SB Nation New York 2011 Big East Basketball Awards: Dwight Hardy Our MVP Choice

One of the most exciting Big East Conference basketball regular seasons concludes Saturday with all 16 conference teams playing its finale. The soon-to-be completed 18-game conference schedule featured many outstanding players, memorable moments and solidified that the Big East is the nation's best league. Here at SB Nation New York we blogged about all of it. Now, we'd like to finish the season with a bang.

Starting Sunday afternoon, when the Big East Tournament seeds are finalized, we will have a complete rundown of the bracket. On Monday, we will post a full preview of the tournament's first two rounds and launch two StoryStreams: One Stream will be a complete breakdown of each of the conference's 16 teams. The second will update you on all the breaking news, scores and story lines at Madison Square Garden. (I can promise that if Charlie Sheen shows up to catch a few games we won't blog about it.) However, before we get to all of that, let's hand out some hardware.

Helped by SB Nation New York's Howard Megdal and Chris Celletti here are the SB Nation New York 2011 Big East Basketball Awards:

Big East Basketball Player Of The Year:  Providence Friars' senior guard, Marshon Brooks.

"Brooks set a Big East record with 52 points on Feb 23 in a loss against Notre Dame. He leads the Big East in scoring with over 25 points a game and is in the top-10 in rebounding in conference, pulling in over 7 per game. He's been the best scorer in the league all year" - Celletti.

At the beginning of the year, it seemed that Connecticut Huskies junior guard Kemba Walker was a lock to earn this award, but it's a long season and consistency wins out. Brooks is a three-time Big East Player Of The Week honoree, the latest coming Monday, Feb. 28, and is currently the nation's second-best scorer. Unfortunately for Brooks, Providence traveled a rough road through conference play and didn't win much. That hurt his candidacy for The Bob Cousy Award and the Naismith Award, but we know better. Brooks was spectacular.

Big East MVP: St. John's senior guard, Dwight Hardy.

"St. John's renaissance is due largely in part to the play of Hardy,whose game has reached an incredible level in Big East play. Without Hardy, who knows where the Johnnies are. With him, and especially if he continues his hot play, St. John's could win the Big East Tournament and be a Sweet 16 team" - Celletti.

A three-time Big East Player Of The Week award winner, Hardy is the leader of the conference's hottest squad. There are many unmeasurable reasons why Hardy deserves this award, but if you need a statistical reason here it is: In the Red Storm's first 19 games, which featured an 11-8 record, Hardy tallied a total of 275 points (14.5 ppg). Since then, the Johnnies are 8-2 overall and the 6-foot-2 guard has scored a total of 249 points (24.9 ppg), including two collegiate-best performances of 33 and 34! At his current pace, Hardy will compile the same amount of points in eight less games. The Bronx native is easily the most valuable player in the Big East.

Big East Freshman Of The Year: DePaul Blue Demons' forward, Cleveland Melvin.

"How about a little love for the bottom-dwellers? Coach Oliver Purnell has a good building block in Melvin, the 6-8 forward who has shown a great ability to score the ball. He was named Big East Rookie of the Week three times, and scored over 20 points 8 times as a freshman" - Celletti.

"A tremendous interior scorer with perimeter game, he's like a souped-up Wilson Chandler" - Megdal.

The trend in the Big East Conference has been a stellar freshman being a part of a quality team. That isn't the case this year with Melvin, who led the last-place Blue Demons and all freshman in scoring with 14.3 points per game. Unfortunately for Melvin, who suffered a season-ending thumb injury in a loss to St. John's, Feb. 23, the basketball world will not be able see his talents in the postseason.

Big East Soon To Be NBA Star: UConn junior forward, Kemba Walker.

"I think Walker will be a top-10 NBA point guard by next season. But this is also a reflection on the relative scarcity of sure-NBA players in this year's Big East. Rick Jackson of Syracuse and Yancy Gates of Cincinnati have a chance to be solid backup forwards at the next level. Marshon Brooks, despite defenses keying on him, has shot 49 percent from the field, and even grabbed 7.2 rebounds a game. But it is hard to tell how much of his stat line is inflated. Honestly, the best NBA'er outside of Walker is probably Melvin" -- Megdal.

