Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Apologies to Masiello, but Baron Is Top MAAC Player

The MAAC held one of its semi-regular conference calls on Tuesday, allowing media members to interact with and ask a few questions of league coaches.

The calls are usually low-key and non-revelatory. Coaches praise opponents, discuss their own team in general terms and toss out the usual cliches about wanting their respective teams to be playing at their best entering the upcoming conference tournament.

But convention got shoved aside when Manhattan coach Steve Masiello came aboard and someone very innocently sought to ask about whether his superlative senior swingman George Beamon should be in the mix for post-season Player of the Year honors.

The inquisition began with the perception that some published stories have indicated that senior guard Billy Baron of Canisius is the presumptive early favorite for that award right now.

"What stories have said that?" asked Masiello, over and over.

(Ahem .... this blogger has made that assessment several times in recent days).

When told that Siena coach Jimmy Patsos, a few minutes earlier, had offered the opinion that Baron should be the award winner, Masiello took more offense.

"I didn't know he was the league's spokesman," bristled the Manhattan coach.

"Are we serious? Look at his numbers," added Masiello. "We don't go around marketing an individual, but George is as good as any player in this league and as good on the wing as any player in this country.

"But, in my opinion, the reward should be for winning. That's the bottom line. If Iona wins the league, then A.J. (English), Sean (Armand) or David (Laury) should win (the individual award). If we win, it should be one of our guys. If Canisius wins, Billy Baron."

OK, maybe the question meant to discuss the league's top individual honor was delivered with a little awkwardness.

But, in truth, the award, by the very nature of its title, appears meant to identify the MAAC's best player in a given season.

It is, after all, the "Player of the Year" award, and not "Most Valuable Player." It doesn't appear designed to honor merely the best player on the best team.

Heck, twice in the past three seasons the award has gone to a player whose team didn't capture the regular-season championship.

Momo Jones of Iona was last season's top individual award winner while the Gaels finished in fourth place. In 2010-11, Ryan Rossiter was the conference's Player of the Year although his Siena team finished in seventh place. And, no one disputed those deserved honors.

We'll agree with Masiello that there should be some sort of winning involved. Teams that finish in the bottom half of the league standings, with very few exceptions, should rarely have a candidate for the award.

It's why no one mentions Niagara's junior guard Antoine Mason for the league's top individual honor this season. Mason, currently the nation's second-leading scorer, is having a superlative season. But, his team is 3-13 in MAAC play entering this weekend's games and, because of that, Mason doesn't appear to be in contention for the top award.

However, Canisius is 12-4 and currently tied for second place in the conference standings, as is Manhattan. Both teams are almost certain to finish in the top four at the regular-season's end, ensuring their top individuals will get the additional consideration that comes from being a major contributor on a very good team.

Iona is currently the league's leader, at 14-2, by a full two games. But the Gaels are better balanced and that program doesn't appear to have an individual whose work merits consideration over Baron and Beamon.

Beyond that, let's look at the numbers.

Baron averages 24.6 points per game, third-best nationally. Beamon averages 19.5.

Beamon averages 6.8 rebounds. Baron averages 5.1

Baron averages 5.0 assists per game, Beamon averages 0.8.

Baron shoots 46.9 percent from the field to Beamon's 41.6 percent, and has made 86 three-pointers (42.8 percent) to 35 by Beamon (shooting 34.0 percent).

Baron has 43 steals to Beamon's 31.

Baron has played nearly every minute of every game this season, averaging 39.2 minutes per contest. Beamon has missed three games with an ankle sprain, and averages 31.1 minutes per contest.

It all easily points to Baron as the MAAC's best player this season.

It says here that Baron is the best player the MAAC has seen since Jason Thompson graduated from Rider in 2008, and quite possibly the best perimeter player the conference has had since Doug Overton and Randy Woods were at La Salle back in the the late 1980's/early 1990's.

Still, Masiello was offended by the question about whether Beamon was "in the running" for the top individual honors.

"Is he in the running? Is George Beamon in the running?" asked Masiello, almost incredulously. "I'm in a little shock right now."

Of course Beamon is "in the running."

But, with four regular-season games remaining, unless Baron suddenly has four consecutive hugely inferior performances, the Canisius standout is far and away the runaway choice for MAAC Player of the Year honors.

It would be a shock if anyone else even gets a first-place vote at this point.

So, if Masiello wants to see a story that identifies Baron as the league's top Player of the Year candidate .... he need look no farther than right here.

No comments: