This year- things figure to be a little tighter in the voting, as Kentucky's John Wall and Ohio State's Evan Turner seem to have separated themselves from the pack, but not from each other. Both players enter every game knowing they'll be the focal point of the defense, yet they still continue to put up great numbers, and more importantly, lead their team to wins. The Cats and the Buckeyes both figure to hang around in March for a while this season, and both Wall and Turner will be cashing NBA paychecks at this time next year.
But only one of them can take home the Player of the Year award. So who will it be? Let's take a look at the case for each player.
19.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 5.8 apg
54% FG, 29% 3FG, 73% FT
Few players can stuff a stat sheet like Turner, who has 14 double-doubles and two triple-doubles this year while leading the Buckeyes to a 24-7 record and the Big 10 regular season title. Although his 6'7” frame would seem to place him on the wings, Turner is most comfortable running the point for Ohio State, where he uses his height and terrific court vision to set up his teammates. Turner is also a terrific scorer, and his rebounding numbers are absurd for a guy who spends most of his time on the perimeter. Furthermore, his importance to the Buckeyes was underlined when they went just 3-3 in a six-game stretch when Turner was out with two broken vertebra in his back following a nasty fall after a dunk. Turner is, quite simply, a match-up nightmare for most teams, who don't have anyone with the combination of speed and size to check him. His versatility allows Coach Thad Matta a lot of freedom with his lineups, as Turner can guard four positions and take advantage of almost any match-up thrown his way.
Turner also lacks the same quality of teammates as Wall has in Lexington. Wings Jon Diebler and William Buford are solid, but hardly the same caliber of player as Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins, who take the heat off of Wall. That means Turner isn't afforded the luxury of an off night, and if the Buckeyes want to win, he has to shoulder the load. Teams have been focusing on shutting down Turner all year, and he often sees multiple defenders every game as teams look to wear him down. But despite that pressure, Turner has responded nearly every night, demonstrating that he has leadership abilities and a high basketball IQ in addition to his tremendous physical gifts. Turner has the Buckeyes peaking at the right time, and there's no doubt that he means as much to his team as any player in the country.
16.8 ppg, 4 rpg, 6.2 apg
46% FG, 33% 3FG, 78% FT
It's always an interesting conundrum when someone enters the college game accompanied by an enormous amount of hype, and they manage to live up to it. If they don't, they're often labeled a bust or a disappointment. If they do, it's because it's what they were expected to do, and the shock value is often lost. So when we look at what Wall has done this season, there's a lingering thought that “Yeah- this is pretty much what we thought he would do – what's the big deal?” But that being said, the impact Wall has had on Kentucky has been remarkable, especially for a true freshman who is only 19 years old.
Everyone knows about his physical gifts. He's blessed with insane athletic ability, which gives him the ability to not only speed by opposing guards in the open court, but also the hops to finish at the basket over and around bigger players. He has good court vision, is a willing defender, and plays with a flair that sets him apart from his peers. He's also shown, on more than one occasion, that he will make the big play when it's needed. In his first-ever college game, he buried a game-winning jumper against Miami (Oh). A couple weeks later, his clutch free throws sent the Cats into overtime against Stanford, a game they would eventually win. Against Louisville, in one of the most anticipated games of the season, Wall scored six straight points in the second half to spark UK, ignoring the physical play of the upset-minded Cards. He had five points in overtime at Mississippi State to help stave off a potential Bulldogs upset. And four nights later, it was his key lay-up and blocked shot that sealed a tough road win over Vanderbilt as he shrugged off a poor shooting night to step up in crunch time. Wall has shown time and time again that while he be capable of making the highlight-reel play at any time, he also knows how to make the winning play at the right time.
And the award goes to...
While Turner is one of the most well-rounded and versatile players in the college game in quite some time, the nod has to go to Wall for POY. Wall has not only put up remarkable stats, but he's been the difference in every close game the Cats have had, making clutch play after clutch play. While he admittedly has a better supporting cast than Turner, he's also been the one who has stepped up at crunch time, and it's not a stretch to say the Cats could have five or six losses without those clutch plays. Instead, UK will enter the NCAA Tournament as one of the favorites to win it all, and they'll be in that position because of Wall. It would be hard to argue against Turner if he is ultimately selected, but UK's record and Wall's history of game-changing and game-saving plays should give him the edge.