It took three categories for Walker to get mentioned, but I think this award fits the 6-foot-1 guard best. Why did Walker miss out on POY and MVP? It came down to his team's second-half struggles, which dropped the Huskies (21-8, 9-8 Big East) into a three-way tie for ninth place in the conference standings, and Walker's disappearance from national relevance. Yes, at one time Walker led the nation in scoring, but as of Thursday he's now sixth. However, Walker was really good this year. His talents will easily transition to the NBA.

Big East Best Team: Pittsburgh Panthers.

"Pitt is the Big East's most complete team. They are solid all around; Ashton Gibbs gives them a perimeter threat, Gary McGhee does the dirty work down low, and Brad Wanamaker is that kind of do-everything player that Jamie Dixon seems to find all the time" - Celletti.

On Dec. 27, the Panthers defeated then No. 4-ranked UConn, 78-63. A week later, Jan. 3, Pitt jumped into the top 5 of both college basketball polls. Since then, the Panthers have been ranked as high as No. 2 and have not dropped out of the top 5. Add that seven out of the 11 SB Nation Big East Power Rankings, posted by The UConn Blog, have had the Panthers ranked No. 1. That's enough proof to easily honor Pitt as the conference's best regular season team.

Big East Most Surprising Team: Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

"The Irish came into this season as an NCAA Tournament team. I’m not sure there were many people who envisioned them as a No. 2 seed, or perhaps even a No. 1, which they could get if they win the Big East Tournament" - Celletti.

"With their lack of depth, (Notre Dame) seemed like a great candidate to wear down through a grueling Big East schedule. Well, ask Villanova if they are worn down" - Megdal.

Despite not appearing in the preseason to -25, being predicted to finish seventh by the conference coaches and ranked No. 9 in the first SB Nation Big East Power Rankings, Nov. 15, the Notre Dame basketball program proved naysayers wrong. On Jan. 24, the Irish defeated then No. 2 Pittsburgh and propelled themselves into the top 10, a place they never left.

Big East Best Regular Season Moment: Hardy's last-second, base-line layup that helped St. John's down then No. 4 Pittsburgh, 60-59, Feb. 19, at Madison Square Garden.

"... Was there any better than Dwight Hardy’s incredible, twisting, breathtaking layup to knock off Pitt at the Garden? St. John’s wasn’t yet ranked, and this was their toughest test yet, with big-bad Pitt in town and a packed World’s Most Famous Arena. It came down to the last play, and while at first it looked as though Hardy was going nowhere, he improvised and made the biggest shot for St. John’s in a really, really long time" - Celletti.

"It was a gift for sportswriters looking to have a definitive moment to declare, 'St. John's is back'" - Megdal.

That play propelled St. John's into the top 25 for the first time since Nov. of 2000 and cemented an NCAA Tournament berth, the program's first since 2002.

Megdal's Big East Tournament Projected Winner: Villanova Wildcats.

"I have less confidence in this pick than I did when I asked Karen Brusato to the eighth-grade dance. I wouldn't be surprised if any of 11 teams won the Big East Tournament. My pick of Villanova is due to the fact that they are too good to keep playing as they have, and Jay Wright is one of the best coaches in the Big East. But seriously, this shapes up to be the best Big East tournament ever. Put it this way- with all 11 teams likely to be an 11 seed or better, the Big East Tournament will have more quality than any NCAA regional."

Celletti's Tournament Winner: St. John's Red Storm.

"If this tournament were anywhere else, I wouldn’t pick the Johnnies here. But big-time hoops is back at MSG, and St. John’s has been dominant at the Garden this year. They’ve won five of their last six there, with wins over Georgetown, Notre Dame, Duke, UConn and Pitt. Sadly, I think they bow out early in the NCAA’s because of their spotty play on the road."

My Tournament Winner: Louisville Cardinals.

Pittsburgh seems to find ways to lose big games, Notre Dame has a terrible Big East Tournament history (not one finals appearance), Big East coaches know how to beat SU's 2-3 zone defense, St. John's hot streak is finally over, which means the Cardinals will bring home their second championship in three seasons.

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