There’s really no way for league coaches, or the league itself, to defend not awarding Jones POY honors. He led the Big East in the two marquee statistical categories, a supposed de facto automatic to garner the award. The last player to do that, Notre Dame’s Troy Murphy, won the hardware despite Notre Dame finishing 20-12 and not making the NCAA Tournament against a far easier schedule.
The Mountaineers? Thanks to Jones, also the nation’s major conference-leading offensive rebounder, they are safely tucked in among the field with a slate that ranks in the top 10 in difficulty and a solid RPI with multiple good out of conference wins. No single Big East player is as valuable to his team as Jones is to West Virginia. It isn’t even close. He plays virtually entire games surrounded mostly by a younger corps. His work ethic, talent and focus elevated a team once again bordering on 20 victories. He’s the definition of a student-athlete, and a double-double machine. He’s a winner.
Part of me believes, and this is simply personal opinion, that there was a conceived effort to keep Jones, because of his affiliation with WVU and its league exit, from being named Player of the Year. But if that’s true, and it seems there’s some evidence to support it, what with Jones somehow magically being left off at least one coaching ballot for first-team honors, then it begs the question: Now, after being asked multiple times to perhaps be more than an observer, to try and actually execute some semblance of a plan to hold the football side together and save the largest money-making venture in collegiate athletics, after failing miserably at that and being reactive for the vast majority of the last decade, why does the Big East suddenly decide to be proactive – and only in the most petty sense?
The answer, to me, involves some variation of jilted-lover syndrome. But again, that’s personal opinion. Here’s what isn’t: While West Virginia University embraces that it’s the Flagship U. of West Virginia, it’s also the Flagship University of the Big East when it comes to full-member athletics. It’s solely credited for saving the football face, and in doing so has become larger than the Big East itself on the gridiron. Big East football is West Virginia football. Or, rather, West Virginia football is Big East football.
And while the former continues to do more with less, the latter languishes in its recent tradition of doing less with more than any other major conference. Here’s a league centered in the nation’s largest population regions that still can’t get a solid television deal. It’s the same league that kicked out a Temple program for lack of attendance and is now begging them to come back because no major, established programs want to be a part of this continuously flailing jigsaw puzzle.
The Big East showcases itself, with respect to Providence, in the nation’s largest city, it’s bastion of freedom asking for the tired, the poor, the huddled masses – which about sums up the league sans West Virginia. That its conference origins are in the smallest state in the country matches its gumption and sense of business and fair play, both in regards to the biggest of sports and the biggest of basketball players in Kevin Jones.
Jones is just the third player in history to lead the conference in points and rebounding at 20 and 11, respectively. There really shouldn’t be any debate as to who the Player of the Year is. Yet this seat-of-the-pants operation just gave Jones and West Virginia another swift kick in them after not only among the finest individual seasons in Big East basketball history, but by far the best decade of any conference school in both major sports.
WVU tossed the league a lifeline with its Sugar Bowl win, then continued to rack up NCAA bids, Elite Eights, a Final Four and even more BCS victories, the latest a twist-the-knife, record-smashing Orange Bowl beat down. What it also should have racked up was a sweep of Player of the Year categories in both major sports. But it didn’t, the Big East welding its own cutlery to forge a double-sided, perhaps two-faced argument that went something like this: Kevin Jones didn’t have enough talent around him, and thus played more minutes and padded stats. Geno Smith had too much talent around him, and thus was able to pad stats.
The questions are obvious; the methods, dubious. The Big East in a nutshell. I’ll say what the league never will, but should: Sorry, KJ. Sorry, Geno. You deserved better, and like many were a victim of timing and circumstances beyond your control. And of the antics of a once-proud conference that has ruined itself from the inside.
No matter. Because of people like yourselves, West Virginia University will continue to win, continue to compete at the highest of levels, continue to surge forward. And continue to do more with less, a smaller state on the biggest stages.
It’s an idea a league which has epitomized stumbling around in the dark should get used to – perhaps model after – this more with less. Because in 117 days, West Virginia’s gone, the state motto shining a bit brighter as the Big East’s future dims. Just 117 days.
Last Mountaineer out, turn off the lights.