POY List Must Start With Joakim Noah
Joakim Noah
Joakim Noah
Scout National Basketball Columnist
Posted Sep 20, 2006

There is no shortage of exceptional college basketball players this year and many of those deserve mention as national Player of the Year candidates. But when it comes to assembling a top candidates' list for POY consideration, we're positive whose should be the first name mentioned. Need a hint? He was the 6-11 guy who led the University of Florida to a national title last spring.

Be leery – very, very leery – of any preseason Player of the Year candidates’ list you come across that is topped by anything but the following name:


Joakim Noah.


The 6-foot-11 junior at the University of Florida wasn’t the best player in the country last regular season – Brandon Roy of the University of Washington was, although Duke’s J.J. Redick bagged all of the POY hardware, including the John R. Wooden Award.


Heck, Noah wasn’t even the Southeastern Conference’s Player of the Year last season. That honor went to another prime 2007 National POY candidate, Glen Davis of LSU.


But from March 1 on, there wasn’t anyone – Redick, Roy . . . take your choice – who was any better than Noah.


*The Gators were 11-0 in that stretch, including victories over South Carolina and UCLA in the Southeastern Conference Tournament final and NCAA championship game, respectively.


*Noah averaged 16.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 3.3 blocked shots per game.


*And in regional and Final Four victories over Georgetown, Villanova, George Mason and the Bruins, respectively, those averages read 16.0, 10.5, 1.5 and 5.0.


Had he been so inclined, Noah almost certainly would have been the first choice in June’s NBA Draft.


Instead, his presence – and that of Billy Donovan’s other starters from last season, forwards Al Horford and Corey Brewer, and guards Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey – makes the Gators solid favorites to become the first program to win back to back national titles since Duke did the trick in 1991-92.


And the impact – as a rebounder and defender, a scorer (even minus anything remotely resembling a fluid jump shot) and passer/ball handler – that Noah is expected to have on each game he plays this season makes him the POY frontrunner.


Who has the best opportunity to overtake Noah in POY balloting come March?


Here we go . . .


*Tyler Hansbrough (6-8 ½, So., North Carolina)

Why he could be POY: He was the consensus national Freshman of the Year (18.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game) and turned in some dazzling performances in nationally televised games.


And the Tar Heels are the guys given the best chance at keeping Florida from repeating as the national champion.


Strong performances in games against Ohio State (especially if Greg Oden is healthy and in the lineup for the Buckeyes) on Nov. 29 and Kentucky three days later could level the POY playing field with Noah – as could productive efforts in Atlantic Coast Conference battles with Duke.


What could hurt his chances: This is also something that could hamper Noah’s chances – there is so much talent around him.


Senior forward Reyshawn Terry is one of the most underrated players in the country (if it’s possible to play at one of three or four most high profile programs in America and still be considered “underrated”) and some talent evaluators like him even better than Hansbrough as an NBA prospect.


It’s possible that Terry and even freshmen such as Tywon Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Brandan Wright might steal some of Hansbrough’s national thunder because they are so good themselves – even if Hansbrough has improved as much over last season as we probably can expect he has.


*Glen Davis (6-8, Jr., LSU)

Why he could be POY: “Big Baby” (who looked in July like he’d shed 30-plus pounds of that Big Baby fat he lugged around during his first two seasons with the Tigers) was the Southeastern Conference’s Player of the Year and helped his John Brady’s club get to the Final Four.


That, in itself, makes for a pretty slick preseason POY resume.


He might be the most gregarious player in the country and, with the things he does at his bulk while playing on the perimeter and handling the basketball, might leave more of an impact on voters’ minds than might, for example, the almost machine-like precision of Hansbrough around the basket.


And, even outside of SEC play, there will be no shortage of games that will garner attention in which Davis could pick up POY support: Wichita State (Nov. 25), Texas A&M (Dec. 5), Texas (Dec. 10), Washington (Dec. 20) and Connecticut (Jan. 6).


By the way . . . pencil this game under the “can’t miss watching it” category: Florida at LSU (Feb. 24).


What could hurt his chances: Minus Darrel Mitchell and Tyrus Thomas, it’s possible that the Tigers will not be nearly as solid a team as they were last season.


How much did the presence of Thomas (now with the Chicago Bulls) keep teams from collapsing around Davis?


Rounding out the Top 10 POY candidates:


*From the Big East: Dominic James (5-11, So., Marquette), Jeff Green (6-9, Jr., Georgetown) and Aaron Gray (7-0, Sr., Pittsburgh): James has a chance to be considered the top point guard in the country by the end of the season. If he plays like it, and Marquette is ranked in the Top 10-15 range all season, James will make a POY push. Green doesn’t figure to have the kind of stats that James and Gray will collect but could be the front-runner for conference POY.


*From the Big Ten: Alando Tucker (6-5, Sr., Wisconsin) and Greg Oden (7-0, Fr., Ohio State)

Tucker is the top returnee in the conference and plays for a team that will be a consensus preseason Top 10. He could be a 20 point-plus per game scorer as well. Oden’s POY chances will depend on how quickly he recovers from his wrist surgery of June. If he is healthy and demonstrating (say, by his team’s game with North Carolina on Nov. 29) very early on why he is the most hyped freshman in a marvelous national freshmen class, there could be a groundswell movement for his candidacy.


*Two more guards: Ronald Steele (6-3, Jr., Alabama) and Arron Afflalo (6-5, Jr., UCLA): For the time being, Steele is our choice as the top point guard in the country. And he’s playing on a team that has definite Final Four potential – which can’t hurt, can it? Some might wonder about Afflalo’s effectiveness, minus Jordan Farmar (now with the Los Angeles Lakers). They shouldn’t. Darren Collison should help make the Bruins even more effective in transition and Afflalo, the best all-around player in the Pac 10, will be even more dangerous because of it.


Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame in April, 2005, Frank Burlison is Scout.com’s national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison’s pieces at www.frankhoops.com

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