21.8 points and 16.8 rebounds in a four-game stretch against Washington State, USC, Oregon and Oregon State.

I'd say those three have separated themselves from the pack. It's tough not to pick someone from Memphis or Kansas, but neither team has a player who is putting up the necessary numbers to win a player of the year award.

Fab freshmen

If you had to come up with an All-SEC freshman team right now, who would make it?

William from Hattiesburg, Miss.

I think there are four locks: Ole Miss' Chris Warren, Florida's Nick Calathes, Kentucky's Patrick Patterson and Vanderbilt's A.J. Ogilvy.

Each of those players has a legitimate shot at being a first-team All-SEC selection and I'm taking about a five-man team, not the eight-man version the league releases.

The fifth spot is up for grabs, but I'd lean toward LSU's Anthony Randolph. The Tigers are the worst team in the league, but Randolph's numbers are impressive. He is averaging 13.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.

Fantastic finishers

Who do you think are the best and worst coaches when it comes to late-game situations (i.e. extending the game if his team is behind, closing out wins if his team is ahead)?

Michael from Asheville, N.C.

I would definitely put UCLA's Ben Howland near the top of the list. Howland has made a lot of great late-game adjustments, particularly some wrinkles to the Bruins' full-court press, that have led to winning some tight games over the past couple of seasons.

Roy Williams is undoubtedly a great coach, but his teams often make puzzling mistakes when they need a basket in a clutch spot.

During the Tar Heels' run to the national title in 2005, they played at Duke and had the ball trailing by one point with 18 seconds left. Instead of trying to take a quick shot, the Tar Heels tried to wait until the last second. They never even got a shot off before the buzzer sounded.

This season, Maryland led UNC by two points and the Tar Heels had an inbounds play with 1.3 seconds left. Hansbrough ended up getting the pass behind the arc and forcing up an errant 3-pointer as time expired. Hansbrough has made just three 3-pointers in his career.

In the shadows

There is plenty of love to go around for Michael Beasley, Eric Gordon, Kevin Love and Derrick Rose. But what freshmen are under the radar and deserve more pub?

Matt from Denver

Clemson's Terrence Oglesby comes to mind. Oglesby arrived at the ACC school with little hype, but he already has emerged as one of the league's top 3-point shooters and one of the top sixth men in the nation.

Matt Howard at Butler is another. He has surpassed A.J. Graves as the team's second-best player (point guard Mike Green is tops).

Wake Forest's James Johnson might be the best freshman in the ACC. I'm really impressed with his ability to score on the inside and outside and be a force on the glass.

Iowa State's Craig Brackins has shown some flashes of greatness. Against Baylor, the 6-foot-10 big man hit 8-of-10 3-pointers.

12 over 5 again?

A No. 12 seed always seems to beat a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Who do you think will be the No. 12 that wins this year and the No. 5 that loses?

Jon from Belmont, N.C.

I could envision Virginia Commonwealth getting a No. 12 seed and pulling off another first-round upset; remember Eric Maynor's jumper that beat Duke last year? Maynor has gotten better since his famous shot, and the Rams have the depth and athleticism to match up with most "Big Six"-league teams.

Davidson is another possibility. The Wildcats didn't beat any of the three ACC teams they scheduled, but they were good enough to put a serious scare into North Carolina and hang with Duke and North Carolina State. Star guard Stephen Curry makes them a danger to beat just about anyone.

As far as a No. 5 seed going down, I'll go with a couple of Big East teams: Marquette and Louisville.

The Golden Eagles haven't fixed their problems from a year ago. They still need help on the inside, and Dominic James remains a poor outside shooter.

The Cardinals have a remarkable amount of talent and a great coach, but they lack chemistry and seem to underachieve. They strike me as the kind of team that could self-destruct on a big stage.

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.

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