The BIG EAST, like most of college basketball, has been a bit of a crapshoot this year. Going into the season, Providence guard Kris Dunn was the prohibitive favorite for BIG EAST Player of the Year, and was named Preseason POY at BIG EAST Media Day.
Then, around the end of nonconference play, talk started to shift to Dunn's teammate, Friars forward Ben Bentil.
In the past few weeks, gears have shifted again. Villanova Wildcats guard Josh Hart should be BIG EAST Player of the Year due to his success on both sides of the ball, and his team's success.
At first glance, Hart's offensive numbers don't jump off the page. His 15.3 points per game are eighth in the conference, and his 50.5 field goal percentage is tenth in the conference, which is second to only Marquette's JaJuan Johnson in terms of guards.
The important thing to note in that stat is that seven of the nine players ahead of Hart in FG% are 6'9" or taller, with Johnson and DePaul forward Myke Henry being the exceptions at 6'6", both still taller than Hart. More often than not, taller players will lead the conference in FG% because most of their scoring chances come inside five feet of the basket, and thus those shots have a higher success rate.
Hart, however, has a much more diverse shot chart. According to hoop-math.com, 34.4% of Hart's shots come at the rim. For comparison, the conference's two leaders in FG%, Creighton's Geoffrey Groselle and Villanova's Daniel Ochefu, each take at least 70% of their shots from the rim.
Hart leads the Wildcats by having 28.0% of his shots be two-point jumpers, and of those shots, 41.2% go in, which also leads the team. What all this means is that Hart is taking, and making, tougher shots than most of the conference.
Diving even deeper, Hart's Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) is 57.4, third in the conference. eFG% is similar to FG%, but it rewards three-point shots at a 50% higher rate than two-point shots. Hart is shooting 34.6% from beyond the arc, which is 24th in the conference, so his eFG% isn't just up because he's knocking it down from out there, it's up because of his two-point shooting first and foremost.
Finally, Hart is currently averaging 2.0 offensive rebounds per game. This is second in the conference amongst guards behind Seton Hall's Ismael Sanogo (2.7), who is 6'7" compared to Hart's 6'5" frame. Sanogo also missed three games. Going off of OR%, which is the percentage of offensive rebounds a player has grabbed given opportunities for offensive rebounds, Hart is second to the taller Sanogo, once again. Sanogo grabs 10.7% to Hart's 7.7%. Even in being second to Sanogo, Hart shows his worth on all aspects of offense.
Hart also takes exceptional care of the basketball. His turnover percentage (turnovers over 100 possessions) is 10th in the conference at 12.3%.
The most logical place to start when looking at Hart's defense is rebounding. He is currently first among BIG EAST guards at 7.2 rebounds per game, and sixth overall in the conference. His DR%, which is similar to OR%, but for defensive rebounds, is 18.0, which also leads all BIG EAST guards.
While Hart's steals numbers don't stand out (1.1 per game, 15th in the conference), he's a defensive resource for the Wildcats due to the fact that he doesn't commit many fouls. His Fouls Committed/40 Minutes is currently 13th best in the Big East, committing only 2.7 fouls over 40 minutes. Hart has only fouled out one time this season, in Villanova's loss to Virginia. With how NCAA officiating has been this year, and with the extra possessions due to the shortened shot clock, players who do not commit fouls and stay on the court longer are more luxurious than ever.
Hart is tied with teammate Ryan Arcidiacono for Villanova's lead in percentage of minutes played, at 78%. Hart's ability to not commit fouls certainly adds to his ability to be on the court longer and play more minutes.
Of course, most say Player of the Year is an individual award and not based on the success of the team, however, they go hand in hand. Without Hart's contributions, Villanova certainly wouldn't be looking at a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament and 27-4 on the season.
Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil may lead Hart in some categories, but an issue that arises with teammates in battle for POY awards is that they can often split votes. Voters can have a tough time differentiating whether Dunn or Bentil meant more to the Friars, and thus, half of the votes could go to one while half go to the other. We saw something similar last season when Kris Dunn and Ryan Arcidiacono were named Co-Players of the Year. While those two players aren't teammates, each voter has a different set of criteria that they look for when voting for Player of the Year.
At the end of the day, Hart should be the choice. While he's not leading the conference in any one category, he's in the top 10 (or higher) in a multitude of categories and has led his team to the #1 spot in the AP Poll, a BIG EAST title and likely #1-seed in the NCAA Tournament, as well.