Lewis passed over for MVP honors

by Michael Dougherty

If the NCAA’s Selection Sunday is anything like the Big Ten’s MVP Monday, Gophers men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins might soon find himself “ticked off” again.
The winner of the Big Ten Player of the Year award was announced Monday, and Haskins’ vigorous lobbying for a deserving Quincy Lewis didn’t pay off.
Michigan State point guard Mateen Cleaves won the coaches’ vote, and Ohio State point guard Scoonie Penn earned media honors.
Lewis was named to both the coaches’ and media’s All-Big Ten first team, along with Cleaves, Penn, Northwestern center Evan Eschmeyer and Cleaves’ teammate forward Morris Peterson.
Ohio State’s Jim O’Brien was named Coach of the Year, Wisconsin guard Mike Kelly was named Defensive Player of the Year and Illinois guard Cory Bradford was named Freshman of the Year.
After Lewis scored 31 points in Saturday’s big win at Northwestern, Haskins said if Lewis didn’t win the award, “I think we need to go back and re-examine why we have the MVP award.”
Well let’s re-examine it then.
Cleaves, a junior, was Player of the Year last year, and he led the No. 2 Spartans to their second Big Ten regular season title in a row. He is averaging 12 points per game, down from 16.1 last year, and his assists also dropped from 7.2 in 1998 to 6.8 this year.
Penn, also a junior, sat out last season after transferring from Boston College. As a sophomore with the Eagles, Penn averaged 13.2 points, 3.5 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game. This year he upped his scoring average to 17.1 and his assists to 4.1, while his rebounding stayed the same.
Cleaves’ team finished the year 26-4, but he had fellow All-Big Ten first-teamer Morris Peterson helping him out. Peterson — who spent most of the season coming off the bench –finished as the Spartans’ leading scorer with a 14.2 average and pulled down 5.1 rebounds per game. The Spartans were 22-8 last year and returned their top six scorers.
On the other hand, Ohio State finished last season 8-22 overall, and 1-15 in the Big Ten. Led by Penn, the Buckeyes have turned things around this year with a No. 11 ranking, a 22-8 overall record and a 12-4 conference record.
But they also had defending Big Ten scoring champ Michael Redd, who again led the Buckeyes with 19.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
Lewis, meanwhile, averaged 24.4 points (25.9 in conference games) and 5.9 rebounds per game. Last year he only averaged 12 points per game in conference play, so his 13.9-point improvement was more than Cleaves’ per-game average.
Lewis was named Big Ten Player of the Week three times, including this past week, and averaged 5.9 points more in conference play than his closest competitor.
“If you look at numbers that guys put up, and how difficult that it is to do nowadays with everybody running two or three guys at you, and here’s a guy (Lewis) who gets no calls,” Haskins said. “He took a beating all year and got no calls. He’s a superstar averaging over 25 points, and all those factors tick me off when he doesn’t get (Player of the Year).
“I vote for the best player in the conference every year if he was one of mine or not. And this year Quincy was the best player, regardless of who won the ballot.”
Haskins said while Penn, Cleaves and Eschmeyer were all worthy of the award, Lewis was clearly a step above the others.
When coaches and the media vote for Player of the Year, there is often an argument about the criteria involved in handing out the award: Should the award go to a player who plays for the conference champion?
Two years ago, when former Gopher Bobby Jackson beat out Iowa’s Andre Woolridge for the award Haskins lobbied hard for Jackson because he said he felt the award should go to the player on the better team.
But his tune has changed this year. Then again, no one in the conference has taken over as many games or hit as many clutch shots as Lewis.
Another debate among voters is whether there is a difference between an MVP award and a player of the year award.
Penn State coach Jerry Dunn said he thinks most people look at what each player does for his team, and whether or not that player makes the difference in close games.
“Where would that team be without that player?” Dunn asked.
Michigan State would probably still be a top 15 team without Cleaves. Ohio State wouldn’t be a top 10 team, but with Redd and forward Jason Singleton, the Buckeyes would still likely be NCAA tournament-bound.
Minnesota without Lewis, however, probably wouldn’t even make the NIT. The Gophers would be like an ice cream sundae without the butterscotch.
Unfortunately for the Gophers, Lewis’ case melted away when the media and coaches penciled in their votes.