April 23, 2010

Best of the decade: Big Six leagues

Rivals.com is wrapping up the 2000s era in college basketball by selecting the player, coach and team of the decade for all 31 Division I conferences.

Today, we're looking at the "Big Six" conferences. Saturday, we'll examine the other 25.

ALL-DECADE BIG SIX
ACC
PLAYER OF THE DECADE: North Carolina F/C Tyler Hansbrough, 2005-09. Hansbrough ended his stellar four-year career owning the ACC record for career points (2,872) and the NCAA record for successful free throws (982). He is the only player in ACC history to earn first-team All-America and first-team All-ACC honors four times. He capped his career by leading North Carolina to the 2009 national title.
COACH OF THE DECADE: Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. Krzyzewski led Duke to two national titles (2001, '10) and one other Final Four bid during the decade. Duke earned an NCAA bid every year this decade and lost in the first round only once (2007).
TEAM OF THE DECADE: North Carolina, 2008-09. This is a tough call since the ACC produced five national champions this decade, but this UNC team gets a slight edge. The Tar Heels withstood the pressure that came with being the unanimous No. 1 team in the preseason Associated Press poll and beat each of their six NCAA tournament opponents by at least 12 points.
BIG EAST
PLAYER OF THE DECADE: Connecticut C Emeka Okafor, 2001-04. Okafor earned unanimous first-team All-America honors from The Associated Press while leading the Huskies to the 2004 national title. Okafor, the fourth player in Connecticut history to surpass 1,000 career points and 1,000 rebounds, ended his career as the No. 7 shot blocker in history and as the school's career leader in field-goal percentage (.590).
COACH OF THE DECADE: Connecticut's Jim Calhoun. Calhoun coached one national championship team (2004) and one other Final Four squad (2009) this decade. Connecticut won or tied for an overall league or division title in 2002, '03, '05 and '06.
TEAM OF THE DECADE: Connecticut, 2003-04. Connecticut won the national title and led the nation in field-goal percentage defense (36.9) with a roster that featured six first-round draft picks (Okafor, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Hilton Armstrong, Marcus Williams and Josh Boone). The Huskies rallied from an eight-point deficit in the final four minutes to beat Duke 79-78 in the NCAA semifinals before defeating Georgia Tech 82-73 in the title game.
BIG TEN
PLAYER OF THE DECADE: Ohio State G/F Evan Turner, 2007-10. Turner won nearly every national player of the year award as a junior season before declaring for the NBA draft. He was a do-it-all player for the Buckeyes, averaging 18.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.0 rebounds and 1.8 steals over his final two seasons.
COACH OF THE DECADE: Michigan State's Tom Izzo. The Spartans are arguably better in the NCAA tournament under Izzo than in the regular season. They have more Final Four appearances this decade (four) than Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles combined (two). Izzo recruits good players, but not necessarily NBA lottery picks.
TEAM OF THE DECADE: Illinois, 2004-05. The Illini went 37-2 overall and 15-1 in the league, and lost in the national championship game to North Carolina. Dee Brown was the team's most recognized player and was a consensus All-American, but backcourt mate Deron Williams has become the much better pro.
BIG 12
PLAYER OF THE DECADE: Texas F Kevin Durant, 2006-07. Durant's only season at Texas was one of the most electrifying seasons for anyone this decade. Durant averaged 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds and was the consensus national player of the year. He remains the only freshman to win the Naismith and Wooden awards and AP player of the year.
COACH OF THE DECADE: Kansas' Bill Self. He led Kansas to five Big 12 regular-season titles during the decade, but he got off to a rocky start with KU in NCAA tournament play with first-round losses to Bucknell (2005) and Bradley (2006). Kansas responded by winning the national championship in 2008.
TEAM OF THE DECADE: Kansas, 2007-08. The Jayhawks won their first title since 1988 and the first championship for the Big 12 (Kansas won in '88 as a member of the Big 8). A veteran team that included Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush and Darrell Arthur went 37-3 and defeated Memphis 75-68 in overtime in the national championship game.
PAC-10
PLAYER OF THE DECADE: Washington G Brandon Roy, 2002-06. Roy averaged 20.2 points per game in 2005-06, becoming Washington's first consensus All-American in 53 years. He deferred to guard Nate Robinson as a sophomore and junior, but he became the Huskies' go-to guy as a senior, winning Pac-10 player of the year honors that season. He was a part of two Sweet 16 teams in his last two seasons.
COACH OF THE DECADE: UCLA's Ben Howland. Despite this season's debacle, the Bruins reclaimed their spot as a national power under Howland. Howland took over for Steve Lavin in 2003-04 and led UCLA to three consecutive Final Fours for the first time since the Wooden era. UCLA also topped 30 wins in three consecutive seasons.
TEAM OF THE DECADE: UCLA, 2007-08. It's a tough call to choose among UCLA's three Final Four teams this decade. The 2005-06 team reached the national final, but the 2007-08 team was better. The Bruins finished 35-4 and went 16-2 in the Pac-10 in a season when the conference sent six teams to the NCAA tournament. That Bruins squad may have had the most talented roster, too, with NBA lottery picks Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook and veterans Darren Collison and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
SEC
PLAYER OF THE DECADE: Tennessee G Chris Lofton, 2004-08. Lofton was a four-year starter and a three-time first-team All-SEC honoree. He averaged 16.6 points for his career and shot 42.2 percent from 3-point range and 84.2 percent from the free-throw line. Lofton holds the record for most 3-pointers in a career in SEC history with 431 and was the league's player of the year as a junior. Twice he was a second-team All-America selection and twice he was a third-team pick.
COACH OF THE DECADE: Florida's Billy Donovan. Donovan guided the Gators to eight NCAA appearances and back-to-back national titles during the decade. Florida's back-to-back titles in 2006 and '07 were the first since Duke in 1991 and '92.
TEAM OF THE DECADE: Florida, 2006-07. The Gators won the national title as a No. 3 seed in 2005-06, then three key sophomores - Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Joakim Noah - decided to stay in school. The Gators went into the '06-07 season with targets on their back, but they went 13-3 in the league and won the regular-season title by three games. They finished 35-5 and ended the season with a decisive victory over Ohio State in the national title game as the tournament's overall No. 1 seed.




 

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