Who is the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year?
We're at the halfway point of the Sun Belt conference basketball season and the debate has already started about who should get the superlative awards in the league.
Player of the Year? Georgia State's R. J. Hunter and Louisiana's Elfrid Payton would both be deserving. Georgia State is on a roll, which probably makes Hunter the favorite right now. Both are averaging 20 ppg, good for second in the Sun Belt. Payton is in the top fifteen in the league in rebounding (16th-5.6), assists (1st-5.9) and shooting percentage (9th-.516).
Hunter is second in the league in free throw percentage (.879), 6th in 3 pt. percentage (.406) and second in three pointers per game (3.3).
But the big question mark is who will be awarded the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year? There are two who are vying for that honor, and right now it's neck and neck between the two.
Is it Georgia State's Ron Hunter? Or is it WKU's Ray Harper?
Both spend so much time on the court, they should be in the box score for minutes played in each game.
Harper knows how valuable the sixth man on the court can be, having been named interim head coach the day after Louisiana defeated the Hilltoppers with an extra man on the court a couple of years ago.
Both understand, better than any other coaches in the league, that Sun Belt referees aren't going to hold them accountable.
The two coaches were in Lafayette recently in back to back games. And, it was hard to figure which coach spent more time on the court. Cajun fans had flashbacks to when Tim Floyd was the head coach at the University of New Orleans. Floyds' sixth man act infuriated fans around the league and kept the Privateers near the top of the standings each year.
The rule book is pretty simple. Coaches are supposed to stay out of bounds and within their "box." A line near mid-court is the limit. We saw officials warn Hunter when he stepped over that line in the second half.
But when Hunter decided to literally be a coach on the floor, the officials said nothing. And did nothing.
Harper, meanwhile, did Hunter one better, walking ten feet onto the floor to get a timeout as the Cajuns were making a steal in the middle of a big run. Harper was granted a timeout his team probably didn't deserve. Harper was assessed a technical foul, not for coming on the court but for exchanging words with UL coach Bob Marlin, who also received a "T" for his efforts.
I was waiting for Marlin to call a play where Elfrid Payton dribbles the ball on the sidelines and collides with one of the coaches. I'd love to see it, just to see what the officials would call. My bet is the player, not the coach, would be penalized.
The rule, as I said, is pretty clear. And the officials' responsibility is pretty clear as well. Warn the coach. Maybe warn him twice. But if the coach insists on playing "six on five" he should be awarded a technical foul for his efforts. And, if it continues, he should be invited to exit the premises.
Throughout the league, and throughout the nation, college basketball changes from one night to the next as to how closely a game is called. And coaches will tell you, if they are consistent (as they were last week at UALR and against ULM) there isn't an issue.
If, on the other hand, they're horribly inconsistent as they were against GSU and WKU, then there's a problem.
There should be no problem with officials policing the game and keeping the coaches from giving their teams an advantage by being the extra man on the court.
But until that happens, both Hunter and Harper will continue to vie for Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year.