It looks to be a two-man race for national player of the year in college basketball, as Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Thomas Robinson of Kansas have been a cut above the rest. So who deserves to take home the hardware? We debate.
Thomas Robinson Is the Man: Robinson, a 6-foot-10 Kansas forward, may not end up being as good an NBA player as his counterpart in the debate, Kentucky’s Davis, who is impossibly long and inarguably set for stardom at the next level.
But Robinson has been the best player in college basketball this season.
Averaging 18.0 points, 11.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks, Robinson has put up prolific numbers despite being the main target of opposing defenses all season. Davis, for his part, is a member of a traveling All-Star team from Lexington, where Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones also are projected first-round picks in the 2012 NBA draft.
Sure, Robinson has other good players; Tyshawn Taylor provides scoring punch and and junior center Jeff Withey averages 3.2 blocks for the Jayhawks. But KU wouldn’t be the Big 12 regular-season champion and ranked within the top four in both polls without Robinson.
He has faced all comers this season, posting 11 points, 12 rebounds and a block against Davis when the two faced off in November. Davis posted 14 points, six rebounds and seven blocks in the Kentucky win, which was pretty much a stalemate for the individual stars.
But Robinson, again facing the brunt of it all from opponents, helped dispatch Georgetown with 20 points and 12 rebounds and Ohio State with 21 and seven. He also had 16 points and 15 rebounds in a loss to Duke – and that was just by Dec. 1.
Who would be shocked if those teams were in the Final Four?
Then, there were the most-important games in the conference season. Robinson posted 15 points and 14 boards in a win over in-state rival Kansas State and combined for 42 and 25 in two wins over Baylor. He capped his candidacy with 28 points and 17 rebounds as the Jayhawks made a furious comeback en route to an 87-86 overtime victory over Missouri on Feb. 25 that included a game-saving block for the W; he had 25 and 13 in a three-point loss in the first meeting between the two teams.
He then ended the campaign strong with another 42 points and 25 rebounds in wins over Oklahoma State and Texas.
But you don’t need to read Robinson’s game log to know that he has imposed his will on Kansas’ opponents this season, while being an emotional leader for his own team.
This isn’t to say that Davis hasn’t had a huge impact on the Wildcats, but I still think that John Calipari’s bunch would have a chance to make noise in March without the lanky big man.
Where would Kansas be without Robinson? KU fans shudder at the thought. – Anthony Olivieri
Anthony Davis Has Been Unmatched: I realize that Anthony Davis got off to a slower start than Robinson because he’s only a freshman, but there’s no one playing better basketball in the country right now than Davis. While people compare him to Kevin Garnett or Marcus Camby, I can’t remember seeing anyone like Davis in the college game.
He is literally a guard in a center’s body who can step back and hit a three in your face and is a 70% shooter from the free-throw line (and quickly rising) while also recording double-digits in rebounds and blocks. Did I mention his mind-boggling 66% FG percentage?
In two of his last three games (he barely played in a blowout win over Georgia), there has been no doubt that Davis is the best player in the country and the No. 1 overall pick in June’s NBA draft.
There was a 28-point, 11-rebound, five-block performance against Vanderbilt on Feb. 25 in which Davis was 10-of-11 from the field and 8-of-9 from the free-throw line. While there’s no defined “perfect game” in basketball like there is in baseball, Davis’ effort was pretty much perfect – especially since it came against Festus Ezeli, one of the best big men in the conference.
On Sunday, Davis completely annihilated another elite SEC big man, Patric Young, on the road against Florida with a 22, 12 and six day in which he shot only 9-of-13 from the field. Hey, you’ve got to leave some room for improvement.
If you look at strictly numbers, no, Davis (14.4 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.7 BPG) wouldn’t win the Player of the Year Award over Robinson (18.0 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 1.1 BPG). But from watching the two play, you realize that while Robinson is in fact dominant, Davis is a once-in-a-generation player.
And I don’t want to hear the whole “But Robinson is more valuable to his team” argument. Yes, Kentucky would be fine without Davis while Kansas would be a mediocre Big 12 team. But why should the lack of talent around Robinson hurt Davis’ Player of the Year chances?
Yes, it’s also true that Kansas runs its offense around Robinson, putting a greater burden on its big man than Kentucky’s Davis. And while that results in a greater responsibility in the team’s success, this also means that Robinson has more poor outings than Davis. Take, for example, Robinson’s 6-of-15 outing against Oklahoma State last week and his 3-of-10 performance vs. Texas A&M two weeks ago.
The thing that appears to hurt Davis the most is that Robinson is clearly the best player on Kansas’ team and gets all the attention in highlight packages because he shoots the ball so much (Davis has 258 FGAs to Robinson’s 401). Meanwhile, Davis shares the ball and attention with the likes of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones.
And while most people just look at the offensive statistics of points and rebounds, you really can’t measure the effect Davis has on the defensive end on blocks alone. Davis is masterful at keeping his blocks in bounds, which results in a change of possession. He also alters countless other shots that don’t show up in the box score.
People confuse MVP and Player of the Year discussions with different definitions of the award. Mine is simple: “Which player had the best season?”
Throw out the offensive statistics and varying Player of the Year definitions and go with the eye test after watching the two play. I dare you to say Davis isn’t the best player in the country. – Jim Weber