Friday, February 24, 2012

Who Will Win Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year?

The Northeast Conference Player of the Year race isn’t the only difficult decision for voters this season.  The Rookie of the Year race has turned into a two player battle.  At the midway point of the season, most pundits would have said that Kyle Vinales, the rookie guard for Central Connecticut, would be the hands down winner of the award.  That is no longer the case.  I explain my rationale below, and list the five rookies I feel deserve inclusion into the NEC All-Rookie Team.

Honorable Mention:

5) Kelvin Parker, F, Mount St. Mary’s
Parker has been a revelation in what was otherwise a lost season for the Mountaineers.  The undersized yet athletic forward has started 22 of 25 games for Mount St. Mary’s, while averaging 8.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.2 steals per game.  Not bad for a walk-on freshman.

4) Lucky Jones, F, Robert Morris University
The 6-foot-5 guard hasn’t shot the ball very well in his rookie campaign, but he’s steady improved his game during the season.  In particular, the guard has competed on the glass, grabbing 6.2 rebounds per game, good enough for 11th best in the NEC.  Under Andy Toole’s guidance, Jones will certainly become a key contributor for the Colonials and a tall nuisance for opposing guards for seasons to come.

3) Ousmane Drame, F/C, Quinnipiac University
Drame is just another one of those players Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore covets – a raw physical specimen who rebounds and defends the paint with dedicated persistence.  Offensively, Drame has shown flashes of a post-up game -- with a lefty jump hook -- that will only improve as he matures.  With Drame and teammate Ike Azotam locked up for another two years after this season, the Bobcats front-court will serve as a brutal match-up for opposing forwards in the NEC.

And now onto the two most deserving candidates for NEC Rookie of the Year…

2) Jalen Cannon, F, St. Francis (NY)
The Case:  Since taking over as the starting forward for the Terriers, Cannon has emerged as the only worthy adversary to Kyle Vinales for Rookie of the Year.  The freshman has done the main thing head coach Glenn Braica has asked him to do from day one – rebound the basketball.  And he’s rebounding with ferocity, at a clip of 8.6 boards per game.  Cannon has been one of the stabilizing forces that has pushed St. Francis into the NEC elite this season.

The Argument:  Other than cleaning up the glass, Cannon hasn’t excelled in any other facet of the game (not that he’s been asked to).  His offensive game currently lacks polish; therefore he isn’t expected to score a great deal.  And for a big man patrolling the paint, he has a surprisingly low number of blocks per game (0.6 bpg).

The Verdict:  Cannon has certainly stabilized the paint for the Terriers by becoming one of the more dominant rebounders in the NEC.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Cannon win the Rookie of the Year award, however in my opinion, he falls just short.

1) Kyle Vinales, G, Central Connecticut
The Case:  Most freshman would be happy to average double digits in their first season, but then there’s Kyle Vinales, who’s averaging an unheard of 17.9 points per game.  Only NEC Player of the Year candidates Shane Gibson and Ken Horton have more points per game than Vinales.  In addition, Vinales has dished the rock (3.7 apg), made his free throws (82%), and played nice defense (1.2 spg) for Howie Dickerman’s club.

The Argument:  To get his points, Vinales sure had to hoist up a lot of shots.  Overall, he’s shooting a tad under 40% for the season.  As expected for a young player, turnovers have been a problem, even though he has a positive assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.2.  Considering the amount of assists he generates, the assist-to-turnover ratio should in fact be somewhat higher.

The Verdict:  Without the emergence of Vinales, CCSU would have difficultly just making the playoffs this season in the competitive NEC.  All he’s done is lock up 7 NEC Rookie of the Week awards, the second most in the conference's history.  So despite the turnovers and high volume of shots, I feel Vinales gets the nod over Jalen Cannon for NEC Rookie of the Year.

Do you agree or disagree with any of the selections in this post?  I can't wait until next Tuesday for the announcement! 

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