By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
After losing yet another game they should have won on Saturday, falling late to Louisville, Kevin Jones made a comment about fear, doing a Franklin D. Roosevelt in reverse.
Rather than falling back on the clichéd “all we have to fear is fear itself,” which was uttered first by President Roosevelt the day after Pearl Harbor, Jones put it this way:
“I’d be lying if I said no one is panicking, but fear is good for us right now,” Jones said. “It will hopefully make us play better, play harder and come together more as a team. If that’s what it takes, then I think it will be a good thing.”
A little bit of fear, he reasons, is a good thing when your world is coming apart, and certainly with five losses in the past six games the sky is falling, Chicken Little.
In the case of the Mountaineers, the situation, put bluntly, is that they probably have to win four of their last regular season games to finish the regular season with 20 victories and a winning record in the Big East to keep from having to make a run deep into the Big East Tournament simply to qualify for the NCAAs.
But Jones, too, may be best served by a little fear, for it is highly possible that the Big East Player of the Year Award that everyone is ceding to him could slip from his grasp if the Mountaineers don’t right their ship.
There can be little doubt that Jones is worthy of the award for his on-court performance to this point, leading the Big East as he is in scoring at 20.6 points a game and rebounding at 11.2. But there comes a moment when a voter — in this case, the conference’s coaches — have to define what they are voting for.
Does Big East Player of the Year mean best performer or the most valuable player? There is a subtle difference.
Being the best player on a team that’s 15-3 and will wind up in the NCAAs probably means that player is far more valuable than a player with the same statistics on a team that is 8-10 in the conference and winds up in the NIT.
Before WVU played Notre Dame, Coach Mike Brey was sure Jones was the Player of the Year.
“(Kevin) Jones would be my Player of the Year candidate right now,” Brey said. “I love how he leads and sets the tone. He is such a man, a mature guy. He is a clutch guy that makes his teammates believe.
“I’m glad he is a senior and he’ll be out of the league.”
All of that is true, but there is a school of thought that believes a Player of the Year must raise the level of play of those around him, perhaps not turning a young team like West Virginia into a champion, but turning it into a contender.
That has not happened. WVU is a .500 team in the league at present and is heading for Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, two of the toughest places to play in any league, and should WVU finish below .500 in the conference it could really hurt Jones’ chances.
Looking back at the history of the Big East’s Players of the Year, which takes it back to 1980 when someone named John Duren won the award out of Georgetown, the award has gone to winners almost exclusively.
Only in the third year, when Dan Callandrillo won the award for a Seton Hall team that went all but 2-12 in the Big East and 11-16 in the regular season, has a Player of the Year come from a team with a losing record. In fact, only five players came from teams that failed to win 20 games.
And while the vote is held before the league tournament and certainly before the NCAA Tournament bids go out, only four Players of the Year failed to make it to the NCAA Tournament — Callandrillo, Pat Garrity of Notre Dame, Troy Bell of Boston College and Troy Murphy of Notre Dame.
Hasheem Thabeet of Connecticut didn’t play in the NCAAs when he shared the title with DeJuan Blair in 2009, but UConn was on probation that year and would have gone with a 31-5 record and 15-3 Big East mark.
And so it is that for Jones’ sake, if not even for the sake of a team that seems to have NCAA talent, it would be nice to have a run at the end of the year and solidify the positions of both Jones and the team in their quests.
Make no doubt that Jones deserves the award, not only for his performance but for the work that went into developing himself to that level. If those around him find a way to lift their game when it must be lifted, it would make this a great season to put down as the final one in the Big East.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.